A to Jay

Ahead of his Good Times Live gig at The Warehouse, Norman Jay gives an alphabetised guide to life

Norman prods some things
Norman prods some things
The Notting Hill Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival
1/5
A is for ahead of the pack

‘Probably the best thing to happen to me was the advent of the iPod shuffle. It’s made people aware that what I was doing was always right – that you can generate the same excitement by mixing genres as you can get from playing a single genre.’

B is for broad minds

‘I’ve never been hostile to any kind of music. Even if I haven’t got it in the beginning, there’s a track in every genre that I’ll like. It’s just a case of finding it. And those tracks are like the keys in the lock: they open the door and suddenly you can understand the music.’

C is for child labour

‘My kids sometimes turn up and help me prepare music. I can’t order them around, though. They’re not really children any more – they’re strapping six-foot-plus lads. People think they’re my security.’

D is for deception

‘I’ve never really been naughty! That said, my career’s based on the fact that I used to break into empty spaces to organise parties. My first big one was in ’86 with Judge Jules – it was a huge warehouse complex in London. We went into the building the week before and hired a bunch of kids from the estate around the back to come and help us tidy up. Then we hired a load of film crew props. When the police came around investigating a few rumours, we told them we were filming a video. They saw the lights, the cameras and everything and said, “Yep, that’s fine.” Then three hours later 2,000 people descended on the place. The press the next day said it was an all-night drink and drugs party. I couldn’t believe they were talking about the same event.’

E is for entertainment

‘I play for the crowd and to the crowd, and I’m not shy about being obvious to the point of cheesy. But I can also be underground, obscure and esoteric and play what people don’t know. Somewhere between those two parameters lies the truth. My gig at The Warehouse will be very uplifting, and probably very emotional for expats of a certain age. It’ll be a blank canvas, with music from my childhood in the ’60s right up to my favourites from the present day.’

F is for fury at Notting Hill

‘I hated [London’s Caribbean-influenced street festival] the Notting Hill Carnival when I was a kid because it was really small and when you’re a teenager you think you’re too cool for these things. But as I got older, I thought I’d give it another look, and I saw a niche: the music was all reggae or calypso, so I decided to be the first to play soul, funk and disco there. Initially I was met with an awful lot of hostility – bottles and cans were thrown, records were pulled off the turntable, death threats were made. I did a lot of growing up that weekend. But I was young and brash, and the more hostility I got the more I was convinced that I was right!’

G is for good times

For me, good times are about human contact – I love people smiling, throwing their hands in the air, giving the knowing nod or wink… it’s all about the celebration, about bringing together tribes of people who wouldn’t ordinarily know each other. And, when I play Notting Hill Carnival these days, I’m playing to entire generations of people – guys who’ve been with me from the start and now have grandkids.’

H is for history-making

‘I was in Washington doing an Obama party. I didn’t get to meet him, but it was only one of two officially licensed events outside of the official ball, because of security issues and the amount of people. I found out I was doing it five days before and obviously I dropped everything to be there. The crowd was unbelievable! It was like The United Nations tenfold – people of every colour, race and creed were there. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.’

I is for Islington misery

I wouldn’t change much about my life – I’ve been lucky, really. But I would alter a few football matches. The worst was when we [Tottenham Hotspur] lost to Coventry in the ’87 FA Cup Final. Up to that point I’d never seen my team lose a cup final – it never occurred to me that it was even a possibility. I was so complacent that when Coventry beat us, I was completely gutted. Then I had to do a night in Islington of all places, the home of our arch-enemies [Arsenal]. I was tormented for the whole night. I’m over that now, though, because Man United put Arsenal out of the Champions League recently.’

J is for just relax

‘If I could give a single word of advice it would be: be patient and don’t get wound up. It’s a virtue that quite a lot of people, for whatever reason, don’t have. I’m quite easygoing, I don’t get nervous and I’m a bit cerebral, I guess – I think about things before I react. It’s important for me, because I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs but I work in an atmosphere where, for the most part – the UAE excepted – people are off their heads on those things. They pull you and want to have conversations with you when you’re trying to play. Some DJs can’t deal with that at all, but I’ve learned to deal with it. It’s a necessary evil.’

Norman Jay plays The Warehouse, June 4, tickets available on www.timeouttickets.com.

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