Archive for the ‘DJ’ Category

Eddie Piller

Posted: April 19, 2012 in DJ
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Norman Jay passed me onto Eddie Piller, the boss of Acid Jazz records.  He runs the label from the back of an antiques shop in the East End, in a room that is plastered with a million things to tantalise your eyes. On the walls are vintage gig posters, pictures of mods old and new, snapshots of Eddie out DJing, often pictured with famous faces who’ve come to see what gems he’s going to educate their ears with.  Talking to him, I got a sense that he’s kind of an Encyclopedia Pilleria about a certain kind of music, as he says ‘black or black influenced music from America up until 1985’ but it was also clear his tastes are very broad.  Metalheadz ran Sunday nights at his club the Blue Note and if you have a listen to his latest signing The Janice Graham Band, who he is wildly enthusiastic about – they seem a long way on the musical spectrum from Jamiroquai, who he discovered.  I promised him I wouldn’t but I almost wanted to post this as an audio interview as he’s a great teller of stories in a wonderful East End gravelly tone.  In any case you can hear him (and expose yourself to some musical treasures) on his Modcast.

PMO – So how do you know Norman Jay?

EP – Before I set up the Acid Jazz label with Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay was one of the pioneering UK warehouse party DJs. He mixed soul and funk and jazz in a way that directly led to the rare groove explosion (he even coined the term) – I was initially a fan, then a friend and eventually a contemporary.

PMO – Introduce yourself.

EP – I’m 48 yrs old and I’m a broadcaster, writer and record producer.

PMO – What are you first and foremost?

EP – It goes in waves.  I was a record producer until the mid 90s and I found that life was very hard, 18 hour days, then I discovered a slight talent for broadcasting.  Since then I’ve broadcasted on stations like 6Music, Q Radio, Jazz FM and currently I do a podcast which is a chat show.  I also DJ all over the world.

PMO – Is there one of those things that you prefer over the others?

EP- No I like writing; I’ve written an eight part series on youth culture for ITV.  I suppose what I enjoy most is broadcasting, working as a presenter.

PMO – Have you got a family?

EP – Yep, I’m married with two children.

PMO – So, how do you fit it all in?

EP – It’s very difficult.  I’ve got an understanding partner.  I’ve always done this for a job, since I was 16 years old, my wife is more than used to that fact.   She’s heard me DJ before so she doesn’t particularly want to come every time! Occasionally she comes.  This is what I do for a job and it’s what I’ve always done and she knows that.  Is that a bad thing?

PMO – Not at all.  I think if you meet someone and they’ve got a passion for something, that can be quite attractive.  Do you have to spend a lot of time away?  You mentioned travelling with the DJing.

EP – I’m winding it down now.  For the last 15 years, I DJ’ed all over Europe most weekends but I’ve found the travelling hard.

PMO – Do you end up doing a six day week then, what with running the label during the week?

EP – It depends.  When I get bookings I want to do, for example, I did Pele’s birthday party in February, I’m not going to turn that down!  On the other hand I don’t want to DJ in North Germany on a Friday night, I can’t be arsed.

PMO – To rewind a bit, you were born into, as you describe it, an East End mod family.  Your Mum ran the Small Faces fan club.  Given that, do you think you would ever have done anything else but work in the music business?

EP – No, although I don’t know how much it had to do with my Mum and her job. I grew up in a family that liked music but just like everyone else’s parents, my parents gave up on youth culture early and got a proper job.  So I didn’t necessarily develop my love of music from that.  I think I got it from John Peel, from listening to the radio as a kid, and then getting into punk as a 15 year old. Then moving from punk into Mod, 1978, 1979, The Jam, all that kind of stuff.

PMO – How does that connect up?  What I know of punk is it’s all quite fast, angry music and you could argue the black soul the Mods were into is almost all about love in a way.

EP – Yeah but Mod has been going since 1958.  My path into Mod was the Mod revival, bands like The Jam, The Chords, Secret Affair.  That way of life, going to see bands all the time.  Gradually the mod scene developed, R&B, Jazz, Soul music.  DJs on the radio like Peter Young, who was on Capital, he made us listen to different kinds of music and you grow and you evolve and you realise that the best music that’s ever been made is from black America or black influenced music from 1959 to about 1985.

PMO – It’s interesting that you came full circle then from your Mum being with a mod band, you heading away from that into punk and then coming back to Mod.

