Norman Jay MBE is a British club, radio and sound system DJ. He first came to prominence playing unlicensed “warehouse” parties in the early 1980s, and through his involvement with the then-pirate radio station Kiss FM. He is commonly attributed as having coined the phrase “rare groove”.
Jay was born in Notting Hill, London, to West Indian parents. He played his first gig aged eight at a 10th birthday party, influenced by his father’s record collection of blue beat, ska and jazz. He soon “developed a love for anything soulful – particularly the sounds of black America”.
In the early 1970s, Jay set-up a sound system with his brother Joey Jay, originally called “Great Tribulation”. Following a trip to New York City in 1979, he decided to take this in a more serious direction. In 1980, it was renamed to “Good Times” after the Chic track, and made its Notting Hill Carnival debut.[Good Times was seen as “pioneering” at this time for introducing soul and disco music into a Carnival set, despite some opposition in the early days. The sound system became a notable destination at Carnival for the next 33 years, with it located on the corner of West Row and Southern Row, Ladbroke Grove since 1991. Since the 1990s, the sound system has been hosted from its London Transport bus. In 2014, due to regeneration in the area, Good Times lost its original spot and has not appeared at Carnival since. Instead, Good Times has hosted its sound system at events and nights around the country.
Jay established himself through being a founding member of the London pirate radio station Kiss FM in October 1985, on which he presented shows alongside its founders Gordon Mac and George Power. As a pirate, it was his “The Original Rare Groove Show” that led to the coining of the phrase “rare groove”. When Kiss 100 was launched legally in September 1990, Jay hosted the first of what would become his “Musiquarium” shows. He left the station in October 1993.
In April 1997, Jay joined BBC London with a radio show named “Giant 45”. The show broadcast until February 2008. Throughout 2006 and 2007, Jay presented a series called “The Funk Factory” on BBC Radio 2. More recently, he has hosted regular shows on Soho Radio and on the 24th of July Jay will play under the stars at the legendary Ally Pally Kaleidoscope.
Let start at the beginning., what was your musical journey like when did you buy your first record?
My musical journey began at my parents as long ago as the early sixties. My default was going back to the record player, and I became a nerdy record buyer and collector. And just loved it, you know, in moments when you’re not feeling great, put on your favorite record or a tune that you like that inspires you, motivates you and that’s the music I’ve loved and played all over the years. It’s kind of what shaped me and made me who I am, even though I’ve never made a record personally. But I’m able to articulate other people’s creations and to present them to people in a way which they find accessible. So yeah, I think that’s my place. I tried making records years ago, but just because you’re a duck doesn’t mean you like water, I didn’t take to it naturally. It seemed forced, but you know, I’ve always loved live music and spent most of my life, I guess in house party’s night clubs, festivals, any gathering where there is people and music is played. I’m in my element I’m most comfortable in, I think.
What was the first record you ever bought? I read an interview when you described yourself as a vinyl junkie.
I was a vinyl junkie in the beginning for my teen years and twenties. I definitely was I think but in recent years no not so much now, but I’m always being asked what was the first record I bought, but my situation’s a little bit unique in that I bought a dozen records at the same time, and I can only remember a few of them because I was eight or nine years old. I just remember them, one of them being Johnny Nash, You Got Soul. It would have been Desmond Dekker Israelites; I bought an Aretha Franklin record. I can’t remember which one and Dusty Springfield Son of a Preacher Man, and a few reggae tunes and Ska tunes as well. But I’d have to think and to sit down and think about them. I still have those records and I still play them.
How does this transfer into you becoming a DJ? When did you discover DJing was an actual job?
I come from an era when for people of colour like myself, the gates were firmly barred. So, there was no such thing as Black DJs and stuff like that. Because I was a serial clubber, I loved going to clubs, especially loved going to places that I’d never been to before and meeting people I’ve never met before, hearing records. I’d never heard before. That was always a big buzz and a major attraction for me. But there was a period when I was going out and not being musically challenged, not feeling musically challenged. I never followed the concept of DJing. You know, I went to clubs because of the music that was played and the people that went, not because of the he or she, who was playing. I had no interest in that, but I began to become increasingly frustrated in what I was hearing, when I was going out and being asked to pay money for. I guess I was in denial, maybe looking back, I did harbour latent DJ aspirations, but because, I had no role model, you know, you say, well, you can’t do this thing, but in the end, I became a DJ by default really. Because I just felt I could play this music better and be a bit more expansive be able to entertain people better and that basically my brother bought a sound system, and I became the soul boy DJ on the sound system. that’s how it happened.
So, can you tell us how Notting Hill Carnival, fits into your story?
Well, the Notting Hill carnival, is a major part of the story, especially for DJs of my generation, because at the time it was the only creative platform open to us, people of colour, we were not allowed to DJ in clubs. You know, we were not running events or most of the time we were not allowed into them. That was just the prevailing conditions at the time. So we’re forced to, be creative, be self-sufficient build around sound systems, put on parties in our homes, which I did, you know, I come from the sound system culture and Notting Hill provided us with that one platform for three days of the year, every aspiring Black DJ could drag his or her sound system come there set up and try to win the adulation of in those days, just the mobile crowds, you know nobody was interested in what you were doing. but you know, I went to carnival with a purpose. I never really liked it. Still don’t look like soca and Calypso and all that music. And I never connected with it because I’m Black, British, I’m born here. You know, I grew up with The Beatles and The Stones and The Small Faces and pop music. So, my sensibilities, are always going to be more towards that, but going to carnival, I realized just how very little soul, funk, disco, gospel was being played, but carnival, so you know there’s my niche. You know, that’s what I’m into, that’s what I could bring and expand the musical repertoire of carnival. So, it’s Good Times and Bank Holiday, Monday, 1980, Good times was born at Carnival, and I was there for 33 years afterwards, and built up a formidable reputation and made carnival attractive to people other than people of colour. So, people from all over the world were coming there, Asian, Irish, White people who used to be scared to come to that because of the negative press that carnival was always getting. But by Good Times where we were on Southern Row, it was the greatest coca cola commercial in the world. You look in the crowd and see people of every hue out there, which is what I loved.
Part 2 of this Interview will be in the August 29th Edition of ALT A REVIEW.
On Saturday 24th July, Alexandra Park and Palace will throw open its gates for Kaleidoscope Festival 2021 – a summer celebration in the capital like no other. is London’s highest festival, set atop a hill within 196 acres of parkland offering the best panoramic views across the city.
As well as incredible live music, headlined by Groove Armada, mesmerising DJ sets with Norman Jay MBE and Greg Wilson, comedy and immersive theatre, there’ll be family entertainment and delicious street food and drinks from local heroes.
- “As a sight, Kaleidoscope was unbeatable.” ★★★★ – Evening Standard”
- “Sheer festival brilliance.” – DIY Mag
- “Packed with fun, culture and one seriously good view.” – Clash