What can people expect from the album?
A mix between me and José Feliciano, who is the greatest guitar player and singer Puerto Rico has produced. You might wonder how that works with my Big Band but he came on Later and I felt immediate simpatico. It somehow all meshes together — we’ve done songs we’ve both written and even though our sound isn’t what you’d usually put together, it works. So I hope the spotlight goes on him and his great singing and playing.
Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, is on the record. What does she do?
I was in Antarctica with Rita. We were having a trip round there. It’s so cold you can’t go outside for more than ten minutes unless you’re a penguin. So we had all this time at the piano together and we wrote a song called You’re So Cold and now they’re doing it as a duet.
What were you doing in the Antarctic?
Checking out penguins. It was an interesting place to go on holiday.
Did you see any wildlife?
I did and I learned that penguins make their nests out of stone. They’re circular nests and look like a shrine a Neanderthal man might have made. And we went to a British scientific station abandoned in 1958. Because everything was frozen there were perfectly preserved tins of Smedley’s peas and a pin-up of Joan Collins.
Are you good pals with Tom Hanks?
He’s wonderful. He was there some of the time. And he’s coming to the UK because he’s got a book out so I think Rita might be doing a show with us.
Later’s had a big birthday…
Yes, 25 years. I can only hope it’s going to go on for another 25 minutes!
What’s the appeal?
It’s the only show that takes music seriously. There are other good music shows but their criteria is, ‘You’ve got to have a hit’ or ‘We’re going to make you cry because you haven’t been selected to jump into a vat of p***.’ That’s not us. We might have more viewers if we did that but we have an ethos like that of the pre-war BBC.
Everyone seems down-to-earth and cooperative on the show. That can’t always be the case…
I’m a bit like the Queen — I’m sure she meets some terrible despots but they’ll all be on best behaviour and our guests are all very nice when they meet me. I only see the best of everybody because generally people are very pleased to be there. We just want to show their music at its best. We don’t have a different agenda. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, do you have to do a song? And does it really have to be three minutes? Can’t you do two minutes?’ That happens with other shows. And I try to meet everyone beforehand. If we’ve done anything, I hope it’s to show you can like all different types of music.
Have you made friends with any of the guests?
Yes, some I know from work outside. But I’m friends with lots who have come on the show such as Van Morrison, Paul Weller and Imelda May.
Have you already filmed Hootenanny?
We usually do that first week of January. We never have old people on just in case [he’s joking…]! We do it quite close to the time and I can reveal we have people like Ed Sheeran on the show this year. And some others.
How’s it different to doing the normal show? Is more booze involved?
Yes, and more people want to come to it. It’s very oversubscribed. It’s a long show to make and people do things in addition to their usual songs. Ed Sheeran came on Hootenanny before and did a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Master Blaster — he said he did it because he wouldn’t normally have a big band for all the horn parts. He was doing a big show in New York later and Beyoncé said she’d seen him do it on my show and they should do it together. I like it when people do something out of the ordinary.
When’s Beyoncé coming on?
Any time she likes. She hasn’t been phoning as far as I know but I don’t answer unrecognised numbers.
What has showbiz taught you?
You’ve got to love what you’re playing and play what you love and mean what you play and play what you mean. And love the people you’re playing it to. It’s the best job in the world.
Jools Holland and José Feliciano’s album As You See Me Now is out now