EP – But what were the Faces doing?  They were doing Marvin Gaye covers. The whole Mod thing is a constant…it’s a part of British culture, it’s been through five or six generations, from when the Mods were into jazz, people like Tubby Hayes in 1958 at the Flamingo (a Soho club 1950s/1960s) or The Jam in 1979 or Oasis in 1994.   It’s constantly evolving.

PMO – So can you define it then?  What is Mod?

EP – There’s a much better person than me who gave the answer.  Peter Meaden, who was the first manager of The Who, he was pretty much the only person to distill the Mod ethos – expressionism as art as commercialism as youth culture as money.  Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever was rumoured to be based on Peter Meaden because Nik Cohn’s story (which became SNF) drew on memories of going out in Shepherd’s Bush, where Meaden was a ‘face’.  Jimmy in Quadrophenia is also supposed to be him.   So, two of the most important films about youth culture featured Peter Meaden as the hero.  Meaden said, when interviewed by the NME, that ‘Mod living is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances’.  Now that means nothing on one level, but it’s also the totality of Mod.  You can’t define it, but you what it is if you know what it is.

The Who do Mod.

PMO – How did you make your first wage?

EP – I started a fanzine in 1980 when I was still at school and by 1982, issue 10, we were selling 10000 copies at 30p each.  I’d negotiated with a friend of my Dad’s for an office in Dagenham on an industrial estate and I used to drive there every day on my Lambretta with a bloke called Terry Rawlings who became an author.  We ran the fanzine together for a few years until I got spotted by Stiff Records.  Stiff wanted me for my ideas and they were the holy grail of indie labels at the time.  (Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Madness were some of the artists on Stiff back then).

PMO – Have you never been in the position where you’ve had to consider a regular 9 to 5?

EP- My first 9 to 5 was for a record label in the West End for a year and a half in 1980. I was a motorcycle messenger and finished as head of promotions and that taught me everything I needed to know about music.  That was the only real job I’ve ever had. I’ve consulted for labels; I did work for MCA for a month but I didn’t like the ‘major’ structure so I left straight away.  They gave me my own label at Stiff and I worked for them until they closed.

PMO – Acid Jazz had it’s zenith in the mid 90s. From that are you now financially secure?  Do you have to work?

EP – I made money, but I didn’t make  a lot of money.  A lot of other people made a lot more money than me!  But I live in a nice house and everything’s fine.

PMO – You want to keep working or you need to keep working?

EP – I need to keep working.  It’s very difficult for an independent record label to make any money in a time when 75% of music is stolen from the internet.  I have a label thats been going 25 years with a catalogue of 6000 songs which is a fantastic UK indie label but it’s very difficult to make money.  I will work as a DJ or a consultant or whatever because it promotes the brand and the label that is Acid Jazz.  We’ve had our best year for 15 years!  I don’t know why…there’s a focus on British things at the moment in retail and in quality terms and we are one of the few British indies thats never done a deal with a major.   Maybe people are realising that they value things that are genuine and I feel that we  do that, whether  people get the music off the internet for nothing or not.

PMO – How do you feel about people stealing your stuff from the net?

EP – What can you feel?  There’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do if offer quality product – heavyweight vinyl, nice packaging, 16 page booklets and hope that people will want the real thing.  I can’t stop someone in Russia selling my product for 10 cents.  I don’t earn that way, the band don’t earn and 75% of the industry doesn’t earn that way.  In three years time if this continues there might not be an industry…if there is it’ll be a cottage industry. The sad thing is that EMI, the last great British record label is just about to be bought by a French company so we will have no British majors anymore.  The Beatles record label!

PMO – Why do you think they’ve all been sold?

EP – Everyone wants to cash in!  You’ve got shares, you’ve got ownership, you want to sell it, get your money, get out.

PMO – Do you think record labels were too slow to get with download culture?

EP – Yeah!  Not the indies, the corporates.  They could have done a deal with Napster which could have saved the industry at the time but instead they prosecuted and stopped it.  You’ll have to check this but I think that Napster were  prepared to work with this business model but the industry turned their backs on it  and the next thing we know is if you can’t buy it online from EMI, you’re going to get it from Russia and then everyone’s doing it!  It’s a generational thing.  My son is 19.  He listens to music on Youtube and then buys it.  My daughter is 16.  She listens to music and sees no reason why she shouldn’t just download it for free.  She doesn’t see why she has to pay for it even with the job I do.

PMO – She must have met people that depend on that money.

