There was a time when “Later…” the live music show presented by Jools Holland was essential viewing. On a BBC that knows so little about music that in every documentary it trots out the usual bollocks about how important punk was1 Jool’s show was a breath of fresh air. Not only did it present bands playing live – something Top of the Pops producers would have you believe was technically impossible – it offered a real interesting variety. But those days are gone. Instead every week you have exactly the same show. Of course the band names change – but the actual show is pretty much identical week after week.
Gone are the days when you’d see real variety, where each week would be a surprise. Now there’s a set formula and you can guarantee what you’ll get. My wife and I have taken to pointing out which band fits each clichéd spot as Jools does his introductory walk around.
First there will be the legend. This will be some old duffer selling a greatest hits or covers album. Here we’ll have a genuine star – might be Robert Plant, Tony Bennett or last night Peter Gabriel. They will have to endure an interview at the piano where Jools shows them footage of when they were still any good followed by some of the most painfully stupid interview questions ever asked. The star will then get to play a few songs and although past it will probably be the best thing in the show.
Next there will be a crap indie band. These losers will be from the cliched box of paint by numbers indie rubbish. The lead singer will be and ugly git with a ridiculous mop of hair (thankfully) covering half his face. Another band member who can’t decide to play guitar or a tiny pointless keyboard will hover between both playing each badly. Sometimes this member will hover between guitar and a single drum to help out their weedy skinny anaemic drummer who only has a child’s drumkit. Telecaster and Jaguar guitars will be favoured running into a variety of vintage expensive amps yet the resulting sound will be a thin weedy mess reminiscent of a toy ukulele. The indie band will play with the demeanour of sixth-form hipsters too cool to be here, looking as miserable as possible while belting out their dreadful imitation of Smiths/Mark E Smith shite.
Then there will be the urban or world music act. I don’t know if the show has some kind of ethnic quota or something, but if you’ve got bloke from Tower Hamlets mumbling over some Bontempi keyboard backing then you’re less likely to get four Kenyans playing the sort of jangly guitar pop that made Paul Simon a very wealthy afro-kleptomaniac.
Next up we’ll have the quirky female solo artist. You are guaranteed one of these every week. She will be almost pretty, but so weird you wouldn’t go within a mile of her. She will almost be able to sing, but not enough that you’d ever want to hear her voice again. Often she’ll painfully drag us through her last breakup as she weakly strums an acoustic and warbles disconsolately in a vague imitation of music. Other weeks quirky female solo artist will have a backing band of competent but freaky musicians (including the can’t make up his mind keyboard/guitarist) that otherwise would be playing as the shit indie band.
Some weeks there will be a folk act. Well I say folk. But more likely it will be a bunch of public schoolboys playing Worzel Gummidge dress up, adopting silly rural singing voices and a half passable job of getting a busking pitch in the London Underground. Pretending to be a posh tramp and having a mate who can almost play the bodhran does not make you a folk act. You’re just the crap indie band – but without the amplifiers.
All of the above will be hugely popular with excited media types watching along and talking about the music on Twitter. There will be gushing from broadsheet music writers (and their kin) about these awful, tuneless set of insignificant mumblers as though they were the saviours of popular music. On any given week at least two of these dreadful formulaic bands will have won a Mercury or Ivor Novello.
Some weeks as some kind of patronising care-in-the-community, let’s help the dreadfully unfashionable bands2, a band will be invited on that the broadsheet music or the NME wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Invariably this will be some metal or rock band. This group won’t have boutique music gear, will look cheerful and will belt through some rousing song that everyone will find they enjoy after the bleak shite that has been on the rest of the programme so far. And this having been cheerful and noisy and fun they won’t be allowed to play another song tonight, unlike the rest of the acts.
Meanwhile it’s then back to some mumbly shite that’s achingly worthy. One of the unlucky acts (but never the big successful band) will be asked to play a famous cover with Jools on piano. Ooh what style will it be this week? Oh boogie woogie, who would have thought. And next week we’ll do it all again.
1Punk really wasn’t important at all as a musical force or commercially. But the BBC has lots of footage. Whereas Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – who were selling millions of albums – wouldn’t give BBC television the time of day. So every BBC show about music in the seventies seems to think glam rock then punk were the most popular forms of music. You really would think that Showaddywaddy sold more records than Dark Side of the Moon.
2Those bands that can (a) play their instruments, (b) sing, (c) not look like one of those dandy twats just asking to be beaten up on the tube, (d) actually smile and look like they’re enjoying themself.