REVIEW: PROM 36 – Jamie Cullum with the Heritage Orchestra and guests

Jamie Cullum at Prom 36.Photo credit: BBC/ Mark Allan

 PROM 36 – Jamie Cullum with the Heritage Orchestra and guests
(Royal Albert Hall. 11th August 2016. Review by Rachel Lindley)

This what Proms were made for: a showcase of talent, wooing an audience. Jamie Cullum’s second Prom – the first was in 2010 - was in the shorter late night slot but the content was no leaner, instead bursting at the seams and packing as much into 80 minutes as possible.

Cullum held the audience from his first notes, just his effortless vocal and piano in Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans) gradually made the phones disappear and people engage with the event itself. You sensed in this song that, whatever guests or instruments were to join, he didn’t need them - he’s got it on stage. 

The beginning of the Prom was perfectly executed. From out of the first number’s simplicity, the baton was passed to the Remi Harris trio playing from the organ loft, elevated over the orchestra and showing creative use of space. They were joined by Cullum for the percussive version of Old Devil Moon overlaid with Harris’s extraordinary guitar improv.

It was in the third number, Same Things, that the true sonic potential onstage was disclosed, beginning with a wall of sound from multiple drummers and featuring the Roundhouse Choir, directed by Osnat Schmool. The most amazing brass rung out over this from a storming Heritage Orchestra announcing their presence, under the baton of Jules Buckley.

This start was illustrative of the best in the Prom -- intelligent arrangements, whether full or stripped back, of great songs delivered impeccably by Cullum, his band and the orchestra. The Weeknd’s song Can’t Feel My Face was a highlight and also provided opportunity for audience participation to which they responded well. Through the night those present were catching a glimpse of Cullum’s musicianship and ability to communicate with neither pretension nor need to dumb down.

The pace of the programme was well planned, although slightly suffered with a couple of the original songs; a formulaic Bond song and Coldplay-esque Life is Grey were not quite deserving of the delivery they were afforded and the young Roundhouse Choir added anthemic strength but the voices, tuning and the lack of tight harmonies didn't match the standard of the rest of those on stage, and left me feeling somewhat frustrated.

The Dakhla Brass version of Love for Sale stripped out the harmonic and melodic nuances which define the song to leave a simplified vocal line with insufficient interest to carry it. At its end Cullum’s return to piano and vocals was welcome for the simple yet effective original, I Think I Love.

Cullum promised the very best and to do something a more collaborative and it was a generous Prom, giving space to many others. Of particular note has to be the trombone vs trumpet duel in Comes Love, Tom Richards – everything he did as MD, arranger, saxophonist..., Coco’s rapping, and and Eska in Good Morning Heartache.

It was forward-looking, unstuffy, well structured, well executed and held together by a natural performer. As one of the ‘lighter’ Proms, this was not lite, it was about the notes and, alongside the buzz about the place, that's was what Proms should be like - true virtuosity displayed to the enjoyment of listeners.


Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)
Old Devil Moon
(with Remi Harris Trio)
Same Things
Life Is Grey
Comes Love
Good Morning Heartache
(with Eska)
Edge of Something
Love For Sale
(with Dakhla Brass and Coco)
I Think I Love
Song Society
When I Get Famous
God Only Knows
(with Eska)
Can't Feel My Face
Dream My Girls

LINKS : The set of six official BBC photos
Fourteen clips from the BBC Radio 3 recording
Prom 36 was recorded for television, and will be broadcast on BBC Four on August 23rd at 10pm

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