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