The first sound man to be honoured by Her Majesty the Queen, Trevor Beresford Romeo OBE – better known as Jazzie B – is a true UK soul legend. He was only 13 when he joined forces with his friend Daddae to launch a reggae soundsystem, and just three years later, Soul II Soul was born.
Taking inspiration from what was happening around them in London – think soul, jazz-funk, reggae, rare groove, hip-hop and even the early “Balearic beat” scene – Jazzie’s soundsystem collective quickly forged their own style. Their runaway success in the late ’80s and early ’90s was built on a famed residency at the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden. Word quickly spread following the success of their parties in the latter half of 1987, and by the summer of 1988 they’d signed a deal with Virgin Records. The first Soul II Soul single, “Fairplay,” a track forged on the dancefloor of the Africa Centre, soon followed.
The soundsystem collective enjoyed early chart success, first with ”Keep On Moving“ and then “Back To Life,” before their debut album, Club Classics Vol. One, shot to the top of the British charts. Success in the US soon followed, resulting in two wins at the 1990 Grammys. Jazzie was subsequently given the keys to seven cities stateside, and there is even a Soul II Soul day celebrated by die-hard fans on that side of the pond.
Aside from his success with Soul II Soul, Jazzie has his own label, Soul II Soul Recordings, and has produced a string of remixes for the likes of the Fine Young Cannibals and James Brown, one of his childhood heroes. He’s also a radio DJ, and he runs his own annual music festival in the Caribbean. A man with more enthusiasm and banter than an East End market trader, this Funki Dred played a significant role in shaping the sound of British music during a particularly fertile time in its history.
In February 2005, Jazzie sat down with DJ History’s Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton to recall the early days of his DJ career, infamous West London warehouse parties, unforgettable nights at the Africa Centre and the rapid rise of Soul II Soul.
You’re from a big family, aren’t you?
Where do you fit?
I’m the last boy. Got a younger sister, but I’m the youngest male of the family. Yeah, five big brothers. All of them in one shape or form soundsystem owners, and the next brother to me now looks after the rig, which is humongous now. He rents out the systems all over. We’ve got a rig in the Caribbean as well as a huge rig here. That goes out most weeks. And he runs a couple of clubs and stuff like that.
So you were born into it.
My eldest brother Johnson, he played on a soundsystem during the ’60s, and my other brother during the ’70s, then my other two during the late ’70s into the early ’80s, and then my other brother ain’t into it that much.
And were they playing ska, rock steady, reggae?
It would have been from the time of rock steady to what was known politely as rockers. El Rico was a rocker sound. More a kind of Derrick Harriott, Jamaican lovers rock sound. They turned into a roots sound later on called Tipper Toe. I learnt a lot from being around those guys: carrying the boxes, being pinched in the back of the Transit [van], surfing on the top of the gear, and that’s how I got into a deeper shade of the whole music business.
This all inspired what would eventually be Soul II Soul.
All these sounds were community soundsystems. No one transcended their local area, which is what inspired me to make my sound the biggest in the world. That was my premise of doing everything I did. And playing my sound in Jamaica was the biggest thing I ever did. And that was it. So I kind of lived the dream... and scored at Wembley as well. Twice. Last night a DJ saved my life, yeah.
Often, in soul music, like with Jheri curls, you were daring to be “European,” as opposed to showing your blackness, and that was the difference.
You knew what soundsystems were about from childhood.
We used to skate on wooden wheels at Ally Pally, and that was the whole thing on a Sunday, it was packed. One time there was a big clash on a Sunday and it was Emperor Rosko and Fatman. Fatman was the local North London sound, and Emperor Rosko was this big radio DJ who’d drink all this gear and hide it under the decks. And one time he was in there, he had all these orange speakers. Froggy used to use the same rig – I don’t know who had the rig, if it was Les at Locomotion – and this guy set up all this stuff, really shitty-looking gear, flashing lights.
Fatman comes in with his trailer load of amps and speakers, this table, valves and KT88s everywhere, but his sound, for whatever reason, didn’t fire, and Rosko just had everyone going. And 90% of the audience were just like in disbelief, like “What?” And I can remember being a nipper in amongst all that, just thinking, “Wow, I like the size of those speakers.”
You were always listening to more than just reggae.
