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Stormin' Norman Jay's Big Chill special revives memories

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It was exciting to hear Norman Jay on the radio at the weekend. His BBC 6 music show (sitting in for Craig Charles) spanned three hours of warm, soulful music presented in his trademark easy-flowing style, spanning many genres and reminded me why he was a phenomenon for some years at the event that I co-founded, The Big Chill. 

Norman Jay's Sunday lunchtime sets at The Big Chill achieved legendary status. Invariably packing the sun in his record box, Norman defied the odds and attracted estimated crowds of 20, 000 fans (two thirds of everyone on the whole site) to his main stage for the entire two hours, proof if it were needed that a solo DJ could upstage even the most popular of bands and keep the throngs right there for the duration. The memories are plentiful - and often involved a deliriously over-zealous crowd having to be hosed down by stewards when the heat was on, and one such classic boiling over moment occurred when he played Zorba The Greek to the Chillers. It remains, to this day, the biggest crowd that Norman has ever played to.

I loved Norman's eclecticism. Although best know for his wide range of jazz, soul, house, reggae and black music, he would often throw up a surprise, such as a perfectly timed spin for Jethro Tull's 'Living In The Past' during a Larmer Tree Gardens early Big Chill.

I first met Norman at an after party on Sydney's Bondi Beach, probably in 1999, when we'd both appeared on the same bill at Vibes On a Summers Day. I'd watched Norman skillfully work the packed Bondi pavilion crowd in the sun earlier that afternoon and was convinced that I had to invite him to come and play at The Big Chill. He readily agreed and I was glad I'd made the effort!

Norman describes our meeting as follows :

"I have enjoyed the amazing privilege of having deejayed at some the world’s finest music festivals over the years, but none is closer to my heart than the UK’s Big Chill and the man who was responsible for first introducing me to the concept of ‘chillin’ to great live music and dj’s in the beautiful English countryside was none other than the visionary Pete Lawrence.

It was Pete’s quiet, self effacing charm when we first met all those years ago backstage at a tiny boutique jazz festival on Sydney’s infamous Bondi Beach that convinced me I should take up his invitation to join a fledgling Big Chill line-up the following summer back in the UK at Larmer Tree’s ‘Enchanted Garden’.

The rest, as they say is history. I have always found Pete a real pleasure to work with. Always very accommodating and very professional in all aspects of our working relationship. I can’t praise his organisational skills highly enough. Pete really IS the genuine article!"

Norman was, as ever, still generous in his praise for the work Katrina, I and other Chillers put in to make that festival so special, all those years after the fact. Hear his words here from last weekend's show: 


Check out a classic Norman Jay playlist


 

Biog stuff 
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. Leaving aside views as to whether you support the legacy of the British Empire or not, 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, awarded on merit for "deejaying and services to music".

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 completely 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 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 Gilles 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.

Rare Groove...
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...
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 Giles Peterson - signing amongst others - the likes of singer/songwriters Omar, Bryan Powell, Young Disciples, Galliano and Incognito. After three successful years - and many more happy years at Kiss - he decided it was time to quit both and pursue his first love - deejaying. 

International DJ...
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 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, he is often cited as a major influence by a host of today's leading deejays who often refer to him quite simply as 'The deejay's DJ'.

Norman Jay at The Big Chill Goa 2007

With increasing deejaying commitments around the world - including regular tours to countries such as Australia, USA, Canada, Japan, S.Africa and the Middle/Far East - playing an eclectic mix of black and dance music - Norman has precious little time to do much else these days. He has played in just about every major city in Europe - being one of the first British deejays ever to do so.

Celebrity props 
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 prestigious 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 and he is without doubt the deejay of choice of the rich and famous 'celebrity set'. He has played for the likes of Mick Jagger at his 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).

 

 

 

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