The popular jazz star brings his festive show to the Royal Albert Hall for one night only

By: Dec. 09, 2023
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Review: JAMIE CULLUM - THE PIANOMAN AT CHRISTMAS, Royal Albert Hall It’s probably safe to assume that, for many people, December 2023 so far has not been “the most wonderful time of the year”; whether it’s miserable weather, unreliable train infrastructure, or any of the myriad other problems facing the world, the lead-up to this year’s Christmas festivities has not exactly been vintage. For one magical night, however, Jamie Cullum managed to sweep that all aside and deliver a festive concert stuffed with pure joy.

Rising star Eloise opened the evening with a short set, to showcase some of her discography and also get the audience in the mood for the headline event. A venue like the Royal Albert Hall must be intimidating for any artist going out there to perform alone (regardless of how experienced they are), however Eloise rose to the occasion with her smooth vocals and a few chuckles at the story behind her album’s title track “Drunk On A Flight”.

I have to admit that I was surprised to enter the hall and see that there was a standing section - but it quickly became clear that Jamie Cullum does not do a ‘typical’ jazz concert. The big band backing to his The Pianoman at Christmas album obviously lends itself to a bit of a dance, but when you experience Cullum’s onstage exuberance and whole-hearted enthusiasm for music, it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment.

There was a perfect balance to the evening, with a range of songs from the album played either with the big band or Kansas Smitty’s (with whom Cullum recorded some tracks for the deluxe version of the record), as well as some solo numbers at the piano. There was even an opportunity for Eloise to make a brief return, duetting with her musical hero on “This Winter” - a song written by Cullum that was inspired by “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, but without the creepy lyrics.

Reflective moments such as “Beautiful, Altogether” and “In The Bleak Midwinter” were wonderful opportunities to take stock and consider the emotional aspect of the festive period, making them definite highlights. It was, however, the big toe-tapping numbers that made most impact and provided some much-needed escapism over the course of two hours. “Hang The Lights”, “So Many Santas” and “The Jolly Fat Man” were instant favourites - so much so that the former got an encore at the end of the main set.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Cullum’s breakthrough album Twentysomething, so it was a lovely touch to give the title track the big band treatment - as well as an unexpected solo rendition of lead single “All At Sea”, just when even the most experienced of gig-goers thought the night had come to an end. In between those numbers was an epic take on “Sinnerman” (made famous by Nina Simone), in which everyone was encouraged to let go of their inhibitions and have a dance.

Anyone who arrived at the hall feeling a bit of a humbug couldn’t fail to be won over, taking on a massive dose of festive spirit courtesy of Jamie Cullum and his marvellous big band. 

Jamie Cullum: The Pianoman at Christmas was at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 December - Christmas events continue until 27 December

Photo credit: Royal Albert Hall


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