EP – Yes but she doesn’t see it.  Click here, get that is what she sees.  My son is like, ‘I’ll look at that, I like that, I’ll buy it’.  It must have happened in that gap between 19 and 16.   When was that?  Eight years ago?  I don’t know.   It’s tough.  Anyway, I’m ranting now…

PMO – Acid Jazz was most on my radar during the mid 90s.  Are those bands still with you now?

EP – We still have the catalogue of some of them but with all bands you have a window.  That window can be one record or it can be five records; five records takes six or seven years. The period you’re talking about is 20 years ago so we have  a constant turnover of bands.  We have a fantastic band at the moment called The Janice Graham Band, they’re like The Specials meets The Happy Mondays, the biggest thing I’ve signed since Jamiroquai, they’re going to be enormous.  I love it, all their songs are about murder, growing up on a council estate, going to prison.  They’re all 18 years old and there’s no one called Janice Graham in the name , it’s an anti fame name.

PMO – What I was going to ask you about the older bands is, when they’ve had their moment in the sun, is that a kick in the teeth for them?  How do they cope when their fame dwindles, when their record sales dwindle?

EP – We’re in the ego business.  I’ve had to put up with ten years of the most insane unfashionability but we like what we do and when you become massive worldwide, which Acid Jazz was, there’s a period when you’re untouchable.  Over the last ten years I’ve seen things build up again as people are becoming bored of (A) manufactured pop, which is dominating the charts at the moment and (B) the inaccessible nature of British urban music which to the fan base of kids who like Acid Jazz, black and white kids who are into funk and soul, they’re finding it difficult to get into. So gradually the pendulum has swung back in favour of what we do, which is a mixture of jazz, funk, soul and mod stuff.   It’s been a long time for us, but it’s the same for bands.  The Brand New Heavies – they’re still going, they still get X amount of money for a gig.  It’s terrible when everyone goes ‘You’re shit’ but that’s life!

PMO – A lot of people would have given up.  What kept you going?

EP –  Why would I give up?  I had a successful business.  I’m in the business of selling copyright, exploiting copyright in any way possible which means adverts, it means music on the radio, it means selling records…whatever.   We’ve had a very steady business to our core market.  Every several years there is an increase in the core market when it becomes fashionable.    The core market has never fallen to the point where it’s a waste of time.  We cater to those people who are into us and five years later we do something that’s really big and everyone goes ‘Fuck me! I forgot about them.’

PMO – To change tack, it could be said that when you opened your club The Blue Note in 1993, you changed a part of London.  At that time in Hoxton you could have got a one bedroom flat for £50K…

EP – No you could have got it for £30K!  My parents are from Bethnal Green Road.  When I phoned my Dad in 1992 and said, ‘I’m going to buy a club in Hoxton’ he told me not to do it.  He thought it the most dangerous area of London.  He said ‘It’s bomb sites, it’s fucked, do not go there’.

PMO – Because people were getting mugged?

EP – It was a horrible nasty racist area. The last white working class ghetto like (mentions another part of London).  We bought the club, spent a million pounds on it and it brought in black, white and Asian all together for the first time, it was very successful.  There was no trouble, but there was trouble with the residents.  Almost immediately the council wanted us to close because they preferred emptiness, nothing, whereas we’d bought this art thing in and then people started to move into the area and then gradually the whole square got gentrified.  The council were terrified about people coming in at night.  We had the first 5am licence in London, were massively successful, playing non house music to people who wanted to go out.  It was a ground breaking thing that won ‘Best Club of the Millennium’ in the Time Out Awards.  It was the best thing I ever did, but the council didn’t like it.  As the area got more gentrified, the new gentry started to complain about the people queueing up.  Now look!  They got rid of us. They took us to court and lost but changed the by-law in the square which put the Blue Note in a residential area.  The 333 survived because it was outside the square.

PMO – I asked Norman Jay this question: do you ever want a day off from listening to music?

EP – Yeah, I have many.  I don’t listen to music in my spare time.  I listen to Talk Radio…

PMO – But you’re still listening to something.  You don’t ever have a day off where you don’t want to hear anything?

EP – I read a lot, about two books a week.  I have a bit of a fetish with a particular type of book.  I read historical military fiction…not necessarily military but y’know, Flashman was my big introduction to reading and I try and read things in the style of George MacDonald Fraser or C S Forester (who wrote ‘The African Queen’).  It’s massive escapism from my life.  The floating world of the captain who is the dictator on his ship, I find it fascinating.  And archaeology.  

