Musical virtuoso Jools Holland and his distinguished Rhythm & Blues Orchestra return to Symphony Hall Birmingham this November, with additional special guests including Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson from the legendary ska band The Selecter – with support from Adam Double.
Being on the road with a band he’s known for a long time, he said: “One of the things for us is, there are a lot of us, so you’re never alone.
There used to be that advert for a cigarette called Strand, and the advert was ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’ And it was such a disaster because everybody thought ‘Well, I don’t want to be alone.’ So they went out of business.
But it’s a bit like ‘You’re never alone with a big band because wherever you are, there’s always…if you arrive in a town, I see Bammi, because like me he studies the horses, going into a bookmaker’s on the high street. There’ll be somebody else coming out, you’ll see.
“It’s like we’re alien spores that have been dropped in whatever town it is, and I recognize us as I’m coming into the town”.
For people who go to see him often, there is always a new element in his special guests, for which he says: “This year, we’re having somebody who’s worked with us before, but they bring out this great element of us, which is Selecter. Specifically, it’s Pauline Black, the singer, and ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, who works with Pauline, and they’re perfect for us because they represent the British take on ska music, the 2 Tone thing”.
On adapting the guests’ big hits for a big band, he said: “I wouldn’t want to force things into a big band style for things that weren’t going to work, so sometimes you have to play things in a different way.
“Most things you can take back to the piano, because I suppose 70 per cent of songs — I’m making up figures, there, everybody does it these days — anyway, a lot of songs were written on the piano, or keyboard”.
‘Tinkling the ivories’ is the musical virtuoso’s greatest thrill – thanks to his Nan’s piano. “Yes, my nan’s piano was really an essential thing because it was in her front room, as people had in the 1930s”, he recalled. “It was a gift to her by her mother Britannia in 1937 and I would hear them at Christmas, when I was very small, all singing songs.
“Everybody had their own song that they’d sing at the piano, and it was also a pianola, so you would pedal away and the piano roll would go round, with Fats Waller playing ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’ coming out of it. It was great and I got to learn songs early on. I say jazz music, like Bessie Smith or Jelly Roll Morton, things like that.
“Furthermore, my uncle, who was a young teenager when I was small, would play boogie-woogie piano on it, and from that, that really got me going and fired up and made me learn by ear what he was doing, and I learn the blues from day one.
My dad got me an Alba record player, and we could have a good listen to whatever records were out at the time. I think I had a Glenn Miller one, which got worn out, but the first proper LP I had was ‘For Once In My Life’ by Stevie Wonder, I liked that, and I think I had ‘Lady Madonna,’ the single, by The Beatles, because I tried to learn the piano part on it”.
“Since, I played with B.B. King and Van Morrison – discovering since that what he showed me, the left hand that he showed me, was the same left hand, because I met and talked to people about this that Ray Charles was shown by an old man in his village, that Ringo Starr, strangely, learned, that I think Mark Knopfler knows it as well. All these people, the first bit of piano they learned, and Dr. John, very strange, they were all drawn to this one little riff.
I’ve been very lucky, both either on record where we recorded with George Harrison, or written with Dr John, or Dionne Warwick covered a song that San Brown and I wrote. I can’t believe it sometimes, all this stuff that’s happened”.
As part of his UK Tour, Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra will be at Symphony Hall, in Birmingham, on 29th and 30th Nov 2019.