With articles ranging from the history of flamenco, the evolution of workwear and the story of 1940s cyclist Eileen Sheridan, The Eighty-Eight (which is named for the number of keys on a piano) is an eclectic affair. It contains the odd conventional piece – Cullum interviews fellow musician Ben Folds, for example – though its feel is definitely that of a passion project, rather than a commercial enterprise.
This is evident too in the frequency of publication: this is the second issue of The Eighty-Eight, with the first coming out in 2013, to coincide with the release of Cullum’s album Momentum.
The decision to create the magazine was initially sparked by a desire by Cullum to create something unusual to sell on his tour merchandise stands. “When you’re a touring musician, part of the goal is to sell stuff to your fans,” he says. “I thought what about if I made a magazine that had a lot of things that I was interested in, but was also designed in the way I would really like it to be designed.
“We could get really pornographic about the paper stock and could do lots of things you wouldn’t normally do in a magazine that had to be commercial. Because if it was a thing for my fans, I knew I could sell 3,000 of them. So that was how the first one came about.”
Cullum was in the advantageous position of having two close friends who had the skills required to bring the magazine about, designer Kate Monument and publisher Simon Tapscott. Monument has worked closely with Cullum to give the Eighty-Eight its scrapbook feel. The latest issue is packed with illustrations from the likes of Matthew the Horse and Michael Driver (a recent CR graduate pick), and Monument has also indulged Cullum’s love of a “particularly lurid neon orange”, which appears throughout. The result is a quirky publication, full of personal touches.
Cullum is a big magazine fan, citing Straight No Chaser, The Believer, and a range of fanzines from Japan as particular favourites. This love of independent mags fed into the distinctive look of The Eighty-Eight from the start, and while the first issue may have been created primarily as a vehicle for fans, its design and content attracted a wider audience – “you’d read messages online saying, ‘I absolutely loathe Jamie Cullum’s music, but this magazine’s really good!’,” he says.
The second issue is being stocked at museums including Tate Modern and the Design Museum in the UK, as well as in US outlets, and Cullum’s presence within it is deliberately dialled down even further here. He writes a number of articles, but the only image of him appears in an ad from Yamaha.
It’s clear that Cullum has the publishing bug, and is keen to do more issues in the future – “I can see a bigger, exciting future for it,” he says – and is determined to continue creating a magazine with distinctive, interesting content. “For me, not only is it a joy to do but it’s also a way of experimenting with other forms of creativity and collaborating with people,” he says.
“I feel the independent magazine arena has exploded so much that actually in some ways it’s almost become its own clichéd genre,” he continues. “One thing that I talked to Simon, Kate and Anna-Marie Crowhurst (who edited it with me) about was that it was so important that it had actual content in that was of real value. So it isn’t trying to be a trendy thing. It really isn’t – it’s a bit silly, it’s got some really long interesting pieces in it, and it’s definitely something I would want to read.”