“Steam rooms,” says Jamie Cullum, with a grin on his face. “I really love steam rooms. It’s almost unknown, but Frank Sinatra used to travel with his own steam room and he loved spending time in it with his cronies and gossip. I think that’s one of the reasons he could smoke, drink, stay out late and yet still be able to sing very well.” Anyone hoping for reports of Rat Pack-inspired bacchanalia will be disappointed, however. Cullum, the UK’s biggest-selling Jazz star, is far more likely to be found with his nose buried in a book or tinkering with musical instruments.
“These days we have this great opportunity to travel with so much fun gear, I’ve got loads with me. I like to make funny electronic music and play on my laptop with this Akai USB keyboard I have, or do non-music stuff like taking photos,” Cullum says, revealing that he takes a lot of camera equipment with him when touring. Meanwhile, his love of reading led to several songs on his 2009 album, The Pursuit, being inspired by Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Pursuit Of Love, a romantic tragicomedy set against the backdrop of World War Two. “It’s actually Sophie’s favourite book,” Cullum says of his wife, the author and cook (and ex-model), Sophie Dahl. “She’s read it hundreds of times. Some parts of my album got their inspiration from the book. Now I’m reading this big heavy book, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which I’m really enjoying.”
His happy home life permeates his work, and while his work also permeates his home life, it’s a balance he enjoys. “I’ve got a piano practically everywhere in my house,” he says enthusiastically. “I have a piano in my kitchen because it combines my three favourite things, cooking, eating and playing music. My cat often sits on it and helps me get some inspiration for my work. I realised that there were also some things we couldn’t recreate in a studio, so the kitchen it is.” This homely, intimate vibe infects a couple of songs on The Pursuit, particularly I Think, I Love, one of Jamie’s more typically skewed love songs. But if anyone was in doubt about the debt Jamie owes to The Pursuit Of Love, the album cut “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down is probably the first love song I’ve ever written without a joke in it,” he admits. “The only pure love songs I’d sung before were by George Gershwin, not my own. It is totally written for one particular person,” Jamie adds, with a look in his eyes that radiates contentedness.