Joey Jay interview - August 2012
David Hill: Could you tell me a little about your family background?
Joey Jay: My Mum and Dad are from a little island called Carriacou, which is the sister island
to Grenada in the West Indies.
DH: Do you know how they got over here?
JJ: My dad only recently told me how he got to the UK. He and four other guys came by boat
and then got on a bus from Victoria. When it stopped at Ladbroke Grove, the conductor said
"All change", so they got off with their suitcases. They just got off the bus and had to find
their own way from there. It's remarkable.
DH: Is this the SS Windrush generation?
JJ: It would be just after that, in the mid-'50s.
DH: So that's how he ended up in West London?
JJ: Yes, and that's how I was born in Ladbroke Grove. We then moved to Acton where I went to school.
DH: Could you tell me about when you first got into music?
JJ: It was mainly though my Dad in the '60s, he was into classical music and the old Calypso stuff from Trinidad. Dad used to play 78s on an old Bushgram.
DH: I thought that you were going to say the Bluespot (the Blaupunkt music centre that gave it's name to Blues parties)...
JJ: (Laughs) They were rivals, the Bush and Bluespot.
DH: And you'd have people over to the house?
JJ: Oh yes, we'd have parties for people from the West Indies, for family and friends, it was people from all over the islands. At that time everyone from Barbados, from Jamaica, Trinidad, they all got together. It was a community thing.
DH: So tell me about your first exposure to reggae, how did that happen?
JJ: In the early '70s I was slowly getting into the Rasta faith. I was looking at album covers like 'Catch A Fire' by Bob Marley, with the dreads and the spilff, and that kind of appealed to me. I was listening to Bob Marley, though I wasn't really into the music at that time, but the lyrics to 'Concrete Jungle', they made me think "What does that mean?" And then, through time I got to like Bob Marley's music, but the lyrics had always stuck with me. [At the time] It was the beginning of it being fashionable to have your hair in dreadlocks, and the people within the faith said, "This is a serious thing, this is more of an identity" - Ras-Tafari, Haile Selassie I is God and King, that sort of thing. So some of us began it look deeper into it. Some people just said "Well, we just like the fashion", but some of us got into the more serious thing.
DH: So you say that you weren't really into Marley's music at the time?
JJ: Well Bob Marley was more the commercial end. I liked the stuff before Chris Blackwell was [involved] with The Wailers band, that was the stuff.
DH: Like the Lee Perry and Studio One tracks?
JJ: Yes, yes, that was the stuff, but after Chris did what he did to market it, it wasn't played in the clubs.
DH: And when did the early UK roots scene emerge?
JJ: From '74 to '78, there was a Rasta scene that spread from Birmingham to Leeds, Wolverhampton to Nottingham and London. The scene had sounds like Jah Shaka, Coxsone, Fatman - it was those kind of sounds. We were leaving the Derrick Harrriott era and going into the Johnny Clarke's and the Ras Midas.
DH: The Flying Cymbal era?
JJ: Yeah, the King Tubby stuff and Bunny Lee productions. We had a scene with that music and I would say it was predominantly a black scene. We'd to go to places like the Georgian Club in East Croydon and Metro Club in Ladbroke Grove. At that time it was all dubplates and you would hear new tunes from the artists. They'd announce that they're going to play brand new from Gregory Isaacs one week, and next week it would be brand new Johnny Clarke. And it was like that, you just went for the spectacle of hearing brand new music. I used to be out raving five nights a week in those days.
DH: And who would be the selectors at those dances?
JJ: Well it would be the guys who control the sound [system]. You always had a main operator and as each sound had a name you'd know the operator. Coxsone had Festus, Fatman had Robert - everyone knew the names of the operators.
DH: So how did you get involved?
JJ: I started off in '75 with a sound called Great Tribulation and I was just playing in little parties, Christenings and weddings for friends and family. It got bigger and people said I should take it further.
DH: Is that the reputation of the sound or the number of speaker boxes that got bigger?
JJ: (Laughs) Yes, everything started to increase, and as it increased we got bigger venues and started playing with bigger sounds.
DH: So you'd also be doing clashes in those early days?
JJ: Oh yeah, it was all about the latest dubplate that you have. We'd go to John Hassel and Felicity in Barnes, with the lathe in the living room. He used to work for EMI, he was the master cutter, they. They were the nicest people you could meet. Every time we'd go there Jah Shaka would be there for two or three days, just cutting dubs!
DH: And people were trading dubs?
