An Evening At The BBC: Later…With Jools Holland

So I was fortunate enough to win tickets to exist in the audience for BBC2’s flagship music show Later…With Jools Holland on Tuesday 10th, and my what a fantastic and surprisingly star-studded experience this turned out to be!

The roster of artists on board for this particular showing was undeniably stellar. A sixties legend, a cinematic guru, female experimental art-rockers, lyrical-indie, grammy-winning country and fresh reggae culminated in a refreshingly unorthodox and intimate concert variety that not many people get to experience.

    1. Arctic Monkeys
    2. Alison Krauss & Union Station
    3. Brian Wilson
    4. Gappy Ranks
    5. Randy Newman
    6. Warpaint

We all knew it were gonna be a reet good neet when Tom Fletcher of McFly was found seated adjacent to our humble table in Pizza Express Westfield with his girlfriend/date/sister. Apparently this is simply because it was “Pizza Tuesday”. I wanted to ask him if his band had ever played Later…, but I was just too scared.

Anyway, the queue lining the streets of Wood Lane just metres outside of the television centre was understandably lengthy. However after initial concerns of admittance rejection on our arrival, it emerged that many rejectees were infact there for the recording of Shooting Stars.

As the queue slowly dissolved, and humans were painfully filtered through the audience entrance, a “fashionably” dressed and arrestingly skeletal lady from the late 1950s began to attract a few gazes. Oh it was Alexa Chung! Of course, she is long-term-girlfriend of Arctic Monkey Alex Turner, a guest on tonight’s show. It must be said that this Channel4 presenter’s feeble attempt to look inconspicuous in her overly quirky and rather attention-drawing outfit of long spotty dress, clunky brown boots, grandad jumper and cloche-hat fell slightly short of the “unnoticeable” mark. It’s impossible to appreciate how worryingly thin she is unless witnessed in person. She stood clasping a Pret-a-Manger bag whilst sipping water, which I can only assume was her dinner. Was she waiting for said Monkey? No, rather a loud, not-as-famous girlfriend, who appeared momentarily before vanishing altogether inside the building on the back of a laminated guest list.

Then, just as I was about to consider a paparazzi career with OK! magazine, who else should come strolling by the queue again failing to hide behind rock-star-shades? Father of folk Marcus Mumford! Coincidence? No, he too was on the guest list. And predictably once inside, there Alexa and Marcus both were, sat on those exclusive seats with tables; for resting expensive (though complimentary) beverages on. Carol Vorderman was also sat there too! Lord knows why…although I’m almost certain it’s because of her fling with Randy Newman. Which is a rumour I have just started.

Once through the airport style security, the audience congregated in a canteen with the option of buying a pre-match drink and snack. Familiar faces decorated the walls, motivational speaker ‘Kev’ emerged from the studio and riled us all up for a big cheer-fest.

Then it was through the double doors and into Studio B which whilst impressive, is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. All the bands were already set up, pretty much just waiting for the crowds to assemble, and we were packed in like sardines. There were bright lights, big sets and lots of the production team running round like headless chickens, but with headsets on.

The Bands

Until Tuesday I’d pretty much ignored Warpaint, but this was incredibly wrong and naive of me. Even now that I appreciate their music a whole lot more, the translation from recorded sound to live performance really is remarkable. What an AMAZING rhythm section they have! Really dark and moody music.

Considering  ‘Undertow’ from their début album The Fool, Warpaint was definitely the best band there with their performance of ‘Elephants’ being a cracking highlight. The bass was absolutely huge, and only accentuated the groove when coupled with Stella Mozgawa’s scattered timpani-mallet beat. They were surprisingly young and great fun, dancing the do-si-do to everyone else’s set.