PMO – Doing that yourself?

EP – I have tried to be an archaeologist.  I haven’t got ‘A’ levels and the foundation course I did wasn’t sufficient enough for me to be able to do archaeology so I didn’t do it.  But I’m fascinated by ancient history and comparative religion.

PMO – Would you say you’re happier now, running Acid Jazz at the level it is now, or when it was at it’s zenith?

EP – Fucking now! Yeah, come on…

PMO – Because?

EP – My life was insane back then.  I was producing five or six days a week for 16 hours a day which was next to my office.  I had 60 staff, four premises, a nightclub, two studios, a magazine…it was insane.  We were turning over six or seven million pounds a year but I had no time for myself and it probably made me ill towards the end.  I got to the stage in 1998 when The Blue Note closed when I said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. I stopped it all, continued with the label in a much smaller way, got focused and started doing other things like consulting for other people, doing radio.  I did 6Music for three years, which was really enjoyable.   I enjoyed presenting, did a bit for TV.

PMO – What kind of illness did you get?

EP – I had a type of pneumonia called mycoplasma pneumonia which is infectious.  I caught it because I moved to a very old house and I was doing renovations and a load of bird shit fell onto me and I nearly died through that but it was alright in the end.

PMO – Were you scared?

EP – I never thought for one moment I was going to die!  You always woke up thinking ‘Oh I’ll be alright….ooh,hang on, it’s hard breathing.’

PMO – This brings me nicely to my last question – what would you want written on your gravestone?

EP – I have a Latin motto.  Recently I have decided that I am East End aristocracy…no, not really.  I wanted a latin motto I could stick on the top of headed paper.  The one I’ve chosen is In Adversis Puritas, which  means purity through adversity.  A friend of mine from school is now a professor of Latin and I wrote to him asking him to translate ‘clean living under difficult circumstances’.

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Norman Jay MBE

Posted: October 17, 2011 in DJ

Jazzie B passed me onto Norman Jay. If you’ve ever been to an event where he’s been DJing, I’d put money on you having had a wicked time. He plays music from all kinds of genres but the common theme is that it’s happy, good time music. Some music that you know and love and some stuff that you want to know the name of so you can get it for yourself. My own particular Norman ‘moment’ came a few years back at Notting Hill Carnival when he put on Paul Simon’s ‘Late in the Evening’. Paul Simon at Carnival? Shouldn’t work. But when you heard it loud, all irresistible funky bassline and joyous horns, it just felt like a party.  Everyone around me went mental.

It seems he’s been present at every notable club moment in history, from disco to hip hop to house music and his dedication to getting peoples feet moving resulted in him getting a gong from the Queen a couple of years back. Which makes him the first recipient of an MBE that I’ve interviewed.

PMO – So you know Jazzie B pretty well? Do you remember how you first met him?

NJ – We did a house party together close to Finsbury Park tube. I cant remember the exact year, ’84 or ’85. His sound system was on one floor and my fledgling Good Times sound system was on another floor. I’m sure it was a Sunday night or something and nobody turned up!

We had 10 or 20 people, if that, and about a decade later, when Soul II Soul were conquering the world, I met Jazzie in New York when Keep On Movin’ was number 1 in America. Fantastic achievement from a British band. We went up to the penthouse suite where the record company had put him and we were laughing and reminiscing about that moment. At that time Soul II Soul were conquering the world and my DJ career was at its pinnacle, I was playing at all the biggest spots in New York. Bit of a back slapping thing going on really but it was fantastic – we looked back and laughed. Who would have imagined 10 years on that we would both be living large in New York given our backgrounds and where we’d come from?

PMO – When you started DJing did you see a future in it?

NJ – Nah! It was always a hobby. Most of the time I did it for free and a lot of the time spent a lot of my own money. It was something I loved. Loved clubbing, loved dancing, loved music. Buying records was my drug because I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke and I don’t do drugs. Buying tunes was my poison.

PMO – If I’m right you’re 53 now. Do you still have that drive when you were younger about music?

NJ – Yeah absolutely. Still gigging several times a week, still playing everywhere around the world. I’m loving it as much as I ever did.

PMO – How do you still have the energy? Im nearly 40 now and I don’t want to go out so much anymore.

NJ – Don’t do the alcohol, don’t do the rock n roll, don’t do the drugs. Healthy eating, a happy home life, contentment, that’s what gives you the energy.

