Why I deserve to win a Bafta

The musicians' favourite music show continues to pull in viewers, but presenter Jools Holland feels its achievements are undervalued
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The Independent Online

The inscription over the arched doorway at Helicon, the extraordinary collection of pastel-painted buildings that make up Jools Holland's recording studios, reads "the greatest of mortals have walked through these portals" .

Tucked behind a suburban railway station in an otherwise nondescript corner of south-east London, Helicon must be the capital's nearest equivalent to Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis's idyllic model village on the Snowdonia coast and the setting for Patrick McGoohan's adventures in The Prisoner.

Holland looks up at the inscription and politely remarks "... and now you're one of them". The boogie-woogie piano player is as genial a host at Helicon as he is when presenting Later with Jools Holland, the television music show that musicians actually appear to enjoy performing on.

And that newly-painted inscription is not nearly as pretentious as it might sound - at least when one considers musical mortals. For step inside Holland's studios and recently-inscribed in gold lettering on wood - in the style of a school's roll call of its favourite alumni - are the scores of famous names of those who have recorded with him at Helicon; Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Bono, Ray Davies, Joe Strummer...

In a process that has taken place over nearly three decades, derived from a mixture of collaborating, recording, performing and television presenting, Holland has placed himself at the epicentre of a global community comprising just about anybody who is anybody in making music.

In the first of a new series of Later (broadcast last Friday) he showcased such stars as Robbie Williams, Green Day and Elvis Costello. Clash cohorts Mick Jones and Paul Simonon - musical contemporaries of Holland's from his days with Squeeze - called by to talk about the 25th anniversary of their album London Calling. The show also featured new British hip hop artist Estelle - a personal favourite of Holland's, when he is not listening to pirate radio stations while tootling around London in his old Roller.

This Friday, Later will feature The Cure and next week The Manic Street Preachers will be headliners.

For a show that had an average audience of just 580,000 for its last series this is extraordinary pulling power.

And it is this which is gnawing at Holland in this rare interview. He clearly feels that this rare gem of musical television programming is seriously undervalued.

"I think Later should get a Bafta and here's why," he says, quite serious. "It's not for my own self-aggrandisement or so I can have something else on my mantelpiece or anything like that. It's because it is the embodiment of what the BBC is supposed to do. Unlike other programmes, the people who watch it are not of one particular age or race or culture. I'm not knocking other programmes but, for instance, a lot of programmes on the BBC are watched by affluent middle-class people in the south of England. Lovely, good, but our one isn't. Music isn't about age. It's not about where you live or anything except for music. Later has hopefully remained a servant of the music rather than trying to get the music to serve it."

If anyone knows about what works in music TV in Britain, Holland should. He was, of course, co-presenter with Paula Yates of The Tube, Channel 4's seminal Eighties Friday night show.

The Tube, Holland acknowledges, was "very much the work" of Andrea Wonfor, the hugely-respected Newcastle-based television pioneer who died recently.

"When me and Paula did the audition we thought: 'We don't want to do this. Imagine coming up here every week.' So we were off-hand and rude and badly behaved."

But Wonfor saw that the pairing still had people transfixed. "The only thing you couldn't really be was boring, that was what she figured out. All the ideas they had on television were thrown away with The Tube. The trouble was it then led to the birth of lad culture. We were in so much trouble for people being sick on air and endless arses being exposed." Does he regret that? "No. Lad grandad, that's me."

The Tube had followed the lead of music hall and mixed music with the emerging comedy. But with Later he does not "want anything to get in the way of the music."

One of the inspirations for Later was Saturday Night, a show that Holland had made in America for NBC with the saxophonist David Sanborn. The show is now defunct and Holland thinks there is now nothing like Later anywhere in the world.

Later started in 1992 and has done two series each year ever since. "What Later does is that it builds up an archive and once you've got enough things you can then break it down generically. I'm a bit loathe to do that because I don't really like labelling music but I can see how it works from the point of selling things," he says.

"Archiving is important because it archives what we are about now," he says. "By building that up and filming people who wouldn't necessarily be on mainstream shows - although we have chart people as well - we are capturing a lot of important things. Whether you like them or not doesn't matter because that is the music we are making at the moment as people and we are capturing that."

Holland says that in 70 years time people will be looking at that Later archive. "I don't want to sound pompous about it but I think it's a good service. You wouldn't find it elsewhere because, really, the viewers, when it first goes out, aren't important," he admits. "The BBC will keep it on because of that service whereas another channel would get rid of it because it doesn't have the viewers."

Because the show is sold around the world by BBC Worldwide, more people see Later after the event, Holland points out, than when it is screened. "In Bolivia I'm dubbed into a very low pitched voice. I haven't seen it but one of my trumpet players saw me and said he realised that I was very English because they dubbed this Bolivian's voice on me but my gestures were very English and it just wasn't right."

The sense that Later is undervalued is underscored by Holland's unease about the frequency of the show and its place at the edge of the schedule. There is "room for more Later" he says, suggesting it should be doubled to 24 shows a year, like The Tube. He also regrets that the programme is broadcast so late at night that "only ghosts and lunatics" are watching.

"I think it's very unfortunate that it's associated with late nights because you can enjoy music at all different times," he says, suggesting that an Sunday lunchtime or Tuesday at 7pm would make more sense.

Some people in television "do not understand music", he says. "They say 'it gets a bit boring, can't we have someone put kippers down their trousers or something to make it something it isn't.' But at least the BBC have had the courage to stick with it."

Holland frequently reiterates that his chief motivation is not being in front of camera or mixing with the stars, but making his own music.

He continually listens to other artists but not for identifying "the next great sensation" but for identifying people and ideas that can improve "my own orchestra".

Although Later has become "part of my life", he says that "what takes up most of my time is running a big band."

"People write to me and ask: 'Should I go into music?' The first thing is if you have to ask a question the answer is 'no'. You either do it or you don't. Secondly, I can't really help you because I am too busy trying to figure out my own music to help with yours."

He wants that to go into print to stop the stream of advice requests, although he stresses that he "wishes everybody luck".

Although Holland says Later is "not about whether you are in the charts or not", he is himself at number five in the album chart with his collaboration with Tom Jones, a friend and a guest on the last series.

"When we launched the album, people kept asking me: 'Tom or you, who is the boss?'. The answer is the same as it is on Later - the music is the boss."