hen it comes to a background in music, few people have one as rich and diverse as that of English powerhouse Norman Jay.
Hosting illegal warehouse raves - kickstarting Britain’s most infamous pirate radio station - receiving awards from the Queen - touring around the world; Norman’s been there, done that.
Every few years he drops by Australia to perform a few shows, and I was lucky enough to catch Norman for a quick chat before he hopped back on a plane to the UK.
You got into music very early - what was it that drew you into music at such a young age?
I was around 8 or 9. I came from a very musical family, and eventually I was given the choice between learning the piano or learning the record player. I was hopeless at the piano, but the record player fascinated me, and that’s definitely what kickstarted my interest into music.
What was the equipment you were using back then like? How does it compare to the type of stuff you use today?
It was very basic, but it did the job it was designed to do. You put the record on, play it, no talking in between, then you switch the records over.
These days I’m used to playing on the modern equipment. I don’t use records, which is weird for a DJ of my vintage. When I’m working and travelling I like to use USB’s, CDJ’s, it makes my job a whole lot easier.
In the 80’s you began running illegal warehouse parties - what inspired you to start those?
I was inspired by the racism that prevailed in my country at the time. Black people weren't allowed into clubs, we had no media outlet, we weren't on the radio or TV, but our music culture had been hijacked and used in every club in the country.
So if you can’t beat them, don’t join them, do it yourself.
What was it like the first time you hosted one?
The whole experience was phenomenal. For nine or ten hours it was utopia. We had all colours - black, white, brown, gay, straight, lesbian, muslim - everyone came and everyone enjoyed the party.
How much work went into planning them?
Not a lot, because we were making the rules up as we went along. It was pre-Facebook and social media, so all we had and all we needed was a phone book.
You were one of the original members of Kiss FM when it was an illegal station, what was it like being part of such a huge movement at the time?
I didn’t realise, I don’t think any of us did at the time, we didn’t know the impact because we were pirate and we didn’t have any way of measuring the impact of what we were doing.
We were making it up as we went along, just happy enthusiastic amateurs, and we were doing the right thing at the right time for the right audience.
If you’re gonna be, be first.
What did it feel like, being so illegal?
It had a terrific edge, the excitement, the buzz, the risk. I guess in our own way we were adrenaline junkies. There was always that risk of getting caught.
Once it became legal I had no further interest. I’d achieved what we set out to do, which was to become legal in the end, and I moved on to the next challenge.
Tell us about the award you received from the Queen in 2002 for your services to music.
I was the first DJ, period, to be awarded for services to music, which was a fantastic achievement.
There’s no greater accolade is there, it’s the pinnacle. You can win polls in magazines, polls in clubs, which can all be rigged, but you can’t rig your monarch. That can’t be faked.
As music has evolved have you found yourself keeping up with it, or does your heart belong to the old-school music you centred your career around?
The big thing is you can’t go backwards. You can influence tomorrow, so I just take the best of what I find around me today and mix it with my history, which is never far behind me.
Put it all together and you create your future.
Do you have any opinions on the way the music industry is changing, or has changed over the years?
It’s just getting better, that’s all I can say. I can’t predict it, everything is just getting better. It’s getting more democratic, and more people than ever are adhering to it.
Apart from your NSW Government trying to kill off live music. Hopefully that doesn’t spread here to WA or anywhere else.
That’s why I seriously urge all you guys to support your live venues, support your DJ’s, and support your club culture. It’s so important.
It's rare that you get the opportunity to talk with someone who's been such an enormous influence on the way music has developed, and this really was a fantastic experience.
Injecting diversity into a racially clouded industry and proving to everyone that sometimes rules really are there to be broken - there's no doubt that the marks left by Norman will be felt for years to come.
As always, I hope you enjoyed the read. Party safe, stay hydrated, and I’ll see you next time.