My other brother who got me into more the R&B end of stuff, he was based in Germany. He was a red beret, a paratroooper. Quite hard. And he got me into all the James Brown stuff ’cos he was stationed in Germany. And my eldest brother who got me into Isaac Hayes, Marlena Shaw and all that stuff which was just coming out: Al Green era, Curtis Mayfield.
Then it went to the whole Polydor stuff, and Fred Wesley and all what we know now as rare groove, all the stuff like that, all the way through to Alphonse Mouzon and all that jazzier stuff. Then there was a huge leap when it went to Earth, Wind & Fire and soul music, which would have been coming out during secondary school, about the time we were listening to David Bowie – not that I was a Bowie boy, but he was alright, for a minute. Ziggy Stardust.
So as well as the soundsystem thing, did you experience the West End soul clubs?
100%. The main person that we all followed, who was obviously cutting edge, was George Power. Everyone, all the black guys who were real on the scene, was going to Crackers and Heaven...
When it was Global Village?
Yeah. We were all into that scene. Then you had the East London mob: Froggy, Robbie Vincent, Chris Hill, Steve Walsh – we all followed him – but the main people for us were George Power and probably Greg Edwards. And then it moved on from there into that kind of handbaggy scene for a while, where you used to go to Lacey’s and all that lot, and it was Chris Hill and Steve Walsh.
The difference between those guys is they were pioneering that music into the mainstream because they were the ears of the A&R people. And that’s when I was more mixing with the white kids in my area, who were more into the music from a commercial point of view.
What was Crackers like?
Crackers was in a place on Oxford Street, Friday lunchtime. We used to bunk off school. This is in the ’70s. I left school in ’79, and I would have been five to seven years younger than the big boys I was trying to hang out with. Crackers was more about dancing, it wasn’t to do with girls really. For us it was just purely about the music: getting that early music before anybody else.
It was mainly for dancers, because it wasn’t where you came to meet people, it was where the dancers came to burn. These guys were all a lot older than we were. So a lot of them probably didn’t have a job or didn’t have nothing to do, and that’s why they were in there and that’s why they were good dancers, ’cos that’s all they fucking did all day.
Did it go through to the evening?
No, it was just the lunchtime session. Four, five o’clock I think. Then we used to go across the road to 100 Club. I remember 100 Club well because one of my brothers’ girlfriends used to work on the door, so that’s how we always got in.
What was George Power like?
George Power used to live at the bottom of my road; he used to live on Grenville Road. I used to live on Allman Road. He was a very strange guy. Quite hard and a little bit militant. But very cutting edge, and he was very into that whole black thing, the whole black scene. And he was Greek.
And he was gay as well.
Yeah, but at that time none of us knew. And it wasn’t till later on some people took that quite offensively, ’cos it was almost like they were taking liberties. Not a lot of people who were around that scene knew, but if you go back and look at how hard those guys were, the dancers were really hard blokes in their area. And some of those geezers did major bird [spent time in prison]. But you look at the pictures and they’re so camp, some of the things they wore.
George just had it sussed. He was in the community. He didn’t care about whether he was liked or disliked, but he had it down pat, and I’ve got to salute him. He wasn’t a million miles away from a lot of the reggae guys who were running the scene at that time.
George had it sorted. He had the hardest geezers around him; he had the hardest-looking women, some quite butch-looking women. Black women. And always women you’d never fuck with on the door. At the end of the day, no matter what you did, you wouldn’t mess about with the scene. And then it came to light that some of the boys were a little bit feminine.
Cleveland Anderson said you would get a lot of “batty boy” comments if you were hanging out in soul clubs – a lot of black people didn’t like it at all.
What it was, if you look back, close your eyes and think about it, you got to look at what the guys were doing – actual physical moves with one another. To us, that was alien. But if you’ve got no inhibitions and you’re just into dancing and burning, it’s all about how fluid you are and the tone of your muscles, and you wouldn’t have had any inkling of the feminine attributes, towards being homosexual or heterosexual. It was just about this physical movement.
Did the soul boy clothes mark you out, too?
It was very territorial. It was a case of, “Fucking hell, you’re over there wearing that t-shirt, while we wear Pringle, and we support this.” Often, in soul music, like with Jheri curls, you were daring to be “European,” as opposed to showing your blackness, and that was the difference.
A hangover from the whole politicised Rasta thing.
