He begins the interview with some news explaining some background to The Song Project. “Ah, well, that’s something I started yesterday. I’m making another album at the moment; I’m writing original songs for a new album, and in the process of doing that and continuing to school myself in songwriting I’m learning and playing other people’s songs. I always do that anyway. But this time I’m recording them. The only rules are that we have to learn them and record them in the same day and make it there and then and not kind of overwork it. Just an exercise. We are filming them and recording them while we’re making this new album and we’re going to put them up on YouTube while we’re making this new album. You’re the first person in the world to know about that. It is with different musicians all the time. Yesterday it was my band and it will be different people each time.” 

Cullum is hesitant about describing his latest album Interlude, which has attracted huge interest both here and in the US and seen him make the cover of Downbeat and Jazz Times, as a return to his jazz roots. “I guess the record that came before Interlude was probably more of a pop-orientated record. But I made Momentum and Interlude at the same time: it’s just about scratching creative itches. The album that I’m working on at the moment is probably somewhere in-between. Then I might make another jazz record. It’s all part of the same thing. I don’t consciously return or disappear from anything. It’s probably the way of aiming to have a career that has some kind of longevity by just doing what feels good and feels right.”

Cullum on his Radio 2 show champions a wide range of new jazz talent, and he happily mentions some of the artists he has been struck particularly by lately. “There are lots of good new talents out there. We all know about Jacob Collier from YouTube and from Quincy Jones’ patronage but he’s someone I have been enjoying, truly a world class talent. And there’s a wonderful new singer-songwriter with a jazz edge to her called Ellie Rose Rusbridge who I think is really something special. We have just started playing her on the show and got an amazing reaction. I think Laura Jurd has just made something interesting with her new record, and what’s interesting about these young jazz composers, like Ellie Rose, Laura Jurd, and Alice Zawadzki, is lyrically they are all jumping far ahead. You know I’m not even talking about instrumentalists: I feel like the world of jazz is getting really good lyrics added to it recently. People are jumping on board with pretty amazing stuff.”

Looking ahead to the Derry gig Cullum recalls impressions of an earlier visit. “I visited Derry/Londonderry in the capacity of making a radio documentary about piano just kind of deciding how vital the piano was still in modern life in some ways. And I ended up visiting Derry/Londonderry because I heard through many people about how amazing the local music scene still was. And I went to Bennigan’s and attended one of their famous jam sessions and chatted to some of the musicians there. I also went to a great girls’ school there called St Mary’s, did workshops there, and hung out with the choir and listened to some of the students playing piano. They have an amazing music department there and I’m always interested in that kind of thing in general. I spent a couple of days in Derry/Londonderry and just loved it really and really felt a great joy from being there. Obviously it was Year of Culture there though it might always be a year of culture there as they seem to have a vital self-made cultural scene. The main reason I am coming back and why I’m getting the choir from the school to perform is because they were so good and it was an amazing sign of how vital the growing music scene is there. For me I just made friends with them and thought it would be a nice opportunity for them to play on a real stage in front of a real audience. Hopefully, the people watching will get a kick out of it as well.”

Cullum says he doesn’t have a setlist in mind for the gig as such. “I never really quite know what I’m going to play. I’ll know when I’m there on the stage, and I guess I’ll be drawing from everything I’ve done. Not having played in Derry/Londonderry before I’ll see how I feel on the day. It’s nice as you get to really react to how you’re feeling – the feeling in the room.”