What’s that saying about the pram in the hallway being the enemy of creativity? Or, at least, a trip-hazard?
Jamie Cullum is having none of that. When his wife gave birth to their daughter in early 2011, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist was, naturally, overwhelmed. He and Sophie Dahl, the writer and model, had married the previous year. Their young family was already blooming. How could he not be inspired?
Cullum had previously filled his life with performing, recording and writing. While studying English and Film at Reading University, he made his debut album, Heard It All Before. Post-graduation and in the wake of the release of the self-financed Pointless Nostalgic (2001), he’d spent most of his twenties travelling and touring and collaborating, first ripping up the jazz rulebook, then later following his muse wherever it took him. That meant collaborations with everyone from Pharrell Williams to Los Angeles production maestro Greg Wells, and genius re-imaginings of tracks by Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Buckley, as well as of jazz standards aplenty. It meant working non-stop for seven years as he promoted major label debut Twentysomething (2004) then the follow-up Catching Tales (2005).
Then with 2009's The Pursuit, that all-consuming musical passion meant touring the world tirelessly, winning over global corner after global corner, notably America and multiple geographical nooks and crannies therein (“good evening Birmingham, Alabama!”).
Life was music, life was rich, life was good.
Enter, happily, brilliantly, fatherhood.
“Suddenly, I had a lot less time!” Cullum, smiles. “So the feature of this new record that persisted throughout the making of it was: not thinking.”
This, of course, doesn’t equate with “not caring.”“I didn’t think about what was expected of me, what I should do, what my fans were going for. I had a studio – well, a room at home. I had instruments set up. And I just went in there almost entirely on my own. I would sit behind unfamiliar instruments – like the drums – and just start writing. I wrote two songs making a beat on my phone. I wrote a song on the ukulele. It was the things that were at hand rather than painstakingly tracking down the right kit and players that I needed to do that particular jazz song…“It was very much finding that hour that I had spare, and just getting on with it… And,” he says with a slightly alarmed look, “I’m only starting to worry about it now!”
This, of course, is that point in the biography where we’re meant to say, “he needn’t have worried…” Well, ah, seriously, that is kinda the case.Jamie Cullum’s sixth album is the sound of a man both at peace with himself and in playful, creative battle with his inspirations. For the first time he’s recorded with his live band; for the first time he’s written most of the songs himself, with the occasional help of his brother Ben. And never before has he used, in the case of many of the songs, the original easy-going, DIY home demos as the blueprint for the finished articles. For a while iPhone apps and cassette recorders were his go-to “instruments.” It’s also, probably, the first Cullum album that was largely penned while the artist was in his pajamas.
This new album is called Momentum with good reason: it’s the pop-filled sound of on artist on a creative role, bursting with ideas and inspirations, and allowed full creative reign by his new label, Island.