music/ PREVIEW

onditions were not perfect for the link-up with Helicon Mountain. I was calling from the bedroom; to be precise, from the bed. Propped up on three pillows, double duvet up to the chin, notepad lost in a sea of fibre-fill. Not, you understand, a question of time-differences, but a case of flu (Hungarian, I reckon). We soldier on. J ools Holland was at Helicon, confusingly enough not in Ancient Greece, but straddling, Colossus-like, that strife-torn border between Blackheath and Greenwich.

Helicon Mountain, the putative home-on-the-range of the Muses, is the name chosen by the cheeky chappie of TV pop to append to his recording studio and office an ingenious conversion, as the estate agents say, knocked together from three disused lock-ups. Aspiring to the architectural idiom of Camberwick Green, the building now resembles a branchline station, complete with the metal signboards and other salvage-memorabilia beloved of American-style hamburger emporia. People are misled by it, thinking perhaps that it is the ticket-office for some London Disneyworld that has escaped the guide-books, or an antique shop hawking the rusty remains of metropolitan glory, ‘We could have sold the furniture ten times over,’ said the nice girl who answers the phone.

J 0015 Holland comes on the line like a parody of himself, dropping aitches and rude words

A youthful lack of self-doubt (which Holland seems to have carried into his thirties) characterised the next step. When he was fifteen, Squeeze started playing in pubs, and he left school. ‘We realised that was the life for us. Because people wanted to be our friend, and they gave us money, and girls wanted to know us and we got free drinks and we had enough money at that young and tender age to get cabs and Chinese takeaways. It was fantastic, you know what I mean? What more could anybody want?’

Admittedly it is the sort of life one could thole for a time, and one that Holland has since stuck by, at least in principle, ‘I don’t have any ambitions in business. I’m not interested in having a film company or whatever. I find that gives me stress. I’m just interested in making stuff, you know. I try and avoid anything that isn’t going to be enjoyable.’ Accusing him of irresponsibility doesn’t raise his ire, ‘I suppose so,’ he replies, ‘But there’s a responsibility towards what you’re making. That’s the thing, isn’t it?’

Surprisingly, Jools Holland is not extreme. Even on the famous incident letting slip with ‘Be there or be an ungroovy fucker,‘ during a live trailer that led to his six-week suspension from Channel 4’s The Tube, he is reasonable beyond the call of loyalty, opining without spite that he was a scapegoat for the catalogue of minor misdemeanours that had gone before: Robbie

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(bollocks is a favourite) with aplomb, and revealing that same mixture of bravado and

Coltrane pouring paraffin over his new suit, Rik i.\

shyness which makes his broadcasting style unique and, depending on your taste, either infuriating or attractive or both.

Twenty minutes into our conversation, somebody sends a telepathic message from Deptford - where J ools lives with his longterm girlfriend and two children in ‘a bivouac of love’ and, mid-joke,'Holland remembers, ‘Oh my goodness. Sorry. I tell you what. Do you want to ring me back in my car. I’ve just realised I’ve got to pick my son up from school.’ And so the bloke in the office transmogrifies into the hybrid of the 905: the media-person with in-car communications crossed with the involved, caring father. Holland carries it off well. Approaching the school, he keeps up a mildly self-deprecating commentary, ‘Oh dear, all the other mums are here, and he’ll be sitting there on his own, a little tear rolling down his cheek, waiting for the gypsies to pick him up, that’s who he probably thinks I’ve sold him to.’ Gypsies? There is something endearingly old-fashioned about J ools Holland. Driving back from school, he points out an ambulance to young George, who responds with an old ice-cream van. Holland’s fascination for cars and trains passes down the family line.

Born in London in 1958, Julian Holland wasn’t taught to play the piano ‘They tried that, but it didn’t work’ but picked it up in his gran’s front room with the help of an uncle who could play boogie-woogie. At school, like any other optimistic Beatles fan, he was in a band. And once they had shrugged off the one-key no-hopers, he and Squeeze vocalist Glenn Tilbrook discovered they were going places,

‘Everybody else was bluffing, and we could both play really well with one another. And so we got together and thought, ‘Sod them with their rubbish dancing and posing about.’

Mayall vomiting over a camera. Small things.

Nor will he rise to the suggestion that television and pop don’t mix, that the media has a strong tendency to treat p0p music as trivia. Nor does he think that his new series for Channel 4 (working title, Mr Roadrunner). which takes him to Nashville and Memphis to indulge in some musical archaeology, will change all that. He is as qualified in his appraisal of his own work as the most clear-sighted critic. Perhaps that is the necessary legacy of the minor rock star.

Jools is ambivalent about broadcasting, claiming he has none of the traditional skills ofthe presenter, and is ‘better at making things up’ than dealing with the truth. He quotes the American comic, Ernie Kovacs. who said. Television a medium. So called because it is neither rare nor well-done. ‘And it isn’t is it,’ says Jools, ‘I mean 80% of what’s on the television is just not worth watching, but there are things that are really great. If you expect everything on television to be really good, then you’ve got the wrong expectations.’ He welcomes the breadth ofchoice in modern television, and has already done a series of chat-and-music shows for 888. yet he finds television bureaucracy frustrating, ‘The BBC is such a great big slug. You have to deal with so much bollocks to get anything done. Whereas with music you think about what you want to play, and as long as you‘ve got the musicians, you organise it, and you play it.’

Which is what he will be doing with his Big Band Extravaganza in the Queen‘s Hall during the Fringe. ‘I’ll have a week when the family aren‘t there when I just go frenzied and crazy. Which I tend to do in Edinburgh for some reason. I wake up on the floor of pubs and things two days later.’ He promises, however, that he will not be taking his trousers off on stage. Maturity comes to us all, eventually.

The List 17— 23 August 199013