23 October 2010

Later… is 250

The BBC’s pre-eminent music performance programme, Later… With Jools Holland has been broadcasting an eclectic range of artists and material since it began in 1992.  Its strength lies in the kaleidoscopic variety of the acts who appear, and the interesting and appealing permutations that are generated by sequestering so many talented artists under one roof.  Each act has its own performance area in the large recording studio, and all the acts watch the other performances.  It can lead to some great collaborations and injects a pleasing sense of cross-fertilisation into proceedings.  Host Jools Holland, the former keyboardist of Squeeze, is an expert at selecting an interesting mix of artists and championing the art of live musical performances in an age of autotuned pop nightmares and would-be singers who can’t actually hold a note.

Last month Later celebrated its 250th episode with a 90 minute special, compiling a sampler of the programme’s long history.  As the BBC is proactive in allowing clips from Later to appear on the internet, it’s possible to reassemble the show for those who weren’t able to enjoy it on TV.  So here’s a snapshot of Later… With Jools Holland as it turns 250 – long may it run.

Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues (July 1994)

Touring his comeback album, the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings, the then 62-year-old Cash gives a rousing performance of his classic prison song.

Radiohead – Paranoid Android (May 1997)

At the peak of their powers, Radiohead dominated the British music scene in 1997.  This superb live rendering of the rambling prog-rock masterpiece that is the centrepiece of the album of the same name shows that they weren’t just aces in the studio.


Dizzee Rascal – Bonkers (Sept 2009)

A good demonstration of the encouragement Later gives to artists who seek to broaden their performances, this blues guitar version of the dancefloor staple Bonkers suffers a little from the repetitive lyrics and a lack of vocal variation, but is still a commendable deviation from the norm.  (My favourite such moment was seeing popstrel Katy Perry and band open their performance of I Kissed A Girl with a very musicianly bell-ringing interlude)

Melody Gardot – Baby I’m A Fool (Apr 2010)

The great thing about Later is that it doesn’t require glamour and chic to make your name, just a great song and a great delivery.  But when you dish up someone who sings and plays as well as Melody Gardot and is also strikingly attractive, you’re grateful that it’s TV rather than radio.  What a performance; what a look!


The Libertines – Boys In The Band (Jan 2002)

Keep an eye on the rent-a-posse of fangirls in the background throwing themselves around like there’s no tomorrow.  That gives you an idea of how much of an impact the Libertines had on the British music scene and their devotees, when for a time in the 2000s they were tipped for legendary status.  Sadly, drugs and rivalries intervened.


Billy Preston – That’s The Way God Planned It (June 2005)

The great soul keyboardist Billy Preston died only a year after this show, so it was great to capture the warmth of his stage presence and the lovely vibe that existed between him and Holland.  Their duelling keyboards riffing in this Preston classic is a real treat. 

Foo Fighters – All My Life (Dec 2002)

People say Dave Grohl is the nicest man in rock.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Foo Fighters but at least you can always hear a tune underneath all the mandatory sturm und drang.  Nice transparent guitar too.


KT Tunstall – Black Horse & The Cherry Tree (Oct 2004)

Feisty Scots busker KT Tunstall charmed the UK with her last-minute replacement act on Later, kick-starting her career that saw her debut album selling all over the world.  It’s a delight to watch her knit together the threads of this immensely catchy future hit with her effects pedals – a music geek with a killer voice in sweatshirt sleeve leggings and a wee skirt from Topshop… swoon…


Smokey Robinson – Don’t Know Why (Oct 2009)

His face doesn’t move much anymore but man, he sure still can hold the notes.  Featuring a nice guitar solo from Eric Clapton.


Elbow – One Day Like This (Sept 2008)

How proud would you be if, like Mercury Award winners Elbow, you’d written such an uplifting, cathartic anthem as One Day Like This?  Keep an eye on the string quartet – they’re grinning madly all the way through.  They know a great song when they hear one.


Mary J Blige – No More Drama (Apr 2002)

Trevor Nelson, who introduces this clip, reckons this is a seminal soul performance.  Maybe, but despite the showmanship I can’t help feel that the emotional outpouring can’t quite make up for a basic lack of vocal range.  Can anyone tell me – is that Jill Scott on backing vocals, or is there just a resemblance?


Gorillaz – Stylo (Apr 2010)

If Later is a meal, this is fusion cuisine.  Bobby Womack tears it up!


Amy Winehouse – Tenderly (Oct 2006)

A snippet of Winehouse in happier days, performing an excerpt of an old standard with Jools on the piano. 


Paul Weller – Sunflower (Jul 1993)

The album that sealed Weller’s reputation as the Modfather (or, for the less enamoured, the king of Dadrock), 1993’s Wild Wood featured a great band (witness Yolanda Charles on bass) and the Traffic-influenced stylings of this track, Sunflower.  I still listen to the companion album Live Wood regularly. 


Lily Allen – The Fear (Apr 2009)

I know, I know, Lily Allen’s a pop singer and therefore lacks rock credentials, but Later isn’t shy of testing pop performers in the studio environment and seeing what they can bring to the table.  Allen doesn’t have a versatile singing voice, but she makes up for it with the whip-smart lyrical observations on the hypocrisy of modern fame in this single from her second album.  Plus she looks great.  But who is she dressed as - The Princes in the Tower?


At The Drive-In – One Armed Scissor (Dec 2000)

Zane Lowe, who introduces this clip, is a fellow countryman who’s done remarkably well building himself a bastion in BBC music radio.  But he doesn’t half witter on and talk some rubbish!  At The Drive-In, who he champions, highlights the ability of Later’s catholic-with-a-small-C tastes to provide a platform for music from the left of the dial.  Pity it’s a shambles, but Lowe is right – at least it’s an exciting shambles.  Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more with the sound off, but make sure you stick around for the end and a distinctly unimpressed Robbie Williams[Edit: oops – that’s on the iPlayer feed but not the Youtube clip]


Adele – Daydreamer (Jun 2007)

This is more like it – as with KT Tunstall, Later is at its best when it allows young talent to shine.  South Londoner Adele had only just turned 19 when she gave this assured performance, highlighting her gifted vocal talent.  Her smile of relief once she’s finished is a treat too.


Paul McCartney – Let’s Have A Party (Nov 1999)

I tried to find a clip of this rocker but to no avail.  I guess Macca wasn’t keen to have it circulating on the internet and undermining DVD sales or something.  Still, a rousing finale to an enjoyable 90 minutes of music history!

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