Jools Holland and Marc Almond have finally released an album after performing together for over a decade. Lucy Mapstone speaks to the duo as their tour heads to Leeds.
Jools Holland and Marc Almond are almost crying with laughter as they take a trip down memory lane.
They are reminiscing about the time Holland nearly lost his job after showing Almond in the nude on daytime music TV programme The Tube in the 1980s.
“Marc came on The Tube, and there was an incident where I barged into his dressing room with a camera, which was truly spontaneous, it wasn’t planned like it is these days,” Holland recalls.
“And of course poor Marc was completely unclothed, which caused outrage, there were all sorts of letters of complaints coming in and I was nearly sacked, all because of Marc.
“Somehow it was all my fault he didn’t have his clothes on!”
“It was, after all, a teatime show, it wasn’t post-watershed,” notes Almond, who grew up in Yorkshire and famously formed Soft Cell at Leeds Polytechnic with fellow student David Ball.
The pair crack up again, becoming inaudible via the already muffled phone line, the recollection of one of their early escapades clearly still a source of much entertainment; still keeping them young.
Heaven forbid at such a stunt happening to Holland now on his BBC Two stalwarts Later... with Jools Holland and his annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny: it must be a kind of a relief to look back at a time of brazen carelessness and juvenile hilarity.
Composer, former Squeeze rocker and TV presenter extraordinaire, Holland and Soft Cell frontman and award-winning solo artist Almond – both now in their early 60s and with decades in the music industry under their belts – are happy discussing their wilder days in the hedonistic 1980s.
This was an era of real rock and roll antics, before social media took over and before artists hoping to make more than a few quid had to adhere to stricter rules and schedules and contracts.
But they are also content to embrace this time in their lives, with its more serious focus on the music and which has resulted in their first collaborative album after years of performing together.
“We started to become friends once Marc came on tour with us, because you see much more of one another and go through the trials and tribulations, the giddy highs and the lows,” explains Holland of their working relationship, which began at the turn of the century.
“When we first met, I was certainly aware of Soft Cell and thought they were great back in the early 80s.
“We were probably in New York at the same time, when Squeeze was there, and Soft Cell were there at one point. But we were probably so busy getting off our nut we weren’t really aware of it!”
He adds: “It’s a young man’s game, being wild, but if you’ve been fortunate enough to have a history of that sort of thing, and love having boyish fun, it’ll come out once in a while, although it’s much less often.
“We’re more often having some tea and cake than we are anything else.”
Almond agrees that “once in a while it comes out”. “But now, especially when you’re touring and working so much as Jools and I am, there comes a time when you have to be much more disciplined about yourself, otherwise you’re just not going to make it, you’re not going to last,” he reasons.
Of his earlier days in synthpop duo Soft Cell with David Ball, Almond admits: “I’m amazed I actually got through it – everything was always shambolic, and when things are shambolic it’s always terribly stressful and exhausting.
“You’d be exhausted by being shambolic. And by being unprofessional.”
He says that his relationship with Holland is different; thanks in large part to the experience that comes with age.
“We’ve been working in music for about 40-odd years now. It’s actually a great thing to say because we both survived in music and we both realised that you can’t do that anymore, you have to have a different way of approaching things.”
Survive they both did, Almond through his Soft Cell days and then his remarkable solo career, which has resulted in more than 20 studio albums and more than 30 million records sold. Born in Lancashire, his family briefly lived in Starbeck, North Yorkshire when he was young before they returned to Southport and then eventually moved to Horsforth in West Yorkshire. Almond went on to attend Aireborough Grammar School before attending Leeds Polytechnic alongside Ball set him along the path to fame and fortune.
Soft Cell’s first release in 1980 was funded by Ball’s mother but they shot to fame with the release of Tainted Love in 1981; a cover of a Gloria Jones Northern Soul classic that remains one of the best-selling singles in the UK of all time.
The band staged an emotional final concert, their first in 15 years, at the O2 Arena in London in September. In testament to their enduring popularity, the gig in front of 20,000 fans was also broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and Ireland.
Holland’s career has been equally triumphant, with his seemingly endless conveyor belt of records and collaborations and tours and, of course, his long-running music TV shows.
While the touring hasn’t stopped – their latest run of shows together will visit the First Direct Arena in Leeds on December 14 – the pair have now combined their talents on new album A Lovely Life To Live, which they admit was a long time coming after their many years on the road together.
The album is a mix of covers, including a big band version of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and a haunting rendition of Edith Piaf’s Hymne a L’Amour, along with a handful of original songs written by the duo, all backed by Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.
“Marc would come out and do the odd show with us at the turn of the century, which always went really well,” Holland explains.
“He’s got that thing, that ability to release the power of his voice, and also personality, which is quite a unique type of quality in a performer.
“We loved working with him and then we realised he needed more material to come out.”
Things were halted when Almond was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004 that left him in a coma for around two weeks.
“After that,” Holland continues, “Marc came back out and started touring.
“It was just to work himself back into it, which was a slowish process at first, but after a while, we realised we had this full repertoire that we had built up.
“What we wanted was a way of capturing everything to keep it as a memo of what we had done, and literally a record of what we done, so we turned it into an album.
“I’m really pleased that we have.
“It is that direct experience of being able to see when people are being completely affected by the songs.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing together and officially recording together, along with their current tour that runs until the end of the year, have they at all considered doing it all over again?
“You can’t look ahead,” Almond insists. “This is a great record, I think. But we’ll probably go our different ways, and then we’ll meet and do another tour together at some point.
“I think you have to just go with the adventure and take things as they come, especially at our time of life,” adds Almond, who chuckles again at his own gloomy take. “You never know what’s awaiting you around the corner.”
Holland, meanwhile, reveals he is just hoping for a bit of a “knees up” when it all wraps up. Hopefully he gets his wish, although without a naked Almond this time.
How Leeds was instrumental in inspiring Soft Cell
Marc Almond says he thinks of Leeds as “his musical birthplace”.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post in 2016 as he worked with young performers from the Leeds College of Music’s Contemporary Orchestra and Pop Choir, Almond said he started at art college in the city at the ideal time in the 1970s as the punk scene was beginning to emerge.
“It was a great place for music, it was a wonderful time to be here, lots of exciting things happening,” he said. “I’d been in bands when I was 16 or 17 in my home town of Southport but professionally it really started for me in Leeds, so Leeds I think of as my musical birthplace.”
Jools Holland and Marc Almond’s album A Lovely Life To Live is out now, and their tour continues until late December.