Norman Jay interview: These are the Good Times
Author: Jeremy King
Monday, 6 March 2006
Norman Jay is one of the guys who just radiate class and this isn't purely because he has the letters MBE next to his last name. One of the elder statesmen of dance music, he has been spinning his own unique blend of house, funk and soul for longer than I've been drawing breath. From the legendary Notting Hill Carnival parties to the pirate radio shows to the massively influential Good Times compilations, he has seen and done it all. And you can almost imagine him with a sort of beatific smile on his face the whole time. Yet it is not his past achievements that most impress me about Norman Jay during our brief conversation, although I do have to admit that his Philadelphia soul compilation is a standard in my stereo. What is extremely impressive about Norman is his genuine humility and warmth about his past achievements and views on dance music. With words like 'warmth and humility' it does make it sound as if I am writing about Princess Diana, but seriously everything the guy says is just infected with a positivism that is extremely hard to shake.
For example, when asked about the considerable influence he has managed to have on dance music, he is extremely humble. Although keeping his head out of his arse, is probably one of the reasons for his longevity. "I personally don't think I have had a big influence, keeping my own sense of perspective in proportion." He says in his very gentle British accent. "I don't think I've made that much of a difference. I've tried to stay true to things I really like and I'm honest and passionate about what I do. If that has rubbed off on audiences and contemporary DJs then fine but I was just always trying to be true to me… If you are in a position of pre-eminence in any field, then all one can do is lead from the front. Obviously I've not been inspired by any other DJs, because when I started there were no role models for me. So I had to basically make it up as I went along and set the agenda about what I liked and what I played etc. But I didn't go to school to learn what I did, not at all."
Norman Jay has had one of those careers that most DJs really do dream about and probably the most remarkable thing is the length. Most great DJs are usually around for about 10 years before spinning out either into a drug-fuelled K-hole or into ordinary family life and domesticity. Norman has managed to outlast them all and most significantly has also managed to pretty much stay relevant the whole time. As he tells me though, his plan was always to try and outlast everyone else. "I wasn't the first DJ and hopefully I won't be the last. But you know for me, it was a long term career. At least that's the way it's evolved. I mean no one is going to give me a proper job now. So I might as well carry on what I'm doing it and enjoy it… like most things it is a very competitive business and very subject to whim and fashion. One day you can be today's hero and the next minute you have a question mark next to your name. I have seen many DJs come and go. Like most things, people come into it for a variety of reasons and for some it's a short term thing and for others it's a long term thing. For me, it's always been about the long term thing. It has never been about being famous or being popular, I just wanted to carry on doing what I do."
Those MBE letters next to Norman's name have most recently been getting a work out on the Good Vibrations posters around town, as the elder statesmen is making his way over here for the festival. And for the many fans who cling to their Good Times series like their first born or the local DJs who pay excessive dollars for the vinyl versions, there is very little chance of disappointment. This is going to be one of those standard torch-bearing sets which Norman is very well known for. "Anyone who knows Norman Jay will have a pretty good idea of Tags