Jamie Cullum steps out from behind the piano for his best collection so far
Jamie Cullum's most recent album, Momentum, is, without doubt, his best yet. It's because, for the first time, he has penned practically all of the tracks himself, which is perhaps puzzling given that it's his sixth studio offering, that he's now the wrong side of 30 and that he has happily settled into married life – with cookery writer Sophie Dahl – and fatherhood.
Having experimented with everything from rock to hip hop in his teens, he had the freedom in his 20s to rip up the jazz rule book and rework classic rock tracks as well as jazz standards, becoming the biggest selling British jazz artist in the process.
So you would think he might already have produced his most exciting work. But it's only after creating Momentum that Jamie can say, hand on heart, "for the first time, I've started to think of myself in terms of someone who creates stuff for a living."
Ironically, it's becoming the father of two girls that has helped make it happen.
FREE WHEATGERM WITH EVERY POND HEATER www.blagdon-water-gardens.c...View details
Protect your pond fish this winter. Purchase the resun 100w pond heater £39.99 from www.blagdon-water-gardens.co.uk and we will give you a pot of Tetra wheatgerm 1l winter fishfood worth £4.99 FREE
Contact: 01934 316673
Valid until: Friday, February 28 2014
"The great thing about kids is that you have to go with it when they need you," he explains, "so you have a lot less time to yourself, much less to spend on stupid, irrelevant stuff.
"Which means that when you do get time in the studio you really have to focus on the job in hand."
Initially he had considered revamping more jazz tunes, but his instinct, on relocating to Island Records, was to write new material. He took himself outside his comfort zone, sitting behind unfamiliar instruments like a ukulele or drum kit to write, instead of hiding behind the piano.
"When I started, I just couldn't stop – 10 new songs appeared in a short space of time."
He had created his own momentum, hence the album title.
"I guess it relates to an aspect of growing up and having a family – you can't rely on just sailing through anymore, you have to work that much harder."
The result is a fabulous collection of uplifting alt-pop anthems with songs like Edge of Something and The Same Things dispensing epic widescreen soundscapes, featuring edgy electric organ arrangements instead of the usual jazzy piano.
When I Get Famous is a fabulously fun tongue-in-cheek bossa nova party tune, while one of only two covers, Cole Porter's Love For Sale, is given darkly disturbing treatment with sinister funk groove. By contrast, the beautiful Sad, Sad World – "the beating heart of the album" – showcases Jamie in almost singer/songwriter mode.
Ask him where his lyric ideas come from and he'll tell you: "I read a lot – I did an English Lit degree and I get loads of ideas from books.
"I find that quotes can be a starting point and from there, phrases just come to me."
It was while he was on a train journey to London that the lyrics for the song popped into his head.
"The phrase 'help me paint a smile on this sad, sad world', seemed so familiar I thought it must already be a song, so I Googled it – but there was no trace of it."
The idea was not inspired by being surrounded by a bunch of sad faces in the carriage, he says.
"While I've always thought there's plenty of joy around, when you look at things through the eyes of a child, the whole world becomes a much scarier place."
When it comes to the live show, however, Jamie's mature responsible self takes a firm back seat and he's still just as likely to bound around the auditorium and run (literally) up and down the piano keyboard.
"I feel like a giddy child with the possibilities of what to do on stage, there are absolutely no boundaries," he beams. "And I'm touring with the musos who made the album. They're completely versatile, capable of going everywhere from hip hop to pop, to modern jazz. There's no set list so anything goes and it's a different show every night.
"Which is why I love touring so much."
Jamie Cullum stops off at the Princess Theatre, Torquay, on Wednesday, October 30.