Jingle bells aptly heralded the arrival of Jamie Cullum on this freezing winter night. The British jazz-pop pianist, singer-songwriter and broadcaster was back onstage for a one-off show, themed around his ninth and latest album, The Pianoman At Christmas. This seasonal collection (originally released in 2020) showcased Cullum’s snappy original songwriting chops rather than relying on cover versions – though an extended version later added traditional favourites such as Walking In A Winter Wonderland to the party mix. Cullum’s deft blend of old and new captured the multi-generational mood of classic Christmas playlists; on Friday night, it also made for a spirit-lifting live get-together.
Although Cullum’s crossover star status emerged a couple of decades ago, at 43 he retains his boyish energy (and smart-casual attire), as well as an infectious enthusiasm for far-ranging sounds. He was whole-heartedly in his element onstage, whether at the keys of his baby grand, or animatedly singing, backed by a snazzy and swinging big band and vocal trio, promising us a Yuletide set-list with “not too much of the cheese, just the good stuff”. He wasn’t overly serious here; Christmas is a time to indulge musically as much as everything else, and his contemporary tunes such as It’s Christmas and The Jolly Fat Man didn’t skimp on the familiar trimmings: Santa, snowmen and stockings; homecoming and hopefulness. Yet these tracks, along with rollicking standards including Sleigh Ride, were served with a warmth, wit and musicianship that genuinely sparkled throughout.
Cullum was in excellent, mellow and melodic pop voice, and happy to flaunt his Christmas musical influences: from jazzy showstoppers like Sinatra and Louis Prima to a brassy dash of 1980s hitmaker Jona Lewie. He was also intent on sharing the spotlight with his talented players, including members of the London-based yet Deep South-styled Kansas Smitty’s band; the set really felt powered by his close rapport both with the musicians and the devoted crowd. There was an affectionate silliness to the occasion; when fans yelled compliments about Cullum’s shiny trainers, he climbed astride his piano (a trademark move) to show them off. There was also real relish and respect; the lively audience fell to a hush for the quieter ballads (a solo piano rendition of How Do You Fly? proved a poignant stand-out); a fan’s request for In The Bleak Midwinter inspired Cullum to join him in an impromptu a capella duet.
When Cullum suggested: “Shall we do this every year?”, the response was an affirmative cheer. Some set-list bangers weren’t just for Christmas – his high life-flavoured take on Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, and his own genre-spanning anthem Mixtape (taken from 2009 album The Pursuit) transformed the venue into a multi-tier dancefloor – but the atmosphere was definitely celebratory, with two servings of the sweetly spicy original Hang Your Lights. Surrounded by joyous faces of all ages, loud Christmas knits and twinkling lights, Cullum gave us a selection box of festive bops to melt the iciest hearts.