For those outside of the UK who perhaps don’t know what Later, with Jools Holland is, please allow me to explain. Under the watchful eye of the titular ivory tinkler and former Squeeze man Jools Holland, the show essentially brings together an eclectic mix of musicians for a rollicking performance. The acts at hand usually consist of a hit or miss (but always interesting) world music performers, an up-and-coming act who you may or may not hear of ever again, a fairly big name from the past who plays one weird new track, a lucky dip extra, and finally, one of the biggest acts in music at that particular time.
This smorgasbord of musical talent is then scattered around inside some acoustically engineered aeroplane hangar that has been pimped out to look like a nightclub, while Jools Holland himself parades around like a ringmaster seemingly surprised by every syllable that leaves his mouth as he introduces each act, playfully walking backwards out of shot. They then play one or two songs each, depending on their stature, and it’s all tied up in a half-hour show that has become a national institution in the UK since it first broadcast in 1992.
This has left a treasure trove of archive footage with some of the greatest one-off performances ever captured on camera. And as any fan will tell you, the beauty of the program is that like a songbook of musical chocolates, “You never know what you are going to get”.
In the past, huge names have fallen victim to the dreaded upstaging of a little-known act, and equally, some established turns have made a mockery of everyone else present. That being said, the competitive element is usually dissipated thanks to an overture of collective artistic spirit.
Below, we’re looking at the ten most spellbinding performance that the show has ever thrown up, from musical giants to your new favourite musical discovery, enjoy.
The ten best Jools Holland performances of all time:
10. Warpaint – ‘Undertow’
Warpaint are a perfect example of the shows ability to curate the best new artists and give them a stage to shine. When they made their Jools Holland debut, they had only recently snuck on to the radar of the indie world. Given the stage, they announced their arrival like Genghis Khan’s moody marauding empire.
The subdued harmonies sound like the captivity song of the sirens. Everything is perfectly understated about the performance. I’d be half tempted to refer to them as some sort of Mazzy Star and Joy Division lovechild if they didn’t mercilessly rubbish comparisons with their entirely sui generis stylings, but I suppose I have inadvertently anyway. There is enough atmosphere about this performance to support life on Mars, and it would be a very eerie existence indeed.
9. The Tallest Man on Earth – ‘King of Spain’
You often feel sorry for the humble acoustic singer-songwriter during the show. They are dwarfed beneath enough musical equipment to create a Mad Max musical. Their humble plucking can seem feeble in the maelstrom of the surrounding sound, and their lonely presence can make them seem naked beneath the prying eyes of egos and rock greats.
As The Tallest Man on Earth starts up, the camera reveals the notoriously difficult to please Liam Gallagher in the background; he gives a little nod, and, from a scathing misanthropic wit like his, that’s as good as a round of applause for a folk star. The ensuing performance would warrant a riotous reaction from the dingiest of 1960s Greenwich Village folk clubs. With one of the most intuitive strumming hands in music and a soul-rattling voice, he brings the house down in a yell of sheer passion.
8. Lana Del Rey – ‘Video Games’
Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough single, ‘Video Game’, encountered the unfortunate fate of being inescapably ubiquitous. To some extent, this diluted the power of the song as it got caught in the rain of the overplay.
However, when she appeared on Jools Holland, Lana Del Rey transfigured the shop-worn dress that the song had become into a glowing gown of femineity once more. The vocals are mercurial and boundless, but what elevates them is that she doesn’t just sing the song; it is a complete performance. Through variance and nuance, she galvanises the track and imbues it with something akin to the heartfelt prose of Sylvia Plath.
Nothing is overdone, and everything is beautiful.
7. Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’
Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene like mainstream bank robbers. They were pockmarked bandits of benevolent intent, and when they appeared on Jools Holland, all everybody wanted to know was whether they could believe the hype.
Arctic Monkeys answered in the affirmative to such an extent that the youth of an entire nation swooned in recognition that this would be the band that soundtracked their future.
The performance was as tight as a finely tuned snare, and the visceral edge that they managed to capture on record was so potent live that it could trim the fingernails of onlookers. The hype was real, and the rest, as they say, is now ancient history.
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Dig Lazarus Dig!!!’
One of the beautiful things about the show is simply having such a mind-bending bounty of artistry in a space no bigger than the parking radius of a delivery driver on their lunch break.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds seem to harness the cacophonous adrenalised hum of the room, sprinkle it with a pinch of something snatched from the ether, and blast it out from both barrels in a sonic wallop with the furore of a wasp trapped in a cider can.
