On the rare instances my family and I find ourselves together under the same roof to toast in the New Year, more often than not we’ll have Jools Holland’s Hootenanny as our primary visual stimulus. Deep, contemplative conversation between two university educated young adults, a head teacher and a businessman’s seemingly long since seen its day in the under my parent’s roof.
As a someone who read Music at university, I saw viewing live music as central to my academic development. When given the opportunity, swapping the classrooms, lecture theatres and libraries for concert halls, festivals, chapels and, on one rather bizarre evening, a friend’s kitchen, is all part and parcel of really understanding the discipline beyond its academic foundations.
There is a huge contrast between the ways in which young people consume visual media today, compared to days gone by.
Nowadays, YouTube's indelicate, almost bludgeoning supremacy is unapologetic in its often tasteless presentation of music.
It's hard to compare this with the live music featured on some entertaining, albeit unfashionable television shows of the past.
There have indeed been worthy attempts over the years. The Wave, a garish, neon-strewn CD:UK, the incessant antipathetic repartee of Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver on Channel 4’s Popworld, and of course the beloved but cruelly retired Top of the Pops lays bare an arguably protracted format. Yet a show like Later… With Jools Holland should be cherished, even though televised live music nowadays probably seems like a quaint concept.
Few television shows, currently, make a point of televising music from such an array of ensembles and artists, not least be hosted by someone who’s as accomplished and talented tinkling the ivories. So being a fully paid up member of the Jools Holland fan club – complete with Squeeze albums lining much of my antiquated CD collection and having seen him in concert twice before – I of course leapt at the chance to witness the taping of his newly remodelled Later… show when offered.
So, a month before this pestilent pandemic struck our shores, a friend and I attended the Monday taping of the show where both Thursday’s half an hour and Friday’s hour-long feature were to be recorded back to back that evening. The thrill of being on a guest list and therefore not being subjugated to the oh-so trivial matters of eTickets and queuing, made for an already heightened sensibility. Along with the newly decorated sound stage – painted a swinging sixties sunshine yellow – Holland now has a guest host for each episode of this 54th series; tonight’s being Ronnie Wood and Imelda May.
Even before the cameras began rolling the audience were greeted with some amusing jollities from Dave; a senior stage crew member with a gift of the gab and a palpable zest for his role as Holland’s unofficial hype man. While reminding ourselves that they’re just like you and I, it still didn’t diminish the minor sense of elation being so close to some of the industry’s finest without the customary barriers and bouncers impeding our field of view.
Kicking off the recording with one of their new singles was Foals, followed immediately by Scotland’s boy-wonder and Gregg’s enthusiast, Lewis Capaldi – all current chart toppers and generally safe choices to get the show going.
Each performance was sandwiched between some jovial chatter between Holland and either Woods or May which I found to be a little irksome by about the third bout. This was marginally improved when the hosting trio sat around a mock counter-high pub table, joined by Capaldi and their own (one assumes alcoholic) beverage to hopefully stimulate conversation. It sort of worked, and it would be a shame to have an hour long show with this assortment of guests and not once approach any of them. I for one would be more engrossed if Holland invited one of the lesser-known artists for a talk instead of the obvious A-listers.
As is common with a Later… line up, the seasoned professionals are interspersed with a few fresh-faced newcomers. The evening saw Ohio native Sudan Archives, perform some of her tracks; infusing R&B, West African-inspired loops and beats, and her distinctive style of Sudanese violin solos. Finally, singer-songwriter Nilufer Yanya, bringing a charming blend of alternative-indie grit and sophistication. Her fuzzy guitar tone and angsty, youthful vocals, refined somewhat with the lush saxophone notes and glitzy Moog synthesiser.
I enjoyed her set particularly, not just because of the style, but, and I’m in no way trying to bolster my public impression by saying this, I’ve known of her work long before the European tours and appearances on late night shows in America because a close friend of mine used to be one of her touring musicians. So it felt rather inspiring to see her again after what was probably an exhaustive few years prior to getting a slot on primetime UK television. Musicians, it could happen to any of us!
Not being too familiar with all of her tracks, my ears pricked up and the musicological cogs began whirring when Ellis, the drummer, played a sensational backbeat to the song Angels. Incoming technical jargon: the pattern used implied metric modulation when the stylish 6/8 groove on the kick drum, snare and hi-hat quickly transitioned into a 3 against 2 polyrhythm by accenting every other 8th note triplet on the hi-hat. And… breathe! Unexpected, but an oh-so very tasteful titbit to include into by an otherwise standard pop/rock outfit.
So taken aback as I was with their closing number that I managed to catch up with Ellis and Nilufer after filming had wrapped up to congratulate. They probably had to wrack their brains a bit, but they remembered my friend and ex-touring member Jamie, so we bonded quickly and talked all things gigging and drums.
This highlights the importance of retaining these shows and making them accessible to all manner of artists and audiences of all creeds.
As an aspiring musician looking to break into this industry, being able to personally witness the clinical precision it clearly takes to organise and coordinate aspects from sound, lighting, filming, photography, autocue and scripting operators, PR, and even hair and makeup is astonishing and inspiring in equal measure.
For impressionable young adults with an eye on a career in such an industry, having a television show like Later… continuing to broadcast, as uncool and out of date as some might argue, is indispensable in capturing the imaginations of a new generation of artists and media producers. So long as companies like the BBC continue offering experiences to students and youngsters, like the one I have had, passion for the arts will continue to thrive.
Unlike YouTube or radio where music is churned out in such quick succession and often without any degree of screening, getting booked onto Later… is the sign you’ve either ‘made it’, or probably soon will. For any aspiring musician, a television show like this remains a public service in keeping music live and for the masses.