Later with Jools Holland is twenty years on TV. The aged and bewildered will remember Holland and the late Paula Yates presenting The Tube on Channel 4, the vanguard of a revolution that never arrived. The fossilized remains of those who remember the 1970s will remember Holland playing the piano for Squeeze, when up the junction was very cool for cats.
That’s a long, long time to be involved in something as ephemeral as popular music. Freddie Mercury thought that great pop songs should be like disposable razors, and God knows Freddie wrote plenty of great pop songs in his day. Why, then, this continuing effort to build and maintain a canon?
There was a fawning article of wide-eyed wonder about Later with Jools Holland in the Observer on Sunday, with a lot of puff pieces from various music industry sources about how great it is to meet one’s fellow artists, how competitive it is between them, and the incredible respect they all have for each other.
There were even star-struck ingénues – “In 2000 a debuting Chris Martin muffed the introduction to Yellow because, he said, Gary Brooker was in the room and he couldn't stop thinking about this being one of the guys that wrote A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
Well, pinch of salt to the green room, please. That’s all very hard to believe.
The only thing all these artists have in common is that they all work for record companies and all like to see a dollar at the end of the week. The notion of a giant love-in across the musical divide is hard to swallow. They’re all on Later for the money, because that’s what the music business, like any business, is all about.
For instance – Donovan was a guest in 1996, while Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros were guests in 2000. Donovan had “this guitar kills fascists” written on his guitar, while Strummer had “this guitar kills hippies” written on his.
So suppose they were booked on the same show in 1998. Would Strummer attempt to batter Donovan to a tie-dyed pulp in the studio, or would they find common cause in the fact that both their incomes are provided by Sony Music? Donovan covering Guns of Brixton and Strummer doing Mellow Yellow is my money, followed by a yard of purple prose in Q Magazine about music uniting across the generations.
An Spailpín read somewhere that the true power of Later with Jools Holland is the perfect symbiosis that exists between the old veterans laden with credibility but desperate for relevance and the tyros who need credibility to bolster their claim to be the Next New Thing.
The perfect episode of Later would be a duet between Aretha Franklin and Adele. Aretha would be grateful for Adele’s considerable popularity while singing with Aretha would be a further confirmation of Adele as the queen of popular music. Chi-ching, say the boys in the boardroom.
There are some great moments on Later, of course. There couldn’t not be on a music show, among all the grubbing for dollars. The Observer references John Cale’s performance of Hallelujah, and your correspondent was quite charmed by Katy Perry’s exhibition of campanology when she performed I Kissed a Girl a few years ago.
But while the Observer cites the four million views on You Tube of the Cale Hallelujah as proof that taste will out, the reality is that the vast majority of people who viewed it did so because it was on the soundtrack of Shrek.
The poet tells us that music has charms to soothe the savage beast, and it does of course. But the music companies know how to sell product too. It’s fifty years since Bill Haley rocked around the clock – a half-century is plenty of time for the boys in the boardrooms to have the formula down as pat as Coca-Cola’s.
FOCAL SCOIR: Speaking of Chris Martin, this 2008 article by Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker sums up Coldplay, U2 and that whole horrible school. Here’s that Katy appearance on Later, then, to cheer us all up. Ding-dong.