Songwriter Profile: Jools Holland

Jools Holland: Community Through Music

Musician, bandleader, composer, and radio and television presenter Jools Holland has long been a staple of the British music scene. From his humble beginnings playing the pub circuit of the East London docks, Holland progressed as a session musician before co-founding the band Squeeze and continuing on to a solo career. His weekly television show, Later…with Jools Holland, and annual New Year’s Eve celebration, Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, have aired on BBC2 since 1992, and Holland has worked and performed with successful musicians in every decade of the 20th century. Collaborations have included Jayne County, Sting, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, David Gilmour, Tom Jones, Dr. John, the Fine Young Cannibals and he has been bandleader to his 18-piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra since 1987. 

Growing up surrounded by musicians (Holland’s mother, aunts, and grandmother all played piano), there was always music in the home—jazz, classical, blues, and the latest pop records—and he remembers feeling the thrill of hearing Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head” for the first time, and watching his uncle playing piano, which ultimately solidified his obsession. “It was so exciting. I heard him playing boogie-woogie and the chaos of the universe became ordered,” he says. Holland still finds that feeling at times, revealing that, “I suppose that's my definition of what good music is for me. As soon as it finishes, I want to hear it again—that's a good piece.” 

Mostly self-taught, Holland learned theory in school from his music teacher, and picked up more musical knowledge from mentors and collaborators—like Dr. John, who wrote with him and introduced him to early R&B and blues artists from New Orleans. Holland revealed that Dr. John would always tell him, “You've got to play what you love, and you've got to love what you play. You've got to play what you mean, and you've got you mean what you play.”

When it comes to tips for writing music, Holland shares that “you need to make music that will make people feel—make them dance, cry, or feel romantic—and it needs to resonate with you. The title's enough to take you to the place sometimes—you don't need words. The great thing about all music is there's no rules at all.” On his new song, “Blues For The End of Time,” the melody is painted by David Gilmour, and the title gives you all you need. Overall though, Holland believes that it is important to be writing and listening to music you love constantly, adding that you should be asking yourself, “who were they listening to, and then who were they listening to, and so forth? The more you go back, the more you discover and the more you make sense of the song.” Collaborations can also be beneficial. “If you get someone amazing to sing your songs, it illuminates it and turns it into something much better,” says Holland. “The best thing that could happen to a songwriter is when you hear someone singing it who then makes it into a universal sort of thing—they magnify it.” 

Holland’s latest project, Pianola. Piano & Friends, is a celebration of community and was written to express his love of the piano and the joy and community it brings. Inspired to create the compilation from a childhood spent listening to his grandmother Rosie entertaining guests on her self-playing pianola (which he has since inherited from his mother), the compilation includes artists Trombone Shorty, Booker T, Tom Jones, David Gilmour, Moses Boyd, Gregory Porter, Joe Bonamassa, Rick Wakeman, and Dr. John.

Gushes Holland, “I'm so grateful to be able to have a blessed existence and keep doing it. The record that I've just finished is the culmination of that, because it's about the root of what I like to do, which is my dear old friend, the piano.” 

Holland received an Order of the British Empire at the Queen’s Birthday Honors for his service to the British music industry as a television presenter and musician and is a Patron of Drake Music. 

Contact Sonny Bailey-Lemansky, Missing Piece Group 

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