His Good Times Sound System is a Notting Hill Carnival institution and he’s been burning up the radio waves for decades, DJing for everyone from Kiss FM to the BBC. London-born DJ Norman Jay remains one of the music industry’s key innovators. Even the Queen agrees – Norman was awarded an MBE in 2002 for services to music.
We caught up with him ahead of his next gig, topping the bill at Winter Sessions Festival in Chamonix.
So, tell us about your headline slot at Winter Sessions in Chamonix – will it be a good party?
‘I’m really looking forward to it – this is the second year that I’ve done it and the crowd is fantastic. They showed me an awful lot of love, and their energy was really something to behold… they’re on the piste all day and then they come and party all night. I couldn’t do that. That’s proper hardcore! It’s not just for the skiers and boarders though, this festival has an awful lot going on – there’s good food, amazing bars and restaurants, great partying… I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.’
Moving back a bit closer to home – will you be back at Notting Hill Carnival this year with Good Times Sound System?
‘Yes, we’ll be making a long overdue return. We’ve had a break, recharged the batteries and we’re ready to go again this year.’
Good Times has been involved in carnival for 30 years – how has it changed?
‘Over the years it has changed, but every year is a highlight and every year seems to eclipse the previous year. It’s always been fantastic, and I’ve never had a bad one. You don’t have any violence or any incidents there – touch wood – it’s a little haven amongst the carnival scene.
‘Contrary to what some people think, we are not carnival – we’re about one hundredth of carnival. We’re a tiny little cog. We love it, the people love it and it’s my way of saying thanks to everyone who has supported us. It’s the last big London street party, and the way it is, the climate of the country at the moment, there’s no long term future for us on the street. So I’d urge everyone, before it disappears into clubbing folklore history – make an effort, turn up and experience it.’
What is it about Notting Hill that makes it such an institution?
‘It’s the last great London warehouse party out in the open. It’s also the last great event in the country that’s free. Especially in these austere times when there’s not a lot of money about, festival people are picking and choosing where they go. Carnival offers the best all-out venue, for no money.’
What’s your favourite area of London and why?
‘My favourite part of London is still Notting Hill, where I was born. Even though I don’t live there now, and haven’t done for years. Where I play at carnival, I was actually born less than a mile from that spot. There’s a lot of symbolism and emotion there. When I was a baby, the whole area was a condensed ghetto. Then to come back, 30, 40 years later and see what it’s become – it’s fantastic.
‘I also like Brixton in South London. I’m from the West, born and bred, and never ventured over the river, but I’ve been discovering Brixton for the last six months or so and it’s an amazing place, I love it. I just love London, period. If you’re into the arts, London has some really great exhibitions, at the Tate and places like that – any number of cool bars, restaurants.. it’s on a par with every city I’ve ever been to.
‘I sound like an advert now! But I do genuinely feel that way. I always champion London first and foremost. I’m more qualified than most to comment on London club culture, I’ve played all over the world, virtually every major city… still, London is head and shoulders.’
What would you say is London’s best kept secret?
‘Pirate radio. There’s an awful lot around. How do you think we’re at the forefront of new music, whether its pop, hiphop, grime, dubstep – because we’ve got a pirate radio culture going back 40 odd years. That provides a platform for Britain’s new young artists and music producers – to show the world what they can do. The internet enhances that still further.’
Is there anything about London that drives you mad?
‘Arsenal fans drive me mad!.. he says, tongue in cheek.’
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
‘My family, for obvious reasons. They’ve kept me on the straight and narrow, out of the public eye. I’ve got no ambitions to be publically famous. I’m just a regular guy with regular tastes who keeps his head down and himself to himself.’
‘…. Being able to get up in the morning and say, thank goodness I’ve survived to see another day.’
Winter Sessions Festival takes place on March 30 and 31, 2012.