What genre did NME come up with in 2018 for the rise in millennial smoothsters who sounded like they were influenced by you?
“Ooh, I remember doing an interview for this! Loungecore?”
WRONG. It was schmaltzcore.
“Do I get a point for coming up with a better term than NME journalists? [Laughs] I guess it relates to a certain era that wore its heart on its sleeve and had a certain amount of melodrama to it, so I’ll take it! And schmaltzcore encompasses loads of artists, like Tom Misch and Rex Orange County, that I really love as well.”
Who’s been the most unexpected younger artist that’s turned out to be a fan?
“Nadine Shah told me a beautiful story about how she used to go to gigs of mine with her late mother. She’s a magnificent artist and I was blown away that she was listening to me when she was younger.”
You wrote ‘Standing Still’ for German ‘Eurovision Song Content’ entrant Roman Lob in 2012. What place did it finish in?
“I’m going to say either eight or 11?”
CORRECT. It placed eighth.
“I was nervous I might be kicked out of the UK for that! Everybody thought I went over to Germany and said: ‘Right, I’m going to help them win ‘Eurovision’!’. But ‘Standing Still’ was a song I wrote with pop-songwriters Wayne Hector and Steve Robson that didn’t feel right for me at the time. I’d probably record it now. It somehow ended up in a publisher’s inbox in Germany, and I was pleased it was entered into Eurovision.”
For a bonus half-point: what place did the UK’s entry finish that year?
“[Laughs] I’m never going to get this! 28 or something?”
WRONG. 25! Your song beat Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Love Will Set You Free’.
“I really liked Engelbert’s song – talk about schmaltzcore! It was almost too good for ‘Eurovision’.”
You appear on Pharrell Williams’ 2006 album ‘In My Mind’, featuring on the track ‘You Can Do It Too’. Name three other guests on the record.
“That was the most bizarre, brilliant escapade in my life. I met Pharrell at the BRITs after having done my ‘Frontin’’ cover. It confused the fuck out everybody on the red carpet when he said I was who he was most excited about meeting in the British music industry! [Laughs] I went to his hotel room the next day and we talked about jazz, and he said: ‘Come to Miami and let’s work together’. I thought nothing would come of it, but six months later, I was heading to his Miami studio to hang out for two weeks.”
“I feel I was too young at the time to be bold enough to fully get the most out of the situation. I sung and played piano for him, and there were so many people coming into the studio like Justin Timberlake and Gwen Stefani, and Jay-Z was on and off the phone. We’d party at Puff Daddy’s house – which I bought new Air Force 1’s for, only to discover no shoes were allowed in his house. So I was walking round Puff Daddy’s house in tattered Bart Simpson socks with my toe hanging out a hole. We went onstage at reggaetón concerts and I was singing ‘Frontin’’ everywhere Pharrell shoved a microphone in my face. It was wild! I’d love to repeat the experience as a 42-year-old man with more assertiveness in my bones.”
Which 2020 IDLES track do you play piano on?
“Kill Them With Kindness’.”
“I love IDLES. I grew up with more rock music than people would necessarily think. My first instrument was guitar and I played in lots of rock bands. Which sounds like something artists say when they’re trying to prove something to NME! [Laughs] I met them on the red carpet at the Mercury Music Prize – where I’m one of the judges – when they were shortlisted in 2019. Half-jokingly, I said: ‘If you ever want some piano, I’d love to contribute’. Joe [Talbot, IDLES’ frontman] got in touch the next day saying: ‘We want to open this track up with a piano if you’ve got anything in mind?’, and I recorded a few things and sent them back to him. They’re just a brilliant band.”
In 2009, you performed with Spinal Tap at Glastonbury. Which two acts did they play between that year?
“Through touring America, I’d met [Spinal Tap member] Harry Shearer many times before that. He introduced me onstage the first time I played South By Southwest, and we we’ve been friends since. But when he’s dressed as Derek Smalls, he’s completely in character. It’s not Harry.”
When you had to drop out of The Jonathan Ross Show last year, who stepped in to sing out the program?
