Keep on movin'
David Pollock talks to Jazzie B from the legendary Soul II Soul Soundsystem about club classics, OBEs and the Silver Jubilee
'I never made house music, mate! You've got the wrong bloke.' He's got a point actually, maybe I have. Is this the same Jazzie B whose band Soul II Soul produced a genre defining album entitled Club Classics Vol. 1 just as house music was breaking through to the mainstream at the end of the 80s? And whose songs - particularly the really big hits like 'Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)' and 'Keep On Movin'' - set the template for sleek, big-vocals mainstream dance music for years to come?
Yes, as it happens, but Trevor Beresford Romeo OBE doesn't see it like that. 'Nah, we weren't making any house music or anything like that,' he says. 'We were making real music, I came up engineering for rock bands. My first gig - this'll give you an idea where I'm coming from - was the Queen's Silver Jubilee in '77. I was 14 or 15, playing a mixture of stuff from old James Brown up to reggae.'
So was that a celebration of the Jubilee, or a Sex Pistols-style anti-monarchy gig? 'It was a real street party, man. It was a community thing where they block the streets off and people come out and celebrate, like the American block parties. Wasn't you about in '77?' I was a year old in '77, I tell him. 'Bastard,' he laughs, 'you ain't got a clue then, 'ave ya?'
He's the gregarious sort, is Jazzie, but that's probably part of the reason why his career has far outstripped the period in which Soul II Soul took up residence in the charts. A studio album hasn't been released under the name in more than a decade, while the last of the group's five UK number one singles was 'Joy' in 1992, yet still Jazzie DJs around the world on a weekly basis, releases compilation CDs (the latest is on Ministry of Sound) and has his own radio show on BBC London.
Perhaps the kudos of having two Grammies under his roof (both for Club Classics…) and the keys to seven cities around the world, including New York and Los Angeles, just takes the best part of a lifetime to rub off. Yet Jazzie still retains genuine affection from listeners of a certain generation, and particularly those who share his Caribbean descent.
Then, of course, there's that OBE, which was awarded in the 2008 New Year's Honours List. 'Oh yeah, that all came up,' he says, with a certain flush of faux nonchalance. 'Victim of circumstance. It's for my contribution to the music industry, but I don't know who nominated me. I'm looking for the geezer, though. I'd like to know why he did it, because it's an absolute honour that I just wasn't expecting.'
Jazzie drops hints that something special will be on the cards for the 20th anniversary of Club Classics next year, while he'll also be co-ordinating the seventh edition of his Back II Life festival in the familial home of Antigua. Whether you want to call it house, dance or whatever, his legacy's still serving him very well.
The Soul II Soul Soundsystem will be playing the Bulleit Bourbon Originals event at the Arches, Glasgow, Fri 7 Nov, alongside Martha High and Ben Westbeech.