As Jools Holland’s biannual celebration of music returns to our screens, Josh Gray selects some of the best moments to revisit...
Whether you think Jools Holland is a national treasure or just a blowhard ball of boogie-woogie bluster, his Later… Live series is undoubtedly the finest musical performance show on terrestrial television (admittedly it is also the only one).
Without fail his opening promise of “we’ve got a great show lined up for you tonight” will always be at least 40% correct, and for every ailing geriatric rock star or bland balladeer that stars there’ll be an exciting new psych/grime/soul act to bring balance to the evening’s occasions.
From Ed Sheeran to the Arctic Monkeys via Jessie J and Dizzee Rascal, nearly every successful UK artist has graced at least one of the show’s bizarrely shaped stages (which still look a little like Jools lifted them piece by piece from the Tate Modern collection when no-one was looking).
So, seeing as its back for its 50th season, let’s look back over a few of the most memorable Later… performances from over the past few years.
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Stormzy Performs ‘Not That Deep’ (2014)
OK, so either Skepta or Stormzy could have got onto this list, but Stormzy wins because he came first. After a presumably over-long meeting about which stage to use for such a basic set-up of DJ and MC, some genius came up with the idea of plonking him right in the middle of the round and dimming all the lights.
The result is a foreboding, unforgettable piece of television that helped to rid grime of its association with Calvin Harris and hopefully resulted in plenty of complaint letters from scared Status Quo fans. The best part? His nervous laugh as he finishes and remembers how many people are watching.
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James Blake breaks a few hearts with ‘Radio Silence’ (2016)
James Blake’s transformation into the soulful crooner of ‘Limit To Your Love’ saw one of Jools’ most innovative debuts in 2011, but it was deftly surpassed by his return last year. Expertly layering vocals over waves upon wave of shimmering keyboards, this song showcased every single one of Blake’s many talents to everyone tuning in.
There’s so many highlights in this performance: his unexpectedly jazzy lounge piano at the start, the overwhelming bass that kicks in part way through and, of course, that mournful refrain that keeps on driving the song towards its devastating conclusion.
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Janelle Monáe gets down to ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ (2013)
Janelle Monáe was proving that she’s the new Prince a good three years before anyone had a reason to ask who the new Prince was. The real joy in watching her perform on Later… is her refusal to treat it differently to any other of her phenomenal live shows. Is the song spins around and around she works herself into a frenzy until she’s writhing around on the floor, channelling the fervour of some southern Baptist minister in much the same way David Byrne used to. The song ends also with possibly the most deserved mic drop (or mic throw really) of all time.
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Foals tear through ‘What Went Down’ (2015)
Previous Foals performances on the show had seen the meekly staring at the crowd, plucking out complex indie classics like ‘Red Socks Pugie’ almost apologetically.
A 2015 ‘headline’ slot, however, saw them undergoing a complete metamorphosis. No longer were they the modest math boys of yesteryear, they had become the roaring beast of a rock behemoth that would dominate festival mosh pits for the next few years. The second half of the song sees frontman Yannis Philippakis abandoning the stage altogether and prowling around the studio, giving fellow performer Rickie Lee Jones what looks like the fright of her life as he snarls the repeated refrain inches away from her face.
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Charles Bradley performs ‘I’m A Victim of Loving You’ (2014)
Charles Bradley creases up his face and belts out “I’m a victiiiiiiiiim” with such conviction that it leaves an impression on the soul. The ex-James Brown impersonator was no stranger to the show at this point, he’d introduced himself to the country back in 2012 with his showstopping performance of ‘The World (Is Going Up In Flames)’ and has been one of Jools’ favourite performers ever since.
There’s something special about the way that this pairing of his rich, creamy voice with The Menahan Street Band’s minimalist backing manages to utterly captivate both the studio audience and the viewers back home which marks this one out.
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Kanye West strips back ‘New Slaves’ with Charlie Wilson (2012)
Future Commander-in-Chief M.r West can be accused of many things, but consistency is not one of them. Stripping back his performance to just a single piano and a few backing vocals from former The Gap Band leader Charlie Wilson absolutely ruined his other track of the evening’s broadcast (the sample-reliant ‘Bound 2’).
But this furious rendition of ‘New Slaves’, with its non-stop minor piano refrain and vicious condemnation of America’s prison system and enhanced by some atmospheric spotlighting, remains the go to video to prove Kanye’s credentials to sceptical friends.
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Parliament-Funkadelic command everyone to ‘Give Up The Funk’ (2015)
It takes a legend of the calibre of R Kelly, Soundgarden or Jamiroquai to be allowed to deviate from the usual Later… requirement that acts should stick to new material and play on old crowd favourite.
George Clinton’s ramshackle collective of funkmeisters have all the legend credentials needed to rip out ‘Give Up The Funk’ to bring our nation under a groove. As ever with the P-Funk progenitors, randomness abounds. There’s a man doing handstands on the stage dressed like a sexy lamp and at least half the backing vocalists look like they were just ushered in to the band at the last moment to extend Clinton’s backstage rider. But let no one ever tell you that Later…. Live With Jools Holland is stiff after watching this.
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Words: Josh Gray