All the while, Jack White watches on in absolute awestruck appreciation, like a lifeguard overlooking Michael Phelps doing lengths – that’s when you know that something magical is being captured.
5. Charles Bradley feat. The Menahan Street Band – ‘Victim of Love’
Charles Bradley is a performer who wears his heart on the sleeve of his crimson crushed velvet smoking jacket. Cast on his face throughout this performance is the look of a man who’s just wandered in on Morrissey’s dower stag-do. He smashes ‘Victim of Love’ home with a full bludgeon of unadorned passion and all the subtly of a series ending that’s holding out for a second season.
Backed by the brilliant Menehan Street Band, you’d be hard pushed to say that there is a note out of place in the entire song.
Rarely has uncompromised sincerity met with such musical perfection. And it also features the greatest knee drop in music history. Charles Bradley, thank you for your beautiful gift and may you forever rest in peace.
4. Benjamin Clementine – ‘Cornerstone’
Over the years Jools Holland has introduced the world to a slew of greats, but nobody has risen to the occasion quite like Benjamin Clementine. He sat humbly behind a piano and made sure that he left absolutely nothing on the line.
Even without knowing the remarkable backstory of his life, it is self-evident that he is channelling so much personal experience in a performance that is almost unsettlingly profound. In fact, it is so profound that if you catch it on a wrong day, it may well pass you by — it exists out in the extremities of sacrosanct that can’t be met halfway.
Behind the melodic virtuoso piano playing is manic energy, and the soaring meander of vocals are served up with punctuated glossy-eyed glances that withhold a cosmic entreaty. Much like Lana Del Rey, this is not a performance so much as it is an interpretive spiritual howl, and it was a howl that announced the arrival of an entirely singular presence in music – comparable only to the incomparable Nina Simone.
3. Bon Iver – ‘Skinny Love’
Who broke this Geography teachers’ heart? Why? And where can we send our fan mail?
The Parthenon of break-up songs is gilded in gold and glossed with an endless stream of sacrificial tears, millions of songs rock up and request entry every year and nearly all of them are turned away. ‘Skinny Love’ shuffled over and took its place next to Blonde on Blonde.
This is a hollering performance that could conjure spirits and give goosebumps to a blade of grass. Sometimes you can watch a musician perform, and it seems like the singing and playing comes without thought, as though they are working autonomously on the whim of their own creativity — Bon Iver even seems to forget where he is. It’s a spiritual oblivion that proves infectious.
2. Ben Howard – ‘End of the Affair’
It is not often in music that you see someone do something that you’ve never seen before. That is by no means a shot at modern artists, it is simply the case that there are only so many things you can do to a six-string before all the finite tricks in the book have been used up.
Lord knows that somebody most definitely would have yelled down the soundhole of an acoustic before, but ensuring it evades the dreaded clutches of gimmickry is a Promethean feat that Ben Howard pulls off with aplomb. In this performance, he assails his guitar with a spiritual barrage that the strings were lucky to survive.
It is a performance that has everything; musical skill in the extreme, sincerity in the absolute and rapturous creative originality.
All of it comes together in a meandering cascade of soulful sonic rhapsody as beguiling as the come hither of a daemonic sweet shop to Bruce Bogtrotter, as powerful as the fallout after Douglas defeated Tyson, and as mesmerically evolving as a murmuration of Starling’s afore the flickering firmament. If Mozart were around today, he’d be proud to craft something like this. Insanely good.
1. Future Islands – ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’
If there is one bond that all of these performances share, then it is the simple cliché of leaving nothing on the line.
I remember tuning in to watch this episode and strangely being moved to laughter by the caustic liquid bravura erupting like an ignited jettison of tapped oil. It seemed like somebody had slipped something in Marcelo Bielsa’s half time coffee, and he was reaching a heightened stage of exultant enlightenment like a Buddhist in a Red Bull advert.
While Samuel T. Herring entreaties the Gods, Rambo and the Roman Empire to meet him outside and to bring their dinners because they’ll need it once he’s through, the pleasant summer ditty that is ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ rumbles joyously in the background.
In short, the whole thing is a solar eclipse — you can’t be sure what you’re looking at but it’s brilliant and you know that you’ll probably never see anything like it again.