Bring on the Good Times: Norman Jay MBE


23 Monday 23rd August 2010

For the 30th anniversary of the world famous, legendary Good Times Sound System we caught up with the boss DJ. Back in the day, while Westwood’s Punks fought it out on the streets, Norman Jay and friends were in New York, listening to funky and soul records that would forge a sound that would become known as UK House.

An attack on categorisation of music into genres and a belief that music can bring people together honoured him with an MBE from the Queen. With the launch of his bespoke range of ‘Bingi’ hats and a penchant for collecting bikes, the KISS FM founder still has plenty of surprises up his sleeve. Listen up to the godfather himself and learn why you need to lend support to your sound system. 
You’re a massive vinyl junkie, are you brining down the whole collection to DJ?
I’m not brining vinyl to carnival so what I am in the process of doing is transferring a lot of albums and 45’s to CD for that weekend. So, I’m looking forward to taking time to hear stuff I used to play, going back through 30 years of carnival, all in real time. But some things I used to play have subsequently been re-issued or on iTunes so it’s not as laborious as it may seem.
What is the Good Times sound?
I don’t really follow genres. I like such a wide range of music, I love House, like Hip-Hop, I like Dub-step I like Grime I like reggae, I like Drum n Bass, you know even Rock records. Anything that’ll pull your ears back I’m interested. Carnival for us has always been an organic thing. We play off instinct and emotion. When the crowd come, all planning goes out of the window. We’ll bring those old records as well and when the time is right they get dropped.
Can you remember the earliest records you heard?
I can remember listening to Elvis, Respect and Lollipop. There are a lot of 60s tunes I remember from my childhood. There a huge number of records like that made a huge impression on me. Chic’s Good Times is one of those tracks for me. I first heard it driving in New York. We called our sound system after that track. It’s such a happy, celebratory, euphoric record.
Who’s going to DJ with you for the 30th anniversary?
It’ll be my normal sort of DJ crew Ruby Ranks, DJ Melva, and Joey Jay might make a guest appearance this year, he’s just literally retired but he might make it for this one. My son Russell will be playing. Self taught, he’s into all that dance music stuff and he’ll play the funkier house records as well.
What influences you outside of music?
I’m into performing arts, classic arts and classic bikes. Bicycles not Harley Davidson’s. But I collect classic choppers and I’m biking round London mainly. 
What do you think about the new cycling scheme?
Well Boris is just a doughnut, wasting our taxpayers’ money on his schemes. [laughs] No, no the bike idea is great, it’s just a tragedy it’s got Barclays all over them.
One of the things that surprised me was you once said if you weren’t into music you’d be into fashion.
Yeah, in the UK I think especially music and fashion go hand in hand. They feed off one another, each inspires one another. I’m talking specifically about street style. Look at England in the last 50 years; every youth cult that has ever emerged has had a soundtrack to go with the lifestyle. I’ve been part of them all of them at one time or at least had friends who have been. There have been friends who were first generation punks, first generation skinheads, Mods, Rude Boy’s. 
What’s your own personal style?
Always a Mod, sharp dressed, style and detail is everything. I’ve had a couple of suits made, I like to look right. I’ve never got into the baggy street Hip-Hop look. Wearing oversized T-shirts and trainers that look like skis. What I like about being British is that we don’t really care and we experiment. We mix and match and most of the time we get it right. 
You’ve been awarded an MBE, that’s saying Good Times has had a massive impact outside of music?
Yeah, definitely. I can’t prove that, but having given that award bears that out. My dad always used to say never do business with someone who doesn’t like music, that adage normally runs true. People without a taste in music are the oddest people. Music should be the international language everyone understands.
What’s going to make this 30th anniversary carnival special?
Te people will make it special. Everybody knows we are celebrating a mile-stone. We’ve got an average age attendance from 25 to 54 which is really healthy. The album is coming, that’ll be released on September 26. The whole Good Times series from number one to now has been a history, a musical documentation of what we’re about. This is going to be about mixed genres, mixed dance tunes, new, contemporary, old and fresh.
We’ve got our after party coming up at the William IV on the Sunday night. For two days a year we manage to break down those age barriers, genre barriers and those stage barriers. For one weekend people come and forget everything and that’s what we’re about. 
There has been a Sony Ericsson campaign you’re angry about though?
Yeah, they’re trading off the back of the Good Times Sound System and they know I’d never have the resources to fight them in court. 
Is it a problem funding Notting Hill Carnival?
Yeah, absolutely. It costs an extraordinary amount of money. We’re in a situation where we are putting up a festival and everyone is coming for free, so in order to keep it free at point of entry we have to get sponsorship in some way or we have to fund it ourselves.
Every sound system has to pay for their spot. It’s not just the clean-up we have to pay to be at carnival. We have to pay for security, for stewarding and we have to pay for licences. We need to have five million pounds put up for public liability insurance.
That must stop a lot of younger groups of people bringing in new sounds systems?
That’s right, absolutely. Ultimately that’s what they want, because they want to kill carnival off. We know that, that’s a fact. They can’t stop it legally so they try and stop it through price. Make it too expensive to partake. Carnival has never been a profit-making thing, we used to give out merchandise for free. But we just can no longer do that. We’re explaining to people if you want to help us buy our drinks our food.
Every penny and I mean every penny helps to offset the cost. Carnival cost’s us a minimum of ten thousand pounds even before we put a track on. Even the people who make costumes and floats, most of them don’t get funding and they do it in their own time and their own pockets.
Will carnival die out then?
Well, I don’t know, people are resourceful. Some people might put their drug profits into it. [laughs] But I’m not a drug dealer and I don’t do drugs. People always find a way. I’m going to put out a message right now. If people like coming down, skanking at the Good Times Sound System and want to help us, contact us.
I’m serious, deadly serious. Otherwise we’ve got no long-term future there. It’s such a big event there’s a thousand people who come to hear us form all over the country and all over the world. We’re fundamentally drive


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