In England the biggest look you had was what we used to call sticksmen, which was the Farah slacks, the Gabicci look, beavers, the moccasins and stuff like that. Post-mod but very slick: the whole Jamaican ’70s scene. Whereas the soul boys looked very American, and a little bit too feminine and not hard enough. Even though they were as hard as nails, and that was very weird.
You started as a DJ by hijacking your brother’s sound.
Our first paying gig was on the Silver Jubilee, 1977, and I had one BSR turntable, an H&H amp and a little echo chamber. Still got the amplifier – I think Count Barry gave me the amp case, borrowed all the bits off there. Then I got into the double deck when I built it as my thesis for woodwork. Everyone else had to build a chair and a table and that lark, but I built me amps and I got through.
I did physics and engineering, built an amp case out of wood encased in metal, the lights, and I built a coffin with two decks in it. Blinding. Don’t know what the decks were though. Then got a set of Garrards, and that was it. From Silver Jubilee we were called Jah Rico.
What sort of stuff were you playing?
Pretty much a cross-section. A lot of reggae, mainly reggae, cos he was an avid fan of Tappa Zukie. He was an avid fan of that one-drop rockers style stuff. Very soulful, taking a little bit off El Rico, which were playing Derrick Harriott, Augustus Pablo, that kind of music, very melodic music, and because I was very partial to a bit of funk, which is what came from raving lunchtimes...
This is how I got my name Jazzie B, because in the mix of what we were doing in school, although we were all trying to learn about Rastafarianism, I was just into this jazz music, ’cos it had a little edge to it. I couldn’t understand it at the time, and that’s how I got the name Jazzie. It built from there. Mainly rockers stuff and commercial soul.
Was it really that unusual to drop that stuff in with the reggae?
Yeah, ’cos it was awfully segregated. It was very bad in our day, the scene. You was either reggae or soul. There weren’t no in-between. And that was the difference with what we did as Soul II Soul: We loved both.
A lot of black kids started moving into soul in the early ’80s because of the violence and moodiness on the reggae scene.
We moved out of that radical scene when it became lovers rock. When the British started to make their own reggae music. And that encompassed soul, that whole idea of the clothes you wore, how you carried yourself, and again it was keeping it uptown. There were girls at those parties, where there were never girls at these things before.
The whole rare groove thing came into vogue, because the syncopation was the same as this new electronic music.
You mean there weren’t girls on the reggae scene?
Well, the ones that were you wouldn’t bring em home, d’you know what I mean! These girls were as hard as nails, I’m tellin’ you. Stand on their foot and you’d be into getting stabbed up... And that was by them, not their boyfriends.
But the lovers rock scene, it brought that calmness and lovingness back into it again. Plus it was an English style of music, and the reggae boys, the real hard reggae boys, couldn’t stand it because it wasn’t Jamaican. But then we were just about coming up with our own identity, which was the interesting thing. And the idea of the softening up or the soulier side, with the idea that people could go to the clubs and enjoy themselves.
So it’s true that there was a real search for a new identity, a second generation thing: What it means to be black and British. Were you conscious of that?
It’s the difference between growing up in the ’60s, like say Norman Jay, to growing up in the ’70s. You’ve got to go way back to that whole northern soul, Lulu thing to understand. I’m talking black and white tellies. So you go from that era to where we come in, Granada was born, it was colour. It’s like, “Fuck me, here we are.”
And it really was like that, because we’re coming from the times when there was one phone on the street, or one person had a telly, that was Norman’s day, to our bit, where it was this whole GLC, and ska was huge, the 2-Tone thing was out... They had the relief teachers in school that everyone was shagging ’cos they was the same age as you.
Everyone was wearing Kickers, it was all about that branding. We’d just come out of Ben Sherman, now we were into a bit more smarter. We had royalty, we had this, we had... George Power for Christ sake! What more do you want? And George helped to perpetuate the scene on a level that no one else did. I don’t even think it was conscious, it was just what he was into at that time.
And musically, things were changing.
You had this surge of lovers rock, which was actually an English style of music. So there was this distinction. When you came up in the ’70s, as opposed to the guys that came up in the ’60s, there was a huge difference. Because finally you see the light, as it were. Electro came out, America seemed much closer than it was in the ’70s. The whole rare groove thing came into vogue, because the syncopation was the same as this new electronic music.
