Leah Hamer || July 17th
MBE. Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. To obtain this title, you’ve got to be pretty special, wouldn’t you agree? Well DJing extraordinaire Norman Jay, MBE, is just that and more. A man that revolutionised the underground club scene and brought funk, disco and soul to the quiet streets of the UK, all whilst he was a teenager. From spawning Kiss FM to building the Good Times Sound System to being the first ever British DJ to be honoured with a feature film, as shown at the Cannes Film Festival, in a career spanning decades- Norman Jay has used his time on earth wisely. Now he continues to spread the soul with his treasured club nights and festival sets. Ahead of his performance at Camp Bestival, REBEL caught a few words with the legend.
On an early Monday morning, a weary Norman answers the phone and admits immediately to feeling a little worse for wear. He coughs and splutters, ‘It’s been a mad weekend.’ He laughs and explains a very worthy reason for his hangover, ‘I’m just recovering from doing a massive benefit for the victims of Grenfell Tower…A lot of money was raised and it was a great atmosphere. So many people came to give their time for free and a lot of the victims’ families came as well so it was quite emotional.’
Norman’s time is a precious commodity these days and during this time of year, it is taken up vastly by his almighty festival schedule. ‘Boy I’m looking forward to the Liverpool International Music Festival, I haven’t been back to Liverpool in a while and when I’m up there, the crowds have always shown me a lot of love. There are so many other DJs they could have chosen for it and to be on their radar is amazing. Then there’s House of Common with Madness at Clapham Common, Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival, Camp Bestival…there’s so many I can’t keep track.’
As an artist, Norman Jay is in high demand constantly due to his world renowned festival sets that consistently have tents overflowing. ‘Clubs are great but you’re limited. There are only so many things you can do within the confines of a club. Whereas a festival that’s outside, there’s a variety of people there that might not necessarily be into what you’re playing, but they’ll come and try it out anyway. It’s more of a challenge and you can give more variety.’
As international star as well as on the home front, there is no question in Norman’s mind as to which nation is the king of the festival. ‘Britain is the best,’ He laughs. ‘No disrespect to those abroad but the only thing they have over us is the weather. They have guaranteed sunshine in Europe or Australia or New Zealand. But nothing comes close to playing in front of a home crowd. Even in the mud, in the rain, when it’s freezing cold- the Brits are a race apart from anyone else.’
As a born and bred Londoner, Norman has a big place in his heart for the capital’s music scene. ‘We don’t have many festivals but they’re great in London. I’ll be at Lovebox, which is London’s premiere festival, then Notting Hill Carnival is amazing- I don’t play there anymore but it’s just special.’ Notting Hill Carnival is a pivotal event in Norman’s career, as it was always his childhood ambition to play there- and his dream has been made reality multiple times now throughout the space of his career.
Yet despite decades in the business, Norman is still pinching himself over the opportunities he is offered. On the 22nd July at Manchester’s Albert Hall, Norman will be appearing at Soul Town, alongside his childhood heroes Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Colin Curtis and Russ Winstanley. ‘I have no idea what it’s going to be like but I can’t wait. I’m quite in awe of playing on that bill. To be fair, I might not even play- I might just leave those guys to it, I’m more than happy to just listen to them.’ He laughs.
Despite his fame and royal title, Norman shies away from the hustle and bustle of celebrity life and remains modest about his achievements. As Colin Curtis was his hero growing up, Norman is humbled to think that he too is a hero to many, ‘It’s an honour to be seen like that to some, yet as I’m not in the limelight, it is very surreal to think that.’
As someone who has experience waves of musical changes throughout the generations, Norman is a wise commentator on today’s current climate. ‘People don’t party like they used to, that’s for sure.’ He chuckles, ‘But I just think it’s going in a new direction with grime and artists like Stormzy who are great for the new wave of dance music. More and more people are going out and enjoying live music than ever before, you can see that with the popularity of festivals. Yet it is absurd to me that in this age more and more clubs are closing down despite more people going out. It’s a real shame.’
With the knowledge that musicians today are up against thousands of competitors with the same technology and the same hurdles ahead of them, Norman’s advice to young hopefuls is simple, ‘Success doesn’t come at the push of a button. It is a lot of hard work, it was then, and it is now.’
Norman Jay MBE will be appearing at Camp Bestival from the 27-30th July.