03 June, 2006

Hollandaise sauce

Casting around for something to prolong yesterday evening and its inevitable feelings of pre-weekend relief, I ended up watching some of Later With Jools Holland on BBC2. This was a mistake.

For starters, you'd have thought Jools would, after what feels like 75 years, have finally got the hang of being a television presenter. After all it's not as if this show, unlike the one which made him a household name (The Tube), is live. The whole thing is pre-recorded, with 95% of it requiring no involvement on the part of Jools whatsoever.

None of this, however, seems to count for anything as, judging by last night's effort, our man is just as addled, discomfited and generally thrown by the business of being on screen than ever before. He fluffed his very first line. He did the usual walk-round-the-studio opening with an air of not knowing where he was going. He looked into the wrong camera. He began shouting in a way you couldn't make out what he was saying. Then he looked into the wrong camera again. And so it went on.

I remember watching what must have been one of the very first editions of Later... back in 1992/3 featuring a very nervous looking Suede about to leave for their debut tour of America. The atmosphere was frosty to say the least. "Send us a postcard," mumbled Jools. "Yes," replied Brett Anderson, hesitatantly. "We will." "Good," said Jools. "Thank you."

This was back in the time when the studio wasn't purposefully filled with a thousand self-conscious showboaters lurking in the background to whoop and gurgle at the merest opportunity. Instead the place was virtually empty, with only a few roadies and technicians lurking disconsolately in the shadows and scant, scattered applause after each performance coming from the attendant cameramen and engineers. In a way Jools's amateur bungling wasn't so much of an issue back then, fitting quite neatly into the general air of low-key disorganisation and fraternal tomfoolery.

Now, though, it sticks out like a petulant pianist's sore thumb. Given it's the only proper music show on the entire BBC (Top Of The Pops being, of course, an entertainment series, not a music show), Later... really deserves better. It also merits somewhat more superior performances than that given by its headline act last night, Mr Steven Morrissey.

Lumbering onto camera dressed in a tuxedo replete with bow tie and looking bloated and befuddled, the erstwhile Stretford Bard bawled his way through 'You Have Killed Me' surrounded by the rockabilly chancers he's employed as a band for the last 14 years, all of whom are now either absurdly fat, bald or both. Morrissey had trouble holding a note, let alone a tune, and looked flushed and tired after the first verse. His hair was grey, his face wizened, his once athletic stage presence reduced to a few prods and pokes akin to a old man gesticulating at a pension counter.

All in all a depressing, not to say distressing, display from both star turn and host, leaving me no choice but to head straight to bed and a strange dream about the Pope being shot.


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