Arctic Monkey’s are the only ones here with something to really prove. They have a new album out soon, and risk alienating fans after initially uncertain reactions. Perhaps this is why their opener was a real beast. It’s almost like they’ve taken the Busted to Fight Star route (a juxtaposition fuelled by my earlier encounter with Mcfly) without sacking band members, things have gotten heavy. Alex Turner is still more of a poetic speaker than a heartfelt singer, speaking in that famed regional accent over new and unreleased tracks from their forthcoming album Suck It And See; Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, ‘Reckless Serenade’, ‘Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ and ‘Library Pictures’.

It’s difficult to predict how such a moody, and dare I say “rocky”, sound will connect with fans of their signature lighter lyric-driven indie. Still,  by conforming to that steadfast Arctic Monkey formula, ‘Hellcat’ was the strongest, with great backing vocals on the “shalalala” chorus from drummer Matt Helders. They were also the only band to request a re-take of an entire song, which honestly sounded exactly the same.

Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair

Last year I had the pleasure of seeing Paul McCartney at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. And he is in outrageously boisterous shape for a 68-year-old. Now despite occupying the same age, I sadly learned that the same cannot be said for Brian Wilson. Boy did this former Beach Boy look haggard, miserable, uncomfortably coated in make-up, and actually quite scary. I mean he needed a chair to rest on, for crying out loud. He has definitely still yet to recover since his breakdown over the Smile recordings in 1967. But I guess anyone who eats birthday cake every day for 20 odd years can’t be all there: “I was eating a lot of birthday cakes. I was eating half a birthday cake a night.”

He was interviewed, and did the freakiest upwards rain/ghost hands I’ve ever seen to the chorus of ‘Good Vibrations’, sadly some things are better heard and not seen. You can watch an exclusive web performance of  ‘God Only Knows’ over on the Later website, one of the greatest songs of all time.

Brian wasn’t the only golden-oldie on tap, veteran songwriter and multiple Oscar and Grammy winner Randy Newman took a seat at the famed Jools grand piano for two numbers, none of which included ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ or “Red-headed lady/reachin’ for an apple/Gonna take a bite/nope, nope”, but rather a typically narrative song called ‘Birmingham’ (pronounced bir-min-am).

In the music industry one of the absolute necessities is your ability to sound different, and Newman is blessed with a honky-tonk of a voice which treads all clumsy and proud over his saloon-bar piano. Like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, once you catch a glimpse of the song-writing skill through the thickly hung veil of off-putting voice, you’re set.

Gappy Ranks made sure his reggae inspired tunes were great fun for all, with each performance securing the crowd’s pleasure.

Roll It Up

Alison Krauss & Union Station’s American country just kind of floated around unnoticed, but I guess if I can remember the tune to ‘Paper Airplanes’ then that’s something.

After the recording of the pre-recorded version, everyone was allowed a brief toilet break. I snuck out sharp and managed to avoid the queues, but as I emerged from my cubicle, who should be standing and waiting to come in, but Arctic Monkey’s drummer Matt Helders! By now the sheer volume of stars in my immediate peripheral vision was standard, and I managed to play it cool. During a quick gasp of fresh air from outside, the remaining Monkeys gathered to enjoy a jovial flirt with both Alexa and their super-tall roadie.

Everyone went back inside for the live recording, which bizarrely is being aired within a few hours of the pre-recorded edition on the same night [tomorrow]. Thanks Lord Alan Sugar! Jools rehearsed his entrance a few times and then it was take off. Brian Wilson ended proceedings, and everyone was gently encouraged to leave. I use the word “gently”, since if you so desired the option to literally wander out onto the production floor in a bid to hassle the musicians, was available, and of course a few die-hard fans graciously complied.

The View From Gappy Ranks' Set-Up

As we left the building, a gigantic line of posh taxis (i.e identical silver unmarked cars) queued to enter the BBC and pick up the various stars and staff. I like to imagine they all went to a funky after-party along the shores of Embankment somewhere. Absolutely amazing day!

You Can Catch ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ On BBC2 Tomorrow [Friday 13th eek]

You Can Catch ‘Mcfly On The Wall’ Every Wednesday on 5*

-James Godwin, May 12th, 2011