The HMV Forum in Kentish Town, London has been a popular venue for a long time. Previously known as the London Forum, it had a major refurbishment and after a venture with HMV in 2009, it became the venue it is today. Its stage has seen a wide variety of artists like Coldplay, Gorillaz, Wu-Tang Clan and more recently, Deftones. It also holds a special memory for me as it was the first venue I experienced a rock show in! The year was 2001 and the line-up was pop-punk kings, New Found Glory supported by then label-mates and newbie’s to the biz, Finch and The Starting Line. I won’t reminisce too much but let’s just say there was lots of bouncing and singing as well as being stage-dived ONTO. Oh, and levitating. Yes, I learnt that when one ends up at the front of a stage you know longer need your feet when 200 others are holding you up by the shoulders.
Anyway, 10 years later I found myself enjoying a rather different experience which didn’t involve sweating, thrashing or rebellious teenage hormones. Well, I did try and restrain myself. British crossover-jazz star, Jamie Cullum was one of a number of British acts participating in a series of gigs this week, celebrating the upcoming Q Awards 2011. The other shows included Pixie Lott, Kaiser Chiefs and Ed “can’t-do-anything-wrong-right-now” Sheeran. Jamie’s night started off with support from new singer/songwriter, Lucy Mason. The young Aussie, with the backing of a tight modest band, successfully opened the evening with her lovely brand of folk-pop. Akin to artists like Laura Marling and Lissie; her voice was warm, deep and full of emotion. And a particularly special cover of Phil Collins’ classic “In The Air Tonight” went down a treat; her version playing out with a slight Country twist a-la Lady Antebellum. Especially more so with the rich backing vocals of her male musicians. Overall, it was a beautiful and confident performance from a relatively new act on these shores.
Whilst Mr Cullum was no doubt warming up those jazz hands (as I was), I couldn’t help notice the range of ages that surrounded me. With the exception of a few twenty-something’s, the majority of the well-groomed crowd could have been categorized anywhere between 30 and 60yrs old. It was really nice to see a variety of people all getting a kick out of some energetic and modern jazz-pop. I’ve personally been a fan since his 2003 break-through, funnily enough titled ‘Twenty-something’. And so at around 8.45pm, the man himself emerged, suited and booted along with six other musicians; a number of suitably jazzy instruments in tow. As well as Jamie’s mandatory grand-piano, the stage was completed with a drum kit, trombone, saxophone, trumpets, keyboard/organ, electric guitar, electric bass and double-bass. And it was a sight to behold and hear for sure. After a slightly comical hiccup when he forgot his lyrics(!), he got into his stride with a brilliant “Twenty-something” and “All At Sea”; his familiar gritty and deep tone sounding sublime in the room’s acoustics.
After a casual chat with the audience about being a father and biggin’ up the Awards Gigs Series “to make sure I get paid”, he sprung into the lovely and poignant “Photograph” and his cover of Rihanna’s hit “Don’t Stop The Music”. The latter came with a beat-boxing breakdown and showed brilliant skill from his cheque-shirted, fuzzy-faced musicians. “They have beards I can only dream of” mused Jamie at one point during the impressive hour and forty-five minute set. The band’s talent made the show even more spectacular; most of them swapping between stringed and wind instruments effortlessly all the while also providing competent backing vocals. Jamie himself was a force of nature as usual, bounding across the stage and using his piano like a well-used piece of gym equipment; bashing, pounding and mounting the poor thing at one point.
However along with all the fun and comedy that he brings in his physical performance, his singing and piano-playing show you just how serious an artist he is. There were some particularly tender moments with ballads like “Rayleigh Road” – a nod to his childhood in Essex and my favourite Jeff Buckley cover “Lover, You Should Have Come Over”, performed with more passion and sexual tension than a Sharon Stone movie. And even despite a fan’s amorous outburst – “Take me now Jamie!” the 5” 4’ lad continued playing before nonchalantly countering with “Hmmm…Perhaps later”. Whilst showcasing his best modern covers he also took the time to pay tribute to his peers; a great rendition of American songwriter, Cole Porter’s 1935 track “Just One Of Those Things” was fascinating. I was hypnotised by the speed and co-ordination of the double-bass and blown away by the technical saxophone solo midway through.
Whilst honouring musical talent of the past, Jamie also reminded everyone of a special someone that he still lists as his biggest influence; his older brother Ben. And we were lucky enough to see him join Jamie on stage for a track that he wrote for him, “These Are The Days”. In the shows dying moments we were treated to another surprise with an interpretation of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. You could have heard a pin drop in those moments; the room going as dead as the night whilst Jamie and the piano softly delivered that famous melody and lyrics “Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it”. Albeit Jamie being Jamie, he added some spontaneous Jazz-filled magic to the track and perfectly rolled straight into the final track of the night, “High & Dry”. It upped the energy once again and had people swaying, clicking and singing along with enthusiasm. And when he encouraged different sections of the room to sing and take separate harmonies it was a nice touch to bring everyone together for a final moment.
I thoroughly enjoyed the night and applaud Jamie Cullum for a night of beautiful music and fun in-between banter (“me + crack = Pete Doherty”). He is a serious musician with a serious talent for infusing contemporary tunes with jazz; a genre which tends to be overlooked by others my age for being boring or complicated. He proves that it is well and truly still relevant and it can bring the unlikeliest bunch of generations together for a good time.