To borrow a line from one of his most famous covers, ‘What a difference seven years make’.
Following his glorious UAE debut at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival in 2007, British singer and performer Jamie Cullum is coming back on February 19 to the same festival.
“Gosh, seven years ago I was in my late 20s. I was unmarried, had no children and I was single. My life was as different as you could imagine,” Cullum laughs, speaking over the phone from London.
Cullum was touring the world with his fourth album, 2005’s Catching Tales, then. A year before that, he capped it by becoming the UK’s biggest selling jazz artist of all time following the release of his international breakthrough album Twentysomething, which went on to sell more than 2.5 million copies.
He has since gone on to make two more albums, his last one, Momentum, released last year. He’s also collaborated with everyone from Pharrell and Clint Eastwood, on the film soundtrack for the Oscar-nominated Gran Torino. He now has his own jazz-themed radio show on BBC Radio 2, and, last year, launched a magazine called The Eighty-Eight, covering everything from how to make music in the back of a tour bus to where to find the best burger in London.
But the biggest change in his life, he says, is starting a family. Cullum married his long-time girlfriend Sophie Dahl, the model and author and granddaughter of the writer Roald Dahl, in 2010. The couple’s second daughter was born last year in March.
“What’s interesting is often people think life changes when you have a record deal and you do all kinds of stuff,” says Cullum, now 34. “Obviously your life changes but nothing changes your life like getting married and having kids.
“It’s the craziest thing you can imagine. I’m still obsessed with the same things, I’m still obsessed with playing music, still get up everyday and make music, listen to music and be a part of the music world. But my anchor has changed a lot. I am now anchored by this incredible family that I’ve created for myself which is amazing.”
He knew starting a family would change things, but not quite in the way it has, he says.
“One of the beautiful things about having kids is I had no idea how much it will make you look into yourself and who you are and what you believe in and what your past was like and all that kind of stuff,” he says. “I think it’s made me really look at life in a much more intense way. Really looking at things, asking more questions and being more critical of things.
“On a simplistic level, I have less time. I thought that would mean I would make less things. But actually it’s made me more productive than I ever was before.”
Still actively touring, Cullum, who returned to Dubai to play at a private party in 2008, was preparing for a five-day tour of Japan when tabloid! spoke with him.
Combining his jazz heritage with modern influences and everything from dance, rock and pop music, he’s often been referred to as a boundary-pushing pioneer of the jazz world.
The music industry, he says, has changed unrecognisably.
“It’s so different now. When I signed my first [major] record deal, it was 2004. Ten years on, I would say the industry is unrecognisable,” he says. “People consume music in a completely different way. And in some ways, that makes it more difficult.
“It exposes a lot of cracks a lot more now because things move so quickly. You just need to move along and be always a step ahead. That makes it more exciting in some ways. It keeps you on your toes. The quicker you can make the music, the better.
“[I think] if you have a good live reputation and people come to see and enjoy your concert and you have consistency and still releasing things, you’re OK.”
But Cullum, who says he’s working on a new album ‘with some great people’, says he’s never really seen himself as part of the establishment.
“It’s kind of an uncreative thing for me to think about [my place in the music industry]. I’m sitting here in the airport lounge with my manager. I’ve been doing fun, high profile stuff now for 12 years. And that makes me a veteran in some ways. My audience hasn’t shrunk. It’s kind of grown. And I continue to have new opportunities.”
Those new opportunities also include writing a musical, developing his radio show and performing at even more ‘great gigs’. He’d also like to produce young artists, he says.
For now though, he’s enjoying being a family man, which he refers to as his inspiration.
“It’s amazing. The chaos of a young family life has really inspired me,” he says. “It doesn’t mean I’m writing songs about nappies and walking in the park. Having kids sets a bomb off in your life. It really makes you examine who you are, what you believe in and what you want to be. And that is magical for creativity.
“You get up early, youre always cleaning up s***, you always have food on you, your toddlers are throwing a tantrum, you’re warming milk, getting bottles… it’s crazy. Having kids is something that makes you more a man. But I’ve never felt so inspired.”