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Written by Adrian Vaughan - Article added by AdamVaughan on 07-06-2012
From playing his very first gig at his cousins birthday party to playing at the Obama inauguration celebrations, Norman Jay MBE is the DJ everyone wants to book. With an Encyclopedic knowledge of music and eclectic music collection, XpressDJs is very honoured to have Norman take time out of his busy schedule to speak to Adi about that first gig to those “wow” factor moments
AV: Thank you very much fr taking time out today but first of all, how are you?
NJ: I'm not that great today I got soaked, I went on a mass mod scooter rally on Saturday and got soaked and now I'm paying for my pleasure now, got a bad temperature and a sore throat, probably by tomorrow I'll be properly struck down, but I'm OK, will keep the Lemsip topped up
AV: Oh dear, well we hope you feel better soon, now all deejays had to start somewhere, what was your inspiration for DJing and how did you start out?
NJ: I guess my dad's record collection, ha ha! I had access to it at a very early age, I loved the record player and I loved records, I then use to fiddle around with that, played records all the time until I was about 8-9 when I realised that I had a knack of making people dance and just carried on from that really
AV: I understand that your first set was for your cousins Birthday party
NJ: Yeah that's right
AV: How did it go?
NJ: Very well, I only had a dozen or so records so in those days you would play all the A sides and then all the B sides and then like a live jukebox you would start it all over again ha ha!
AV: Which DJs do you admire or have DJ heroes?
NJ: I don't really have DJ heroes, there are a lot of DJs I admire, or have admired in the past and more so because they're my friends, I guess Larry Levan, Judge Jules was another, Giles Peterson a number of DJs really, Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles, it sounds like I'm name dropping! David Morales... Ha ha!
AV: Do you have any DJs that are impressing you at the moment?
NJ: Yeah, my son Russ
AV: How is he doing?
NJ: Really well, really well, he did a gig on Friday, him and DJ Melvo, they're quite big on the new deep house scene that coming out of East London they're kind of players on that scene and doing really well too
AV: following in his fathers footsteps! With such a wide range of music at your disposal and in depth knowledge that goes with it, is there any particular style of music that you don't like?
NJ: That's hard to say really, I don't intrinsically hate any style of music, I just wait until I hear a style of music from any genre that floats my boat that's the safest way really and that's the honest answer, I don't hate anything really
AV: Very diplomatic answer there,
NJ: No, no that's the truth, experience has taught me never to be dismissive of anything because then what happens when you find a track of that genre that you like? Do you spend all of your time negatively dismissing it.
AV: That's true, I do agree with you on that one because there are certain genres I don't really get on with but then some tracks come out and you think actually, this is quite a nice track I like this one
NJ: Yeah, exactly, I don't play Techno but I like Techno records, I don't play grime but I've got grime tracks that my nephew has given me which I actually quite like
AV: There's always some golden gems isn't there I always find?
NJ: Yeah! There's always some nuggets!
AV: The Good Time Soundsystem is a famous institution at the Notting Hill Carnival, what was your inspiration, what is the history behind it?
NJ: Back in those days, god I sound like a real old timer now, there was no platform for black DJs, there was no platform for new DJs full stop and the carnival was the only platform that enabled us to learn our craft I mean we weren't allowed to play in clubs or let in them, but it's a case of following a do it yourself ethic, bring your own Soundsystem, play at your own event ie. The Carnival and you then build your following up from that, you learn your ring craft on the street.
AV: build your own stage basically
NJ: Yeah, that's it! Yeah!
AV: With today's DJ equipment and all the technology behind it, what are your thoughts on how its all evolved?
NJ: I have no problem with technology itself but I guess I have issues with the way this generation relies on it, for me technology is there to enhance what you do, to add value to what you do but not to be totally dependant on it, because for me the technology is all about trying to reinvent the wheel which will always be round
AV: Just like records
NJ: Yes! Exactly
AV: You were award an MBE in the Queens Jubilee honours list in 2002, how did that feel? Did you have any odea that you were going to receive one?
NJ: I had no idea, it was like discovering a long lost winning lottery ticket, it was that random and that far removed from my life and what I was doing and when I got the news offically it was absolutely fantastic
AV: Did you think someone was pulling your leg?
NJ: Yes, I said “No” and refused to believe it until I got the telegram from the palace itself with the royal seal on it, you know, no-one can take the royal seal so when I saw that I knew it was real
AV: You can say that you're recommended by the Queen now
NJ: Yes! By Royal appointment
AV: When was the last time you had a “wow” moment or when you walked into a room and thought “wow, this is a bit crazy” when you were djing?
NJ: On Saturday in Newcastle, I haven't played in Newcastle for about 12 years, went back up there on Saturday, full house, unbelievable atmosphere, a fantastic crowd, making noise before I had even put the first track on and then it just went ballistic after that! That was definitely a “wow” moment.
