He is arguably one of the finest and most respected deejays in the world today whose talents and many years of dedicated service to his profession have now seen him rightfully acknowledged by the highest authority in the land.
On Saturday 15th June 2002, Norman was officially cited in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours List with the recommendation that he be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, an MBE no less, awarded on merit for “deejaying and services to music”. On Tuesday 12th November 2002, Norman was officially invited to attend a royal investiture at Buckingham Palace, London where he was duly invested and presented with the highly coveted MBE medal by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II herself. It is indeed the highest civilian honour yet conferred on anyone from the relatively new field of post modern UK club culture and black music – a fitting tribute in recognition of his many outstanding musical achievements and invaluable contributions to the world of popular dance music in a career spanning well over two decades.
The early days…
A self confessed ‘Beatle baby’ born in Notting Hill, London of West Indian parents, the young Jay had unwittingly displayed latent deejaying talents even from the tender age of eight. By then, encouraged by his music loving parents, he had bought his first record and played at his first gig – a 10th birthday party for one his female cousins – displaying for the first time, a precocious talent that was later to become the stuff of deejaying legend.
As young as he was, Norman eventually became hooked on all aspects of black music, becoming increasingly influenced by his father’s huge collection of original 60′s Jazz, blu beat, ska and rock steady reggae from Jamaica. His father also introduced the young Jay to the delights of the powerful new and exciting r&b soul sounds emminating from late 60′s black America from the likes of Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and James Brown et al. This childhood music experience would have a profound lasting effect on the young Jay – thus cementing his love of all kinds of black music forever.
By the late 70′s he had become an avid follower of contemporary Afro-American music styles including soul, funk and jazz fusion – enthusiastically collecting classic urban record labels like MOTOWN, ATLANTIC and STAX including his passion, PHILLY INTERNATIONAL RECORDS namely ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’. He then graduating to seminal NY dance music labels like PRELUDE, WEST END and SALSOUL records. He was fortunate enough to find himself over in the ‘Big Apple’ in time to experience the rise of ‘disco’ first time around during the tale end of the 1970′s – and again a few years later being present at the birth of rap music and hip hop culture during the early 80′s in New York’s notorious South Bronx.
New York, 1979
Whilst on a first time visit to relatives in BROOKLYN, New York around the same time – he was invited to play at his very first bona fide ‘block party’ alongside his uncle who – as it turned out, was also an accomplished deejay and sound system owner/operator of repute himself – proving the fact that deejaying talent ran very much in the Jay family.
He was later destined to make many more trips stateside – sometimes staying for months at a time – frequenting (and sometimes playing at) most of the seminal New York venues that mattered back in the day – including Dancetaria, World, Palladium, Zanzibar, The Shelter, The Sound Factory, Body & Soul, Giant Step and the legendary Paradise Garage in it’s heyday – forging lasting personal friendships with the likes of it’s resident dj icon – the legendary (late) Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales, Tony Humphries and Louis Vega of MAW – years before most of them had ever been heard of in the UK.
Inspired by what he’d seen and experienced on that inaugural trip – Jay decided there and then to take his deejaying career more seriously. Upon his return to the uk – he then teamed up with his brother JOEY and built the now legendary GOOD TIMES SOUND SYSTEM – where he embarked upon a mission to fulfill a long held childhood ambition to play at the infamous NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL – where he played FUNK, SOUL and DISCO (something completey unheard of in those days). This he did in the face of fierce opposition and considerable hostility to his initial efforts. His dogged determination to succeed saw him eventually triumph – ultimately winning him critical acclaim from his peers and fans in the process.
Pirate Radio Kiss FM…
His reputation as an underground deejay of some repute began to grow rapidly. By now he was attracting crowds of up to several thousand people whenever he played out at one of his huge itinerant (and illegal) warehouse parties. This led to an invitation from old London dj pal Gordon Mac to start up their own pirate radio station which they called KISS (after it’s New York namesake). Completely untrained in any aspect of broadcasting – he nervously presented his very first ‘live’ radio show the day after the station debuted on the capital’s airwaves back in October 1985. The rest, as they say, is radio history.
Because of the genuine respect he was afforded by fellow club and radio deejays alike – he became the catalyst for attracting the likes of emerging London dj’s like Coldcut’s Jonathon More and Matt Black, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, Dr. Bob Jones, Danny Rampling, Talkin Loud’s Giles Peterson and MTV’s Trevor ‘The Lick’ Nelson (and many more) to join the newly created pirate station. Like Jay, few, (if any) had had any previous radio experience before being recruited by Norman to join the fledgeling station. All have gone on to become household names in dance culture over the years – including his original partner and protege – the ubiquitous ‘Judge’ Jules – who’s nickname Jay is also credited with coining.
