Special interview by Sinead Hanna, Dreamland Margate
Creator of the iconic Good Times sound system, Norman Jay MBE is one of the most respected DJs of his generation. Starting out at warehouse parties and on pirate radio in the 1980s, he has been a mainstay of the Notting Hill Carnival and UK club culture for more than 40 years. He has played for the likes of Robert De Niro, Will Smith, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul Weller, and was made an MBE for his services to music in 2002. He returns to Margate for his third summer show at Dreamland on Saturday, May 25.
NORMAN JAY ON….
MARGATE’S MUSICAL HERITAGE
I love Margate, I’ve got a lot of connections to the town – I used to go clubbing there in late 1970s. It has always had a strong mod culture, and I’m into the scooter scene.
What a lot of people don’t know is that back then the UK reggae scene was on its arse, but there were a few places outside of London that kept the scene alive – Margate was one of them.
Margate has always had an associate with black music, there’s a big connection with Trojan record label, with Jamaican reggae culture and soul boy culture (e.g Margate Soul Weekend). It’s support of black music and culture surrounds it. That flag has always been flying in Margate and it’s one of the reasons it appeals to me.
It’s definitely an area that is on the up, there is a real renaissance there. It reminds me, dare I say it, of the new Brighton. It’s speaking to a younger, broader audience because you’ve got lots of young people moving out of hideously expensive London. I have played most of the coastal resorts around the UK, and Margate’s ahead of them.
Quite a lot of my friends have relocated there with their families, so it’s a day out for me and everyone makes an effort to come out! There’s still a couple of old-school clothing retailers I visit, one or two pubs where I can find everyone.
THE LEGACY OF SOUND SYSTEM
Back then, the sound system was the only platform for an emerging culture. It created a sense of belonging. That still exists today, it just manifests itself for the time it finds itself in. You only have to look at Stormzy and all those kids that have come from the grime scene – their lineage goes directly back to what people like me were doing with sound system.
HIS MUSIC TASTES TODAY
My playlist changes every day – today I’m listening to a bit of Aretha, Small Faces and brushing up on my Sister Sledge (I’m supporting them at Roundhouse soon). I’m playing with Nile Rodgers and Chic later in the summer – I’ve supported and played his music from day one, great to see it come full circle and see new people loving and enjoying it. It’s timeless .
There are plenty of new people I like, not for working with but for home listening and car listening. Most of the music I get sent is from anonymous bedroom DJs, and there are far too many to name. I’m a big supporter of young UK music by unknown producers, there are loads making great music and I can mix it with the music I play.
My sets are always emotional. I draw on 50 years of a music collection, and I genre-hop from one to another and try to put it in a way that is accessible to the crowds I play to. Black music, house, hip hop, reggae and ska, but I’m not adverse to playing funky white rock records and mod music from the 1960s that I know and love – I know the crowds love it to.
First and foremost, I am a crowd pleaser. I play whatever works and hits their top buttons. The two or three times I’ve played at Dreamland before, the crowd has always been fantastic to me. They always show me a lot of love and hopefully I reciprocate. I do love it, genuinely.
FAME AND BEING ‘IN DEMAND’ WITH CELEBRITIES
I’m not part of that scene, and I’ve no wish to be part of it. I don’t do the showbiz thing of hanging out with superstars. I’m quiet and keep myself to myself. It’s not my thing at all.
It’s always great to be asked to play at these private events or gigs (for celebrities) – it’s nice to have a window into that world and flirt with it for a couple of hours – but I only play for people I admire, and I do it on my terms. I’ve turned down more of those gigs than I’ve done.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT MARGATE MELTDOWN
If you’re young, put your phone down. Don’t film it, be part of it. If you’re older, you’ll hear all your memories and also be exposed to the new stuff going on. It’s not all about looking back, there’s great music out there and it’s there to be enjoyed by anyone whether you’re an aficionado or you stumble across it by accident.”
I don’t know what the other guys will do! I’ll be playing Good Times music across the genres, Jazzie is more soulful, Don is the reggae king. I will def take the music in different directions and take musical risks.
You can have as much fun as you want, whatever you are into. If you have an open mind, you’ll find it. If you have a closed mind, you’ll miss it.