PMO – I saw something on Twitter about a ‘disco nap’

NJ – Yeah! That’s my euphemism for having a siesta. That prepares you.

PMO – We can say that Norman Jay recommends an afternoon nap then yeah?

NJ – Yeah absolutely. Even if your employers are not up for it. Sneak off! Go and have an hour in the park.

PMO – Did you never think about making your own music?

NJ – I did consider it but just because you’re a duck, it doesn’t mean you like water. I realised from a very early age that I was born to make people dance by playing tunes and I never learned an instrument, although I do have regrets about that. I wish I had.

PMO – Do you ever have a day when you don’t want to listen to music?

NJ – Yeah, most days! Most days I don’t listen to music at all. That’s the secret. I work in it, I don’t really want to do a busman’s holiday. Whenever I come back to it I’m always fresh. I have other interests outside of music which helps my head and helps keep me focused. I go to the football when I can, I’m into classic cars, I’m into classic bikes.

PMO – I saw on Twitter that you were looking for a ticket to the Arsenal Tottenham derby. Did you find one? I presumed you were so well connected that someone would sort you out.

NJ – People might presume that but that’s not actually the case. I don’t go out of my way to court footballers or people from that world.

PMO – I read that you did Thierry Henry’s wedding.

NJ – I played at his wedding and I also played at one of Obama’s inauguration parties which is far more interesting that doing a footballers wedding.

PMO – With the Obama gig, did you get to meet the man?

NJ – It was the only licensed club event in Washington that week, all the others were official black tie balls. I was in New York at the time and got a call from a friend who knew I was in the States asking me to come down. I think I only got immediate security clearance because of my MBE.

PMO – It must have been pretty amazing to be in Washington at the time.

NJ – Oh absolutely. It was a monumental time in history. I’ve done a few things like that. I did a closing party at the World Economics Forum in Dallas believe it or not.

PMO – What does that entail? Is that a room full of politicians?

NJ – It’s a mixture of politicians, ambassadors, captains of industry, blue collars, maybe one or two presidents.

PMO – Is that a hard crowd to get moving?

NJ – No, that’s the wonder of drink and I suspect other things as well. Once the networking gets done…networking comes before anything.

PMO – If you play all these all diverse kind of crowds, what’s your preferred crowd?

NJ – The street kids, or everyday people are my favourites. People who are like me and I’m like them.

PMO – Which brings me nicely onto Carnival. I saw the official statement on your website but I think people didn’t really understand why Good Times wasn’t there this year. Was it a crowd safety thing or…?

NJ – It was a a lot of factors.

PMO – It wasn’t one thing?

NJ – It’s never just one thing. I’ve been doing it too long to be affected by one issue. The overriding issue was that I wanted a break. After 30 years I’m entitled to take a holiday, have a gap year.

PMO – I read you comparing it to Glastonbury taking a break. I think you were sorely missed, you and Rampage both, two big holes either end of Carnival.

NJ – Of course…but it was timing as well. Because of the timing, with the police and the authority in that kind of mood, post London riots…I didn’t need it. I was actually glad that I wasn’t around performing in that kind of climate.

PMO – Just to clarify, do you mean that you were uneasy about playing at that time?

NJ – No I made my announcement two months before. We’re living in very harsh austere financial times. People are so used to getting everything for nothing but people have to realise we don’t get sponsorship from Carnival. We have to fund it ourselves.

PMO – It’s not supported by people selling drinks or anything?

NJ – No.

PMO – So that’s a kind of gift from you every year then?

NJ – Yes.

PMO – I think people would have understood your absence more if they realised that.

PMO – You were brought up in Notting Hill.

NJ – Born there, but brought up in Acton. All my immediate family for many years were there in Ladbroke Grove.

PMO – It’s obviously changed a lot over the years, what do you make of it now?

NJ – I still love it, I will always have an affinity for the place. Its almost like an umbilical cord. It’s the area that gave me a platform for my success.

PMO – I get the feeling that there is a lot of money here now and people are sorry it’s lost some of the character it used to have. How do you feel about that?

NJ – One could level that accusation but with Carnival, it’s the only event that people can come to and its free. Whereas Glastonbury, you’re paying a couple of hundred quid or the Big Chill – you’ll pay it. You’ve a right to expect a certain level of staging. At Carnival, every year we somehow muddle our way through to put a show on with no aid, no Boris, no Arts Council grants, nothing.

PMO – How do you see the future of Carnival? Do you think the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea should fund it, do you think Boris should fund it?

