Seven years ago, Jamie Cullum was a struggling pub musician, today he is one of the hottest names in showbusiness. He talks to MARK ANDREWS
JAMIE Cullum was playing the piano in a pub when his eyes were drawn to the television in the corner of the room.
The punters in the pub appeared to pay little attention to the young man appearing on the Parkinson show. But Cullum, a struggling young musician earning a crust by performing in bars and at weddings, knew exactly who Parky’s guest was. Himself.
“It was quite weird. The first time I was on television I was booked to perform at a pub in Bracknell that night, and I could see it in the corner of my eye. I don’t think anybody in the pub was aware it was me. Nobody knew who I was back then.”
It is fair to say life has changed a bit since that memorable evening in April 2003. His album Twentysomething sold 2.5 million copies, and since then he has played at Glastonbury, and performed at this year’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. Next year he will marry his fiancee, the former supermodel Sophie Dahl.
“People talk about your first break, and as first breaks go, that was definitely a big one, being on one of the biggest television shows around when you are still a relatively unknown name,” says Jamie who turned 30 this year.
It seems hard to believe, but Cullum’s career is one that started almost by accident. He took out a student loan to record his first album, Heard It All Before, while he was still studying English at Reading University, and he produced just 500 copies.
“I only did it so I had something to sell at the end of gigs in pubs and clubs, I was never this ambitious musician,” he says. Jamie missed his graduation ceremony because he was performing on a cruise ship, and in spring 2001 he recorded a second self-financed album, Pointless Nostalgic, which came to Parkinson’s attention.
“In some ways I feel the years playing bars and pubs and weddings were the most important part of my musical development,” he says.
“If you can play in front of three people, or 10 people or 30 people, you will be able to play in front of a large stadium. If you miss out on those years, you miss out on a lot.”
His years as a pub performer also gave him the opportunity to experiment with his act, and he admits there were one or two occasions when things did not go exactly according to plan – the time when he unsuccessfully attempted to leap over his piano being the one which sticks in the mind.
“I think its part of the journey of excitement of being a musician. The reason I’ve called my new album Pursuit is it is about the journey you go on as a musician, and you never complete it. I’m always learning new words and chords.”
To support his new album, Cullum will be performing at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in May next year, and looks forward to catching up with old friends when he visits the region.
“I have got a few friends in Birmingham, both from university and family friends,” he says. “I like the bars along Broad Street, the trouble is by the time I’ve finished a gig, I can’t really get stuck in because everybody’s been there for about two hours. I always get a magnificent response when I perform in Birmingham, they’re not frightened to show their appreciation.”