It was this initial deejay partnership formed in 1986 which led directly to the emergence of the cult late 80′s ‘rare groove’ scene – a term coined by Norman after his now legendary saturday afternoon radio show – ‘The Original Rare Groove Show’ on Kiss 94fm (as it was then). Affectionately known as the ‘GODFATHER’ – his much vaunted Shake ‘n’ Fingerpop party crew – along with Judge Jules’ Family Funktion collective were among the leading purveyors of this funky new underground dance phenomenon sweeping London and the home counties – playing a mainly urban soundtrack from the 70′s and 80′s mixing it up with the best of what was then – a brand new sound coming out of Chicago and New York – namely – the sound of HOUSE music.
They were amongst the first British deejays to champion this new US music style to their huge eager young audiences. Together – they were responsible for the first and largest warehouse parties ever staged in London up to that time – preceding the acid house explosion by some three years – creating a huge impression on – and indeed inspiring many of – today’s leading British deejays and club promoters.
High On Hope…
The Nineties dawned and it was time for Jay to seek new musical challenges. On September 1st, 1990 – he hosted the very first legal broadcast on KISS 100fm (as it became known) after they won their legal licence. He was responsible for co-establishing the very first ‘Paradise Garage’ style club in Britain called ‘High On Hope’ with ex partner Patrick Lilley – playing a spiritually inspired mix of deep US house mixed with original disco classics.
He was also responsible for introducing – then unknown US deejays and artists such as Tony Humphries, Marshall Jefferson, Blaze, Ten City, Adeva and Louis Vega (MAW) to the UK for the first time ever (another first). He again was responsible for reviving interest in – and in some instances was responsible for – kick starting the careers in the uk of original US dance divas such as Jocelyn Brown, Chaka Khan, Sharon Redd, Loleatta Holloway, Kim Myzelle, En Vogue and Gwen Guthrie – finally helping secure for them the uk recognition he felt they richly deserved. All regularly apeared at his ground breaking club to rapturous acclaim every time.
The ‘Talkin Loud’ Years: 1989 – 93
By now Jay’s achievements had seen him become a much respected icon on the UK dance scene. He was headhunted by Polygram Records to launch a new label called Talkin Loud with close friend and fellow deejay Gilles Peterson – signing amongst others – the likes of talented uk singer/songwriters Omar, Bryan Powell, Young Disciples, Galliano and Incognito. After four successful years – and many more happy years at Kiss – he decided it was time to quit both and pursue his first love – deejaying.
With the global rise in interest in UK deejay and dance culture, Jay has once again found his niche being extremely popular with a new generation of dance fans around the world. He regularly plays at a host of clubs, festivals and parties worldwide. Whether it’s playing upfront disco fuelled funky house in the nations main rooms and festivals or his much vaunted old skool jazzfunk, hip hop or chilled out beats in the back, he still manages to inject his rich musical heritage and quality in every set he plays. Whilst being amongst one of the most popular and credible contemporary deejays in the country today, he is also regularly cited as a major influence by a host of leading deejays and players worldwide who refer to him quite simply as ‘The deejay’s DJ’.
With increasing deejaying commitments around the world – including regular dj tours to countries such as Australia, USA, China, Japan, SE Asia, South Africa, South America, Russia and the Middle East – playing an eclectic mix of black and dance music – Norman has precious little time to do much else these days. He has also played in just about every major city in Europe – being one of the first ever British deejays to do so.
Apart from the punishing deejay schedule, he was again voted club DJ of the year 96/97 by Blues & Soul magazine and is the only DJ featured in the Face magazine’s book of club culture extracts from 1980-1997 called “Nightfever” and in 1998 Norman was a nominee for the Best Radio Personality category in GQ magazine’s annual Men Of The Year Awards.
In January 2004 he made clubbing history by becoming the first ever DJ – direct from the ‘streets’ to be invited to appear as a panellist on the nation’s most prestigeous and celebrated long running political debating forum; BBC Question Time. In June 2003, he was specially invited to deejay for the family and guests at the French international and Arsenal soccer star Thierry Henry’s wedding.
He is without doubt the deejay of choice of the rich and famous ‘celebrity set’. He has played for the likes of Mick Jagger (now Sir Mick of course) at his exclusive 5Oth birthday party – Robert Di Nero, Michael Caine, George Michael, Will Smith, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Jamiroquai (who affectionately calls him the ‘Godfather’), Paul Weller (who has been quoted as saying that Jay is his favourite dj), comedian Lenny Henry (who reputedly modelled his pirate radio deejay TV character on Jay).