NJ – Well they should do because Carnival generates £94m at the last costings. They should redistribute the money it generates – we don’t see a penny of that. It’s almost like they’re putting it on for the benefit of the police! The people who are selling food and drink have to pay a phenomenal amount of money for the licences and 95% of the time they don’t even make enough money to cover the cost of doing what they do. Everybody runs at an operating loss.

PMO – Where does the profit made from Carnival go?

NJ – No idea. It’s Kensington & Chelsea making the money in licensing, it’s the insurance companies who charge sky high premiums for anything to do with Notting Hill. The people who contribute nothing are profiting the most.

PMO – Do you think the future for Carnival might be to somehow charge people?

NJ – Some way, yeah. In the 21st century they have to look at that. We need some new kind of financing. The current model is unsustainable.

PMO – Do you have a favourite DJ? Do you still listen to other DJs?

NJ – I never did. I came before that whole DJ culture. I’m a fan of music. With the greatest respect to my peers, you’re only as good as the records that you play. I’m a fan of the people that make the music, you know, the artists, the singers, the producers. I never really swallowed the whole superstar DJ thing. Maybe its because of my age. I’m the first generation of ‘celebrity DJs’.

PMO – Do you feel like a celebrity?

NJ – No I don’t. I don’t do the whole rock n roll thing, the whole socialite thing. I’m not out seven nights a week. I still love parties and festivals, I still love being with crowds of people who are celebrating music and enjoyment. I love all of that, I live for that.

PMO – You don’t get stopped in Tescos?

NJ – I really couldn’t deal with that. As my immediate family and my lovely partner Jane says to me, I’m fundamentally shy. I’m very quiet, keep myself to myself.

PMO – Presumably you’ve got to meet some of the people whose music you play over the years?

NJ – Absolutely. I’ve had the pleasure of working with just about everyone who has contributed to UK club culture over the past 20 or 30 years, people that I’ve been in awe of.

PMO – Are there still any musical heroes that you’d like to meet?

NJ – Well, they’ve all passed away now! I would have loved to have met Miles Davis, Bob Marley. I’ve met Stevie Wonder. I was really privileged to have been the last DJ to have toured with James Brown.

PMO – Talking to you, you come across as being very content.

NJ – I am, I’m very lucky.  I’ve got friends who have had their homes repossessed, a friend who is dying of cancer.  I’m very content – I get paid for doing something I love.

Jazzie B

Posted: July 9, 2011 in DJ

So: Mark Bright passed me on to Jazzie B. A proper hero to me as Club Classics Vol 1 pretty much sound-tracked the start of my adult years. I turned 17 that year, learnt to drive and because my mates all got their driving licences too, we started heading down to Brighton clubbing, eager to find some thrills out of the safe little commuter town we’d grown up in. We hammered the tape through the summer and heard it booming out of other cars, shops, houses and flats everywhere. Listen to the fabulously snappy, clean beat that is the first five seconds of ‘Keep On Movin’ – it smacks of an era while still sounding the absolute nuts. Dance music was in the ascendance then and the album just seemed like another brilliant variant to get hooked into. And then the Stone Roses came out that same year. Glorious times.

Got to admit I cheated on this one a bit. You will note, near the end, that this didn’t remain a strict Q&A and became something like a conversation. People say ‘Don’t meet your heroes’ so I didn’t. Jazzie was on his bluetooth headset driving home when we spoke.

-So how do you know Mark Bright?

-Everyone knows him! We work at the same radio station, Radio London, so that helps. He likes a bit of music so I try and encourage him, give him a few pointers.

-Do you know how much of a Twitter freak he is?

-Yep – that’s why I don’t go near it.

-I tweeted ‘Has anyone got a question for Jazzie B?’ and he was the first one back. He asked if you’ve got any recommendations of new music to check out?

-Loads of it. He needs to get himself down to If Music off Great Portland St.

-I was going to ask you where you get new music for your show. Is that where you find it?

-I’m not affiliated with any one person anymore but having been a record store owner and being someone that collects a lot of music, I’m a bit anal about music. I travel all over the place and wherever I go, if I’m there for a day I’ll ask the promoter where the best record shop is locally. I still go through me mates records trying to nick ’em, still go to car boot sales and second hand shops. I’m finding a lot more vinyl. I think it’s due to houses getting smaller and people not having the space. For the last few weeks I’ve been having a field day. I still love me records, still go out and I’m still an avid collector.