And then someone bumped their head and decided to read the credits on Loose Ends records, and realised that they weren’t American, they were British. And Eddy Grant and the Equals, to Lynx, to I-Level, to Beggars Banquet, to Bluey’s lot... Fuck, there were millions then. Hi-Tension, all the other things.
It was an interesting point. So often the wool was pulled over your eyes, what it meant, the whole idea about inclusive or exclusive, the whole idea about different genres of music and why they were always compartmentalised.
Back then a lot of clubs’ door policies were still fairly racist.
I can remember travelling to lots of places to try and listen to Robbie Vincent, and you went to deepest parts of East London and there’d be literally four black guys in there, and that was the quota. You weren’t allowed any more than four or five black guys in there, because everyone else was moaning that they were nicking the girls.
It just got really silly, and our generation really rebelled against that. So when we was able to encompass our own thing, after you’d been trashed with “No, you can’t get in,” and hands in your face and this exclusive soul scene, it was like, “Wait a minute, this is our fucking music.” A lot of us appreciated what George Power was doing, and he made it ours. He gave us a sense of our own belief.
There was a new generation of soundsystem guys.
There was Norman [Jay], battling his thing with Great Tribulation, which became Good Times, ’cos that was a reggae sound. West London had a huge hold on the whole music scene, ’cos all the big sounds came from there. All the guys that used to build the amps were West Londoners: Errol, Barracudas, all them lot, were all from West London. Java was the biggest sound that we knew of in the world, and that was the biggest sound ever. And then there was people like Desi, Cleveland, and our own leader, Paul Anderson, who was part of George’s whole scene.
Paul started as a dancer at Crackers.
And then moved to warming up, and he was held in high esteem, ’cos he could do everything. He could roller-skate, he could dance, and he could play music and he was just normal, one of the lads. Did a bit of kung fu, he was really in wicked shape, and he was running the wheels of steel. We all aspired to that. And me, personally, he probably inspired me the most, because he was in my grasp. I could see him, I could touch him, I could talk to him.
Was it significant that he was the first black DJ that was playing to a black crowd?
Without a doubt. People talk about Boland, couple of the others, with all due respect to even Norman, but the difference between Trouble and everybody else, Paul was in the ghetto, he was in the black scene, whereas the others were trying to get out of the black scene. I don’t know if he was lost or he didn’t understand it, but he meant more to us from that point of view ’cos he was in the black scene.
So when did Soul II Soul as a sound start?
We changed our name to Soul II Soul in 1982. We did Dougie’s Hideaway on a Thursday night on Junction Road near Archway – all the birds free. Velvet wallpaper and red carpet. It was at the top of our road at the back of these flats. It had been an old blues place. They used to call it the 21s. It was so naff. We went in there with silly string and streamers and everything and he made us stay until five o’clock in the morning cleaning it all up. Busiest night the geezer ever had, but he got pissed off ’cos there was all this silly string there.ju
It was fashion people. They hired the soundsystem, but they weren’t playing nothing on it. They just liked the aesthetics of the big cabinets and the whole Jamaican look.
Who was your crowd?
It was all school. All between all our schools, all our mates, you’d get away with murders in there, ’cos Dougie was never around till the end of the night... to assess the damage. And it all went off from there.
We used to do the community centres, hire a place out ourselves, come out at christenings and wedding receptions, started to earn proper money, and we put every single shilling, literally everything, back into the soundsystem, which is why we were so huge. ’Cos we did have a lot of equipment. We used to go to this place, Luton Sound and Light, buy all professional gear. When people saw all our stuff coming in they couldn’t believe it.
You had six stacks, didn’t you?
Yeah, we had hexagon stacks... I studied sound engineering, sound reproduction. I used to work for Tannoy, bit of a cheat. And another company, huge in them days, called Theatre Projects. We did installations everywhere from Camden Palace to those big clubs up in Richmond. Did huge installations, so I knew Martin Audio. Then I worked for Tommy Steele for a few years, was Richard Dodd’s assistant, done that and learnt a lot about sound reproduction there.