Others include top fashion designers Dolce & Gabanna, Vivienne Westwood, Katherine Hamnett, Gaultier, Tommy Hilfiger and an exclusive MTV party at Pierre Cardin’s magnificent space age villa overlooking the Mediterranean – located high up in the hills outside Cannes in the South of France. All the above have partied wildly to a funky Norman Jay set.
He is also often invited to play at the most prestigeous UK film premieres – including 101 Dalmations, Judge Dred, Enemy Of The State, East Is East – and most recently – at the launch of movie giant Samuel L. Jackson’s (one of his favourite actors) 51st State. He also presided over the decks at the multi million pound launch of Sky TV’s new digital satalite cable channel at London’s Battersea Power Station.
Numerous international brands have also seen the benefit of utilisng Norman’s distinctive musical style for their tv ad campaigns and in-house Xmas/anniversary parties. Among them Virgin Atlantic, whose long haul passengers have been enjoying his bespoke in-flight radio shows for many years now as have travellers on their UK sister company Virgin Trains. His musical talents have also been utilised for marketing campaigns for global brands such as Vodafone, Saatchi & Saatchi, Debenhams, Hennes and Mauritz (H&M), Seagrams, Discovery Channel, Vodafone, Interbrew (Boddingtons, Bass, Stella Artois, etc), Playboy Int, Nintendo, Clarks shoes, Gas Jeans and prestigeous UK lifestyle brands such as Ben Sherman and Fred Perry.
Good Times: The Film…
He was the first ever British dj to be invited to play at the celebrated Cannes Film Festival – and in recognition of his lifelong deejaying achievements and involvement in club culture – Jay himself was the subject of a full length documentary style film. ‘Good Times – The Film’ is a semi autobiographical and anectdotal account of the man – his music – and his influence on British club culture – directed by London based independent film maker Terry Walshe. It uses rare archive footage from Good Times – documenting Jay’s early struggles to follow his musical passion and fulfill his deejaying dreams.
It highlights his influence on – and his importance to – the modern dance scene as we know it today since he embarked on his illustrious deejay career back in the early eighties. With talking head interviews with fellow peer group deejays and former club promoters including Judge Jules, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B and MTV’s Trevor Nelson and Faith magazine’s Terry Farley – all of whom citing Jay as having more than a measure influence on their respective deejaying careers – the film follows the deejay icon on his global jaunts from Africa to America and the Big Chill to Notting Hill Carnival. The film then concludes with fantastic footage of Norman presiding over his beloved Good Times hoardes at Carnival 2000.
After a low key big screen premiere in London back in November 2001, ‘Good Times – the Film’ then went on to completely sell out its initial two week launch screening at both London’s prestigeous and independantly owned arthouse cinemas – the Curzon in Soho and the Ritzy in Brixton. Something completely unheard of for a new and completely independently funded ‘underground’ film about uk club culture. This lead to a great deal of interest from a number of national and international film distributors all looking to get involved in what is without doubt – the first dj inspired independent club culture film project of its kind.
Continually featured in the upper echelons of Mixmag’s top 100 DJs in the world and one of the Face magazine’s most influential club culture figures of the last decade, amongst numerous other accolades attributed to him, Jay’s contribution to the UK music scene is second to none. He is a deejay icon featuring regularly on various television, radio and magazine programmes on black music and dance culture. Norman Jay, a recognised authority on both is considered by many of his peers and contemporaries to be ‘The Peoples DJ’ because of the width and breadth of his deejaying style and universal appeal. The Face magazine quite rightly proclaimed him ‘A clubland institution’. He is also one of a select band of famous musicians, actors and sporstmen to be included in the prestigeous style book ‘Laurel’ – a photographic tribute to the classic british fashion label FRED PERRY in it’s golden jubilee year in 2003.
As an in demand album compiler he has released a number of superbly crafted compilation CD’s. The latest of which is a fantastic double CD entitled Good Times London, released here in the UK on Azuli Records in August 2008. The album showcases even more eclectic carnival favourites from across the black music spectrum..
Norman is also seen regularly on various music based UK network television programmes. He is a recognised authority on black music and uk club culture – featuring prominently in the recent ‘Soul Nation’ documentary series recently screened on Channel 4. He has also presented numerous documentary style music programmes for BBC World Service including profiling the likes of legendary American record producer Quincy Jones. He also hosted the highly acclaimed disco series ‘Good Times: The Story of Disco’ in 2003 and the successful funk music series ‘The Funk Factory’ for BBC Radio 2.