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Jools is a man of rhythm
HE is the Russ Conway of the modern age. An entertainer by nature, smiling gleefully from behind the baby grande.
Jools Holland has remained one of the most recognisable faces on British television ever since he co-presented The Tube, the programme which defined the flamboyant eighties.
In recent years, and more soberely, he has presented 32 series’ of the incomparable ‘Later with’, the programme that, in constantly providing such a disparate mix of musical genres, has achieved the near impossible.
Jools Holland was boogieing his way around the clubs of London at the age of eight. Indeed he was just 15 when Chris Difford and Glen Tillbrook invited him to add his precocious piano to the legendary songs of Squeeze.
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was suddenly thrown into a band featuring two of the greatest songwriters of the past 50 years...it was a steep learning curve.”
Not since the days of The Kinks and the Small Faces had a London band emerged with such a rich collection of musical hall songs...songs of everyday life and strife in the capital.
“Forget art galleries, forget cinema...true art lives on a live stage. It’s a shared experience."Jools Holland
But, although this would seem to be suited to Holland, every inch the oiky cockney, his solo ambitions caused him to leave Squeeze before the band broke America.
“It was becoming a comfort zone for me,” he said.
“But playing with talents as great as that took its toll. I wasn’t satisfied in the artistic sense and I knew I had to do something on my own. I must admit, I thought that would be a successful career as a solo artist. Well, it didn’t quite work out like that.
“I became some kind of television personality completely by accident and I worried about that for many years. But that brought me eventually to ‘Later...’ and everything started to fit into place. It was really strange. The music came back to me. None of it was planned.”
As well as providing a platform for up and coming, established and legendary acts alike, ‘Later’ also became the template for Holland’s celebrated Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.
“Although I enjoy all the television stuff, the orchestra is where my true passion lies,” he said.
“Forget art galleries, forget cinema...true art lives on a live stage. It’s a shared experience and we travel the world playing to audiences who constantly amaze me with their enthusiasm and energy. That is real art.
“And nowhere is this more inspiring to me than at venues such as Arley Hall. It was utterly stunning in every possible way.”
Although the musicians of the orchestra have remained constant, it is the fluctuating use of ‘guest’ singers who always seem to add extra spice to the live sets.
At Arley Hall recently, they were joined by Marc Almond, the one time Soft Cell man, latterly known as a singer of torch songs to grandiose accompaniment.
“Marc has been perfect for us”, said Jools.
“We performed ‘Tainted Love’ with him on tour and it is exactly the kind of song that suits a big band treatment. Not every rock singer is capable of fronting a full orchestra, but Marc proved equal to the task.
“But the great thing about the orchestra is the timeless nature of the music. We can play twenties ragtime jazz, ska songs or something utterly contemporary.
“We have certainly come to realise that people have wide-ranging tastes, these days. They accept, enjoy and, as an audience, contribute to all kinds of songs. That is what makes it all worthwhile.”