AV: What would you say has been your most memorable moment?
NJ: Every gig is a memorable moment because no two gigs are the same because I play so many different types of styles to so many different types of people its always fresh for me, I never feel jaded, as much as I love house music I couldn't do a 10 hour set of house music all night long or any genre, providing that the crowd are open to other things, then I'm open as well
AV: The rich and famous call on you to DJ for their parties, do you ever find it intimidating playing at their parties?
NJ: No, not at all because some of those people I have met personally and they are just like you and me, they just regular people, the only people who get in the way are the PR's and the people with clipboards telling you “you can't do this, you can't do that” when you actually get to meet the people, providing you are not in their face or you're not adversely familiar and you respect them as a person there is no issue
AV: What has been the most memorable celebrity bash you've played at?
NJ: There have been a few, I don't only do that I also do blue collar corporate gigs as well, I did the closing party at the World Economics Forum in Switzerland every year, also for the British Trade Commission in Japan for the British ambassador, did a classical music set there, I did one of the Obama inauguration parties in Washington when they made him President
AV: How did that go?
NJ: Absolutely amazing! It was like doing a party for the United Nations I guess, the Martin Luther King party I do in New York every year, another highlight, I am very fortunate, my life has been filled with great gigs, there's the Carnival, the Big Chill, any number of club and festivals in the UK, just the other week I did Snowbombing, that was a surreal moment, that was a “wow” moment, being 1800 meters up on a mountain, we got the bus up there to the middle of the Mountain doing a party for the skiers and snowboarders that was a surreal moment, check it out online that was a mad moment!
AV: I will do, now without naming any names do you have any interesting stories from a celebrity bash that you've played at?
NJ: The moment I start telling stories is the moment when there is no job there! Ha ha!
AV: Fair enough, I respect that
NJ: They book me because I keep quiet! I see nothing! Ha ha!
AV: You've an international DJ, you DJ to the stars and you've also been labelled as the DJ's DJ, how do you keep yourself firmly on the ground?
NJ: Really good family and really good friends and I don't harbour any aspirations to be famous or to be popular, I'm just an honest bloke doing an honest day's or nights work, I'm a punter foremost
AV: You're friends with Judge Jules, I understand you helped coin his name, how did that happen?
NJ: I didn't help, I did coin his name! When I knew Jules we were close buddies then, he was doing his law degree at the LSC and then at one gig I joked that if I ever got into trouble he would be the first lawyer I'd call, he'll probably have me sitting with me in Judgement in 20 years time hoping to piss me off, the name stuck!
AV: Looking back on it all is there anything you would do differently?
NJ: No, not at all, my life has been a fantastic privilege, one continuous mix of goodness, no complaints at all, I've been very blessed and very fortunate and I still love it as much as I do today as when I first started
AV: That brings us nicely onto our next question, do you think there will ever be a time when you hang up your headphones?
NJ: I'll hang up my headphones when I feel that I am ready, not when anybody tells me, I always said when I begun this thing that I would never be a DJ who sits at the end of the phone waiting to be booked, I put on my own parties I do my own thing and people book me, they hire me and it means that they are buying into the Norman Jay Good Times experience, if they don't, we continue to do it ourselves anyway. I was doing it at the Notting Hill Carnival years before I ever played in clubs and I will probably be doing the Carnival long after all the clubs have closed down.
AV: What is the best piece of advice you would offer any budding DJ?
NJ: Be patient. Simple, honest, but truthful advice
AV: Right now onto some quick fire questions, what was the first single you bought?
NJ: I can't remember because I bought several singles that first time, I'm trying to think, it would probably be a ska record but the name escapes me a the moment. I was given the money to buy a dozen of so records, I never went out and bought a first single, I went out and bought a dozen records or so. I remember there was Smokey Robinson, Otis Reading, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, there was Millie, My Boy Lollipop, Johnny Nash, Cupid they would have been amongst the first records I bought.
AV: Have you ever seen a ghost?
NJ: No but I can see round corners and I can talk backwards, they are a couple of my superpowers!
AV: What's your favourite all time, hands in the air track?
NJ: There's loads of those, funnily enough the hand's in the air tracks, not necessarily big raving tunes, Redemption Song by Bob Marley and any number of House classics too numerous to mention and Disco classic that give you those euphoric moments, there's loads, there great sort of 60's mod tunes that I like, a lot of Northern Soul tunes give me those moments a lot of great Hip Hop, fantastic Disco, great House tunes it just depends on the moment, the crowd, the place and the people you are with.
AV: Well that's it Norman, thank you for taking the time to speak to me on this, do you have any famous last words to leave us with?
NJ: Famous last words, oh boy, erm, See you next year!
AV: Will do! Well thank you once again Norman it's been a pleasure talking to you
NJ: Thank you too.
To keep up to speed with Norman's gigs you can visit www.normanjay.com and follow him on twitter @NormanJayMBE