Boogie-woogie king Jools Holland is returning to ‘wonderful Birmingham’ with a very special Christmas present – Latin guitar legend José Feliciano. David Johns caught up with the two music icons
Jools Holland and Birmingham go together as beautifully as mince pies and mulled wine. The band leader, composer, producer and all-round music legend has an affinity with our city like no other. “I love Birmingham, it’s a wonderful place with wonderful people,” he says.
The host of the iconic BBC TV music show, Later… With Jools Holland, has links with Birmingham going back to the late 1990’s when he opened the Jam House club in St Paul’s Square in the Jewellery Quarter. “I feel very close to Birmingham,” he adds, “because it was one of the first places where I was picked up as a musician.”
A regular performer at the club in its early years, Jools says: “These days I don’t have anything to do with the Jam House, but I still always feel very close to Birmingham which has a wonderful music scene.”
Jools’s Later… With show recently celebrated 25 years on our screens which is an incredible milestone for an out-and-out serious music programme. Its success owes everything to its unique format and highly original host. Jools has always sought to entertain and education with the show and over the years has brought some of the finest performers and musicians into our homes – he was the first to give Adele a break as well as showcase Ed Sheeran and Amy Winehouse at the start of their careers.
Over the years, Jools has always been prepared try different things – and that’s the case this month when he returns to Birmingham to perform with guitar legend José Feliciano. We caught up with Jools and José as they prepared for what will certainly be two memorable nights at Symphony Hall on 13 and 14 December. There’s no doubting how excited Jools is at performing on stage with José – and vice-versa.
“I remember as a 13 or 14-year-old being at my gran’s and hearing on the radio the man who changed my view of music,” he says. “José, whatever song he did, he made it something special. I always wanted to have him come play on my TV show but whenever he was here in the UK we weren’t broadcasting. Then finally we got to do it, and it became so much more for both of us. We became close friends. We liked listening to the same kind of music, people like Ray Charles.”
The two enjoyed each other’s music and company so much that they spoke about performing and touring together. They made an album, As You See Me Now, and agreed they’d take their music around the country. “How exciting is this?” says Jools, on the eve of coming to Brum. “I’m pinching myself that the legend that is José is playing with me!”
José for his part is looking forward to being reacquainted with Birmingham, which he says has great memories for him. “I played Birmingham many years ago after I played the London Palladium,” he says. “I really enjoyed coming here and was made to feel very welcome. Now, it is such a pleasure to come back and get the opportunity to hang out with somebody like Jools. I am very proud of what we are doing together.”
Jools says he can hardly believe that his TV show has been going for a quarter of a century. His music career began with playing in pubs and clubs and founding the band Squeeze before co-presenting the TV music show, The Tube, with the late Paula Yates. He did some work on TV in the US before returning to the UK to front the BBC’s new show Later With. “I only agreed to do the show if they agreed that we’d always focus on the music. At the time TV wanted something that had to be popular and short. We have always taken the music seriously and put it first.”
Over the years the show has been a successful mix of legends, current and new artists across a broad spectrum of music. Giving young performers their big break has always counted to Jools. “Every artist needs a break, so the more shows that can do that the better,” he says.
After their Birmingham dates this month and the completion of their tour just before Christmas, Jools and José will go their separate ways – but still be ultra-busy. “Initially, I’ll be with my wife and family at home in New England,” says José, “but I am organising a big charity concert in January in aid of the victims of the devastating hurricane in my native Puerto Rico.” As for Jools? “I might have a bit of a rest,” he says. “but then, maybe I’ll do some shows in Europe…” And, of course, there’s always the traditional New Year’s Eve TV special, Jools’s Annual Hootenanny!