Jamie Cullum and His Big Band (Part of Prudential Bluesfest)

Sunday 8th November 2015

Indigo @ 02, London, United Kingdom

Sunday 8th November was the final day of the Prudential Bluesfest London 2015 which celebrated its fifth anniversary at its new home The 02 in North Greenwich, London courtesy of Live Nation. For three days the entire O2 complex had the blues has it played host to established and new artists in the main arena, Indigo at the O2, Brooklyn Bowl and throughout via pop-up stages. 

The evening performances included Mascot Label Group label guitarist Matt Schofield in The Brooklyn Bowl and an exclusive co-headline show by Sir Van Morrison and Sir Tom Jones who performed full sets and duets in side the main arena. However, we decided to see jazz-superstar Jamie Cullum and His Big Band perform a very special set at The Indigo in what was billed as his only London show in 2015.

But I must say it took awhile to physically get inside the venue and other members of the public were having the same problem. Earlier in the day during the free daytime sessions we decided to collect our tickets from the box office so that we could enter the venue and get a good a spot early. Having arrived at the ticket desk they asked us to return at 6.30pm (the time the doors were opening) and get our tickets. Fast forward to a mild early evening and every ticket window had a large queue of people. I had to look at the venue signs to make sure I wasn’t in a queue for Star Wars tickets there were that many people.

As we joined the queue for ticket collection we saw Jamie’s name in lights. All be it his name was spelt ‘Jamie Callum’ but the idea was nice. I bet some people were scratching their heads thinking they were actually at a Scottish tribute act! As we waited the concept of separate ticket windows had gone out of the window (sorry) with Van Morrison fans mixing with Cullum fans. If Ross Kemp was there I bet he would have said something along the lines of ‘It looked like it was about to kick off so I got out of there!’

It became apparent that there was a ticketing issue which saw a large proportion of people miss the start of the shows they had booked for. Luckily we arrived thirty minutes before the start and the anticipation inside started to build inside the sold out Indigo. Robert Elms then appeared from nowhere (I think that is his superpower as he did that throughout the weekend) and introduced Jamie by saying ‘I’ve seen this before and you’re all in for a treat.’

The lights went down and the twelve-piece big band and Jamie’s original five-piece arrived onstage to grand applause. Jamie then appeared and armed with a snare drum kicked proceedings off with ‘Same Things’ from his album ‘Momentum’. In his shiny gold trainers Jamie was a complete bundle of energy as the rich suited and booted big band horns created a stunning vaudeville film soundtrack vibe.

‘Get Your Way’ (Jamie uses the instrumental intro for his BBC Radio 2 jazz show) saw Jamie perform his signature piano moves on his beautiful Yamaha and then he said ‘This one’s for you Van (Morrison)!’before launching into ‘Sack O’ Woe’ with such ease.

One really key thing about a seeing Jamie live is that no matter where you see him in the world he doesn’t have a setlist so every night can be different. Also his musical knowledge is so wide ranging that you can hear him blend Justin Bieber’s ‘What Do You Mean?’, Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’  and then a bit of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ for good measure.

Jamie then treated us to his take on Randy Newman’s ‘Losing You’, which is about losing someone special. It was extremely emotional and the band were incredible. In a live setting you can tell how much Jamie loves his band and he has been performing with Tom Richards (Saxophone, Percussion, Keyboards) for ten years now along with Rory Simmons (Guitar, Trumpet), Loz Garrett (Double Bass, Electric Bass) and Brad Webb (Drums). A lot of musicians will tell you that when you record and perform in a band for long enough they do become like a second family and that statement is certainly true here.

‘This is for Georgie Fame!’ Jamie bellowed on ‘When I Get Famous’ which he clearly told us wasn’t autobiographical and when he was at school he didn’t have any problems in the female department and he was able to get with pupils, teachers and parents. He then explained to us that this year had been very big for him and he was fortunate enough to open for Billy Joel at Madison Square Gardens in New York for five nights ‘I’m going to replicate something I watched him do every night. this song is dedicated to my kids.’ This was well received by the females in the audience and he set up a harmonica (think of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’) and played ‘Not While I’m Around’. The room was silent and you could hear a pin drop. Standing up from the piano to loud cheering Cullum stated ‘They probably would’ve preferred the Peppa Pig theme tune but oh well!’ An inside joke for the parents in the room which was well received.

One thing that Cullum made us realise was that this show was almost like a ten year anniversary show as he released his debut album ‘Twentysomething’ was released in 2004/2005 and ‘All At Sea’ proved that his songwriting skills were as thought-provoking and emotional ten years ago as they are now and his take on Radiohead’s ‘High and Dry is always a live favourite and on the piano was technically stunning.

Brad Webb’s drum solo on ‘You and Me Are Gone’ was entertaining and not tedious which is something drum solos can become and ‘Wheels’ from the 2010 album The Pursuit was a great audience singalong. ‘These Are the Days’ was special as during the song Jamie invited Tom from the audience to play piano on the song. Well Tom was insanely talented as he and Jamie tickled the ivories as it were. As Jamie sang ‘I Feel Fine’ and asked Tom how he felt Tom replied ‘Yeah pretty good’. It was a sweet moment and the crowd went absolutely nuts.

Jamie and his five-piece then decamped from their set stage positions and joined each other right at the front of the stage for ‘Twentysomething’ which he dedicated to a girl called Andrea who had just turned 20 and he met during his Q&A session earlier in the day with Robert Elms. The horn duel between Tom Richards and Rory Simmons was well-paced and exciting and closing track ‘Mixtape’ saw the entire Indigo sing, clap and jump on the spot and you could feel the ground move as two hours had just flown by. Thanking the London crowd and his incredible band Jamie told us that he would be back with a new album and then left the stage.

However, Jamie returned on his own and sat at the piano for the encore which to the audience’s delight was the raw ‘Gran Torino’ which Jamie had penned for the 2008 film ‘Gran Torino’ with help from Clint Eastwood and his son and double bass jazz performer Kyle Eastwood. The song is emotionally charged and when you have seen the film as well it does really get to you.

In conclusion, Jamie Cullum and His Big Band sparkled throughout with the fantastic material and highly skilled musicianship from himself and the band and it was fitting that Jamie closed the fifth year of Bluesfest as he originally performed at Under The Bridge in London for its first year. This performance allowed fans old and new to really enjoy and appreciate Cullum’s back catalogue as well as see how far he has come. I look forward to a new album and a new tour and as the evening ended it really was a case of ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’.

Glenn Sargeant

Visuals: Kieran White at KW Media

For more images please visit www.kieran-white.com

(Many thanks to Joe Baxter at AirMTM and Pete Sargeant for all of their help and support)