Jools Holland: I’m a slight show-off on Hootenanny


New Year’s resolutions are not exactly Jools Holland’s style. “Whatever it is you’re resolving, just do it and get on with it,” he says, in the no-nonsense manner of a man who practises what he preaches – and certainly has no truck with social media detoxes, getting his inbox down to zero, or whatever else may be in the zeitgeist come January. “I don’t [even] have an email,” he says. “I don’t want anything coming back at me. I’ve got enough things to think about; things to build, books to read, pianos to play, songs to write.”

And, of course, programmes to make; not least his annual, pre-recorded (sshh!) Hootenanny broadcast for New Year’s Eve. He’ll have it on, himself, on Thursday night, although not in an everyone-must-be-glued-to-the-set way. The reason the show, now in its 23rd year, works so well, he thinks, is because it can both provide background atmosphere for a gathering, and allow those who are home alone to feel they’re part of the party: “You never quite know what’s going to be there and who’s going to turn up.”

Not that he’s lacking in famous friends. When it comes to plucking anecdotes about the great and the good as if they were chocolates from the Christmas tree, there can’t be many with the reach of Jools Holland OBE.

He has recorded with Eric Clapton, Sir Paul McCartney, Solomon Burke and Bono, had Prince Charles round to his house and gets together for sing-alongs around the piano with Sir Tom Jones. (He has, of course, also met the Queen – “not intimately as a friend, obviously, but just as an admirer and loyal subject”).

Yet for all this hobnobbing with celebrity aristocracy, Holland doesn’t turn the charm off when he leaves the TV studio (where, he confesses, he is a “slight show-off”). In the flesh, the man from south London is the delight you might hope him to be: as immaculately polite as he is dressed, in a pin-stripe jacket and jeans, and every bit as old-fashioned as his on-screen persona would suggest.

“I always have been [old-fashioned],” he readily accepts, “ever since I was 10. When I was young I thought the man next door was really cool – he was about 55 and had an Austin Westminster.” Now 57 himself, a shiny black classic car stands in the drive.

He hospitably shares the left-overs of the (very tasty) stew his wife made last night with me in his office, which opens onto the recording studio at the heart of a complex of properties modelled on the multicoloured Welsh coastal town of Portmeirion. Tucked away in a corner of his native Greenwich, it’s an appropriately eccentric setting for one of the music scene’s real characters.

Engraved into the wooden panels wrapping around the studio balcony is a firmament of stellar names who have come to make music with Holland – it was to avoid missing a recording session here that Bono (who “can sing like Frank Sinatra”) flagged down a passing motorbike to weave through a gridlocked M4.

Musician Jools Holland in his role as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent, watches members of the Operation Herrick 17 Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Task Force, on parade before they receive their Afghanistan Campaign Medals at Invicta Park barracks in Maidstone, Kent CREDIT: PA

Holland’s latest release, however, honours his enduring collaboration with Ruby Turner, the singer with whom he has toured his “pants off” for the past 20 years but who, until now, has only ever been “squashed” onto the albums he has made with more famous figures.

“There’s nobody [else] who understands the mix between the Blues and early gospel music and how the sound comes from the same place,” he says of the Jamaican-born singer, who he met at a show in Birmingham in the early 90s. “She is like a person from another age.” From a little club in Munich to the Royal Albert Hall, the pair have travelled the world with his Big Band.

What was once known as the record business has changed beyond recognition in that time. “Nobody’s really selling any records,” says Holland, who still loves to own them himself. The music industry, though, will survive. “There will always be somebody who makes great music, whatever way it’s recorded and distributed.”

For his part, he’s enjoying live performing more than ever before. “I realise now that people have paid to come and see you, so they’re going to like it,” he says. “As you get a bit older you start to relax into it.” He’s been on the road, on and off, since his mid-teens in the mid-70s, as a member of the new wave band Squeeze. “Glenn Tilbrook and I started playing in pubs when we were 16 and realised that was going to be our lives, because we got money,” he says.

Life with Squeeze was quite the eye-opener. “Because it was Punk time we used to have a blow-up sex doll on stage and do all sorts of unspeakable things. Those were the good old days. Everybody smoking [not just cigarettes] and enjoying themselves.”

There was always the chance, though, that they might be spat on. “It was a sign of great adoration. It was like a medieval saint (Holland is a keen medievalist and a connoisseur of the Dutch Golden Age and Renaissance) – as his relic was being taken by the townsfolk the country would come and gob at him.”

Upon leaving the band, his profile soared as co-presenter of music show The Tube with Paula Yates, and after hosting Night Music on NBC in America, he became the face of Later With Jools Holland in 1992. Twenty-four years on, the show’s mix of emerging and established artists ensures it remains a flagship BBC Two property. “Our show’s an example of what the BBC is supposed to do. There are artists on who don’t have a home anywhere else on television.”

To Holland’s mind, the BBC sits alongside museums, royal parks and public swimming baths as an integral part of “an almost Victorian idea of taking care of everybody.” It is also, he argues, “a unique voice that is very British, and people like British things all over the world. So it’s a very important export and it’s also an important mirror on ourselves.” BBC bosses, he believes, “have to be a bit more bold and put their hand on their heart and say, ‘We’re the broadcaster for Britain, shut up and f*** off and get on with it, you bunch of complainers.’”

Jools Holland and wife Christabel CREDIT: DAVID FISHER / REX FEATURES

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