That’s when I did Central Line. Ron Carter used to book the studio, did all their recording. There was a big group, I recorded everything and they paid me in Kentucky Fried Chicken. There was me and a guy who called himself Prince Charles, we were the only two black geezers. At that time they used to call us spooks. Used to rub your hair for luck and that. But that’s what they used to do, the session musicians as they were coming in the booth. And then you had to clean up all the spit, all the gear. Did all of Ronnie Bond’s stuff in there, all the jingles, greatest musicians. I ended up working with the blues band, Kevin Peek and Sky, remember that lot?
This is at the same time as your running your sound.
Yeah, all throughout that time. I went through all that, cutting the acetates with the guys in the white coats, them having a laugh at all the darkies who come in to cut their dubs on a Friday. Spend mountains of money, say, “Turn up the bass, turn up the bass.” And they used to use this term, “Cut it flat.” Now when you speak to a technician, “flat” is at zero. But when you speak to a Jamaican that means like you have the bass and tops. They used to take the piss up there.
The warehouse party scene must have been starting around this time?
First warehouse I remember going to was Bazooka Joe’s, under the Westway. There were movies showing in one half and they had these disco lights at the other half, the DJ in the middle, and it was like in a boxing ring. First time I seen two chicks DJing – blew me mind.
When was that?
It had to be about ’83, ’84. Incredible, the scene was off the hook. Proper scene, proper New York, it was all American, it was all fashion.
Who was pulling that together then?
Can’t even remember. I just remember that it was club Titanics. Don’t even ask me ”cos I stumbled on it.
Doesn’t sound like they broke the locks kind of thing.
I think that was a little bit more together, but from there it was getting into the Grey brothers, the twins, doing a lot of the early warehouse parties, which started off with Soul II Soul doing a project called Serious Shit. We had done our own version of Cheech & Chong in school, and the flyers for it we done this thing called Serious Shit, which was a string of parties we used to do at the Portlands, and all had, you know, them pubs where they have weddings.
Function room upstairs?
Function rooms, and we ended up using all the function rooms and they were getting smaller. Some guy comes along and says, “I’m an estate agent, I know what you need.” He was a really cool Jewish guy and he’s got all these keys, so we went round all these places, massive warehouses. “Oh my God, you could have a football game in here...” Anyway, we found this warehouse in Curtain Road and he just gave us the key. No shit.
He didn’t want any money?
He just wanted to be with us. Inside there was no electricity, but that was no problem ’cos our bloke was a sparks [electrician], got on the nearest lamppost, got one of them big fuses, connected it up, ran the wires back in and – bosh – we were off and running. But we needed someone to man it, because the Old Bill or neighbours coming out seeing a bunch of black guys, you know, that won’t last.
So this fucking Jewish guy came in a fucking razor-sharp whistle [suit], didn’t he. He was hilarious: tie on, nice brogues, standing at the fucking gate. Everyone thought he was the Old Bill. “Nah, he’s our mate, he’s our mate. Look, he’s sweet.“
Anyway, Old Bill turned up, and he’s just large like you can’t believe it. And we’re like that – “He didn’t!” He had a spliff in his pocket, taking to the police [super posh accent]: “Well, daddy’s away.” Old Bill going, “Alright then,” and that was it. And that was how the whole thing for Soul II Soul began, like that. The parties that started off at Curtain Road, they were mainly like rockabilly fashion parties. I say rockabilly ’cos everyone looked like rockabillies.
The Hard Times look.
Donkey jackets, all that. But it was fashion people, had nothing to do with the music. The first one I remember, they hired the soundsystem, but they weren’t playing nothing on it. You couldn’t even hear the music. They just liked the aesthetics of the big cabinets and the whole Jamaican look. Just people milling around, just really people having sex and doing drugs as far as I could see. It was like Sodom and Gomorrah. None of the other lads would stay around.
Then one night we set it up, they paid about 100 quid for the system. They didn’t use it. Whoever was meant to turn up, I think the guy’s name was Terry or Tim, didn’t turn up, so I went home and got my records. Started to play. And that’s how the whole thing was born.
So these parties went on from a fashion victims’ party, nothing to do with the music, [to] filled with completely middle-class people off their nut. From there we started to put the soundsystems in, they had projectors and so forth, but it wasn’t a rave, it was just the surroundings, a mood they were trying to create.
Then I DJed at one of these things and I played mainly electro. Man Parrish and “Boogie Down Bronx” and all them tunes. Everyone started to vibe up and then I got into a bit of this, that and the other, and it took off from there.