-Before you started making money out of music, did you ever have a ‘normal’ job?

-I did. I’m a sound engineer by trade. I worked at Nova studios, that’s where my whole professional music career began, I did that for two years. In between that I worked for the Royal National Institute for the Blind on Goswell Road, I was a sound technician for them. After leaving school I wanted a career in the music industry but my careers advisor advised me to become a milkman or work in the GPO, which wasn’t really part of my make up. I spent half of my time trying to find a job – the RNIB job came up so I could still be around electronic equipment. I was always into electronics. I was 21 or 22 when I took my final pay-check.

-So when did you start running sound-systems?

-From birth! I was born into it. All my brothers own sound-systems. I did all sorts of bits and pieces for them…carrying the valves. I’m from the days of the valve! I was always around sounds and equipment. That was my first real love. I liked the smell of everything. We were always in the back of the van or back at the lock up. The smell of timber and the valves, the heat coming off everything, if you combine that with dust…it sounds really gooey but its a really interesting smell. Also the smell of the acetate, the dub plate, everything combined. When I found a way into the recording world I was very lucky because I was one of the first black people who actually worked in the early 80s in a professional recording studio world, at Nova studios and Pye studios, which was on the corner of Marble Arch. They had cutting rooms there. I also spent a lot of time in Reuben’s, the Jewish sandwich shop. I was the tape op so apart from cleaning out the phlegm of all the brass instruments, I was always sent out to the shop. So I’m a dab hand at making a cup of tea and I know my way around a Jewish menu.

-I read this interview with you on Djhistory.com that you were able to do warehouse parties because you knew this Jewish guy who basically gave you the keys.

-That’s right. We used to go to the estate agent because we knew this guy in there and he would give us the key like we were viewing. All you had to do was do your best at clearing up and give him the key on the Monday and Bob’s your uncle. That was before that become popular and the wide boys started doing it. We pretty much got away with it.

-The Soul II Soul motto is peaceful but I wondered if you have ever had to deal with any violence in your life, either when you were the young up start running sound-systems or when you started doing warehouse parties. Did you ever have to deal with any unsavoury characters?

-That’s an occupational hazard bro! I come from a big family and we had a certain reputation so…

Anyone in the sound-system world knows there was a lot of pantomime. Djing is always about ego, whatever anyone says. Whenever there’s that much testosterone around, things can get misconstrued.

There were lots of situations when shit went on, lots of fights. With that warehouse thing you had to stand your ground as other guys were trying to take liberties. Sound-systems are all about that kind of camaraderie, call it a posse or even a collective, we had the full circumference when it came down to battling and it wasn’t just in the music, there’s also that bit about protecting your own. There were always things going off, someone trying to break the speakers or slashing your tyres.

We were up in Manchester one time and ended up spending the latter half of the night at the Hacienda – we came out to find the minibus had been bricked up (some one had taken the wheels) and they’d smashed up the windows. There had to be a bit of retaliation there. Whether it was the right person we got involved with who took a hiding, I don’t know. That’s just part and parcel of growing up as a teenager. In those days you could live to fight another day. It wasn’t as serious as it is now because most of it was fisticuffs. I never put out anything to suggest that I was a peacemaker like Kofi Annan. I was just a North London geezer who probably fancied himself a little bit.

-What was it like for you when Club Classics Vol One blew up in 1989?

-My life more changed in the 90s because the whole of the 80s was about being the biggest sound-system in the world. I think I drew the right straw in terms of the release of that record because it definitely set the cat amongst the pigeons, in America as much as it did in Europe. It was groundbreaking and the best thing about that was I got a residency in New York. The sound-system of Soul II Soul was very prolific at that time. We were doing what they called cultural exchanges with Japan and we were quite established there. We were playing nightclubs in places like Roppongi anyway. We were really fortunate because we were travelling the world. They knew about the warehouse parties and the Africa centre and they wanted a piece of that.

-Do you miss the old days?

-I do miss knowing when my sound was playing out on the Friday, the setting up the day before, buying more equipment, wiping down the cables, testing the sound. I miss falling asleep in the lock-up…they were just brilliant times.
-When you start clubbing it’s almost inevitable that you’ll come across drugs. Now that you’ve got kids of your own, how do you feel about them going through that stage?

