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Jools Hol­land on work­ing with Marc Al­mond

WHEN WE FIRST made the Chan­nel 4 pro­gramme The Tube in the early 1980s, we had the very mad and very bad idea of hav­ing me barge into the guests’ dressing rooms, live on cam­era, just to say hello and see what they were up to. You can imag­ine how well it went. The first time we did it, Rik May­all was sick, in­spir­ing a sheaf of com­plaint let­ters. The sec­ond, French and Saun­ders made a sex joke, draw­ing even more viewer fury. And the third time, af­ter we’d as­sured ev­ery­body that noth­ing un­to­ward would hap­pen again, we caught Marc Al­mond – the singer of Soft Cell – stark naked.

We’d met a few years be­fore, in the late ’70s. His band were in New York at the same time that my first out­fit, Squeeze, were tour­ing there. I al­ways liked him, but The Tube mo­ment bonded us. I sup­pose naked­ness does that.

Af­ter that, we saw one an­other over the years, on the cir­cuit or at par­ties, but it wasn’t un­til 2001 that we did any record­ing to­gether. I was mak­ing an al­bum fea­tur­ing guest singers with my big band and asked Marc to con­trib­ute. He was bril­liant. Not ev­ery singer can lead a big band: you need a cer­tain con­fi­dence, a ‘fol­low me’ at­ti­tude, and he had it.

We played some shows to­gether around the time, un­til 2004, when Marc had a hor­rific mo­tor­cy­cle crash. Rid­ing pil­lion in Lon­don, he was thrown and hit his head so hard it put him in a coma. We lit candles, said our prayers, but it wasn’t look­ing good for him at all. Then, many months later, he made a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery.

He wasn’t quite him­self. Though bet­ter, he had a stut­ter and he’d lost all his post-punk con­fi­dence. I talked to him about a year af­ter and he told me that he’d like to get back to work, but didn’t feel he could man­age a full show. I talked about it with the band, then we made him an of­fer: ‘Come with us, do a cou­ple of num­bers. That way you can get back on the horse, and the au­di­ences will love it.’

The first per­for­mance was nerve-rack­ing for ev­ery­body. We didn’t know if Marc would freeze, break down or nail it. It was his big­gest hit, Tainted Love, and he had the first line (fit­tingly, ‘Some­times I feel I’ve got to run away’) hand­writ­ten for him as a prompt. I can re­mem­ber the whole band hold­ing their breath, and then let­ting out a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief. He man­aged it. And the sec­ond time he was even bet­ter. Then the stut­ter went, and the con­fi­dence re­turned, and with it came the old Marc again.

I don’t see my con­tri­bu­tion as im­por­tant – we just wanted to see him re­cover – but I’m glad we could help a mate. Be­fore long, Marc was do­ing mul­ti­ple num­bers, then man­ag­ing a full solo show af­ter an­other year, of­ten in be­tween tour­ing with our band. This is one from a gig in Brus­sels in 2009, at a won­der­ful con­cert hall called An­ci­enne Bel­gique, where many of our shared he­roes, in­clud­ing Edith Piaf and Django Rein­hardt, had played be­fore.

Al­most four decades on from that first meet­ing, we’ve now, fi­nally, made a full al­bum to­gether. The tour­ing life may be a lit­tle qui­eter, we may pre­fer a mu­seum over a night­club th­ese days, but the mu­sic’s as good as ever.

— In­ter­view by Guy Kelly

A Lovely Life To Live, by Jools Hol­land and Marc Al­mond, is re­leased on Fri­day

We lit candles, said our prayers, but it wasn’t look­ing good for Marc at all

Jools Hol­land and Marc Al­mond per­form­ing at the An­ci­enne Bel­gique in 2009

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