I’ve gotten used to being shortchanged when it comes to entertainment. Gone, I thought, were the days when the fortune I shelled out for a concert ticket would guarantee me at least 90 minutes, if not two hours, of solid entertainment. A bit of banter was something I’d come to expect, that somewhat old-fashioned concept of rapport.
The more gigs I went to, the more disillusioned I became. Sinéad O’Connor’s 60 minutes of sunglasses in Budapest last year left me cold. Stacey Kent’s more recent concert (same city, different venue) would have been more suited to a jazz club than a full-on arena. I think I slept through parts of it. But then along comes Jamie Cullum and gives me a reason to hope.
I bought his Twentysomething CD back in 2003 and was impressed. I’d not heard much of him since but the name stuck in my head. That’s not to say though that he wasn’t busy doing all that had to be done to earn himself the accolade of ‘most successful UK jazz artist ever’ with sales of 10 million albums under his belt. It’s hard to label him – jazz, pop, rock, he does it all. He collaborated with Clint Eastwood on the music for Gran Torino. He was the first DJ to play Gregory Porter (who was on stage in Veszprém two days before Jaime) on radio. His radio show on BBC2 has been licensed all over the world.
For a young lad who used to play weddings and bar mitzvahs in the UK (he put himself through college on the proceeds), he’s come a long way. Perhaps it was at these gigs that he learned how to engage his audience. And that, ladies and gentlemen, he does brilliantly.
I watched in last night in Veszprém and for nearly two hours marvelled at the dexterity with which he put us, the audience, through our paces. The guy is a genius. It was his first time playing in Hungary and apparently the gig was streaming live on the Net. He was posing for photos with young ones at the edge of the stage. He came down into the audience and sang to and danced with fans. He conducted us thousands to the point where he had us alternately whispering and screaming as he played along.
There was a young lad beside us who had waited 10 years to see Jamie perform live and he wasn’t disappointed. His appeal spans generations and without exception, everyone from 12 to 70 was on their feet by the end.
The gig wasn’t a sell-out. It was to have played in the Castle but we were rained out and moved inside to the Aréna where both side sections were curtained off. The night before, Lisa Stansfield had packed the house. She, too, had been moved, but because she’d sold out the Castle and ticket demand was huge. But I can testify, first-hand, that those there last night got the far better deal.
Some might remember his tour in 2003 when Amy Winehouse opened for him each night (or for when he opened for Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden). Others might remember his first TV appearance on the Parkinson Show. More again might know him for his recording of the lead single from the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. [And I quite fancied a likeness between himself and Mark Darcy (aka Colin Firth). In fact, I was quite taken with how he could easily be the cheeky younger brother.]
He’s also sung Frankie the Frog in the movie Meet The Robinsons and is responsible for the sound track for Grace is Gone (remember, the John Cusack film?). And of course, there’s his collaboration with Clint Eastwood on Gran Torino – a classic. He has duetted with Stevie Wonder, performed a private gig for the Queen, and headlined at Glastonbury. There’s little the man hasn’t done, and few awards, if any, that he hasn’t won. He’s also a keen photographer and a magazine publisher. [Note to self: get a copy of The 88 – billed as a heavyweight journal that is ‘an occasional magazine for the adventurous thinker’.]
Throughout the gig, he moved from one number to the next with an alacrity born of practice, segueing through genres with jazz, pop, hip-hop, electronic, and rap. I recognised some of the standards with his version of Singing in the Rain the best I’ve ever heard, and all the more endearing because we’d been rained out and he’d just moved the party.
And for those still wondering what he was all about, he introduced When I get famous, a poignant song about a short lad of slight frame who couldn’t get any girl to go out with him back when he was in school. Not that, he said, it was in any way autobiographical [he’s now married to the gorgeous Sophie Dahl].
I loved loved loved his song on These are the days and wondered why I thought he was strictly a covers guy. I’ve spent years thinking he was a cover guy. How wrong was I. Jamie, I’m sorry, but anyone how knows me knows that I’m musically illiterate.
As he played High and dry, you could have heard a feather fall. It was this he conducted the audience in – it had to be one of the best finales I’ve seen ever. When he left the stage with his band, the audience kept up the humming … and humming… and humming. And then he came back, on his own, and sang for us as if each of us was alone with him the room. Just him and his piano and the wonderful theme tune from Gran Torino. When he was done, he got up, thanked us get again for a great night, said his goodbyes, and left.
And the crowd stood silently and respected this. No more calls for encores. No more entreaties to come back. Just a quiet acceptance that each of us had been privy to something very special. And for that I’m truly grateful.
No matter your taste in music, if you get the chance to see Jamie Cullum live, take it.