Jamie Cullum is a cool dude. No two ways about it. He oozes music and has rhythm in his bones – even if he’s never learnt to read music and always played by ear. Last night he energised the Royal Albert Hall with an 80-minute set that incorporated jazz, big band, pop classics, a spot of drumming, soulful ballads on his old and surely somewhat battered joanna, and even the obligatory (and, for me, tedious) burst of rap. All in all, though, terrific.
His own band joined forces with the funky Heritage Orchestra, under the aegis of Jules Buckley. They last forged a Prom together in 2010, but by his own admission Jamie has come on a long way since then, largely thanks to his weekly Radio 2 show. If you listen to that or have been to his gigs before, you’ll know he gets a buzz from collaboration and supporting up-and-coming talent. He’s heavily involved in the BBC Music Introducing project, and here gave a platform to Dakhla Brass, soul singer Eska and (up by the bust of Proms founder Henry Wood) the Remi Harris Trio. Many of the songs were drenched in the vocals of the Roundhouse Choir, a London-based youth chorus only in its eighth year.
Jamie Cullum and his band perform with the Heritage Orchestra and the Roundhouse Choir conducted by Jules Buckley
Jamie had drawn up a playlist of standards (Old Devil Moon, Love for Sale) and his own songs (some brand-new; Life Is Grey) – all in classy arrangements and orchestrations, much of the credit for which goes to long-time collaborator Tom Richards.
Commanding the space with a zest for life and music, Cullum also had time for jokes at his own expense. He declared his goal to be the next James Bond: “I hear on the grapevine and on Twitter they’ve lowered the height requirement.” He’s even composed a Bond theme of his own on spec, called Edge of Something, which sounded highly plausible to my ears.
In the latter stages, Cullum slapped and walloped his Yamaha and even leapt up onto it like a fired-up monkey-man. He launched into an impromptu arrangement of another number calling all the musicians into play, section by section, and finally urging the crowd to join in “woo-ooo-ooo-ing”, which we did with gusto if no marked precision.
He closed the show with “the greatest pop song, the greatest song written of all time. When you get inside this song, it is so musically adventurous and exciting.” It was the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. Nobody was disagreeing. I’ve loved that song for decades. The vocals were a bit wayward in the mix, but it still brought a tear to my eyes, especially when the entire Albert Hall seized upon it and sang along.
Last came an encore devoted – quite unsickeningly – to his two young daughters who were somewhere in the audience with their mum, Sophie Dahl. A brand-new and truly beautiful song, Dream My Girls. Bet they were proud of Dad.
I hope that some of the energy and atmosphere of this concert will be conveyed when it’s televised on BBC4 on Tuesday 23 August. Meanwhile, you can hear it again for the next 30 days at bbc.co.uk/proms