THE EYE: Television

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Jools Holland alerts me to the fact that someone is playing the bongos vigorously in an adjacent room. "Listen to that," he rhapsodises, "it's like Zulu meets the Kray Brothers."

Here is a man steeped in music, a man who, when he hears a great track on his car radio, will pull over to the side of the road and start trying to get the act on his show. His sheer enthusiasm for music infects the whole of Later with Jools Holland, which starts an impressive ninth series tonight.

Try as he might, Holland cannot suppress his relish for the job. "What more could you want?" he raves. "I don't love everything, but it's like when I learnt to play the piano and first got a buzz out of the sound. I'm looking for that excitement again and again and again, that same hit I got when I discovered boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues. I'm still looking for that first fix. It's like being an applied junkie. But I found I had problems putting that on my passport so I changed the job description to `expert'."

Mark Cooper, the show's producer, reckons that Later benefits from Holland's naturalness as a host. "Jools has kept his integrity because he's never cared too much about television," he observes. "Most people on television are trying to present a face to the world. Jools is the same off-screen as on. He doesn't pretend. People identify with that natural quality."

The other thing Later is notable for is its eclecticism. Again, Cooper puts this down to his presenter, a former frontman on The Tube and Juke Box Jury and keyboardist with Squeeze. "Jools is a genuine musician to his fingertips," he asserts, "and he's curious about all types of music. Critics like to divide things up, but we try not to be so compartmentalised."

Holland concurs. "We cover everything from Oasis to John Martyn to heavy metal. You could only do this on the BBC, because a commercial channel would say, `Great, you've got Oasis, but why have you also got this folk person that nobody's heard of? He won't get the ratings.' The BBC's view is that an artist may be less popular, but the quality is no less good. We're fulfilling the remit of educating, informing and entertaining.

"People have open minds," he continues. "They want to see what's around. It's not necessarily about seeing more of what you like. It's not about confirming what you know already, but introducing you to something you didn't know."

Too often, music shows on television have had the worst of both worlds - providing both bad music and bad television. "A lot of times, people find music hard to sell on television," Cooper says. "They don't trust the medium. They think it has to go through hoops or be put in the context of lots of other things. The biggest music shows are things like Des O'Connor, which is music with patter and jokes."

Later's unique selling point is its simplicity. "Lots of music shows have tried to sell something else - lifestyle or youth," Cooper continues. "But Later is not a lifestyle show aimed at a specific market. It's old-fashioned in that way. It sticks to the orthodoxies of Greek tragedy, showing what happened in one room in one hour. The `holy circle' set- up we have in the studio inspires performers. What works best is the intimacy of it. If you see Hole on Later, you've met Courtney Love."

But will Holland's zest for fronting Later ever wear out? It seems not. "You're never too old to love music," Holland argues. "Look at Paul Weller, he's much better now than he's ever been. I suspect that people don't go downhill, they just get stronger and stronger. New things today will be coming back stronger tomorrow. The short answer is that Later will become like The Sky at Night and I'll be like Patrick Moore hobbling on. I'll be on your screens for the next 50 years."

A new series of `Later with Jools Holland' starts tonight at 11.45pm on BBC2




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