Jools Holland gears up for Kenwood concert

HE is a familiar presence on our televisions as the warm and genial host of his music show, Later, but what Jools Holland really relishes is playing concerts with his band. His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, who are performing at Kenwood on August 15, combin

HE is a familiar presence on our televisions as the warm and genial host of his music show, Later, but what Jools Holland really relishes is playing concerts with his band.

His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, who are performing at Kenwood on August 15, combine a sensational mix of big band sounds and boogie woogie rock and roll rhythms, and right now he is getting excited about his return to the venue.

Despite being a true London boy - he grew up in Greenwich and says he loves every inch of the capital, Mr Holland's contact with Hampstead and the Heath has so far been limited. But it made quite an impression on him on the one occasion when he played at Kenwood before.

"I couldn't believe it was in London," he said. "I thought I'd been chloroformed and taken to some destination in the countryside. It was like one of those strange films where you think you're somewhere else and then you see a London bus and realise you're still there.

"It's a fantastic place to play."

He speaks quickly - with the fast meter of a man who is in a rush. And he is indeed pressed for time because his publicist has booked him an interview slot with Radio Norfolk just ten minutes' after the start of our chat.

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It seems he has been working fast all his life - in 1966, when he was just eight, Mr Holland had already learned to play the piano fluently by ear, and today his enthusiasm for his craft is stronger than ever - especially when talking about his orchestra.

"Unbelievably the band has been going for 15 years now," he said. "To keep it going for that long is a big achievement. What's special about it is that we've got people in their 70s and 20s, we've got some fantastic guests with us and we have this great feel."

He is at the core of the band along with his long time friend and drummer Gilson Lavis and building on that hub he has players as influential as ska pioneer trombonist Rico Rodriguez.

And for the Kenwood concert he has some sparkling talents confirmed as guest performers. Their magical appeal is clear from the way Mr Holland savours their abilities like a little boy in a sweet shop.

"Louise Marshall has a beautiful voice and Dave Edmunds has fantastic boogie woogie credentials," he said.

"And Ruby Turner has a voice that is from another place in time. It's like if you look at your nan's favourite dinner you couldn't replicate it at the poshest restaurant in the world. Her feel is magical - it could be 1937 when she sings."

Mr Holland has probably performed and recorded with more artists than any other living pianist in the world and has collaborated with the likes of Tom Jones, Sting and Bono, but he says it is impossible to pick a favourite.

"I've been very fortunate to have worked with such an amazing amount of people," he said. "George Harrison was fantastic and Eric Clapton. We do stuff with all sorts of people - it's too much to think about really. It's fantastic that you can do something with someone as young as Nora Jones - and that's the thing about music, it's not about age, it's about a feeling."

That feeling and the buzz it generates is what keeps him coming back again and again to the stage.

"I look forward to most gigs because you communicate your feelings to people without having to use blunt words like the ones I am using at the moment," he said.

"It's an art form where you can see the physical response from the audience and you can see if they're having a good time by the way they are manoeuvring."

In the course of his career, Mr Holland has often seen the power of music and the effect it can have on people - and no occasion has been more poignant than when he performed at the G8 Conference in Holland.

He and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra performed the Beatles song All You Need is Love for the leaders of the western world. On hearing the trumpet introduction, Jacques Chirac mistook it for the opening of the French national anthem and stood up. Out of courtesy Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and Boris Yeltsin also stood, and once they realised what it was, and to avoid an international incident, they carried on dancing.

Mr Holland said: "The real joy was that the other political leaders all stood up so he wouldn't look foolish. That they kept dancing - that was the joy. It was that music could conquer the world for that moment."

The generosity and inclusiveness of his spirit often comes through in his television appearances and is borne out when he is asked if there is anyone in the business today who is overrated - he says yes: "I am."

When pressed to say whether he prefers working as a presenter or a performer, he reveals that regardless of whether or not he is presenting, it seems always to be the thrill of playing live that drives him.

"On Later I'm playing live a lot of the time anyway," he said. "And I think that's the important thing I've learned. It doesn't matter if you're a musician or a painter or a poet or an electrician. You've got to do it all the time when you do it for your job.

"The performance is a continuation of doing it but it's natural. So I'm playing music all the time anyway - sometimes on stage and sometimes on television. I concentrate a bit more when there's an audience, though."

For someone with such a prodigious work rate it is hard to see where Mr Holland finds the time to relax and let his hair down.

I ask what he's doing when he's not making Later. "I'm making love," he said casually. "Later actually only takes about 12 days a year to make. What really takes the time is playing with a big band."

Next he reveals the list of musicians he would include in his fantasy band - a mouth-watering prospect, and a group in which he, of course, is a fixture on the piano.

He said: "In my fantasy band I would have Gene Krupa on drums - he was a great drummer."

On bass he would employ Charles Mingus, the American jazz leader renowned for his fearsome temperament, although he frets that Mingus might just go around bashing everybody.

"I'd have George Harrison on guitar and maybe Caruso and Betty Smith on vocals, and Big Joe Turner, with Duke Ellington doing our arrangements.

"And Bach doing our strings," he says, really warming up to the prospect. "And we'd have Little Tich as our warm up act. I think it would be a pretty good show."

Finally I ask whether there is any chance he is likely to change his mind on the decision not to reform his old band Squeeze, but he says not.

"I am not a reformed character, I am not a reformed man."

o Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra are playing at Kenwood at 7.30pm on August 15. To buy tickets visit www.