Jimmy Napes

He is currently the worlds most successful songwriter, having co-written some of the biggest-selling songs in the last 12 months. In partnership with Disclosure, Sam Smith, Naughty Boy, Mary J Blige and others, his creativity has touched millions on both sides of the Atlantic. Up till now he has been British music's best keep secret. Now Jimmy Napes is stepping into the limelight. 
It's no surprise that he has been content for so long to be a background figure: they don't come much more low-key than Jimmy Napes. Reflecting in his discreet Kentish Town studio on how he came up with three Number Ones - Sam Smith's "Stay With Me", Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne's "Rather Be," and the Naughty Boy monster "La La La" - as well as the song that keeps on giving, ‘Latch’ with Disclosure and Sam - his conclusion is disarmingly old-school: 'It suits me to let the music do the talking,' he says. 'I'm a Burt Bacharach round-the-piano kind of guy.'
But there's a steely competitive edge in that comparison. Burt certainly knew how to write a hit or two. And like Bacharach, Jimmy Napes has a gift for furnishing other artists with what they need to shine. 'Most of the time I am trying to get the best out of someone else - that has been my job.' Jimmy devoted many hours of this collaborative work to the two world-conquering albums 'Settle' by Disclosure and Sam Smith's 'In the Lonely Hour' - and as he did so a curious thing began to happen. 'Every so often in co-writing sessions I will write a song that feels incredibly personal to me,' he says. 'I've put together a set of songs that didn't feel right to have anyone else singing them, and recorded them myself'.' 
The result is a new three-track EP that places Napes the back-room magician right at centre stage. Under the title 'The Making of Me', for the first time ever Jimmy steps up to lend his own voice to his own material. 'It's harder to put yourself on the line,' he says. 'I always wanted to be a songwriter - but the chance to release these songs as an artist is an opportunity I really wanted to take.' 
Once you have tasted the fruits of collaboration, however, it is a hard habit to kick. While Jimmy's song-writing and vocal lines bind 'The Making of Me' trilogy together, for the production work he called in a few favours. 'Beats are not necessarily my strong point.' he says. 'The crucial thing I have done is to let people that I trust produce the songs. I've given them to the Disclosure guys and to MJ Cole - people I respect - and let them put their spin on them. I've always loved what they do as producers, and I couldn't match it myself.'
Napes made a living in his early years as a UK garage DJ, and has long been an admirer of London producer MJ Cole, the doyen of that scene. The alchemy between Jimmy and Disclosure is already proven. His decision to make this the production team for his solo debut freed him up to focus on vocalist duties. 'I just trusted them,' he says. 'If I am going to do an artist project, it's important to just be the artist: sing it, and make sure every lyric is on point.'
Jimmy's gift for hits is already proven, but on 'The Making of Me, it may just be that the man with the golden ear has saved the best tunes for himself. The timeless structures and motifs of classic songwriting are there on all three tunes, and each time they are underpinned with the kicking rhythm tracks of the 2014 dancefloor.
He has stuck firmly to his edict that each lyric must have its meaning, and on the delicious midtempo head-nodder 'I'll Give It Up' - the first track to be released as a single - Jimmy's layered falsetto tells the story of an old friend who lost his way to a life of vice. 'His problems with gambling and alcohol had been spiralling,' says Jimmy. 'He met this amazing girl who was helping him get back on track, but then he went the other way and so she left him. Her leaving was the thing that made the penny drop. He finally got his shit together, and now they're married and they've got a baby - it's a happy story!' 
The strength that love can bring is something that Jimmy knows at first hand, and for sheer romance it's hard to beat the story of the first time he ever sang in front of an audience - just a few months ago. The song in question was the EP's second tune, 'Keep You To Myself', this time given a bumping uptempo production by Disclosure, with additional take-it-to-church vocals from Sam Smith. 'It's about meeting my wife,' says Jimmy. 'I sang it for her in front of everyone on our wedding day this May, it was the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done. Most of the songs I've had in the charts have been about her. She's my biggest inspiration. 
If the title track 'The Making of Me' sounds a little egotistical, then Napes confounds that assumption with a delightful twist in the tale. As old spar Eliza Doolittle takes care of backing vocals, MJ Cole supplies a bubbler of a bass-line that recalls the Rosie Gaines garage anthem 'Closer Than Close', and Jimmy once more serenades the woman to whom he owes it all: 'I think you could be / the making of me.' Like each of the EP's three outstanding compositions, it delivers that hit-record recipe that Napes seems to understand instinctively: something for the mind, something for the heart, something for the feet.
So is this the birth of Jimmy Napes, pop idol? 'I don't think I am ever going to be the solo superstar who's in all the videos,' he says. 'It wouldn't suit my personality. But it will be cool to have some music out under my own name, it wouldn't feel right to have anyone else singing these songs. My real name is James Napier. But when I went to college this guy was taking the piss out of me: "Here comes Jimmy Napes, Jimmy Napes, eurgh!' And I thought, that's quite funny, so I kept it as a little alias. I've thought about scrapping it, but I've come too far. Now I believe in the name.'
Tom Schroeder
Assisted by: Claire Bewers claire@codaagency.com Olivia-Jane Ransley oliviajane@codaagency.com