How We Met: Duncan Macmillan & Jamie Cullum

Author: Interviews by Rhiannon Harries

Jamie and I met at Reading University, where he was studying English and I was
studying film. We both lived off campus, so he used to give me lifts in his
car, which was stuffed full of books. I was late every morning but he never
seemed to care – he was simultaneously the most laid-back and motivated guy
I’ve known.

I was never aware of any burning ambition in him, but he got a first-class
degree while also gigging pretty much every night. He made these brilliant
films, would tear through books, knew everything. He was never a show-off,
though ? I didn’t realise he played the piano for ages. One day we went into
a music shop in town and upstairs were all these grand pianos. One of our
friends started playing, then Jamie sat down and played something and it was
obvious he was phenomenally talented.

He wasn’t around that much because he was always going to London or Swindon to
play, but we bonded during those morning trips and talked a lot about music,
film and books. We both listened to the Gilles Peterson radio show and we’d
often bump into each other at gigs or record shops. I remember making him a
mix tape; I used to make them for everyone and nobody really listened to
them but I got in the car one day and Jamie had it on the stereo.

It was after uni that we became much closer, after he became well known. I’m
not sure why that was, but I know people do change when someone they know
gets famous and maybe the fact I just carried on turning up, being the same
as ever, might have had something to do with it.

It was amazing to see things take off for him. I was doing a course in
Birmingham after my degree and he played two nights at a jazz bar. The first
night there were 20 people who just happened to be there, but the next night
was packed as word spread.

Our friendship still revolves around going to gigs or the cinema and whenever
I see him I still take a bunch of CDs of music I have been listening to.
It’s a good way of communicating when he is on tour and we can’t speak.

We had an amazing fishing trip in Cornwall recently, but ordinarily he’ll come
down to Brixton to see me and we’ll go to the cinema to catch a film then
back to mine for a Chinese and some music.

Jamie always looks out for me. You never know which country he is going to be
in but he’s always turned up when I have a play on, even if it’s a 10-minute
fringe production.

Jamie Cullum, 30, is an award-winning jazz and pop singer-songwriter.
Cullum came to prominence with his 2003 platinum-selling album
Twentysomething, which made him the UK’s bestselling jazz artist. He lives
in London with his fiancée, the writer Sophie Dahl

I met Duncan a few months into my degree. I was doing an English course, which
wasn’t as creative as I’d hoped, so I was a bit fed up. A friend who was on
a film and drama course told me they needed musicians for a play. I thought
it might be a good way to meet girls so I joined in and got on really well
with lots of people, including Duncan.

I was struck by him straight away, as he had this amazing beard ? my chin is
still pretty much like a 10-year-old’s, so I was particularly impressed. I
started picking him up from his house and we realised immediately that we
had the same tastes in music and film. I found him compelling because he was
super-intelligent but he didn’t give everything away about himself.

Our friendship really blossomed after university. When I started getting
successful, he always came to gigs and was really encouraging. He also makes
me these incredible compilation CDs of new or really rare, unreleased stuff.
He’s a bit of an insomniac, so I think that’s how he fills his time. It has
become an intrinsic part of my musical education; he must have made me 100
over the years. He’s not a musician but he has a better knowledge of music
than anyone I’ve ever met.

As soon as he started to have his work performed I started going to everything
he did. First of all it would be in front of three people above a pub, then
at the Manchester Royal Exchange, then on Radio 4. His work at university
was really good, but when I saw his later work I was stunned. He’s such a
lovely person but he can write about these distant, dark things and get
inside the heads of nasty, complex characters. We are so close as friends,
but when I go to see his work I feel like a fan-girl. I’ve had tears of
pride in my eyes at his talent.

I can call Duncan up for anything ? we both recently got engaged and we were
both top of each other’s list to tell. I was at a real crossroads with my
new album and I was being pulled in different directions. I went on a really
long cycle ride then sat on a park bench, gave Duncan a ring and we chatted
about everything. He’s got really interesting views about what it means to
be creative. He struggles with the same problems with his work that I do ?
sometimes you feel your work is good, sometimes terrible. It’s great to able
to talk all that through with someone.

Jamie Cullum’s next single, ‘I’m All Over It’, is out tomorrow on Decca;
his album, ‘The Pursuit’, is out on 9 November

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