Dock and roll: Jools Holland on his new-found love of cruises

Jools Holland on being converted to cruising and how he and his band are setting sail again on Saga’s Spirit of Discovery in 2024.

Music legend Jools Holland will be returning to Saga’s Spirit of Discovery in 2024 to perform live on four cruises in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Canary Islands.

The musician, who was awarded an OBE for his services to British music, tells us why he thinks cruises offer the best address in town and how he’s looking forward to his upcoming performances.

Musician Jools Holland playing a piano with a black backdropCredit: Shutterstock / DFP Photographic

As a musician, Holland’s unquenchable thirst for variety has led to him play with acts as diverse as rock’n’roll pioneer Fats Domino, pop star Kylie Minogue, soul legend Smokey Robinson, classical pianist Lang Lang, and, of course, with rock band Squeeze, where it all started.

He has just released a new book Later…with Jools Holland which celebrates 30 years of the BBC show in which Holland  brings together legendary and undiscovered artists for live studio performances, interviews and musical magic.

So perhaps it is no surprise that Jools Holland’s desire to find new sights matches his drive for creating new sounds. Although he is much travelled through his work, he still relishes making fresh discoveries, which he is looking forward to doing in 2024 on a number of Saga cruises.


New sights and new discoveries

“I like exploring,” he tells us.

“Going ashore is great. It’s like a little adventure and you feel invigorated, as if you deserve your lunch or dinner afterwards. You can’t beat it.

“Most of the places where the ship docks are next to the oldest part of the town. The early cities became cities because they were trading ports. That was the old way in – into the grand harbours,” he says.

“You walk off and you are immediately where everything is, and you see the city from the perspective of the great travellers of the past. That’s one of the most wonderful experiences.”

Jools first performance will be on the Discover the Canary Islands cruise in January. Then in March he will be joining The Adriatic at Easter where the stops include Dubrovnik, Cagliari and Salerno.

In April you’ve got two chances to see him live, either the A Taste of the Mediterranean cruise or the Exploring Spain and Western France 12-night cruise.

The upcoming cruises on which Jools is performing will take guests into the heart of cities including Lisbon, Barcelona and La Rochelle.

Holland is not only excited about the destinations but also being on Spirit of Discovery itself, where he will perform with singer Ruby Turner and his drummer of more than 40 years, Gilson Lavis.

On being a late convert to cruising

“Before Saga, I hadn’t been on cruises, and neither had Ruby,” says Holland.

“And we have been knocked out by how the staff go beyond themselves to take care of all the customers. Although the ship is modern, the way it is run is like one of those grand hotels.

“People can’t do enough for you; they get to know you, all those things you used to get in hotels years ago. Even if you don’t go anywhere, the ship is pretty amazing to be on.”

Spirit of Discovery has a dining venue endorsed by Holland himself. The Club by Jools recalls 1950s music lounges, with its fine dining, cocktails and live entertainment. He enjoys going there when on board.

“The atmosphere is such that it becomes what you want it to become; you can have a romantic meal or dinner for six.”


Why Jools Holland loves playing an intimate venue

On Spirit of Discovery, Holland will be playing the Playhouse Theatre.

“It’s a 444-seater, which is a lovely size,” he says. “Often we would be in a 2,000-5,000- seat theatre. This size is much more intimate.”

Along with Holland, Ruby and Gilson, there will be two backing singers. This pared-down version of his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra makes the shows “very flexible”, he says.

“You’re responding to the audience. You can feel when something is working, and when it isn’t. But they’re always nice; they always clap.”

‘There are probably a few former punks on every Saga cruise’

“In the punk days audiences used to gob and chuck stuff, which was their way of showing appreciation. Nowadays they don’t do that. Although there are probably a few former punks on every Saga cruise.

“When you’re in that space and you’re playing, and they’re tapping their feet or moving in their seats, or you’re inspiring them to dance, it’s like a strange magic,” he says.

“The theatre on Spirit of Discovery is a wonderful venue for that. Not only the acoustics but the layout. And the stepped seating means you can see everything clearly.”

The show is about an hour long, says Jools. “There are things from my history, some boogie-woogie and stride piano, some ska. I go for a few different styles.”

Queen Camilla christened The Spirit of Discovery

Holland was at the launch of Spirit of Discovery in 2019, when its godmother the Duchess of Cornwall, now Queen Camilla, christened it.

“It was great that she took time to do that,” he says.

“She is a patron of a lot of charities and gives her time very generously.”

At the launch, Queen Camilla was presented with a painting of Spirit of Discovery and joked: “I should be able to remind myself to book my berth.”

One of Holland’s first cruises after that launch took in Lisbon, somewhere he had never been before.

“The ship’s location was perfect. In one direction you could walk into the tiny alleyways and streets and hear the fado music, and in the other direction you could wander off to the museums.

“I went to the grandest hotel in Lisbon, and it wasn’t as grand as the ship, and wasn’t as well located,” he says.

“You’ve got the best address, and your address happens to be like a luxury hotel, a grand hotel, from a lost age. It really is win, win, win.”


Written by Dominic Connolly