Interview with Jools Holland on why he loves Kent

PUBLISHED: 13:06 31 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:06 31 March 2020

KEN APR 20 Jools Holland

KEN APR 20 Jools Holland

@Christie Goodwin

Jools Holland, OBE, on his music, being a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and why he loves Rochester

Jools Holland, OBE DL, is a musical legend and well-loved TV host who doesn’t need an introduction.

The founding member of new-wave band Squeeze makes his talent look simple. Despite the countless accolades, impressive achievements and his status as one of the most popular pianists and bandleaders in the UK, Jools is astonishingly humble. 

“I do think to myself sometimes I just can’t quite believe all the people I have met,” he says. “People I have learnt from, admired or been up close to, I have been so fortunate and blessed; I really mean that.”

Born Julian Miles Holland in January 1958 in Blackheath, he grew up in Greenwich but had relatives in Gravesend and friends and family in Canterbury too, so Kent was familiar territory from a young age.

At the age of eight he could play the piano fluently by ear, and by the time he reached his early teens he was proficient and confident enough to be appearing regularly in pubs in south-east London and the East End Docks.

As the music maestro says: “A piano is sort of a friend in the living room; you hit it and you are never quite sure what noise is going to come out. Ever since I was a small child, this is what I have done on my grandma’s piano in her front room.”

This spring he is once again on the road with The Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, who will be taking their popular annual tour around the UK.

In 1987, Jools formed The Jools Holland Big Band, comprising himself and original Squeeze member Gilson Lavis. This has gradually metamorphosed into the current 19-piece Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. Now in its 24th year, the tour features powerhouse Gilson Lavis on drums, long-term gospel and blues vocalist Ruby Turner and singer Louise Marshall.

“My band are all local and we have a lot of friends near the venues we are performing,” says Jools. “The band is often at its best, like most musicians, when they are stretching themselves and doing things they wouldn’t necessarily normally do.

“I think what is great about performing at local venues is that our shows are slightly more spontaneous and we’re more prepared to try things out as we feel so at home I suppose.”

Jools wants his audience to ‘just enjoy themselves.’ He smiles: “You can feel the love – when you see old and young people having fun and dancing together, you know you are doing your job.”

From his early days with Squeeze through to huge TV success with Later With...Jools Holland and his annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny, Jools has maintained a prolific recording career, which includes the multi-million-selling Jools Holland and Friends series.

Notable ‘friends’ have included Sting, Chrissie Hynde, George Harrison, Norah Jones, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Bono, Smokey Robinson and many more star-studded artists.

He is currently recording his next album, which is due out around autumn, and says it will focus on his piano stylings, plus duets and collaborations with other top instrumentalists. 

“For me, one of the great pleasures when playing music is the view from the top of the piano,” he says. “I get to see some of the best people in the world, including the orchestra.”

With a tremendous collection of Jools’ tunes and his styling of ska boogie-woogie and blues, this UK tour promises to be an unforgettable night out.

“When I’m looking out into the audience and see them dancing or involuntarily tapping their feet and heads in time, it’s great!”

His stellar line-up tour features several local dates, including the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells (29 and 30 April), The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury (3 and 4 June) and English Heritage’s finest, Rochester Castle. 

“We are particularly pleased to be performing at Rochester Castle because I think Rochester is one of the most beautiful old cities in the world, a bit of a hidden gem. People always think of Canterbury when they are visiting the area, which is ravishing and beautiful as well, but they overlook Rochester with its castle and cathedral.”

He adds: “When you walk through the High Street it is the architectural history of England. It is amazing, it has such a great atmosphere.”

Jools still oozes love for the county and indeed home is just a few miles from Rochester, but he values his private life and that of his wife, the sculptress Christabel McEwen and strives to keep work and home very separate.

With his strong Kent roots, he is an ideal spokesperson for the county and it’s why he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Kent in 2006 – but at first the invitation came as a bit of a shock.

“When the Lieutenancy first approached me, I was unsure I had the ‘right profile’ compared to the type of person they normally have as a Lieutenant, but they wanted someone from the arts performing the role.”

“One of the important parts about the role is celebrating the identity of the great things about Kent and connecting it. Britain has this fantastic network of counties and they all bring their own identity: it is about celebrating the differences of those identities,” he explains.

Recently his role as Deputy Lieutenant of Kent included turning on the newly lit spire at Rochester Cathedral with The Dean of Rochester Castle, Philip Hesketh DL. “It has such extraordinary history, I love playing there. I am a patron of Rochester Cathedral to help keep the music alive there,” he says.

In March 2007, Jools played two very special charity concerts, at Wells Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral, to raise funds for the upkeep of cathedrals throughout the British Isles and highlight the beauty of these historic buildings and the music within them.

“Kent is unique, almost like an island because it is surrounded by water on three sides. It boasts such diversity in the sense that Rochester is completely different to Tunbridge Wells and Romney Marsh is different to the Kent Downs; there are so many contrasts in one county.”

For information on Jools Holland tour dates for spring/summer and autumn/winter visit: joolsholland.com

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