How Jools Holland’s seasonal lies ruined the annual Hootenanny

Once it was revealed that the ‘live’ show was in fact a pre-record, the glamour of spending NYE with your favourite musicians lost its appeal

Nobody in recorded history has ever actually planned to watch the Hootenanny. Since its debut in 1993, Jools Holland’s televised New Year’s Eve bash has been the nation’s eternal fallback plan: a last resort when parties are cancelled, babysitters pull out, water pipes burst, theatre tickets are torn up by toddlers and girlfriends catch gastroenteritis. Publicly, there was less social shame in claiming you spent the stroke of midnight lancing your boils.

Yet, when safely behind closed doors, the show quickly worked its magic. Like Later … on steroids, the Hootenanny was a two-hour hug where the whiff of British naffness and stage-managed revelry only added to the charm. And occasionally, like a drunk finding a £50 note, the show stumbled across a truly dynamite performance, such as Amy Winehouse belting out a rabble-rousing Monkey Man or Mavis Staples cleaning the pipes on I’ll Take You There.

Back in happier times, perhaps the best thing about the Hootenanny was the sense that we were all in it together. Granted, you might be drinking alone, reflecting on another year of missed opportunities, grimly aware of the party you hadn’t been invited to and the certainty that everyone in the adjoining bedsits was having sex. But on the flipside, you were in the company of all these glittering A-list stars, who apparently didn’t have anything better to do, either. Maybe Bobby Womack had been blown out by his mates, too. Perhaps Paloma Faith had also been turned away from her local Slug & Lettuce. And if the Hootenanny was good enough for Paul Weller – seemingly every single year – then perhaps it didn’t reek of social death, after all.

More fool us. In fairness, the Hootenanny never explicitly claimed to be a “live” show. It just heavily implied that it was by – oh, I don’t know – making the countdown to New Year its flagship feature. But by 2008, with stars routinely spotted on the wrong continent as their performances aired, and befuddled guests jumbling their past/future tenses, the artifice became untenable and the BBC showed its cards. The Hootenanny, we now knew, was indeed a pre-recorded show, with the justification that its all-star bills would “surely be impossible to deliver on December 31”.

Seeing that admission in black-and-white felt like someone stamping on a fairy. Overnight, all the twinkle and camaraderie went out of the Hootenanny. Outwardly, nothing had changed: the relentless boogie-woogie and ramshackle interviews were all present and correct. But when you watched it now, everything rang hollow and false. Worst of all, it was hard not to feel faintly insulted. Sure, these big beasts of pop might deign to spend a wet Tuesday afternoon in early December with you. But come the actual NYE, they’d presumably be off doing something genuinely fabulous, to which you were not invited, like riding unicorns through the gardens of Versailles, clinking glasses of liquid gold.

They know it’s not real. We know it’s not real. They know that we know it’s not real. But still we go through the ridiculous Hootenanny charade. Enough is enough.


Henry Yates

The GuardianTramp

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