Ask a group of people what they think of Jools Holland and you’re unlikely to get the same answer twice. For a few, he’ll be fondly remembered as the bombastic keyboard player in the original line-up of New Wave greats Squeeze. More likely, he’ll be known in his more recent musical incarnations, as a consummate soloist and frontman for his group, Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. For most, however, he’s a cultural staple, the host of the BBC’s ‘Later with Jools Holland’ since 1992, a renowned socialite and a household name.
From an early age blessed with what Blues legend BB King called a ‘left hand that never stops’, his natural aptitude for the keyboard led to him joining Squeeze at the age of only 16. By 1980, he had left to forge a solo career, whilst meanwhile landing a job as the host of Channel 4’s iconic musical series The Tube, where he gained instant acclaim as a charming and animated presenter. Whilst the next decade saw Holland rejoin Squeeze and release a number of respectable records, mixing swing and R&B with more current sounds, it was in 1992 that his TV career really took off.
Looking through the list of performers, every major artist seems to have made an appearance…whilst the show has also helped launch the careers of numerous acts, including Coldplay’s in 2000.
Following a stint as co-host of NBC’s Night Music, he began fronting the BBC’s Later with Jools Holland. BBC2 most likely expected a modest late night show to tide viewers over between news broadcasts, with reasonable viewing figures and a run of a few years. 49 series later, Later has earned seminal status as a musical platform. Ben Howard said of the show: ‘Later is not necessarily a pivotal performance in your career, but it’s a defining performance.’ Looking through the list of performers, every major artist seems to have made an appearance, from Bowie to Elliot Smith and Paul Weller (11 times), whilst the show has also helped launch the careers of numerous acts, including Coldplay’s in 2000. However, the shows success isn’t based on music alone, it is as mucn built on Holland’s warm charisma and reputation as a gregarious socialite. The combination of these led to the conception of Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, long the refuge of the music lover over a frenzied New Year, 2016’s edition featuring Chaka Khan, Christine and the Queens and Gregory Porter amongst others.
When he isn’t establishing himself cultural gatekeeper, Holland has continued to perform, most notably with his wildly successful band Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, who recently sold out Oxford’s New Theatre. As a session musician, Holland has worked with Sting, Sir Tom Jones, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, David Gilmour and Bono, whilst his solo albums have been diverse and successful, including an album of collaborations with various female singers (Sirens of Song), and most recently 2016’s Piano – an exploration of Holland’s relationship with the keyboard.