With gigs currently out of the question, Coronavirus has left the live music industry in a precarious position. Like everything else, it’s had to change tack in order to survive. Musicians have taken to at-home concerts and social media livestreams to keep fans engaged- all to varying degrees of success. Some have worked well, but lagging Wi-Fi connections and dodgy sound quality have rendered many virtual performances disengaging and strained. It begs the question: what kind of content can possibly fill the gig-shaped hole in our lives? Who can inject some life into this barren musical landscape? Dave Grohl, Lady Gaga and Gary Barlow have all tried their hand, but there’s really only one man for the job. Enter Jools Holland.
Last Friday night saw the first in a new series of ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ air on BBC2. Since it first aired in 1992, the show’s slick format and exceptionally curated guests have rightly cemented it as a musical institution alongside Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Its dynamic studio setup of five or six artists arranged in a circle with an audience sitting amongst them creates a uniquely intimate atmosphere. So too is the handheld-style camera that follows Jools as he paces around the studio from one guest to the next, creating excitement without all the shouting and whooping of American ‘later’ shows. Of course, this cannot be replicated under social distancing guidelines. This latest series will see Jools (virtually) interview a different guest each week as they select their favourite ‘Later…’ performances from the archives: Desert Island Discs-style.
Instead of a buzzing studio full of artists, Holland welcomes us into his lavish home studio in Greenwich. It’s atop a grand piano that Jools perches his laptop and video calls this week’s guest, Christine and the Queens. An infectiously humble and eloquent interviewee, the French singer songwriter talks us through her top ‘Later…’ moments. It’s an eclectic mix that ranges from French hip-hop to Bjork; David Bowie to that Kanye West performance in 2013, hailing the latter as her “favourite performance ever done on TV by any artist”.
As well as archive clips, we’re treated to a brand-new performance from Laura Marling, who gives a soothing rendition of ‘Fortune’ from her latest album. The only thing lacking is a performance from Christine herself, which for some reason doesn’t happen. Nonetheless, the overall result is a success, hinging on Jools’ cool and collected presenting style- but largely due to the show’s production and editing. The guests’ home videos actually match the studio-quality cameras at Jools’ end. Whatever the technical reasons behind this, it makes a huge difference to the viewing experience. You can relax into it and just enjoy the music, uninterrupted by the technical problems that have made a lot of other virtual content fall flat. It may not technically be ‘live’ music, but the combination of interviews, archive clips and new music is sure to provide some joy to our now gig-less Friday nights.
You can still watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer here and catch next week’s guest, Dizzee Rascal, this Friday at 10pm.
Words by Alice Williams