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Home / Latest News / Rhythm king Jools Holland talks about his love for Tom Jones, Wales, and Brains beer

Rhythm king Jools Holland talks about his love for Tom Jones, Wales, and Brains beer

“Where are you, in Cardiff?” asks boogie-woogie piano maestro Jools Holland down the line from the Kent-based set of his Later…. TV show.

Yes, I reply, a dull and overcast Cardiff where spring still hasn’t fully sprung.

“The weather’s rubbish here too if that’s any consolation, but at least you have Brains beer where you are – magical stuff that,” he says. “I bet you can even smell the hops from where you’re sitting.”

The evergreen former Squeeze star then regales me with a long anecdote about how he was introduced to our nation’s favourite foam-topped tipple back in his late teens when he was a member of a band called The Millionaires.

“Pino Palladino, who’s a fabulous bass player from your neck of the woods, joined the group in 1978 and he’d take us to his dad’s restaurant.

“It’s where I got to sample Brains for the first time and it’s a taste I’ve never lost since,” he adds.

And Holland’s links with Wales don’t end with its homebrewed libations either – the musician fell so deeply in love with Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ Italianate Shangri-La of Portmeirion during an early visit to Gwynedd that he modelled his home recording studio after its Mediterranean architectural majesty.

“Oh, I love it there and thought it one of the wonders of the world – in fact, that whole area is pretty fabulous,” says the 55-year-old.

He’s now planning to take a ride on Aberystwyth’s Cliff Railway – “So rickety it feels like it’s made from match-sticks” – when he and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra perform at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre next week.

Holland can also boast of long-running relationships with two of this country’s biggest musical exports – Sir Tom Jones and the Stereophonics.

The Cwmaman band have been a staple of his popular BBC Two musical mash-up since their fledgling performance in 1997.

“And they were back on the show again just the other week, some 16 years later,” he says.

“I certainly hope that in some small way being on Later… helped them in their career, but the real reason they’ve got to where they are is really because of Kelly,” he says of lead singer Kelly Jones.

“That boy could sing anything – Sinatra, blues, whatever. The version they did of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face (made famous by Roberta Flack in 1972) blew me away. I thought it was the best take on it I’d ever heard.”

Despite the cavalcade of stars he’s rubbed shoulders with during his own eclectic career, the first time Holland saw The Voice of the Valleys’ face up close left him feeling truly starstruck.

“Very much so, but after I’d met him a couple of times I managed to relax a bit,” he admits of Sir Tom.

“Once you get to know him Tom’s actually one of the gentlest, most humble blokes you’ll ever meet, and really funny too.

“In fact, I can recall him telling me about how, in 2004, he’d played a song we’d recorded together to Jerry Lee Lewis, who’s one of my all-time heroes.

“He told me how Jerry Lee had described my playing as ‘so beautiful it could make a steel bow cry’.”

He and Jones regularly keep in touch.

“Whenever Tom’s in the country we’ll meet up and have a bite to eat and a sing-song,” he laughs.

“As it goes, we hooked up just the other night and were at the piano until about four in the morning belting out early Elvis numbers together.

“It wasn’t until after we’d finished and said our goodbyes that it hit me: We should have recorded that, it would’ve made a bloody good little album.”

Holland is now looking forward to returning to Wales as part of his latest tour. Future Welsh dates include the Brecon Jazz Festival and Cardiff Motorpoint Arena.

“We’ve got Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals touring with us this time around and his voice is stronger now than ever, and the always great Ruby Turner is along for the ride too,” he says.

“As for the orchestra itself, I think they’re currently numbering about 22, although I tend to lose track as to how many of them there are most days are.”

And he’s equally unsure about his audience demographic.

“We get all sorts coming to see us, a whole mix of ages from 90 to 19,” he explains.

“If you likes blues, ska and roots music then you’re going to enjoy yourself, and that’s all that matters.”

Jools Holland and his Rhythm Blues Orchestra play Aberystwyth Arts Centre on June 7. He also plays the Brecon Jazz Festival on August 11 and Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on December 19

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