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Jools Holland - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 6 / 6 / 2014

Jools Holland - Interview


Nick Dent-Robinson talks to Jools Holland about his lengthy musical and television career and his forthcoming appearance at this year's Cornbury Festival

Jools Holland, probably now the UK's best known bandleader, boogie woogie pianist and TV personality, is mid-way through one of his traditional spring and summer UK tours. Most of his gigs will be inside but Jools most looks forward to getting out in the open air and playing in grand settings like Althorp House, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens and Great Tew Park in Oxfordshire where he returns to play at Cornbury Festival on Friday 4 July. “I can't wait to get outdoors and play,” Jools says with his customary enthusiasm. “It's a very English summer thing and there's an ancient pleasure in being outside making music surrounded by the grass and trees.” As usual, Jools will be joined by his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and special guest Marc Almond plus former Spice Girl, Melanie C. His regular vocalist Ruby Turner will be there too. Ever since his young days as a founder member of Squeeze, Jools has been playing with musicians of enormous talent. The list seems endless and includes names like Paul McCartney, Dr John, Sting, Tom Jones, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Jools was awarded an OBE for services to British music and starred at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace. He was also involved in her Golden Jubilee concert, was a musical director at the Millennium celebration at the Dome in Greenwich - where Jools was raised - and he has performed on several occasions for world leaders at various G8 conferences. These included the famous time when Jools's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra struck up the first notes of 'All You Need Is Love' and Jacques Chirac mistook the trumpet introduction for the start of the French national anthem and stood up. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Boris Yeltsin quickly joined the French president, to mitigate his embarrassment and, led by Yeltsin, they all started to dance! Jools smiles at the memory but diplomatically doesn't comment. Many people now know Jools best from his TV appearances, especially as host of the hugely popular Later...with Jools Holland show which has run for more than forty series. His New Year's Eve 'Hootenanny' has enjoyed top ratings for twenty years, too and decades ago Jools hosted The Tube with Paula Yates. There must have been some incredible moments along the way? “There have been...though the passage of time makes some of it rather a blur,” Jools says. Then, after a few moments' reflection, he adds, “It's hard to pick out just a few key things. But I can tell you one. Being part of The Concert for George back in 2002 was very special. There were so many people performing there that I'd admired for years. Not long before he died, George Harrison had written a song for my Small World Big Band album which featured collaborations from all kinds of people I'd known in music. Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Steve Winwood and Sting were some of them." "Anyway, George wrote 'Horse to the Water' and, though by then he was quite ill, George was determined to sing it for the album. Sam Brown went along to the hospital and they recorded the vocals together. When I heard the cassette I was very excited. It was brilliant. But George wasn't strong enough to play the guitar on the recording and he suggested Mark Flanagan from the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra should do it. 'I trust him more than anyone because he's a nice boy from Bootle' George said. Which is what happened. And 'Horse to the Water' is one of the most powerful pieces my orchestra ever recorded. Anyway, that was the piece we performed at Concert for George. Sam Brown sang the song in a typically storming performance and I accompanied on piano along with all the big names from rock music that Eric Clapton had assembled for that wonderful occasion. It was a magical night. You know, Sam Brown is one of the greatest singers I ever worked with...but I digress.” Aware of the slight risk of over-exposure, one thing Jools Holland always does is to mix things up and change repertoire and running order. No matter how many times you have seen Jools before, you can expect on each occasion to be rewarded with a whole new show from a band of virtuoso musicians each of whom deserves to be famous in their own right. “The orchestra is like a living, breathing organism...a big creature,” Jools explains. “It has grown organically – a group of people thinking together who need constantly to be fed new ideas, new music. We gig almost non-stop for much of the year but we also find time to learn new things. We'll retire some material and find something new. And having different guests brings something additional. It is an on-going, never-ending process.£ “Of course nobody would ever start a big band from scratch now. The costs are huge and we are lucky that broadcasting helps cover some of that. And you need to have continuity in the people too. So they don't just read the music - some of my players can read music and some don't do it that way. They all need to actually think and feel the music. We do sometimes use different configurations...we can be a sports car or a limousine or a big estate. The orchestra can become all these things and anything in between. But there is continuity too. We do have some staples and there's always some boogie woogie. I love to see the impact on people – seeing those boogie woogie muscles twitching or the ska knees moving as we play! Which is the whole joy of playing live. You are looking into the whites of an audience's eyes. But after you've done it for a while it becomes something you love – and it just gets better! Like everything in life, whether painting or writing or photography, the more you do, the more you gradually improve - and I like to think I'm doing that with a big band.” Jools always had interesting hobbies. I recall interviewing him years ago when he was passionate about railway memorabilia, greyhound racing and classic cars....we spent a long time discussing his rather unusual 1953 Austin Hereford A70 pick-up truck, I recall. These days, a little bizarrely perhaps, Jools is Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and Honorary Colonel of the Royal Engineers (101 City of London Engineer Regiment), the British Army's bomb disposal experts. hese distinguished appointments mean that Jools will be especially at home at Cornbury - known as 'Poshstock' for its appeal to a rather rarefied clientele with regular attendees including members of the royal family and many from the world of politics (David Cameron hates to miss the event) and big business? “We were there in 2004 and 2012 and Cornbury has a lovely atmosphere,” Jools says. “We played one of our best ever performances there in 2012. The location is stunningly beautiful, the event is very well run and the line-up is always wonderfully mixed with some great musicians. And the great thing about boogie woogie and ska music is, it is for everybody. There are no divisions between politics or social classes with our kind of music. For me, it is all about the impact on people. What we play is wonderfully up-tempo and a happy sound that is at the root of so much popular music. Though it is easy to play it badly and hard to play it well plus it is never the same twice. So I know everybody at Cornbury will have a great time, whoever they might be!” For details of Cornbury Festival at Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire (from 4-6 July) see www.cornburyfestival.com

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Jools Holland - Interview

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Visitor Comments:-
704 Posted By: lisa, chicago on 20 Jun 2014
What a wonderful, upbeat interview! Thanks for this, Nick! lisa

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