From the archives: Influential DJ Norman Jay celebrates his council housing roots
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing
From the archives: DJ Norman Jay celebrates his council housing roots
With news that the influential DJ Norman Jay is launching his own 'Good Times In The Park' music festival later this year, 24housing revisits a classic Home Turf feature in which he celebrates his early social housing roots.
Norman Jay MBE is, to many people, the original spin doctor. A master of the turntables, he stood at the forefront of a dance music revolution 20 years ago that altered the face of music forever. That love of sound came from the community spirit of the council estate on which his parents lived, combined with the black soul, funk and jazz rhythms that swept through neighbourhoods and touched lives, as he explains exclusively to 24housing magazine.
"I was born in Notting Hill and was raised on a council estate in Acton, West London – indeed, my family still live in the area.
Growing up, I was just your average kid. I wasn’t a ‘goody two shoes’, but I tried to behave myself when I knew I needed to. Without being particularly interested in academic stuff, I had a real love for sport - and football in particular - so a lot of my time and focus went towards that.
My family life was good and healthy, and there was a great sense of community spirit soaked into the heart of the estate. Background was irrelevant - I grew up around many white kids, but there was never an obvious racial divide. We all went to the same schools, we loved football, and as time developed a mutual love of music kept down the barriers of an era that was still at times racially potent.
Thinking back, there were some great sounds of the day - either rhythm and blues from America, or reggae and ska from Jamaica – and all that provided a happy soundtrack to what, in truth, remained quite a tough area, I suppose. Surrounded by good friends and a supportive family they are times I will always reflect upon fondly.
I had a really good bunch of mates on my estate. We wore the same types of clothes, which were a bit different to the mainstream and I suppose that was a way in which we marked out our group. To a certain degree you always have a gang culture amongst a group of friends, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Kids will create almost a coded language, a secret society of rules for members of their friendship groups and you conform to those rules.
As for the music, well that was always in my life. I can think back to when I was two or three, when my grandma was living in America at the time. She’d make an annual trip to visit us in West London from America. My Dad was a big fan of all the old 50s jazz stuff and my grandmother used to bring him a collection of the top ten jazz songs in the States at the time. Every year she’d turn up with a bag of vinyl records, right up into the mid 60s. It was fantastic, because we always had the latest records of the time.
My Dad got the family’s first record player when I was very young, on hire purchase can you believe?! I can tell you, it was a momentous day when he walked through the door with that turntable, and that’s really where the DJing started for me, simply putting on the records when we had friends and family around.
It didn’t feel like the most glamorous profession at the time but it sewed a seed, and I went on to build a sound system with my brother - that’s when things got a bit more interesting.
A good day for me and my friends would be going to the local record shop before heading to the park. A mate of mine had a portable record player – it was pretty useless as it ran on batteries, and would be knackered after about four songs, but the energy and excitement felt great.
By the time I was old enough to understand it, another passion of mine really kicked in. I always loved football and because of where I came from, lots of my mates supported Queens Park Rangers. Geographically, I should have become a QPR or Brentford fan, though for some reason I insisted on being different - I liked Burnley for a while, then watched the 1967 FA Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and fell in love with Spurs.
That was it - that was my team for life. I remember very clearly the first time I went to watch a match at White Hart Lane as a teenager. The journey to the ground seemed to take a whole day. It was before the Victoria Line was extended, so I caught the train from Acton Town all the way to Wood Green on the Piccadilly Line, then got the W7 bus to the ground. There were 58,000 people in the ground, which was simply breathtaking.
I’ve travelled everywhere watching Spurs and it really opens your eyes to communities across the UK. I was one of the first black faces within the Spurs travelling support in the 1970s and remember getting particular hostility from far right groups who affiliate themselves to clubs in the North West. It’s very strange to return to places like Liverpool and Manchester and have the same groups of people who were abusing you 30 years ago now coming up to you telling you how great your music sounds. That is truly staggering, but as a nation we have definitely moved forward.
As for the music, it soon rose up from the streets of the council estates into the warehouses, as I learned how to promote myself with organisers, and found myself at the forefront of a fantastic musical and social movement in the late 1980s. While social housing crossed race boundaries, music could conquer class differences as well, and the movement felt like a tremendous extension to the ideals which our community was promoting.
I go back to my old area a lot, mostly because my family still live there – indeed, I’m still Acton based, albeit a few miles away from the estate. I even still have a room at home still, which is crammed full of vinyl, as you may expect! I feel a real affiliation with the area because it’s where I’m from, first and foremost. But it’s also where my passions for music and football began.
I was your normal, anonymous kid growing up and I wouldn’t have changed anything about life back then. Social housing has changed a fair bit over the years, but it continues to produce fantastic artists across many fields, but particularly music. It’s like there is a gritty reality that can only be painted through sound, and we’d be a lot worse off as a society were it not for the bricks and the beats."
Norman Jay mixed his way into the groundbreaking dance music scene of the late 1980s, DJing at warehouse parties as part of the huge acid house explosion in the UK.
He went on to co-manage Kiss FM, which shed its pirate roots to become one of the UK’s most powerful commercial radio brands.
Norman, was award the MBE for services to music in 2002, has also fronted prime BBC Radio dance music shows, and is a renowned leading light at the annual Notting Hill Carnival and Big Chill Festival.
He will be staging his first music festival 'Good Times In The Park' across three stages later this year.
Norman Jay MBE presents 'Good Times In The Park' Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th September @ Wormwood Scrubs Park, London. For more information visit: http://www.goodtimesinthepark.com/