Jools’ An­nual Hoo­te­nanny (BBC2)

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - GUIDE -

IHAVE noted a dis­turb­ing ten­dency on the part of cer­tain com­men­ta­tors and quite a few tweet­ers to say bad things about the Jools’ An­nual Hoo­te­nanny, which is of course one of the last pil­lars of our civil­i­sa­tion.

They think they’re very smart, point­ing out that it’s not ac­tu­ally go­ing out live on New Year’s Eve, and that it’s es­sen­tially the same pro­gramme ev­ery year.

But they are not very smart. Per­son­ally I don’t care if it’s live, or dead, as long as it works. This is a deeply held be­lief of mine which was formed in the area of com­edy, in which “improv” is ac­corded a spe­cial re­gard due to the high de­gree of dif­fi­culty it presents to the per­former.

Un­for­tu­nately it also presents a high de­gree of dif­fi­culty to the au­di­ence, which has to rely on the per­former hav­ing these mo­ments of ut­ter bril­liance which would en­able him or her to be funny, with­out the ben­e­fit of re­hearsal or prepa­ra­tion of any kind.

That is hard, in­deed it is too hard, and any­way it has never mat­tered a damn to me that some­one who is suc­ceed­ing in en­ter­tain­ing me, has worked very hard to achieve a pre­cise re­sult. I do not con­sider the artist who has planned a rou­tine in ad­vance, to have some kind of an un­fair ad­van­tage over the one who is im­pro­vis­ing. I just want to see some­thing great, how­ever it is con­ceived.

There­fore when I am watch­ing Mavis Sta­ples on this year’s Hoo­te­nanny, singing Come Go With Me and The Weight, I can­not be­gin to de­scribe how ir­rel­e­vant it is to me, that she is not do­ing it right now, in this mo­ment. The fact that she did it at some time in the re­cent past is all that mat­ters.

This is Mavis Sta­ples, af­ter all, one of the Sta­ples Singers, gi­ants of the gospel tra­di­tion with­out which we would not have rock’n’roll as we know it, and thus we would not have the great art form of the 20th Cen­tury. If you can look at any pro­gramme that has Mavis Sta­ples on it, and start crib­bing about it on Twit­ter, frankly you are ca­pa­ble of any­thing.

Like­wise the fact that Ge­orge Mc­crae can still do a sub­lime Rock Your Baby, in­clud­ing the high note, at the age of 73, is suf­fi­cient unto the day, with­out want­ing him to do it at a spe­cific time on a spe­cific day. In­deed the only thing that re­ally does mat­ter here, is that Jools and ev­ery­one on board are able to pre­tend so con­vinc­ingly that this is a live pro­gramme, to sim­u­late the kind of en­ergy you would have in that sit­u­a­tion.

That is a tal­ent in it­self, the only one you’re look­ing for re­ally, in a show that hap­pens once a year, when half the world is drunk.

And it is a tal­ent that is be­ing de­vel­oped by Imelda May in her RTE New Year’s Eve Spe­cial, which was ad­mirable in its ab­so­lute de­ter­mi­na­tion to do ev­ery­thing just like Jools.

In the past RTE has done its own ver­sions of BBC shows which copy the for­mula up to a point, but which per­versely tend to leave out some vi­tal in­gre­di­ent. They’re not go­ing to make that mis­take this time.

Maybe the stu­dio looks too big, drain­ing away some of the en­ergy, and the peo­ple in the crowd are not as well­trained as their coun­ter­parts on the Hoo­te­nanny, but the mood is one of good-time rock’n’roll which as Jools has demon­strated is all that a hu­man be­ing needs to be happy in this world. For a while at least.

The “house band”, the RTE Con­cert Orches­tra, echoes Jools Hol­land’s Rhythm and Blues Orches­tra, though they are not quite as rhyth­mic or in­deed as bluesy, there was an im­mor­tal leg­end in Fin­bar Furey, there were mod­ern con­tri­bu­tions from The Strypes and Gavin James, and there was Jerry Fish who was born for this.

In its re­luc­tance to stray be­yond the an­cient laws handed down by Jools, there was a kind of hon­esty to it, that could only have been bet­tered if they had called it Imelda May’s Hoo­te­nanny.

But that is eas­ily fixed.

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