-There’s only so much you can do as a parent and worrying is probably the most fundamental one! My son is a footballer and is at the gateway to all of this hedonism. My son came to me recently and said ‘Dad I want to taste beer to see what it’s like. Can we have a drink together?’ After I’d scraped myself off up the floor, it was one of me proudest moments of being a father, having my son ask me that. You know what though? A lot of these kids are smarter than we give them credit for. At 14 or 15 I knew about basic drugs like weed and speed because of what I was involved with. Now with more stuff out in the open those subjects are not as taboo as they once were. With my age group, we’re going to be open with the idea of drugs and the effects of taking them. In a reasonable household, kids are probably a little bit more open on that level. With parents like ourselves we live in Camden and we see a lot of shit and they know the effects. Whether its a cousin or an uncle or an aunt or whatever who’ve got themselves a bit fucked up, those questions are not hidden like it would have been with our parents who were trying to hide stuff. We live in a community where you do see people who are less fortunate than ourselves and people who have made the wrong choices in their lives. Kids are a lot more savvy. As my Grandmother used to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’d be shitting myself if I thought about that all the time given the amount of nonsense I got involved with!

-What do you make of shows like X Factor?

-Brilliant, love it. I think it’s great. I’m probably one of Simon Cowell’s biggest fans. I like the way he does his business. I’ve come up in the business since I was a teenager and there are a lot of bullshitters out there. I love the way that he’s the got the equilibrium between the bullshit and ripping the arse out of you with no lubrication. When I grow up I want to be like Simon Cowell. There’s a level of sincerity, I’m not going to call it honesty. When you’re shit he tells you that you’re shit and that’s not an easy thing to do. He is doing so much for us on that sort of level so it’s all good.

-‘A happy face, a thumping bass, for a loving race’ sounds like a motto. Are you a religious person?

-I was forced into religion like most kids of my age by our parents who were made afraid of it all. With my scenario it was trying to get a combination of living in the melting pot, trying to get a little bit of all the different religions if that’s the thing that’s going to bind us together. I suppose I took the piss a little bit because the Africa Centre parties happened on a Sunday and it did become one of those religious experiences.. I found out a lot later from some of the people that used to rave with us how much it meant to them. It was a real eye-opener. It was like us being in school and having a gang. If you belonged to the gang you had that ‘happy face, thumping bass for a loving race’ motto and if you went to the Africa Centre it would have made so much sense.

There was a full circumference of music played and there were loads of individuals who all moved together. You know if you go to a club and everyone’s wearing Fred Perry or Nike and everyone sort of looks the same? Back in the day there were a lot more flamboyant individuals. You could almost call it camp. What was interesting was you had people of both genders across the cultural span and the most significant part of it was, at the time I was involved with it, the Africa Centre was a black run organisation that was set up by the church as a refugee centre. When you talk about religion…I want to sort of say more ‘spiritual’, its probably not an accident what went on. Everything just felt right. Here we are coming up to 25, nearly 30 years later with the same motto and its as fresh as Club Classics Vol 1 is. Even though I say so myself those records…it happens every so often in a muso’s life I think, not that I put myself down with the greats, sometimes you get a ‘moment’ and it means that much.

-That album came at the right time?

-That was a lot to do with it as well. So much of this game is about luck and timing and 10% of that is the hard work. That’s very evident today. Especially when you pump up a lot of people as we tend to do in Britain. We drive these guys until the wheels fall off, which is a little bit about commercialism. I can happily say that the innings has been fantastic and today I still play that record much the same like a punter. I’m very proud to be a part of that.

-I was 17 when that record came out and it was such a massively influential thing for the people that I was around. As well as the record we started to read about you and what you were doing at the Africa Centre and it made us go out and explore and see if we could find different sounds. That record touched a lot of peoples lives.

-I’m beginning to see that more and more as I’ve got older. I’ve gone to territories now in Eastern Europe and they tell me stories about what they went through in the 80s and how affecting listening to a cassette of this music was and I’ll be like ‘Did you understand the words?’ and they say ‘It wasn’t about that’. It was a bit of egg on my face because music is something that you sort of..feel. It becomes part of your daily make up…it’s unbelievable.

-I think that’s when music is at it’s best when it is something that you feel. You can listen to things and they don’t really touch you but if you truly feel something then that’s when its really working.

-Absolutely and it’s like some of the records that I’ve got. It’s why Curtis Mayfield is so important to me. I still listen to his music today and find his lyrics profound. Also people like Donny Hathaway…

At this point Jazzie yells hello to his neighbour so I guess he’s home. Which seemed like the right place to stop.