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Jools Holland: “I was always a bit of a show-off”

Jools Holland on being expelled from school, his best revelation about women – and shocking his family with his first record

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my younger self. A few years ago I bought an Aston Martin convertible, a cherry red DB6 Volante. And I remembered that when I was a boy, and we lived in a tiny house in Greenwich without a bathroom or any heating, my dad, who’s dead now, bought me a toy model of the same car. And I realised that’s why I’d picked that car. So I decided to drive my car back to my old neighbourhood. It was a dark, misty autumn evening and I parked outside my old house. There was no one around. I suddenly imagined my front door opening and my younger self coming down the path and me opening the car door and saying: “Hey, it’s me! Jump in!”

Everyone worries a bit when they’re 16 but generally I was a pretty confident teenager who thought he knew it all. I think I inherited a positive outlook from my mother. One evening when she was about 18 she and her boyfriend went out on his motorbike and crashed. She went flying through the air. When she told me the story I said: “That must have been so frightening for you.” And she said: “I could only think, this is good, I’ll get a day off tomorrow.”

By the time I was 16 I’d met [future Squeeze bandmate] Glenn Tilbrook and we had a band playing in pubs two or three times a week. We were still living at home but we were getting a bit of cash. We never made much money, even when Squeeze were top of the charts. We always seemed to owe money. But even from that early stage, I don’t think I considered doing anything else. I just thought, this is good; I wasn’t up to much at school – in fact I had to leave – but I think I can make some money out of music.

I was actually expelled from school. It was a simple misunderstanding. I wasn’t cut out for school, I couldn’t really see the point of it. And it got to the stage when I think we both agreed that we’d done our best with one another – well, perhaps not our best – and it was time for us both to move on. But it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I was the only person in the school who opted to do music and I had a very kindly old music teacher who taught me the theory of music – chords, timing. Which was a great thing to learn, that international language.

I think contrariness is no bad thing in music.

It might be helpful for my teenage self to know that girls enjoy kissing and sex just as much as boys do. Nobody explained that to me. An old man in the pub – Norman the docker – told me one day, when I was in my 20s, and I was aghast. It was an absolute revelation to me. I was very excited, I thought it was great news. I’ve always liked the company of girls, I like hanging out with women. I went to an all boys’ school and I didn’t have any sisters so I was dying to meet girls and find out more about them.

If I met the young Jools now I’d generally be sympathetic towards him. I’d tell him to go a bit easier on other people. I was never mean to anyone but I had a certain element of couldn’t care less what people think. I might advise my younger self to think more carefully before he opens his gob, only because I’ve realised now that when you walk into a room, everyone has their own story to tell and you don’t know what it is. You don’t want to hurt people. But I think contrariness is no bad thing in music. You lose that a bit as you get older, I don’t have it now. Squeeze always liked to be contrary. When the record company tried to make us look cool we said, no, not cool.

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I might advise my younger self against collecting a family audience to hear my first record. I was asked to play piano on a Wayne County track. Wayne told me to play ‘real burlesque’ but there were no lyrics at that point. I asked Wayne to send me the finished record and it arrived in the post when my mum had a load of my aunts and their friends for tea. I put it on and they all came in, my mum saying, how clever you are darling, he’s actually very good, this is his first record… The room fell silent as we all listened to the sound of a needle on vinyl, then my piano, which set everyone smiling, then Wayne shouting, ‘If you don’t wanna fuck me, baby baby baby fuck off!’ It ended with a long tirade of Wayne chanting ‘Fuck off!’ When it finished there was a little pause, then my mum said, well done darling.

I don’t think the young me would be too surprised that I became a TV presenter. I was always a bit of a show-off. I always liked to think I was very amusing. Actually, the me who presented The Tube in 1982 – he was only 24, so he had more in common with my teenage self than my 57-year-old self would now. Yeah, I probably did get a bit carried away with myself then. I spoke very quickly, part of my naturalistic approach of being untrained and unkempt. I didn’t want to be like a professional broadcaster. If you’d asked me to slow down I’d have said, ‘If you can’t understand me fuck off and watch something else.’ Whereas now I think there may be people whose English isn’t so good but who really love the music, so I try to slow down a bit.

I’m quite a keen medievalist. A lot of the interests I’ve had through my life were sparked when I was a child. My father used to take me around buildings in London. We’d climb to the top of places like the Post Office Tower or St Paul’s and we learned about how they were built on our climb, though our main reason for climbing was just to be up high. I was also into Lego, and learned more about building through that. I understood it as a creative process.

I think the teenage Jools would laugh at me if I told him how many of the things he’s dreaming about actually came true. I’d be able to say, you know that toy Aston Martin you got? One day we’ll be able to get a real one. And Paul McCartney and George Harrison will become your friends. But I’d also have to tell him that nothing is exactly as you imagine it. And some things might put him off – he might think it sounds like a lot of hard work. But I’d also reassure him it never stops being fun.

Jools & Ruby, a new album from Jools Holland and Ruby Turner, is out now

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