Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Pianist’s comeback is better later than never

Pianist’s comeback is better later than never

AFTER almost 18 months away from the live circuit, Jools Holland can’t wait to be back doing what he does best.

The pianist and singer has missed the connection with live audiences after the coronavirus pandemic all but shut down the music industry in March last year.

But with restrictions on live performances being lifted, Holland is looking forward to getting back on stage.

He will play in the grounds of the Stonor Park estate with his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra alongside vocalists Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall on Saturday, August 14.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” says Holland. “Performing, I think, is the greatest pleasure. For me, not doing it has made me realise how much I’ve missed it and what an important thing it is to connect with people, with music.

“We don’t have to use blunt instruments, which are words, but just by playing you can induce an effect upon people and so they’re feeling the same as you.

“I think that’s kind of an incredible place and a privileged thing to be able to do. It’s a gift and we haven’t been able to do it.

“I’d like to be able to say our new thing we’re doing is this and our new thing we’re doing is that. But I think what we will be doing at Stonor Park is our old thing, which is learning how to connect with people again.

After so long away from the stage, Holland says it is another challenge to transition from playing at home to having a live crowd again.

He said: “It is quite a different proposition to doing it in front of thousands of people because you have to be match fit. It’s like training as a boxer and the only way you can do that is by doing lots of shows.

“So, when we come back, I think we’re going to be finding ourselves and I think we only have one rehearsal. We’re going to be finding ourselves in a situation where we’re sort of all coming back to it.”

Drummer Gilson Lavis will feature in the 19-piece orchestra and special guest Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader will also perform, although Holland can’t be sure of the exact numbers.

He said: “If you were in the Everly Brothers, you knew there was two of you. You knew there was four of them in the Beatles. But, with my orchestra, I’m never quite sure how many there are till we get on stage. That is part of the spontaneous pleasure of it. It’s around 20 people, I think, including the singers. You’ve got a big band, so you’ve got five saxophones, three trombones, three trumpets, drums, organ, bass, piano, guitar, two backing singers and you’ve got Ruby Turner, of course, who is the living queen of boogie-woogie and gospel.

“You’ve also got Eddi Reader with her fantastic voice, from Fairground Attraction. So I can’t even remember quite how many people that is.”

Holland last performed at Stonor Park about 10 years ago in the last of the annual Spitfire Proms, which he headlined for many years.

“We’ve had a wonderful time playing there,” he said. “They had a fantastic atmosphere there because it’s such a beautiful place, maybe one of the most beautiful places in England to play.

“I’m just hoping that, despite covid, it is 100 per cent going ahead. Being in the open air is a different proposition to being inside a nightclub. And if the weather stays nice, which I think it’s looking like it will, it will be a really wonderful evening.

“When you get that kind of house full of music with a big band and the singers and everything in that atmosphere, there’s nothing more agreeable, really. Everybody will feel as one together, I hope. I think now’s the time, if we can, to get back out and have a knees-up in public.”

During the coronavirus lockdowns, Holland, who presents Later… on BBC 2, has been making a new piano record which features guest musicians and singers.

He explained: “I’ve spent the time doing it where normally we’re rushing. We rush into the studio and record whatever we’ve been playing live and then we’ll make a record out of that. This has been different.

“I’ve been in with a great producer called Nitin Sawhney and we’ve been making this piano record where different guests, such as Herbie Hancock or Jamie Cullum or Dr John, come and play duets.

“We’ve also had instrumentalists such as Trombone Shorty or David Gilmour on the guitar or Booker T on the organ as well as vocal guest appearances by Tom Jones, Gregory Porter and Ruby Turner. The lockdown meant we’ve spent a long time concentrating on making a record rather than just running into the studio and cutting something and then getting out again. We’ve actually spent some time really focusing on it, which has been a great opportunity.

“There used to be a history of famous instrumentalists who were just well known for playing their instrument. Some of them were jazz players but some of them were like pop instrumentalists who would play their pop or soul hits or whatever they were.

“There were all these different instrumentalists and you don’t have that anymore so it’s kind of great to bring out the musical instrument and realise that with the piano you can sort of put any instrument with it and it becomes alive.”

The record, which is yet to have a confirmed title, will be out in November.

Tickets cost £39 from www.lphconcerts.co.uk

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