Me and my blog

Follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

How to get yourself on Later With Jools Holland

At the moment there's one dedicated music programme on British terrestrial television with more credibility than any other and it arrives in series, with lengthy gaps between them. The folk bands that have made it to Later With Jools Holland are extremely thin on the ground, which is a shame, particularly because it's a taste-former.

This makes it exciting - not everyone who appears on it has a record deal or label - but also, in these days of infinite internet variety, a kind of promised land. So how does one appear on Later?

Harriet Simms, of Glass Ceiling PR, does press and marketing for Bellowhead, who've hit BBC Two's sunlit musical plateau three times, including one new year's appearance on Hootenanny. "There are two people whose opinions count more than anyone else's on that programme and they are the producers, Mark Cooper and Alison Howe. But there's no set way to get their attention," she said.

"The way it worked for Bellowhead was that I sent a CD and then followed it up with press information and an invitation asking whether they'd like to come to a gig. But the producers of Later are very difficult to plug in the conventional sense because they're very aware musically and already know what they like. I was quite fortunate that Bellowhead struck a chord, so to speak.

"They seem keen on every show having a sort of rhythm or theme, which I don't think always makes sense to the viewers. But there is method there.

"It's hard for folk musicians to get on because not many of them are on the kind of labels that have dedicated TV pluggers and are competing against bands that do." I was momentarily thrown by that, but Harriet said yes, TV plugger is a real job, made possible by the large amounts of money that a band can generate with the exposure that results from appearing on TV (the kind of tautology that could drive a struggling musician to drink). "Being on Later can make a huge difference in terms of profile, CD sales and gig attendance. I know that Bellowhead's sales rocketed after their first appearance, even more so after the second.

"It's more likely that a band with control over its own destiny would dabble in having a dedicated TV plugger to see whether it's worth the money. I think Seth Lakeman had one for a while - but it's very time consuming to get artists noticed.

"If you've been on Later once, though, and proved you can work a room I think there's a strong chance you'll get invited back. It seems to me that folk artists have an edge there, since they generally know their instruments and are used to playing live. So in that respect the show works well for them."

Others who have appeared include The Unthanks, Eliza Carthy and The Imagined Village - which is interesting because Simon Emmerson recently told me that their first album didn't make much, suggesting that Later is, for all its promise, no magic wand.

During the course of our conversation Simms indicated that it might be worth trying to catch up with a woman called Karen Williams, who owns an agency called Big Sister, to get a perspective from farther uphill. "She's usually to be seen in the studio audience when you watch the show because she's a dedicated TV plugger who has someone on nearly every week. She has the reputation of being the very best."

"Ha! I'm usually hiding from people round the corner in makeup," said Williams, when after several days pestering I finally got hold of her. I was aware - because I'd been told - that the reason she was elusive was because she'd had meetings about the Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs. She, like Simms, emphasised the suzerainty of Mark Cooper and Alison Howe at Later.

It was Williams who represented Seth Lakeman for a while. "I'm not sure that Seth did Later though... he did the Mercury Prize and it was that which turned people's heads. But I was brought in by Relentless, which is part of Virgin - although I believe he brought the Mercury nominated record out himself, didn't he? I think Relentless thought of me because I'd done KT Tunstall, which was as close as I'd been to anything folky then."

Talking to Williams was illuminating as much for what she didn't say as what she did. There was an evasion in her answers that, as a younger person, I used to mistake for an arrogance towards the press that sometimes comes with success. But these days it's clearer that succeeding in highly competitive fields - such as the one that in which Williams is a big fish - is largely about the quality of the relationships you form. That being the case, expressing strong opinions about your work environment is usually unwise. Shark infested waters.

"It's a ridiculous way to make a living, isn't it?" she laughed. "I think I at least know of all the people in the country who do my job. I got here through the secretarial route - though I don't know whether someone could do that any more. I worked at RCA as a secretary and went to the marketing department, where I started to help out with television. I've done it now for 20 years at various different companies, before setting up on my own.

"The television landscape has changed a lot in that time. Later is the one that all the musicians want to be on. But there used to be Saturday morning kids' shows [that featured bands]. They've all gone now. And they've been replaced by Alan Carr and Graham Norton.

"The demise of Top of the Pops was a great shame from my point of view. But there's still a chart, which you can hear on Radio One. It's just come to be dominated by Simon Cowell." Ever pragmatic, she refused to be drawn much on the subject. "If Ollie Murs is what gets a 14-year-old girl into music these days, then her tastes will probably evolve as she grows older," she demurred.

She made all the expected noises about how lucky she is to work with so many talented musicians and how she needs to feel passionate about a band in order to work with them. But the real questions are how lucky and how passionate? After all, everyone has to make a living. I found myself wondering whether she'd take someone on just because she liked them? "It would be foolish for me to suggest that spending money on a TV plugger, and on me in particular, wouldn't be money well spent, wouldn't I?" she said, truncating the possibility of that conversation.

So then, what'll get you on Later with Jools Holland is money and luck: nothing much to knock your socks off there. I could have asked Williams how much she charges, but she was very good at marking her territory - I'd already got it in the neck once for my persistence in getting hold of her - and I doubt very much that she would have answered me. It felt like a case of if you have to ask you can't afford her... Power has its own logic.

* If you enjoyed this, you might be interested in How Seth Lakeman's music ended up on Coast

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley


  1. MANDRAKE from MANCHESTER should be on Jools Holland as they are proper musicians with good crafted songs!
    Debut album at

  2. very informative, I was asking myself that very same question.. thank you.

  3. I'm not surprised to learn that gaining the attention and interest of the show's producers is the best way in. I was offered a chance to get some Wilful Missing music to them directly a year or two ago. I should have taken that opportunity by the horns.

  4. Please please the BBC have a duty to get the most artistic musical talent that is LIOR SHOOV from Israel on Later.....Look her up on youtube, she's amazing.....Dave Barker

  5. There is an incredible young folk pop musician called ella squirrel from bridport dorset her music is on you tube and spotify and I tunes singer songwriter of quiet majestic lyrics everyone should. Check hert out maybe one day she could appear on the jools holland show

  6. I would love to see a girl called ella squirrel a singer songwriter from bridport dorset on jools holland show she is a singer songwriter of quiet majestic lyrics for such a girl of 19 folk pop style of music have a listen to her on you tube spotify and I tunes and see what you think

  7. I'd like to see Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective on there .They are a Country Rock Band from Deepest Darkest Essex and they've got great songs and know how to put it across

  8. Listen to John Jenkins from Liverpool - & - some great stuff!

    The young musician luke jackson is an amazing artist he has won a folk award a up and coming superb songwriter please check him out

    The young musician luke jackson is an amazing artist he has won a folk award a up and coming superb songwriter please check him out

  11. So people are basically allowing the BBC to dictate their music choice? how sad.

  12. Jahouija Bones from America is an Awesome band. I'd love to hear them on the show!

  13. I would love to play on bucket list..oh with our reggae band xodus.
    Manchester reggae

  14. I would love to play on bucket list..oh with our reggae band xodus.
    Manchester reggae


    Check out the raw sound of the band Lieder Zeit

  16. i would love to see farewell fairground a three piece acoustic band from hull on the show they are absolutely brilliant


Emma Hartley blog logo

24hourlondon logo

Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?