He’s the face of the only remaining mainstream music show on terrestrial TV, Later..., and on Thursday Jools Holland will be returning to Portsmouth as part of his latest tour with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.
It’s the orchestra’s 21st year, and Jools is once again joined by his regular foil, vocalist Ruby Turner as well as singers Louise Marshall and Beth Rowley.
And special guests on the tour are Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, from Coventry-based 2 Tone band and ska pioneers The Selecter.
‘I’m looking forward to getting down to Portsmouth again, I always enjoy myself there,’ Jools tells WOW247. A stop in Portsmouth has been a regular stop on the group’s annual tours.
‘It has been, and I’m so fortunate because I love what I do and I couldn’t do it if people didn’t come to see it.
‘We always have a great time there. There’s a good atmosphere.
‘When I was small, I used to go to Portsmouth with my grandparents, I think we had a relative there, and I used to go with them.
‘We’d go around the Victory and have a little potter around.’
Away from the live shows and the TV work, Jools is getting an album together that has been a labour of love for the ivory tickler.
‘I’m busy this week working on a piano record. I’ve had a long-term relationship with the piano, but realised I haven’t made a record of piano music for a long time, something like 25 years, I think.
It’s a blessing to do what I do, so I just keep trundling on with it, and trying to understand it allJools Holland
‘I realised that I do it on stage, I do it on television, I do it at home, but there’s no recordings of it, so I started doing it and realised I’m out of my comfort zone – it’s like looking at the mirror closely for a bit too long.’
While Jools is known for his boogie-woogie style, he is stretching out on the new record, even having a crack at a classical piece.
‘I dip my toe into that world, but I’m not a concert pianist, that’s not what I am.
‘I know a wonderful little Bach piece that I learned to play by ear, so I fling that in.’
There’s another piece that’s just piano and birdsong, influenced by French composer Olivier Messiaen.
‘We went out into a garden in London and got the mics out, and when you play in the early evening we realised that the birds sang back at you, and we captured a little bit of that.
‘I don’t know if it’s going to be number one in the Ibiza dance charts,’ he chuckles, ‘but it’s kind of great, it’s pretty out there.
‘And I’ve done one with Brian Eno with his soundscapes.’
But he assures us that there will also be plenty of the blues and jazz that you’d expect from a Jools record.
The orchestra often features guest singers, and this year it’s The Selecter’s dual vocalists, Pauline and Gaps, which put the band back in touch with its ska side.
‘We used to have Rico Rodriguez in the orchestra,’ explains Jools, ‘one of the great legendary ska trombonists from Jamaica. Sadly he died a couple of years ago – he was in his 80s.
‘We still have Michael “Bammi” Rose, one of his best friends playing with us, but losing Rico, we lost not just a very important part of music history, but a very important part of our orchestra because he’d been playing with us for 20 years.
‘When we lost him we lost that ska element that he brought out in our playing. Although we had Michael, we kind of lost something.
‘When we played with Pauline and Gaps, it brought that back and it was great, because it’s an important part of what we do.
‘For some reason that ska sound sits very comfortably with us, the same way an early rhythm and blues and jump-boogie music sits with us as well. It all blends in – it makes you feel the same way, or it makes me feel the same way, when I hear great ska as if I hear Fats Domino or (blues shouter) Wynonie Harris.
‘They did a couple of shows with us, and they fitted like a glove, people jumped up and were dancing straight away. We realised it was great fun, let’s do this.’
The Selecter had their first hits in 1979, right around the same time Jools’ then band, Squeeze, were also getting their first taste of fame. Did they ever cross paths back in the day?
‘I think we probably did the odd thing, I don’t know, festivals and TV shows and whatever, but I particularly liked what they were doing.
‘It was like the blues thing, where The Rolling Stones legitimised it, if you like, for someone to be white and from London to play the blues.
‘The same way you don’t have to be German to play Beethoven, music is like that, and Selecter helped invent the idea and made you realise that you could take those elements of Jamaican music, play it and make it your own, and that it was perfectly all right to come from Coventry and not Kingston, Jamaica.’
He’s also full of praise for Ruby, a successful singer in her own right, who has also been a key part of the orchestra’s revolving cast since 2002.
‘She is of course originally Jamaican, but her roots and music are like something from another age. A lot of that music comes from the same place as when you hear early records, from before the 1920s. It’s like the blues stuff, the boogie stuff, the church stuff – the sort of spirit of it is the same, and she’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who connects with all that.
‘Also, she’s the same age as me, and we’ve been working together for a long time, she’s like my sister, I love her.
‘It’s always a pleasure to have Ruby there, and you never know what’s going to happen with her. She just lights up – you can see her in the wings, she’s getting wound up and wound up and then she comes on like a tornado, and tears into it, it’s like a spirit force, she’s not pretending. It’s real. I think people get that.’
As if the tour and record weren’t enough, Jools is also coming to the end of the 49th series of the BBC2 music show, Later... With Jools Holland. The simple format of half a dozen or so guest acts taking it in turn to perform in front of each other in an open studio each week has been running since 1992.
‘I think it’s pretty extraordinary and I’m very grateful that I can do all the different work that I do, and I’m very fortunate. But in the case of Later... I’m amazed that it’s still on – shows do fall by the wayside.
Jools believes that following the music rather than whatever’s fashionable has been key to its longevity.
‘If it was on anywhere else other than BBC, I think you’d get: “Why have you got so and so on? Why don’t we just have all famous people on every week?”
‘For us, it’s important that we get someone on who is famous now – you want the big star, and a big legend from the past, and you also want someone who’s new, and someone who might be famous in their own world – like world music, or jazz, or folk, or whatever, but isn’t known to the broader public, ideally you want all of those elements, and on another station, I don’t know that you’d be allowed to do that.’
Over the years the show has managed to snaffle most major acts, but Jools admits he would love to get Aretha Franklin or The Rolling Stones on.
‘Generally we’ve been pretty lucky.
‘I’ve got no complaints, because we’ve been so lucky with the people we have had on.
‘It’s a blessing to do what I do, so I just keep trundling on with it, and trying to understand it all.’
n Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, November 3. Doors 7pm, start 7.30pm. Tickets cost £32.45 to £40.70.