JAZZ artist Jamie Cullum has cancelled his sold-out show tonight in Oxford - and abandoned the rest of his UK tour because of coronavirus fears.

The singer and pianist was due to play the New Theatre Oxford as part of a 12-date tour but has cancelled with just hours to go. And he had a swipe at the Government for failing to provide "clear directives".

He said: "I’m sorry to have to announce that due to the rising incidence of Covid 19 and directives from The World Health Organisation I have made the decision to postpone the rest of the UK Taller 2020 Tour.

"I’m so disappointed to not be able to bring this show to you, which was over a year in the making, but it is very clear to me that this is the best course of action within the current health crisis.

"When a big tour is out on the road it takes a lot of moves to bring it suddenly to a halt, particularly with no clear directives from our own Government. For now, the brakes are on, and we are working on re-scheduling the shows for later in the year, when the universe is in a better place."

The cancellation follows a decision by new wave star Elvis Costello to cancel his show at the same venue last night and Kansas indie-rocker Piney Gir to call off her show at Oxford's Deaf & Hard of Hearing Centre on Friday. 

No one has done more to reinvigorate the world of jazz than Jamie Cullum. Over the course of eight albums, 24 singles and countless live shows and TV appearances, the pianist, singer, guitarist and drummer has helped make jazz cool again to mainstream audiences.

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We have seen him leaping around the stage at Blenheim Palace, where he delighted the crowd with a smooth version of Radiohead’s Creep, and heard his inventive twists on tunes by everyone from The White Stripes and Massive Attack to Kanye West and Lady Gaga.

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Talking to to us last week, the artist said he had been looking forward to returning to Oxford on a tour which was supposed to accompany the 40 year-old’s latest album, Taller, and told us "this tour is going to be a memorable one”.

The name, Taller, he admits, is an in-joke concerning the relative height of he and his wife, the former model Sophie Dahl – granddaughter of the writer Roald Dahl.

“The title is essentially a joke that makes reference to the height difference that exists between my wife and myself, but the central concept of the song and album is the the growth you experience in a long-term relationship.

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“It’s about holding up a giant mirror and saying ‘this is who I am’, as I also wanted to discuss my emotional and intellectual growth, which came to the fore when the songs were being created.”

He declined to reveal the height difference between them, insisting he doesn’t actually know, but sources have suggested he is about five foot four inches tall, while Sophie stands at about six feet.

He is eager to downplay the difference, though.

Of more interest, is the album itself. So how does he go about writing a new LP?

“I just follow my nose and don’t overcomplicate the process,” he says.

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“I had some songs hanging around but I ended up with songs with more emotional depth. It feels better than any that have come before and I’m happy about that – and that’s all that needs to be said.

“I feel happy in my skin and am happy to take something from any situation, apart from those things that can’t be changed.”

While tonight's show is off, Jamie, who was brought up in Wiltshire, studied at the University of Reading (a first in English Literature and Film Studies, if you’re interested), cut his musical teeth on the Oxford gig circuit, and now lives in neighbouring Buckinghamshire, is still looking forward to returning to Oxfordshire – which is almost home turf.

"It’s always amazing playing after doing it this long.”

And, he says, audiences can continue to expect more of his trademark energy in future – when the virus risk has subsided.

“I have played in different types of bands, and when I found myself playing more jazz, I didn’t stop playing with energy.

“Because I was young, I wasn’t as keen to follow the perceived rules; it’s just how I thought it should be. I had been bringing the same vibe to tons of gigs in Oxford and surrounding areas before and just carried on.”

Among his regular early haunts was The Spin jazz club, held above The Wheatsheaf pub off Oxford High Street. He speaks endearingly of his deep respect for the club and the people behind it.”

“My music has much in common with pop and I want it to reach a wider audience, I still have that excitement for jazz and for playing with great musicians.

"I have had lots of luck and good timing, but also I am not following anyone’s script or rule book. I am just doing my thing.”

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Jamie at Blenheim. Picture by Tim Hughes

With time now on his hands, given the cancellation, maybe he can curl up with a good book – perhaps, given his family connection, one by the master, Roald Dahl. Does he have a favourite?

“I don’t have a particular one,” he admits. “But who doesn’t love them? I I grow up with some of those stories, but now I love the grown-up ones, like Skin or My Uncle Oswald. They are great!”

Jamie Cullum's tour if off, but album Taller is out now.