The prince of jazz-pop put on a one-man variety performance full of energy

By Hazel Sheffield

He started with Rihanna, followed it with one of his pappiest numbers, then ad-libbed into Cole Porter, and that’s even before introducing himself. The London Palladium could expect no less from Jamie Cullum, the man who turned jazz into pop (or possibly vice versa), performing live in the UK for the first time in four years.

There could scarcely have been a better venue for his return. As the home of British variety performance, the Palladium once saw dancers and musicians tread its boards as a rite of passage. Cullum more than bridged the decades, leaping between piano and centre stage to deliver a set of dizzying eclecticism through beat-boxing, scat and song.

A shaky start testified to the scale of the gig, but the character of the man carried him through. He shrugged off a cracked opening note with a jovial, “Oh yeah, works every time,” and later dissolved into giggles during a serious moment, pulling his adoring audience with him and proving that he’s still best-loved as a cross between a hyperactive teenager and a cabaret performer.

Yet for all his boyish charm, Cullum has earned his stripes. As the irreverent boogie-woogie of Twenty Something started up, Chopin’s Funeral March was just audible in the introduction, a playful reminder that he turned 30 last year.

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While the years have cemented Cullum’s success, they have yet to make him any more predictable. “My band are trying to work out what song I’m going to play,” he grinned before tumbling into Wheels, a new song reminiscent of Keane. Harry Secombe’s If I Ruled the World was stripped back and cinematic, a worthy update to a pop standard, while more modern classics were reinvented with similar dexterity.

Frontin’, a 2002 R ‘n’ B smash by American producer Pharrell, saw Cullum managing to play the piano, strum its strings and drum the lid all at the same time. Later, he transported his entire band to the stalls for a ramshackle reworking of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River.

“I’m Jimmy Tarbuck!” he joked when he got around to introducing himself, confessing that Sunday Night at the London Palladium was a little before his time. Perhaps Bruce Forsyth performing for the entire show during the 1961 Equity strike would have been a better match. Armed with infectious energy, countless revisions of classics and a growing number of his own hits to boot, Cullum is a one-man variety performance all of his own


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