Twenty years of Later… with Jools Holland

From The Guardian:

A few episodes into the new series of Later… with Jools Holland, which starts on BBC2 next week, the music programme will celebrate its 20th year of broadcast. A slighter anniversary will have passed unnoticed – the casual inquiry that started it all, one producer to another at Television Centre: “What’s Jools up to at the minute?”

Holland was then a touring musician and band leader who’d done presenting work for Channel 4 in the 80s, and later a stint on American television. The BBC producers hoped he might front a new show they were planning. Something modest, late night, to go in among the weather bulletins and party political broadcasts on a Friday. Nothing special.

They were Michael Jackson, then in charge of The Late Show on BBC2, and Mark Cooper, who arranged the cultural programme’s occasional music acts. Cooper had an eclectic booking policy – “Ice T one day, the Kronos Quartet the next” – but was keen to showcase more musicians than The Late Show had room for. Jackson, meanwhile, wanted to make use of the studio space that went to waste after they went off air. They agreed to make a weekly spin-off, called Later, with four or five bands each performing two or three songs over an hour.

Cramming musicians into their little studio, Cooper hoped, would create frisson. Because by now the idea for the show had evolved from the unromantic (“Here’s an empty studio”) to the practical (“How can we get the most amount of different music on?”) to the deliriously ambitious (“We hoped for something like a Greek tragedy… The kind of show where you couldn’t lie!”).

They wanted Holland to host, linking performances with puns and chat, occasionally playing jazzy piano with his guests. He’d done something similar on Sunday Night, a show for US broadcaster NBC, and before that had worked on music programme The Tube. To him, Later sounded like “the bastard love-child of all the shows I’d done in the past”. He signed up.

And so on Friday 9 October 1992, about 100,000 midnight viewers met Holland in his studio. Then in his mid 30s, skinny and hardly filling a wide-shouldered suit, the presenter was sat low on a piano stool – placed, for no obvious reason, in front of a hat stand and a fire exit sign. He sounded less than certain as introductions were made: “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first show of these shows…”

The Neville Brothers and the Christians performed; Holland got the lead singer of Nu Colour’s name wrong, and asked a member of D’Influence if the growth in the popularity of British soul music was “a sort of reaction to some of the more hardcore… things?” The show featured artificial smoke, electric-blue lighting and a lot of cameras rolling just-too-late out of shot. It’s unlikely any of those watching at home realised they were witnessing the start of something lasting. And “inconceivable”, says Holland now, “that we’d be doing it 20 years later.”

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Guardian