Jools Holland can't wait to strike up the big band for closing show of Wonderhall Festival at Lytham Hall next week
World -renowned, pianist, composer and TV presenter extraordinaire Jools Holland is very much a London lad but says the north west is a place he always feels at home. It is the history, particularly the musical history in these parts, that lights him up.
The former Squeeze member says: “It’s a real nest of talent that comes out of those parts, a member of the band Louise Marshall (vocalist) has this wonderful history (from Oldham) and I’ve got a whole host of connections my great-grandfather was from Liverpool, I have a couple of other relatives up there and dear friends in Southport
“It’s just a part of the world I really like and I feel really at home there. And simply the crowds are always great.”
Holland will arrive later this month with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra to close the inaugural Wonderhall Festival on Bank Holiday Monday at Lytham Hall, with the power house Marisha Wallace.
The 63-year old says he cannot wait for that rush he still gets everytime he gets on stage with the band.
He says, “What I’ve come to realise - what I’ve learnt in this time when we didn’t play for so long - is that I have always had the best view from behind that piano and in hearing them all, it’s wonderful.
“It’s why I do it - the truth of it is a two-piece band would be a lot cheaper to turn - Ed Sheeran has the right idea, one bloke on the stage with his kit but I’ve got 20 people playing sometimes in quite small places.
“It’s not always easy but the reason I do it is for that sound, you can’t replicate that with synthesizers, you can’t replicate it with a screen or a sample - it has to be real people to give that certain energy.
“And all the players in the group do their own music, they’re all great players in their own right so it’s just wonderful to get them together to make a noise for me.”
Making a noise is something Holland has never struggled with since making his mark in the musical world, starting out as a session musician and going on to become one of the founding members of rock band Squeeze in 1974.
As keyboard player he was with the band through its first two albums, the eponymous Squeeze and Cool for Cats, a hit single alongside Up the Junction. He left to pursue his solo ambitions before embarking on a television career first presenting music show The Tube with the late Paula Yates and since 1992 his own programme Later... with Jools Holland plus the ever popular New Year’s Eve Hootenanny.
“I was a stage show off and if you’re a musician you need an element of that so when this offer of doing some TV came along it was blind confidence really.
“I’ll give it a try and it’s worked out. For me it has been wonderful because whatever I’m doing I’m plugging into the same thing and thats the music.”
Legends of music from all genres consider it a privilege to be invited on the show and he has a unique status of performing with musicians who have achieved success in every decade of the 20th century.
His life from his early years has always been about the music. Holland started playing piano at eight, growing up in south London.
“My gran had a piano in her front room, a wedding present from her mother. Their street was bombed in the Second World War so the outside of the piano was charred but the inside withstood the blast. It survived the Luftwaffe, it could survive anything, even me going mad, ” he says
“Eighty per cent of the time the music people enjoy is what they grew up listening to - some homes don’t play much music which is quite sad but my parents liked old jazz and blues records and they liked classical records, so I was hearing that all the time.
“They liked The Beatles, stuff like that. My children have grown up listening to mine, music I was writing or learning. Musicians often when at home are playing their own music, learning it or trying to figure it out. They’d all tell you they grew up hearing me bashing out the piano just trying to work out the next show.”
The success of all that practice time at home speaks for itself and Holland has travelled the world with his music many times over. But he recalls fond memories of previous trips to Lancashire.
“I remember coming to Blackpool with The Tube early on and we went for a night out with Paula Yates and David Bailey, the fashion photographer and we visited this little place where there was a guy playing at the piano.
“I ended getting up and playing duets with this older fella, I wouldn’t be sure if he was still around now but it was quite a wild one - really great night, one of those spontaneous wonderful nights.
“And one of the happiest most memorable shows I’ve ever done was when we came with the BBC with my Big Band at the Empress Ballroom (A Blackpool Big Band Boogie Woogie 2015).
“It captured a really great moment - Blackpool always does”
Would he ever consider joining in the Illuminations Switch On concert as a career goal?
He laughs: “That would be a great idea, I love the Illuminations.
“I filmed a lot while I was there on its musical history, going back to those times when Frank Sinatra was in resort and discovering more on that music history, which I love.
“The lights make up part of the charm in that they are this legendary thing and now we’re all coming out of this, well this awful thing, the lights are symbolic.
“I remember saying to someone you know we’ll all be through this when the lights come back on - well when the Blackpool Illuminations come back on you know we’ve come back to life, which is great.”
Holland had not performed for more than 18 months with the national lockdown and restrictions to the live music scene.
He adds: “A big band is like a football team, you’ve got to get in the right order and keep everyone match fit. Live shows keep you match fit.
“It breathes, it has its own life - you’re giving everything to it. If you haven’t played a game for 18 months and let’s face it musicians have been suffering - I know one of the greatest trumpet players in the UK and he’s been driving a bread van - it’s been tough.
“So to get back on stage was a great joy but it was for that first show a bit like an old racing car stuck in the garage.
“It was spluttering a bit but once warmed up it was really great, fantastic.
“But what I also noticed was the audience which was rather touching. We did a warm up show in a nightclub all tables and chairs and what I saw was this real effort people were going to, to give that extra space.
“Everyone having a great time but so aware and I really think that is one of the good things to come out of all of this that people have more regard for each other.
“Me, I’ve got to take care of my fingers. I had no idea after all the time off how hard I was bashing on that piano again!”
Holland will close WonderHall, joined by former Squeeze bandmate and drummer Gilson Lavis with special guest Eddi Reader.
Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and West End star Marisha Wallace will also perform, and the picnic-style event will be opened by Lytham St Annes Shanty Crew.
WonderHall is a new live music festival coming to Lancashire’s Fylde coast this summer.
It will see six nights of live music taking place in the grounds of Lytham Hall from Wednesday, August 25 to Bank Holiday Monday, August. 30
Sir Tom Jones, Anne-Marie, Russell Watson, Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro and Marc Almond will all headline WonderHall.
More than 30 artists will perform across the six-day festival taking place in the grounds of historic Lytham Hall.
Holland says: “We’ll be under the stars and be a canopy of the night sky, the trees and the setting and the music will just lift up everybody’s spirit, I hope.”
For tickets visit https://www.wonderhall.co.uk/tickets/