Should you have found yourself, one spring evening in early 2016, in the packed stalls of the theatre at the launch of this songwriter’s powerful new collection of songs, you would surely attest to the range and the fire of this young man’s talent; songs that are impeccably-crafted and yet impassioned, and a voice capable not only of igniting each of those theatre-goers in their seats, but evaporating every drop of the cold, English rain outside.
Navarro hails from Canterbury in the UK, a place steeped in the literary history of Chaucer, Marlowe and Conrad, and from an early age his own talent for words took the form of notebook after notebook of poems and short stories.
Along the way this talent was shaped by experiences both mundane and quite remarkable: a stint working as a night porter in a Swiss hotel, weeks as an apple picker in the orchards of Kent, and – as time went on – a time working with young people, inspiring songs in children with visual impairments, youngsters in care, and young refugees in the city – a city that has been throughout history the first stop on the road from Europe.
Now in his early thirties, it was a trip out to MIDEM in 2016 – the musical equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival – that began the next chapter, and offered him the chance to bring his passion and inspiration to a wider, waiting audience. Invited by the festival organisers to play two low-key shows, the killer response of Navarro (a Mexican family name) had the industry effect of a giant Mexican wave, beginning new relationships with tastemakers from Soho through to Shanghai. At the same time, mixing and forging collaborations with musicians from across the globe had the effect of refocussing the songwriter back on his essence – a human voice delivering beautiful and mysterious words with the power of a hurricane.
“I was a storyteller before anything else,” he explains. “I’ve always had the words to say whatever I wanted, but held them back, meaning that I have often been mistaken for being shy. I only learned later that music could offer me a stronger voice, and I learned – through listening to and watching the classic songwriters – that timing, tone, and the ability to pin a melody to a phrase in just the right way – is the most powerful medium of all.”
He recalls a particular night playing one of several opening slots on Joan Armatrading’s tour, just one of Navarro’s celebrated list of fans which includes Robert Plant (“classy”), Alt-J’s Charlie Andrew (“staggeringly talented”) and Lemn Sissay (“Richard is a genius”).
Says Navarro, “At Joan’s show for the first time, because of the stage lights, I couldn’t see a single face in the audience, despite it being a 1400 capacity opera house” he recalls, “I remember thinking at first – all I have is this violin, my vocal chords and a song – and nowhere to hide. I knew by the end of the performance that these things would always be my rock, whichever way the sea would sweep me.”
Having recorded his homegrown ’Let Go Light’ EP shortly afterwards, Navarro headed back out on the rural touring circuit with his bassist Nicholas, playing to spellbound audiences in village halls and front rooms across the UK. “We picked up the phone, bought an old Nissan van, and started playing shows,” he says. “Each night we would meet new audiences, young and old, who always seemed to find something different in our music. The organisers would often put us up in their homes, and we’d head off early in the morning, still buzzing from the night before. By the end of that tour, we had more stories, and enough material for another EP.”
Navarro switched off the Nissan for that winter, and by early 2016 the results of those summer motorway writing sessions was ready to road test.
If there is a song that captures not only Navarro’s extraordinary voice and conviction, but also all of the tenaciousness he has shown through these early years of his career, it is surely Breakout; a union of killer melodies, heart-tearing lyrics and harmonic changes that are both muscular and beguiling.
“When I wrote ‘Breakout’, I knew that it was getting across a feeling that could never be captured in any other way except through this song. When that happens, I know I’ve struck gold”
With the new EP quickly picked up by the tastemaking radio stations including Australia’s ABC and Chill as well as BBC 6 Music, and lent weight by a now-legendary acoustic live versions performed for regional BBC stations, Navarro’s star – and his reputation as a breathtaking performer – was rising fast.
Most exciting is that his current collection of songs offers only a glimpse of Navarro’s talent.
He is often heard talking about the challenges of being a restless, relevant musician in a world wanting to pin down and categorise artists into a phrase beginning ‘Navarro is sure to be the next…’
However, with venues are already queuing up to stage his show in 2017, Navarro’s boundless energy and unquestionable originality mean that he will continue to resist definition – even as he continues to set his audiences on fire.
“Finely-crafted songwriting” Joan Armatrading
“Classy” Robert Plant
“Richard is a genius. He has exalted words in such a way that angels could hear them.” Lemn Sissay
“A wonderful voice” Susan Marling, Radio 2
“Richard is an outstanding performer, with a unique sound that moves from the epic soundtrack to the intimate with ease.” Bern Leckie
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