JJ: No, it wasn't really like that. Shaka had his tapes, then Fatman would come with his tapes, everyone would come with their own reels. John would put it on the tape spool and people would just cut their dubs and go, but sometimes you'd beg them and say "Give me a cut of that dub", and because of time they'd want to go, but for money they'd give you a cut of that dub.
DH: Certain sounds had relationships with producers and artists that they were especially tight with - Fatman with Jammy's, Coxsone with Jack Ruby. Was there anyone that you were particularly linked with who supply you with prime dubs?
JJ: No, not really. I grew up in west London and there was a sound system that I used to move around [with] called Sir Jessus. Sir Jessus (himself) used to work at Heathrow airport so we'd buy lots of Emidiscs (acetates) from EMI, he'd go to Jamaica, cut them, and bring the dubs back. So, as I was with Sir Jessus' sound I would get a piece of that, we got a lot of Dennis Brown stuff, Althea and Donna, Horace Andy. Jessus used to bring back so much Joe Gibbs stuff.
DH: Are there any clashes that are especially memorable?
JJ: Yes, there are several. One was at a club called the MFI club, it was an all-dayer and all-nighter, in Northampton. It was Shaka, Coxsone and a sound called Sir Christopher from Birmingham. We went in a crew, five or six of us and got there in the morning, we had the drainpipe trousers and the khaki - you know, the Rastaman look. We had our rucksacks with our own orange juice and peanuts - we were all equipped. It came to about seven or eight in the evening and I just heard this tune going (hums the intro). All of us were just looking at each other and it went on and on and on. Shaka would just lift up the needle and put it back to the start. (Hums intro again) This went on and on and then when he did let the tune drop, well, man started to hit the roof! Locks were flying everywhere! Man, I tell you, that tune lasted over an hour. Shaka couldn't take it off, every time he lift up the needle everyone went "Woahhhh, go deh!" (roars). It was like that!
DH: So what was the tune?
JJ: It was Kunte Kinte, and I still have that. That's one of the memories, but for me, one of the best was in Pheobe's, over in Amhurst Road (Stoke Newington). When you went there you had to go down all these steps, the place was a dungeon. They had three floors and Shaka was playing downstairs, the middle floor was a bar, and upstairs a lovers rock sound called Locomotion used to play. So you get down to Pheobe's and you'd see Bob Marley or Johnny Clarke standing on the stairs and you'd have to squeeze past them, because the stairs are so narrow. It was that kind of dungeon. It was so dark in there. The roof was low and it was packed, you'd just see people dropping in front of you so you have to carry them out, try and get them up the stairs to get air. It was that sort of place, heavy and tense - and that was Shaka's residence.
This time we got down there at 9 o'clock in the evening and Shaka and Fatman were playing. Now these two have had rivalries from day one about who's got the latest and best dubs. Anyway, there was tension in the air from when we arrived to when I left at 9 o'clock the next morning, and they were still playing brand new dubs even then. From start to finish, it just never stopped! The biggest tune that Shaka drew was Aswad 'Behold'. Fatman played five cuts of 'Death in the Arena', and then Shaka found another version [that was] never heard before. Fatman would then play another and [then] Shaka would find another version, it just went on and on and on. But what really made the night for me was when Fatman played Keith Hudson's 'Brand'. Keith was in the dance in a corner and Fatman saved it to the end (sings 'As we get the strain, Rasta took the blame'). The dubplate was just the rhythm section, no vocals. Man was saying, "Who's this, who's this?", and then Keith Hudson came on the mic and say "Yeah, it my tune them". Yeah, Keith Hudson was on the mic! Unbelievable! It was a one-off. Prince Jammy was there and Bunny Lee was in the dance. It was dubs and dubs and dubs and you just couldn't leave. You'll never get a session like that again.
DH: And when was that?
JJ: About the time that the Lovers' Rock era came out, so around '78. Clubs like Pheobe's, Club Norrick, which was the corner of Seven Sisters Road, The Four Aces Club, they were the dungeons.
DH: With Great Tribulation it reached a point when the name changed, can you tell me about that?
JJ: It was after Lovers' Rock in the early '80s. Bob Marley passed away in '81 and that changed everything, especially for me. It was the time of people like Yellowman, Welton Irie, Lone Ranger, a time when all these type of artists started coming on the scene, so the Rasta thing was put to the back. The Rasta sound suffered a lot, to adapt they were getting new kids on the old sound systems to move with the times. But I was kind of reluctant, I said "No, no, no, this thing's too powerful, why am I gonna give it to ya man". So that's when I decided to move off the reggae scene.
DH: So you put the reggae to one side and it became Good TImes in what, 1982?