“That was supposed to be the climax to our Christmas campaign. We had the big band all ready, but it was during the days where if you’d been within 1000 miles of someone with COVID, you had to isolate. That was pretty bleak, but if anyone’s going to step in for me, I’ll take Tyson! He’s a god among men.”
Any chance of you returning the favour and subbing in for him at one of his boxing matches?
“I’ve done quite a bit of boxing in the last 25 years, so it’s not as far from my métier as you might imagine!”
You and Katie Melua performed a version of The Cure’s ‘Love Cats’ at the 2004 BRIT Awards. Which artist were you reportedly a replacement for?
“I had no idea we’d replaced an artist. I remember that night well– The Darkness won all the awards, and it was the night I met Pharrell, Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé, and all of Busted. It was quite a night for me! I thought we were due to do it all along, so enlighten me.”
“Knowing The Guardian in that era, neither one of which they would have preferred! [Laughs] I remember them saying what a horror-show it was that Pharrell wanted to work with me. It stabbed me in the heart. I was so offended!”
What’s the worst thing that’s been written about you then?
“I had some bleak reviews from NME which, as someone who grew up with your pages plastered over my wall, I had to take on the chin. Charlie Brooker wrote something so classically him* and horrific that it took my breath away. In his last Screenwipe column, he apologised to me saying it was one of the meanest things he’d ever written [Laughs]. But I’m a fan of his and found it funny.”
*Brace yourselves! Brooker wrote of Cullum’s appearance on Parkinson in 2004: ‘[He’s an] oily, sickening worm-boy, presumably grown in a Petri dish specifically for appearances on middle-of-the-road chat shows like this. Swear to God, if I have to see this gurning little maggot clicking into faux reverie mode ever again – rising from his seat to jazz-slap the top of his piano wearing a fake-groove expression on his puggish little face – if I have to witness that ONE MORE TIME, I’m going to rise up myself and kill absolutely everybody in the world. Starting with him and ending with me.’
‘Cullum should be sealed inside a barrel and kicked into the ocean, not hailed as a genius on Saturday night TV.’ Ouch!
In 2007, you were kicked out of London’s Savoy after the South Bank Awards after raucously singing in the bar with which legend?
“Even in the early says when she was my support act, she was always the most unpredictable and sparky person in the room. She was loving, rude, funny, cutting, honest and gifted. She used to tell me off all the time for singing old songs with the wrong lyrics. She’d say: [Affectionately imitates Winehouse] ‘You really fucked that one up, Jamie!’
“That Savoy night was her to a T – she wanted to get into the zone and sing all those old songs we both loved, like Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Tony Bennett. There were so many nights with her that now feel quite mythical. I remember going back to a band’s jam session with her where we absolutely butchered Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ Neither of us could remember the lyrics or where it went after the first two lines, and we just pissed ourselves laughing as the band carried on. It was so funny, and I have tears in my eyes now remembering it.”
Which comedian once asked if you preferred being called “a jazz hobbit, a jazz pervert or [a] little pianist”?
“[Laughs] Erm… God! Was it Rob Brydon?”
“Of course it was! [Laughs] Rob Brydon wouldn’t be quite so mean. Good old Simon! We’re good friends and he hopped aboard my tour bus to hang out for a week in America one year. I’m definitely a jazz pervert out of those – that’s the best one!”
Which Reading artist once said that until “embarrassingly late in life”, he thought your version of Radiohead’s ‘High and Dry’ was a Jamie Cullum original composition?
“Reading artist should narrow it down. It wasn’t Matt Maltese, was it?”
CORRECT. The schmaltzcore crooner said he “thought it was Jamie Cullum’s song for about eight years.”
“That’s amazing! [Laughs] How did I not know that before?! What a beautiful song. It’s been my honour to have covered it for so many years and I can’t imagine not playing it. I have the added bonus that it’s a song Radiohead clearly hate so much that they’ll never play again! [Laughs] So I may as well take it onboard as my own for now. For the record, I absolutely love Matt Maltese.”
The verdict: 6/10
“I’m pleased with that score!”
– Jamie Cullum’s festive album, ‘The Pianoman At Christmas – The Complete Edition’, is out now
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