Tonight's theme: Jools and the caterpillar

Phil Johnson checks in for some olde English rhythm 'n' blues

Jools Holland has a new moustache. These days almost no one except the England goalkeeper has a moustache, but Holland wears his proudly, as if to show that he is beyond fashion. It's a proper "tache" too, not a John Waters-style pencil number of the sort that looks as if a thin line of iron filings has been appliqued on to the upper lip. No, this is a full-width, almost military job, and as Holland sings, the furry black caterpillar seems to dance about his face in time to the music. Holland's voice is also beyond fashion. It's nearly beyond singing. "Every day," he croons, "Every day I have the blues", and the high-pitched whine suggests the mild irritation of a suburban dad who has to do the school run again rather than some grizzled old sharecropper's lament. If these blues are from the deep South, it's Surrey rather than Scottsboro.

The music comes in two flavours: blues or boogie. After first asking us which we want, Holland tickles the ivories of the baby grand piano into action with a little foreplay in the appropriate register, then stamps his foot to cue the massed horns of the 13-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. As the chugging rhythms and riffs of the band's engine start to warm up, any critical doubts about the geography of the blues, or even about Holland's voice, disappear in a beery cloud of good-time, Saturday- night, steam. Whether it's blues or boogie, Holland and his band have created a glorious, heritage theme park of bygone, American modes. As the climax to the evening approaches - when Holland will go into the wings to receive his pounds 20,000 fee - the atmosphere becomes suitably uproarious. The irony is in-built - inscribed in Holland's voice, his humorous, naughty- schoolboy persona and maybe even that moustache - but a further layer is added by the venue, which really is a theme park, of sorts.

Last Saturday, Holland and the band may have been playing in the nondescript cabaret room of a purpose-built bar and restaurant complex, but just outside the door lay Merrie England, in the shape of the Elizabethan hall and gently rolling landscapes of Littlecote Manor, Wiltshire (or maybe Berkshire, for the boundary line crosses the estate). Jools Holland was the star attraction of a (deep breath) Warner Holidays Premier Star Break at Littlecote, and 400 people had paid at least pounds 168 each to see him, and to spend three nights in the splendours of the estate.

The weekend was part of Warner's Heritage Hotel programme (there are also Character Hotels and Classic Resorts, although the distinctions seem a little arbitrary to an outsider). The theming of events for already- themed locations is a growing trend. Later this month you could see Leo Sayer at Sinah Warren on Hayling Island, where in March there are also weekends themed around Tamla Motown, rhythm and blues and jazz. Today, guests at Sinah Warren will be enjoying a weekend entitled "Stars From Vegas", which is appropriate because Las Vegas is where hotel-theming as we know it began.

Next month in Vegas, the latest and biggest of the resort's theme hotels will open. The theme is a real lulu: nothing less than a reconstruction of Venice, complete with Grand Canal. Historical themes have been big in Vegas for years now, from Caesar's Palace to Excalibur, but although you have to admire the grandeur of the developers' aspirations (and as hotels now make far more money than gambling, the grandeur is understandable), the reality often falls woefully short of the mark: even if you can watch jousting while you eat, Excalibur remains low-rent. Its joke wears off after five minutes. In contrast, the attractions of a themed hotel in the English countryside, which has already been carefully themed through centuries of selective breeding and exploitation, are numerous.

At Littlecote, when not watching Jools Holland, you could pretend to be a nob by having a go at fencing, archery or shooting, or by walking around the manor and grounds as if you owned them. There's even a Caesar's Palace on the estate, a Roman Villa whose beautiful mosaic floor features a Jools Holland theme, with Orpheus playing a lyre while men on horses gallop round him in an ancient Dionysian rite. All that's missing is the saxophone section. I may scoff at some of the gauche trappings of the heritage experience, like the tat in the gift shop and the Butlins- type entertainers who occupy the stage when Jools Holland isn't there, but even they are educational. I learnt that Camilla Parker Bowles jokes now constitute the bulk of club comics' acts.

The Littlecote heritage experience also provides a metaphor of English country-house life. Although the Elizabethan manor near Hungerford remained in the hands of the Popham family for hundreds of years, retaining its character while all about it was being forced to accommodate the modern world, now the house is nearly empty. The previous owner, Peter de Savary, sold off most of the furniture and paintings; the unrivalled collection of Civil War armour has gone to the Royal Armouries in Leeds; and the interior has been much knocked about. Only the ghosts remain.

The ghosts provide a kind of cabaret turn, even if no one actually gets to see them. There's even a sign on the wall directing you to the "Haunted Bedroom". Littlecote's marvellously theatrical butler, James Drummond, does a tour of the hall for guests in which he points out sites where the phantoms have appeared. These include the Long Gallery, where, during a fashion-shoot a few years ago, the image of a woman in white is said to have materialised in a Polaroid photo of the model.

When it comes to questions about the de Savary regime, Drummond's eyebrows rise so high that they seem to disappear into his hair, and you gather that they never really got on. Although one of the hall's most popular legends is that Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour here, they apparently never spent the night, while in the de Savary years, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall did. Drummond reveals that de Savary's study is now a snooker room. It's also said that the entrepreneur preferred Berkshire to Wiltshire as the hall's address because the "Royal Borough" honorific made Berkshire sound classier.

Back in the cabaret room, Jools Holland and the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra are nearing the end of their set, which has been programmed to last for exactly one hour. Within a few minutes, those dancing to the disco that follows have to manoeuvre around roadies dismantling the extra blocks of the stage required by the band. After a couple of post-gig frames of snooker in Peter de Savary's study, it's time to go back to the four- poster in the themed bedroom, and listen to the calls of the heritage owls and, perhaps, the boogie-shuffle footfalls of the woman in white. Just before falling asleep, I think that somebody should really slap a preservation order on Jools Holland's moustache, before it's lost to the nation for ever.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before