JJ: It was a little bit later than that. I still had the sound system and my brother wanted to marry the two (his Rare Groove nights and the sound system) and that's how I got involved with Norman Jay's warehouse parties. I also did all the warehouse parties when Kiss FM was just born, because I had the big sound sound system and they wanted a sound with full bass. I was also doing independent gigs like Shoom for Danny Rampling. I put the sound in the Fitness Centre, and I was hiring the sound out to other acid house gigs.
DH: These were the days of promoters breaking into empty warehouses with bolt cutters, so you must have had some close calls?
JJ: Oh yes, I've been in a couple of raids.
DH: What happens with the sound system in that situation?
JJ: Well, I did one at the Isle of Dogs in the late '80s and the police came in, shut it down, and were arresting everybody. They said "Who owns this rig?", I said "It's me. You can see I've got nothing to do with this, I'm just an ordinary Rastaman lending them the rig". The policeman said "Yes, I can see that you've nothing to do with this'", and they let me pack up and take the rig out. They arrested everyone in there and they let me take my rig! I just walked out with it, put it in the van and left. That's when I stopped doing the acid house gigs.
DH: But after that you were still hiring out out the sound for other parties?
JJ: Yes, I used to do all the big warehouse parties with Tim Westwoood, and the Kiss FM events in places like Dingwalls. And I was doing a [sound system] gig once a month at Southall community centre and I would do Sunday nights at Dingwalls in Camden. That was it really - the rest was just hiring the sound system.
DH: Let's talk about your weekly show on Kiss FM - when did that start?
JJ: Well I started doing Kiss FM in 1986. At that time we had to keep moving around to different peoples' houses, we had to go in Trevor Nelson's girlfriend's house, we went to Gordon Mac's house, Colin Favor's, you know, we had to keep moving every week because we kept getting busted.
DH: So 1986 was when you started playing reggae to the public again?
JJ: That's right, yeah.
DH: When Kiss went from a pirate station to a legal one in September 1990 they kept most the DJs but then had a shake up a bit later. How long were you on Kiss when it was legal?
JJ: I was there for another 8 years or so.
DH: Why did you leave?
JJ: They told me that the music that I was playing to the audience was no longer required.
DH: Did Gordon Mac still own KIss at this point?
JJ: No, it was EMAP then.
DH: Could you tell me about some of the interviews that you recorded for the show, some memorable ones that are special to you?
JJ: I've had Dennis Brown, Prince Lincoln, John Holt, Augustus Pablo, Mikey Mystic, who did an album with Manasseh, Barrington Levy, U Roy…. I did one with Jah Shaka in the early days [of Kiss FM], in '86, '87, where he was playing just pure dubplates. That time we were in Camden and Shaka came late with his dubplates but the needle kept jumping on the dubs because [when he plays out] he uses a Garrard deck with a heavy needle. We'd just got the Technics 1200's and were using these beautiful, sophisticated needles, but when you put them on his dubs they just kept skating, couldn't handle it. But it was a very special, memorable night, and I'd really like to know if anybody has got tapes of those shows.
DH: How were you in contact with these people?
JJ: It was a scene connection. I was doing a pirate station, but it was getting out there - at one point when Kiss was legal I had higher listening figures for a Sunday than Capital Radio. But the era I was in, it wasn't the era of emails and internet so a lot of what I did got lost. It was only on cassette.
DH: You were making preparations to move to Ghana for a very long time, in fact I remember talking to you in 1999 about it and at the time you were sending money over to have your home built. How long was it between deciding to move and actually getting there?
JJ: It took about four years, but it was a thing of repatriation. The Black peoples were talking about repatriation, about going home, but for a lot of them it was a chat show. For me it was a reality. I wanted to see what it was all about, so I went to Ghana on a scouting mission in 1989 and I'm happy that I did because now I have a beautiful house there and I'm very happy.
Joey Jay's 'When Kiss Was A Pirate' Top Ten
1. Hugh Mundell 'Africa Must Be Free' International Rockers 45
2. Jacob Miller 'Ghetto on Fire' Arab 45
3. Johnny Clarke 'Decloration of Rights' Attack 45
4. Paul Blackman 'Earth, Wind & Fire' Rockers 12"
5. Yabby U '72 Nations Bow' Prophets 45
6. Dennis Brown 'Deliverance Wil Come' Joe Gibbs
7. Prince Lincoln 'Love The Way It Should Be' God Sent 45
8. Ijahman Levi 'I'm A Levi' Concrete Jungle 45
9. Junior Delgado 'Famine' DEB 12"
10. Danny Clarke 'Babylon Trap Them' Wildflower 45