A local West London pub is not the place where you’d expect to meet a DJ who has received a MBE from the Queen and played for Will Smith, Prince or Bruce Springsteen. And yet, after a few minutes chatting with Norman Jay, the choice of place for this interview becomes obvious. For the pioneering DJ, music needs no pretense, glitz nor glamour. His Good Times NYE party will be a celebration of music and old school partying; a trip to back to the roots of Djing, where anything goes. Read on.
Catch a Vibe: You are often referred to as ‘the people’s DJ’ and ‘the DJs’ DJ’. You’ve played for celebrities and students alike. Why do you think your music appeals to so many different groups of people?
Norman Jay MBE: Well, it’s not just the music, is it? I would like to think that the stuff that I play encourages social interaction. Music breaks down barriers, and that is what I consciously strive to create: an atmosphere that is inclusive, breaks down barriers and, above all, is welcoming. Frankly, for the most part, the type of black music I play has to have those ingredients.
CAV: You’ve received a MBE, had a documentary made about you and you have played around the world. Is there anything left you’d like to achieve?
Norman Jay: There is loads I haven’t achieved yet. But, you know, when I embarked on this path many years ago I didn’t set myself goals, I was never that ambitious, I guess up till recently. When I was growing up, the idea of DJ’ing for a living wasn’t something you would consider doing. I have just been very fortunate, very blessed. It has been for me a series of happy accidents, being at the right place at the right time, being surrounded by the right people doing the right thing. And I’ve guess I’ve always had an instinct for that. I’ve never really followed trends or anything in that way. I am aware, always aware of what’s going on around me, taking influences from things that interest me, but it is never just about music. For me personally, it’s the whole human emotion. It’s music, fashion, art, lifestyle, vibe, attitude. The music is the soundtrack to everyday’s lives. That’s the context in which I view it, love it and appreciate it, and play it.
CAV: You said your life has been a series of happy accidents, but surely along the line you must have thought …
Norman Jay: Yeah, but I can’t describe any other way because I am the first generation of those DJs. There was no rule book, so we made up the rules as we want along.
CAV: About the NYE party: what is it going to be like?
Norman Jay: New Year’s Eve, we’re basically going back to our original warehouse party roots, long before we played the clubs and festivals, we did warehouse parties. Back in those days they were as cheap as chips, people were allowed to bring their own beer, bring their own drink. They were pretty spontaneous affairs, again there were no rules pertaining to music, just anything goes, so it gave me the artistic freedom to play loads of great black records, mix the music up in the original mash-up style. I mean, people are familiar with that now because they’ve got iPods, and it is the randomness of iPods.
CAV: What kind of music will you be playing at the party? What can people expect?
Norman Jay: They’ll expect an eclectic mix of my, and their, favourite stuff. House music – new and classic, loads of drum and bass, hip hop, reggae, original disco, soul, jazz, afro and the occasional pop. If it fits, or goes with the mood, it will go.
CAV: You are known for bringing US acts and DJs to the UK audiences. Is it going to be the same for this NYE party?
Norman Jay: No, we won’t be having any guests or big name draws, celebrity type DJs. The whole ethos of what we are doing this year is back to our roots. We started the original parties in the mid-80s when Britain, London really was in austere times and it is almost like the wheel has turned full circle and we are in hard times now. People don’t have jobs, money is tight and people are picking and choosing carefully where they go and spend their leisure time. In saying that, in my experience, not just in work, but a couple of times over the years, that in relation to London club culture, when the country is going through austere times is when the club culture is at its creative and most exciting best. Yeah, it is basically people sticking up two fingers at their everyday lives and going “You know what, I’m going to go out and enjoy this”, almost partying like it’s their last.
So we kinda tapping into that part, but the wider picture is, at the moment, and it has been for several months and it will continue until this country gets out of recession, that when times are hard people celebrate all things retro, they hark back to better times in their lives, or what they perceive to be a better time in their lives, which is probably why the 80s revival is so massive, the back to ’92 raves have never been bigger. That’s the mood of the nation at the moment, so given that, we felt it was time to bring back the original spirit, show this generation how we started. Long before there was cosy little night clubs with all glitter and lights, and wonderful parties in the field, we were taking over abandoned factories, railway stations, patrol stations, car washes, and I was doing parties at all these sorts of places, so they always had that edge, an air of uncertainty. It was a lot easier to do it in those days. Now everything is heavily regulated. Back then we could take over a space, I would bring in my sound system, my mates would bring in their sculptures and their paintings, put in art installations and we’re off. It wasn’t just music, it was visual stimulates as well. Creative arts and creative things going on.
CAV: For people who have never been to your parties: why should they come? What should they bring?
Norman Jay: They should bring a smile, bring the right kind of attitude, leave the bad one at the door or leave it at home. There is always an edge and excitement, and remember it’s not just music, we are not relaying on hi-tech, in actual fact we are going very low-tech, very low-fi. If you want the glitz and the snob of the West End, don’t come. If you want to stand behind a rope and gawk at a celebrity, don’t come. If you want to live the champagne high life, go to the West End, don’t come. But if you are up for a shared communal experience and an enjoyment of celebration of people and music, then you’re welcome.
CAV: Any plans/big events for 2010?
Norman Jay: I guess we’ve all got plans for 2010. Tomorrow is promised to no one, so, you know, saying that, things we plan to do, we’re conducting this interview here at William IV, Harrow Road. This pub is going to be an unofficial home, headquarters for Good Times [Norman Jay’s soundsystem]. We are going to do three or four sets here. We’ve got one coming up in the end of February. A lot of festivals on the horizon, some in this country, some abroad. I hope to be at Glastonbury for the first time this year as it’s their anniversary as well. And obviously Big Chill. There is a great festival in Antalya, in Turkey which is happening in April, the Sun Splash, I’ll be there for that. I’ll be there for Jazzy B’s Antigua Fest, I think that’s in March/April, There is a great series of international things coming up and I hope to be in South Africa for the World Cup at some stage.
Loads of great music and creative arts, I will also be curating a 80s warehouse party at an event called Vintage down in Goodwood in August. That will be massive and I’m really, really hyped about that, looking forward to doing that.
CAV: You said you life has been a series of lucky events, if things weren’t so lucky, what would you be doing now?
Norman Jay: Not a lot actually. No idea, I mean, no one is going to give me a job now, I’m not going to sell selling insurance I am? Or be an estate agent. I would have probably been, if I wasn’t into music, I would have probably been in fashion, I guess, or something to do with creative arts.
Pics (c) Jerry Barnett. On location at William IV on Harrow Road, NW10
* Have you ever been to a Good Times party? Are you a fan of Norman Jay? use the form below and let us know your opinion of “the people’s DJ” *