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Jools Holland: The women on this album could sing the phone book and it'd sound great

Thursday Conversation: A quick read with someone in the public eye

By Andy Welch

The musician and television host (56) is famed for his Later ... show on the BBC, as well as his colourful concerts with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

Are you still the world's only touring big band?

As far as I know we are. We have a core of around 20 people in the band and a crew of six or seven or more. It's a lot of people to take around. Everyone else wants to cut costs - that's what it's all about these days - but we manage.

Your new album follows on from the golden age of song, which sold around 200,000 copies

Yes, that was great, we were really pleased people liked that so much. We have had other records that have done well, but there was something about the Golden Age ... record that people really loved.

The new album is called Sirens of Song

Yes, and it's a unique record. It captures the voices of women, not just their voices, but the attitudes of the singers, their moods and different views. This sounds daft because of course I knew we were making a record full of female singers, but it's not until I heard it back that I really realised what we'd done, that there was a common attitude and feel to the record. It really does have its moments.

Were they existing recordings?

No, it's all recorded for the album, apart from the track with Amy Winehouse, of course, and Eartha Kitt. Amy had always wanted to do a version of Monkey Man, the Toots And The Maytals song, so we did that live on Later ... And Eartha had been on the show too doing Ain't Misbehavin', and there's something about her when she sings live, she just has the most incredible vibe. With Ruby Turner, we did two, an old Ray Charles song and another that we wrote for the album.

You wrote another song with Joss Stone. How did that happen?

It's fabulous when she sings that song. It starts off as a mumble about an ex-boyfriend, but then as she gets going, it turns into a tirade of "get out of it" kind of thing, gathering strength as it goes on. As for writing it, she came over to my studio one day on the way to a festival she was playing, and we spent a few hours writing. It happened very quickly.

How did you draw up a list?

We wanted a list of all ages and standings, really. So we have Mabel Ray, who is the youngest person on the record, and Emeli Sande, who is, of course, very well-known but relatively new, and then right through to KT Tunstall, doing a song from the jazz age, through to Eartha Kitt, who is actually from the jazz age. We tried to cover all bases.

What do you look for in a voice?

The first thing is that the song comes from the heart, and you have to believe in the song. They have to be the song, they can't just be singing. The women on this album really do that with the songs, you can hear exactly what they're going through, whether it's love, sorrow, sadness, whatever. These singers could sing the phone book and it would sound great.

Would you perform this album as a concert?

Joss is coming on tour with us for a few shows in December. Rumer is also going to do some live shows with us, along with Marc Almond, who is always on tour with us. Unfortunately, he couldn't get on this record because he's not a woman, but had he been, he'd have been allowed.

Will there be another record with a theme?

I'd like to do a piano record, as no one really makes those anymore. I'm not sure now who does a piano record. When I was growing up you could buy Oscar Peterson records, Floyd Cramer records, Ramsey Lewis records and many more. That's gone now. I'd like to do something exciting with Brian Eno, or maybe some other dance producers.

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