Norman Jay Interview: If There's Ever Been A Time For Partying, This Is It

Norman Jay on raving against austerity, dreams of partying in Battersea power station and telling the Queen to 'stuff the jubilee'...
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Norman Jay on raving against austerity, dreams of partying in Battersea power station and telling the Queen to 'stuff the jubilee'...

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In a career spanning four decades, Norman Jay has gone from pirate DJ to MBE. Next month he will be bringing his Good Times Soundsystem to the Queen's diamond jubliee party at Battersea Park. I caught up with him to find out more...

You've got something special planned for the Queen's diamond jubilee. What can we expect?

Norman Jay: We're going going to be in Battersea Park on Sunday 3 June to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee. Because she'll be sailing passed, at some point, on the new royal barge. I don't think we'll manage to get a glimpse of it because we'll be doing our own little bit – we've been given a tiny area to put my Good Times bus in. My music brief was to celebrate the best music in clubland over the last 30-40 years.

Have you got your set planned out in advance?

NJ: I don't think of music in that way. I'll just bring many of the tunes that I've played over that time, let them off and see what happens. We've got a few guest DJs alongside me. The only one I can confirm at the moment is Graeme Park. Graeme's going to representing the north of Scotland.

What's your take on the whole jubilee thing?

NJ: I'm older and wiser now. I was a kid in 1977. My whole attitude was: 'Stuff the jubilee'. But she's still here. I'm still here. I've got kids now, so I'm mellowed. Live and let live. We're living in the most austere times that I can remember. If there's ever been a time for partying and escapism from everyday drudgery, this is it.

You met the Queen, of course, when you received your MBE. What can you remember about the day?

NJ: I wasn't nervous – but I know I didn't really sleep. It was all quite surreal and it all went by in a flash. I remember getting my honour the same day as Mick Jagger got knighted. I don't really remember much about it but it was a fantastic day. I was proud for my sons and my parents and my friends. It was the first time anybody from club culture had ever been honoured or recognised in anyway, so it was a fantastic honour.

We're living in the most austere times that I can remember. If there's ever been a time for partying and escapism from everyday drudgery, this is it

What music are you listening to at the moment? What's on your iPod?

NJ: What's on my iPod? Tons of old music – loads of 60s mod stuff, funk and proper hip-hip. But the music I'm into now tends to be kind of DJ-producer stuff or re-edits. It's not really artist based. I'm playing a lot of mashups of stuff that I bought the first time around, but these bedroom producers are reinventing them for today's audience. I'm fine with that. I've got no problem with it.

Why have you never moved into the production side of things?

NJ: I never got into music for that – that means that you're locked away in your bedroom with gadgets and things, and I just can't be dealing with that. I'm a people person. I like to be out there with friends, with people, celebrating and enjoying music with them. Don't get me wrong, I loved the music making process but it wasn't for me. There's far better people out there who do it much better.

You weren't at last year's Notting Hill Carnival. Will you be back again this year?

NJ: We're definitely going to be back this year. Part of the reason why we're doing this jubilee thing, is as a precursor to carnival – a precursor to our return, really. A dry run. Wheel the old bus out and see how we're getting on.

But we've got an amazing after party for the jubilee event as well: A Right Royal Carry On. And that's exactly what it is. It'll be a carryon – celebrating 50-60 years of club music, and British black music as well. If the mood is right and the timing is right, it won't all be down, it won't all be all about electronic music. As much as I love it, it's not going to be all house and hip-hop and drum'n'bass. I'm into bands and songs and singers and musicians. A lot of music from those eras will be getting a look in.

What's the one record you can rely on to get a crowd going?

NJ: I've got an acapela of Bring the Sunshine – that normally raises people's spirits. Or Oh Happy Day – I've got various versions of Oh Happy Day.

You've played at clubs and festivals all over the world. What's so special about London?

NJ: I need to be clear what I'm saying here: I'm not saying London is the best, but it is the epicentre of club culture. Without a shadow of a doubt. I'm qualified to say that because I've been to virtually every city in the world that boasts a dance culture and I've played there. And when all's said and done, there's nothing, no city in the world, that offers the range and sheer choice that London does ... We have a pirate radio culture here – which most cities don't have – going back 40 years, which has been a great help giving a platform to UK-based artists to come with new music, with whatever music you're into. Whether it's dance or soul or house or grime or drum'n'bass. No other city offers that – we're the envy of the world when it comes to that. Because I defy anybody between 18-30 who claims to be into dance music or club culture to be bored in this city. However underground the music is, however leftfield the music is you want, somebody somewhere in this city is playing it.

I'd always harboured ambitions of doing a massive, free party in Battersea power station. You'd never get away with that today – 20-30 years ago, you might have done

Why do you think that is?

NJ: It's a melting pot of cultures. And we've always had a strong fanzine culture here ... the whole do-it-yourself thing. I come from that – that's my background. So, like I said, I'm fully qualified to talk about that.

You began your career playing warehouse parties. There's been a resurgence in events like these recently. How do you feel about them? Are they tame compared to the old days?

NJ: I love them – I think it's great. More power to the people. In my day, we didn't have health and safety. And that made it even more exciting and edgy. But, the pluses today are that a huge amount of people can be connected in a few minutes and informed where the event's happening. But we're living in dangerous times, so you have to be careful how theses things are done now. I'm all in support of it, but I don't know if I'd go and play one of them myself if I was invited.

Why is that? What about the legal ones?

Everything to lose and nothing to gain. If you're some party reveller, the most that will happen to you is you'll get chucked out. Me, I could be facing the end of a career.

The legal ones are fine. But they'll never have the edge of the illegal ones … I'd always harboured ambitions of doing a massive, free party in Battersea power station. You'd never get away with that today – 20-30 years ago, you might have done.

If you could play one record to the Queen, what would you play?

NJ: That picks itself really: it has to be God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols.

Prince Harry says he's into reggae now, since visiting Jamaica. What music do you think the rest of the royals listen to?

NJ: All good royals are discovering the dark side. His dad's favourite group in the 70s was the Three Degrees, I seem to recall … So I'll probably be saying some of that – When Will I See You Again, Year of Decision, all those tracks.

Find out more about Norman Jay's Good Times arena at the Queen's diamond jubilee party, Battersea Park, here.

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