I used to do them twice a month, got into playing there, played at a few other places. Once my brother came down, “What the fuck’s going on here? Ain’t got no beers?” Fuck that, he went home, came back with beers in a van. Pound. These guys were like, “I’ll have four.” And that was it: Thatcherism was invented for us.
What year is this?
Probably coming on to 1984 now.
Shake ’N’ Fingerpop were starting around that time, weren’t they?
We were doing it as Serious Shit. At that time they weren’t called Shake ’N’ Fingerpop and Good Times. It was Family Funktion, which was [Judge] Jules and Mark and Dan and Soul II Soul. Those first parties it was Family Funktion.
And that’s all of you.
Yeah, and it went on from there. And Jules wanted to be the DJ... I’ve got pictures of Jules in a top hat and everything looking really weird. Remember those times when we used to wear those little bomber jackets and jeans?
We totally broke the mould. When we came uptown, we brought everyone with us. And no one could believe it.
And he just looked... odd. But the coolest thing was his heart was in it. He didn’t care about whatever you said. Wherever he got the opportunity to spin records, he would. And then they got clever and connected with the whole thing. And I suppose there was little rivalries between the turfs, so I don’t really know how they hooked up together with Norman, but it must have been as a repercussion of one of the nights we did together and them feeling their dues weren’t paid or whatever. But that’s how the whole thing started.
When you did it, were you putting all of your sounds together? In one huge sound, or one of you supplying the sound?
In those days, somebody got the warehouse, the other guys got the drinks. We had the soundsystem, ’cos it was a really big soundsystem. Prior to that, building up to what was happening in London, we used to play resident in Bristol, with my cousins, so that’s how the connection with us and the Wild Bunch, and going to Nottingham and Derby and places like that. It all connected.
And don’t forget Nutrament, who was the instigator of it all. He was this guy, this b-boy from America, he instigated the whole b-boy scene. We were deemed to be b-boys, before we were Funki Dreds, ’cos we had the affiliation with Rasta and we didn’t want it to be an American thing, which was why we called ourselves the Funki Dreds.
How did the Africa Centre parties come about?
Everything was warehouse in them days, and it was getting all dirty, getting silly and all the villains got involved, and that made it ugly. Believe it or not, we weren’t doing any of it for the money: It was all about having the biggest soundsystem in the world. There was a time when we played out so much that there wasn’t enough of us. We literally split the records in half as well as the sound, ’cos we wanted to play out seven nights a week and have the name in all the territories, West London, North London, East London.
But then you brought it into the West End.
We totally broke the mould. When we came uptown, we brought everyone with us. And no one could believe it. That part of London, from Shaftesbury Avenue all the way back to literally behind where the old bill station is in Covent Garden, was lockdown. We’d have queues starting at seven, eight o’clock. Didn’t open the doors until ten. It was mad. Everyone was waiting for me to pull up. Turn the heating up, leave it on for an hour, close the windows, put the fucking drapes up.
“No, leave it like that. 400 people out there yet? Wait for the other three.” We used to keep it empty – just play the sound, just ourselves, just tuning the sound, for hours, empty, bouncers going mad – and I wouldn’t open the door. And when you finally opened the door people were so hungry to get in, it reminded me of Crackers.
It’s a small place. How many people did you get in there?
Used to have between 400 and 700 people in there. There was a balcony, but one night it got unsafe because there were so many people on there heaving up. There used to be so much pressure ’cos I used to keep the windows closed, downstairs, it used to buckle the windows.
The crowd would take shifts.
Yeah, one bank holiday I asked everybody who was there, I just got on the mic, turned the lights on, “Look, there’s 600 people outside that want to experience this, you’ve been in here for four hours, how about you sort them out?” They gave me a round of applause. “Next week, Jazz.” Got their coats and left. We swept the floor, let the other lot in. Serious. It was the real sense of the community, it was really a lot about the happy face, thumpin’ bass for a lovin’ race.
The people at McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken used to bring us burgers and bits of food when they come down after their shift. You interconnected with everybody there. Everybody socially who was anyone would have gone there, or tried to get in. And we used to have girls on the door – George Power skank – but our girls were really pretty – Jazzie skank.
What was the mixture of music?
