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Jools Holland: I'm like an art dealer

Jools Holland, back again for Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival, gets candid about discovering young talents on reality shows and his love for the city

Jools Holland
Image Credit: Supplied
Jools Holland

Much like the sincerity of every note he tinkles on those ivories, Jools Holland means everything he says.

Far from controversial, his straight-talking comments seem somehow less scathing coming from such a friendly and well-respected musical figure.

He may not have collaborated with Jay-Z, dropped an album with an NYC rapper or ever uttered a swear word, yes, Holland back for another performance at the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival next month is polite — but he doesn't mince his words.

"The problem with shows like the X Factor is they make it hard for us to appreciate true musicians sometimes," he said. "A show like that comes from such a different place. If we're really truthful, of all the people who ‘make it' in this business there are only a handful who are amazing, exceptional anyway. Maybe we shouldn't expect to find that person on a talent search show."

When Holland discovers someone talented he first uncovers and then champions. They may not necessarily be even close to being household names but one thing you'll be certain of is they will be true, unspoiled, raw talent.

"Reality shows make people believe the only way to get famous is to appear on one such series," he continued. "And there's the problem right there. Fame versus musical talent is the bigger issue. There are so many other musicians out there too. Real musicians. So passionate about what they do they wouldn't have time for a talent show because music keeps them too busy. They will be discovered because they are good. Better than good. Great. Greg Porter from New York is someone who is impressing me right now. He appeared on my New Year's Eve show and it's very exciting for me. He is one to watch. Caro Emerald is another — she is from Amsterdam and has a wonderful vocal ability. James Morrison is someone I consider magical."(Morrison will perform at the jazz festival on February 24.)

While Holland may discover these young talents he was reluctant to reveal his sources, insisting "I'm like an art dealer who comes across new talent. I'm never going to reveal where it comes from. That's the magic."

Considered by many as a musical magician himself, it all started for Holland aged eight, when he developed an obsession with a tune.

"At the age of eight, I could play the piano fluently by ear," he said.

Most famous for songs Up The Junction and Cool For Cats, which made his band Squeeze's success meteoric, Holland toured America, including a legendary performance at Madison Square Garden.


In 1987, Jools formed The Jools Holland Big Band, which has gradually metamorphosed into the current 22-piece Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, which consists of pianist, organist, drummer, three female vocals, guitar, bass guitar, two tenor saxophones, two alto saxophones, baritone saxophone, three trumpets, and four trombones.

A previous trip to Dubai welcomed Jools and 13 instrumentalists, a shadow of the team heading to Dubai this year.

"This year we've drafted in the troops," he said, laughing. "We had just over 10 people last year because that's all we could fit on stage," laughing some more. Something had clearly tickled him and it continued to do so. "It's an incredible sound when we're all together and something I'm very proud of. The number of saxophones alone will surprise people."

"Do you ever have saxophone wars on stage?" I asked, instantly reminding myself to think before you speak. I shouldn't have worried.

"That's brilliant," said Holland, as the giggles subsided. "We should use that in our marketing. I can see it now ‘Saxophone wars on stage with Jools Holland'."

Holland and the Rhythm & Blues Orchestra play to audiences in excess of 500,000 each year.

At an all-new venue adjacent to Al Badia Golf Course, Dubai Festival City, celebrating 10 years of the city's popular jazz festival, Holland will perform to around 11,000.

When you talk to Holland you talk to Jools Holland. You're given a mobile number to call and half expecting to connect to his tour manager, publicist or similar, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a bubbly Holland on the other end of the line. Better still, he asked how I was, having remembered we spoke this time last year. You can't buy manners.


Within minutes we were chatting about his love of Dubai and Abu Dhabi — him again retelling a story of getting lost trying to find the capital's giant mall.

"I asked a taxi driver to take me to the older shops. I now know it's called a souk but I didn't know that at the time. I ended up in a kind of 1970s Croydon shopping precinct," he said, laughing. "It wasn't exactly what I meant but I was too polite to say anything."

However his memories of Dubai aren't quite what I was expecting.

"The thing which stuck with me from Dubai is a bit odd," he warned and I wondered where this was going. "It was a fish with the funniest face I've ever seen. I know it's cruel but it did. He was so unfortunately ugly. So I'd like to go back and revisit him in the Dubai Mall. I'm assuming he's still there," he added after a thoughtful pause.

An intrepid explorer he may be but from playing pubs in the East End docks as a teenage greaser to leading his rhythm and blues orchestra and selling millions of records this century, it is his passion for music which catapulted Holland to where he is today.

Holland was in Cardiff, Wales, ready for the next leg on his UK tour, when tabloid! spoke to him last month.

"The worst thing about what I do is the hanging about," he said. "Charlie Watts once told me he'd been a musician for 40 years. He looked up and then said that meant two years at gigs and the other 38 just hanging around. It's so very true and it can get frustrating.

"It's been a pretty hectic time for me lately. I've been touring. We've just left the Albert Hall and now it's Wales, which should be great. With the tour and my show it gets pretty crazy."

"I sketch to pass the time. It puts everything into perspective. Whenever I am stuck somewhere I just grab a pad and pencil and sketch. In Dubai I spent a lot of time in the old part of the city and one thing I regret is that I didn't have enough time to sketch. When I come this time I hope to remedy that. I am hopefully coming for a bit longer this time."

Despite being just 15 when he was introduced to Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford and subsequently formed Squeeze, Holland is probably now best known for his UK Friday night chat and jam show Later…with Jools Holland.

After presenting two series of Juke Box Jury in 1989 and then 26 shows of The Happening in 1990, Holland was asked in 1992 to host the new music programme for BBC2, which has since welcomed some of the biggest names in music around the piano.

When tabloid! spoke to Holland last year, before her untimely death, it was obvious Holland was a huge fan of Amy Winehouse, saying she was a guest who "sticks in my mind".

"I do remember Amy surprised me because of how utterly calm she was. She looked at me backstage and idled into conversation that her dad may come down later. ‘Oh great' I remembered I replied. Then on stage she just transformed into this incredible performer. She blew me away and seemed so far from the girl in the dressing room before."

Given a chance again to comment on Winehouse's controversial character Holland thinks for a minute before continuing.

"There are some musicians who simply follow a path," he said determined not to be specific. "Many people will never understand what the power of music is capable of. It can make you feel untouchable.

"Music is the greatest of all art forms. You can never quite figure it out and that is always so intriguing. You have to look forward and champion the people who are making their way, but I also think it's important to look back. We must champion and remember the great legends of music."


Don't miss it

  • The Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival's main four concert nights take place on February 16, 17, 23 and 24.
  • Tickets, priced from Dh295, are available at
  • Register for the Jazz Garden! The OSN Jazz Garden takes place from February 18-22 and is by registration only — no tickets will be on sale. Registration starts on January 15 on the festival official Facebook page, "LIKE" the page then register and select the nights you would like to attend at the Jazz Garden. Artists include Althea Rene, Ruby Turner, Julian Vaughn, Shakura S'Aida Band abd Cindy Bradley.