Jools Holland comes to Birmingham next month as part of his national tour. The boogie woogie man talks to Shereen Low.
You could be forgiven for not recognising Jools Holland if you walked past him.
Dressed in a peaked cap, battered leather jacket and jeans, with only a black shirt embroidered with the initials JH revealing his identity, the former Squeeze musician doesn’t command much attention in real life.
Jools’ 19th album, Moving Out To The Country, has just been released – and despite the fact that he’s been in the music industry since he was 15, he remains rather modest and shy when it comes to acknowledging his talent.
"I’m not a music expert or a talent-spotter, and what I’ve realised is that I’m still learning all the time. My job’s been the best job in the world," he says.
"On my passport, where it says occupation, I’ve put ‘expert’ as a joke, but the truth is the opposite of that. The more I realise that I don’t know so much, the more I get to learn each day.
"It would be very worrying if I did get bored of it, and I think there would be something wrong with me if that happened. I find something fresh in music all the time. I love music so much that there’s always something new to find in it.
"And the more you look, the more you find. The more you practise the art of music, the more you discover. I play the piano all the time and I’m still trying to understand it. That
mystery is part of the pleasure and the joy and that’s what I think will keep me going for a while."
Having successfully shaken off his ‘bad boy’ image to become a renowned pianist and musician, Jools knows what it takes to be a credible musician.
"Firstly, you have to love music, and you need to have an open mind about all sorts of music. For instance, a lot of jazz people are prejudiced about country music. But both have fantastic qualities in them.
"Music shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Be prepared to discover new things all the time, and to know that quite often you also have to go back in history.
"There aren’t any genres that I’m not keen on," he adds. "It’s either stuff that gets me or that doesn’t.
"I’ve heard Willie Nelson’s Darkness On The Face Of The
Earth before and I’d always quite liked it, but when I heard KT Tunstall sing it for the album, I thought she was fantastic. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard.
"That’s the other thing that makes a credible musician – if you have the gift to do that. Or get people dancing without them even thinking about it."
The 48-year-old presenter of long-running TV show Later... has worked with everyone who’s anyone in music, including BB King, Dr John and Eric Clapton.
"I’ve been more lucky than any other living man in that I have worked with some of the greatest musicians from this century, last century and the one before that. I’ve worked with fantastic jazz musicians born in the 1890s. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked and learnt from all these people and played with them," he smiles.
Despite his many successful collaborations, there’s one person he wishes he could have worked with.
"I wrote a song for Ray Charles, which he was going to do called I Told The Truth. Sadly, it wasn’t to be because he died before he could do it."
Jools is considered one of the nicest guys in music – you won’t catch him feuding with anyone or badmouthing other artists.
"I’m sure I have said something bad about someone in the past but I can’t think of anybody that I can say something about now. What my grandmother always used to say was that ‘if you haven’t got anything good to say, don’t bother saying it’," he says, laughing.
His compliments even extend to the fans. "I’m pleased to see people buy the records, see us live and I love seeing their faces. Touring gives me a fantastic feeling. It’s the best thing in the world. It’s doing the thing you love best and people appreciating it with you.
"I’m very grateful for all those people who come and see us live, I love them. They can come and stay with me at Christmas, unless they’ve read this article or been told about it by a friend," he quips.
While other stars may get homesick from the constant demands of touring, Jools is unfazed by it.
"You get used to it," he explains. "I’ve been on tour all my life really, because Squeeze used to do it a lot. The good side is staying in luxury hotels, and having people throwing themselves at you, and the bad side is, you get used to it.
"We used to go on tour for two to three months at a time with Squeeze, and when you get home, the small children wouldn’t recognise you or know who you were. That’s not very satisfactory. But now I don’t go away from one place more than two weeks at the most. So I don’t get homesick, quite the opposite really.
"It makes me appreciative of home and being back. It’s nice to come back when you’ve been working away. And the immediate family are more pleased to see me!"
He credits his work as the secret behind his successful long-term partnership with wife Christabel McEwen, whom he married in August 2005 after more than 15 years together.
"I don’t think it ever makes sense to rush into anything," he admits. "I think it’s important to spend the time you’ve got with one another to hope that it works out. We’ve been very lucky, and it’s worked out very well.
"Going away and maintaining the distance means we can enjoy each other’s company without getting bored. A change really does make it so much nicer to come home."
The music around him may be constantly changing, but Jools is quite happy to stay put in his career.
"There’s a lot I could do in all sorts of areas, and always something else. I can see myself doing a ska record, and a piano one, as I haven’t done those before.
"I’m also pleased to be carrying on with Later. TV shows come and go, and depending on whether the TV show is still here in the future, I hope to be here for a while. But who knows? I might be gone tomorrow."
Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra perform at Birmingham's NIA on Saturday, December 23. Their album, Moving Out To The Country, is out now.