It was very eclectic. It was everything really. Biggest tunes was when we used to drop “Cross The Tracks.” Anything we were punting, ’cos we used to sell all the tunes in there. No, no, no, the biggest tune was “Just Kissed My Baby,” the Meters. ’Cos E-Mix used to sing it and everyone used to sing it. We done everything, but the main tune we booted was “Cross The Tracks.” Trevor used to play there, Norman played there, CJ Mackintosh played there. Everyone played there. Everyone who was anyone at that time would have played there.
Everyone from Darryl Pandy to the guys from the JBs, people would just come and perform there. Bobby Byrd and Vicki Anderson. I ended up touring with them after that. We toured Japan and Asia. Shit we done it twice. My biggest gig I ever played at was going to Japan, because of the Africa Centre.
And out of this came the records.
Yeah. ’Cos we had made “Fairplay” when we were in the Africa Centre. Rose voiced the tune, she was one of our main followers, and she was a dancer – she still is. One night she just picked up the mic and started to sing. Just heard her sing and that was it. Sorted it out from there.
Did it feel like a gestation period?
Yeah. It’s never really been documented, but if you did go through, a large majority... Even in those Balearic days I was out there. With Nicky Holloway and that lot. We were a little bit on that scene as well.
Looking back, how important was the original soundsystem culture that you inherited?
So important, ’cos it doesn’t exist any more. For us, culturally, the soundsystem was far more important than the DJ. The DJ bit was more an American metaphor, as opposed to what we actually created, which was the soundsystem DJ then, which was a little annex off to all the offshoots, which led to the thing about “you’re the future,” which you truly were without realising it.
Did you feel like you’d been handed the baton, or did you feel you were rebelling against it?
I actually felt, in a funny way, I was slightly rebelling against it, ’cos we took a lot of shit coming up as well.
You said you went to Shaka recently. What keeps that scene alive?
That guy should be knighted, man. Shaka himself. That’s like for as long as people been coming here, that’s been going on. That’s touched so many generations. And I know pan-Europe, between him and Rodigan, touched so many souls.
Does it still have the same community feel?
Not for me. It’s obvious, because you grow up. I still say to him, “You should change your system, and that.” But that’s him and if you change one part of it, it’s all over. He’s probably got the same styluses in that Garrard. But it is what it is, and that’s the beauty of the whole thing.
Did you ever hear Count Suckle? [The UK’s first Jamaican-style soundsystem.]
Yeah. Suckle tried to sell me all his 78s.
What was his style like?
More of a downbeat sound, more like bluebeat and mento, like downbeat. How I describe it, there’d downbeat and then there’s one-drop, which came more in the ’70s. Downbeat was anything from mento to bluebeat ska, to that shuffle. Mento is like country and western.
Very much older people’s music.
Yeah. Well, my parents didn’t listen to that kind of music ’cos they were brought up differently.
And he was a club DJ, a club-based sound.
Suckle was much more community, but it was big people, like when you went to 20s or Bluesville, from that era, ’70s. I think he was a stowaway when he came here. A lot of them were, the big soundsystem owners, that’s what they were. They’d come up halfway through their voyage.
Hidden in the bass bins.
Or hidden in the hull and came up halfway through and they couldn’t chuck ’em off the ship. It’s true, these are facts. Without those guys originally, what we know of DJs today wouldn’t be there. You can even go back to stuff done about electro, with DJ Kool Herc, going back to the Bronx, the boogie-down Bronx, that whole Bambaataa scene, the premise of that was soundsystem as well.
There’s Lord Emperor, even Emperor Rosko, what he was doing, in a funny way, outside of being Tony Blackburn, then he went on a roadshow, and those DJs deemed to be the wackest job, guy standing with two boxes and some flashing lights, people would have thought, “That’s outrageous, no one would want to do that.” And now DJs are the kings of it all. They’re bigger than the writers of some of those records that are coming out.
There’s a lot of people interested in the history of all this. For us it’s nothing new, but the kids who are coming up now, the 13, 14 year olds are asking questions now, it’s quite a serious thing. Asking about what happened in the past, so I can also see the real serious side of what the book could lead to.
So, truly now, there’s currently some study about being a DJ. There’s a guy who does some course and he’s been asking us to do lectures, and to take it serious because it’s part of the curriculum. Put a record on a groove. The impact it’s had on our culture is serious, so I’m glad to be a part of this.
This interview was conducted in London in February 2005. © DJhistory.com