Why, oh why, one of our televisions stations has not had the nous to pick up the British television show Later... with Jools Holland is a mystery to me. It's been around for ten years or so, is popular, attracts many of the biggest names in the music business, and has inspired at latest count three separate DVD compilations here in Australia alone. It is hosted by someone who is actually a musician and not some hack comic with a brown nose and an annoying tendency to try and upstage the guest. Yes, I'm looking at you, Rove!
Jools was a long time member of UK band, Squeeze (formerly UK Squeeze), as well as any number of jazz outfits in need of one hot piano man. The guy makes playing piano look so easy you would swear that anyone could do it!
Later... Legends is just that, a collection of live in-studio performances from the biggest names in music, and some not quite so big. The set up for Later... is simple. Artist comes in, artist is encouraged to try something a little different, artist performs, artist is sometimes asked a few questions about their craft. Everyone is happy. Sometimes Jools himself will sit in tickle the ivories, but he is never the star. There is no miming and no studio trickery, no special effects to disguise the fact the artist is crap, and no overdubs.
So who is included in this collection? So glad you asked as I get to show off my limited knowledge of classic pop and rock. The highlights are plenty, and only one or two performances passed by with a minimum of interest. The acts come from various times in the last decade, but many are recent performances of some older tunes. The first handful of artists really set the standard, and the rest is a cavalcade of great performances from some great performers.
Kicking off with Paul McCartney belting out the Chuck Berry number Brown Eyed Handsome Man, this is followed by Joe Strummer and band pounding out the anthemic London Calling, then a sprightly Johnny Cash delivering the classic Folsom Prison Blues, and Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders give us what for with Kid. If you ain't rockin' by now, consult a doctor 'cause you're dead!
The rest of the two hours is pretty much a faultless ride through many musical genres from country to blues to rock and roll, but all played with chic, flair and/or gusto. Robbie Williams bangs out an impromptu Suspicious Minds, Patti Smith gives a cracking version of Because the Night accompanied only by acoustic guitar, which highlights what a great song it is. Pete Townsend gives a Telecaster-only version of Magic Bus and Dusty Springfield asks us Where is a Woman to Go? with help from her friends, Alison Moyet and Sinead O'Connor.
Also noteworthy are R.E.M. with The One I Love, the newly reformed Blondie in '98 doing Heart of Glass, and finally the legend himself, Ian Dury, appropriately sums up proceedings and the music business in general with his classic Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll.
There are so many reasons to go out and get this, and I could just about include every performance as a highlight, and that's not something that can be said of many of these types of compilation.
Paul McCartney - Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Joe Strummer - London Calling
Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues
Pretenders - Kid
Dr John - Creole Moon
Bryan Ferry - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Georgie Fame - Yeh Yeh
Patti Smith - Because the Night
Leonard Cohen - Dance Me to the End of Love
Paul Weller - A Town Called Malice
Al Green - How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?
Ronnie Spector & Divine Comedy - Don't Worry Baby
Wille Nelson - She is Gone
Elvis Costello - (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea
Dusty Springfield - Where is a Woman to Go
Robbie Williams - Suspicious Minds
Solomon Burke - Cry to Me
Tom Jones - Crazy Arms
Jeff Beck - Brush With the Blues
Page & Plant - Gallows Pole
Pete Townshend - Magic Bus
Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley is Crazy
Blondie - Heart of Glass
George Benson - On Broadway
Bobby Whitlock & Eric Clapton - Bell Bottom Blues
R.E.M. - The One I Love
Steve Winwood - Gimme Some Loving
Lou Reed - Sweet Jane
Roger McGuinn - Eight Miles High
Tony Bennett - All of Me
The Kinks - Til the End of Day
Ian Dury - Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll
Being a television show that is at least ten years old, you might expect some of the older performances to show some signs of aging, but you'd be wrong. Typical of many British television shows, top quality recording equipment has been used and the end result is very fine indeed. Each performance looks like it was recorded last week and all are sharp and clear. There is solid and very natural colouring throughout with no sign of grain, noise or other colour-related problems. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 and all clips are anamorphically enhanced.
The studio lighting is faultless, apart from some use of blue-lighting which plays havoc with DVD - but even this is mostly backlighting and used sparingly. Shadow detail is just not an issue. The cameras zoom all around the set and there are some lovely clear close-ups, so close in fact, you can even make out every hair in Patti Smith's little 'tache. That's what you get for being a hippy! The layer change is tucked away somewhere between performances and is as undetectable as you could hope for.
The performances were recorded in stereo and that's exactly what you are going to get damn it! It is in a very rich and pleasant Linear PCM 48/16 stereo though and sounds very good. There is clear and obvious separation of vocals and instruments, and being recorded in a studio with top-quality equipment means there is a good range and fidelity. Low-level sounds are strong and all treble sounds are crystal clear. Vocals are all clear and audible and there are no problems with synchronisation. There is no signal from the rear channels or subwoofer, but the stereo presentation is strong enough to make this a pleasant listening experience. Turn it up, folks!
The only real extra apart from track selection and the ability to do some very rudimentary programming of up to six tracks, is the dozen or so short interviews that can be selected from their own menu, or viewed by pressing "enter" when a bass clef appears at the bottom right hand corner of the screen at the end of the appropriate performance. This icon can be turned on or off, but keep in mind that only about one third of the performers have interview footage and even then each only lasts between one and three minutes.
Music fans should grab this DVD, see what we have been missing out on, and demand that one of our networks investigates the purchase of Later... with Jools Holland. It might also prompt them to reassess just what garbage they are foisting on us. Reality television has had its day, surely? Long-winded advertising masquerading as game shows and endless sitcom repeats are so tired. Am I alone in my boredom with reality television? If I see one more overblown show about finding the next "Pop Tartlet", I am going to yack! Let's get back to real talent and performance variety, folks.