For over 20 years Jazzie B has been at the forefront of British music. He’s in demand as a producer and DJ and is performing with Soul II Soul again at the end of the month.
Jazzie B bursts into the lounge at Radio London still full of energy after his weekly two-hour show. Only a stylish grey streak in his beard reminds us that it’s been over two decades since Soul II Soul’s first hit Keep on Movin’ sowed the seeds for the UK’s thriving Urban scene.
This month they return to the stage for two nights at the Islington Assembly Hall following a sell-out show at the Roundhouse last year. Jazzie B reflects on how the music has changed: ‘When we first came out it was called dance music. It spent a little bit of time being called r&b and then it went into this whole urban thing.’ In the 90s they were assumed to be a super-polished American act. ‘We were dissed right, left and centre,’ he remembers. At the same time they were finding a fan base for their music. The scene grew; ‘Some of us were able to grab a bit of it and hold on,’ he recalls. In 2008 he received the double honour of an OBE and an Ivor Novello award for being the man who gave black British music a soul of its own.
It’s harder for acts starting now, he believes. ‘When I made a record I didn’t really make it for the charts. I made it for our crowd. That was it.’ He laments an industry revolving round viral videos and new acts being pushed to number one. ‘Things are so quick. There’s no legacy anymore.’ He complains, ‘It’s hard, very hard.’
In spite of this, Jazzie B has a positive attitude to change. ‘Some of the musicians I worked with stuck in their ways a little bit too long which was probably the inspiration for me not to get caught up.’ He is inspired by new artists who give him demos at gigs. ‘They’ve got no inhibitions. They haven’t been in a recording studio... and it’s really interesting because sometimes that mistake happens!’ Mistakes are key to the creative process, he explains: ‘Sometimes you make a mistake and it’s all that and a bag of chips! That’s what makes the track.’ He has little interest in working with established acts: ‘I’d prefer to work with somebody who has a little less knowledge and a bit more energy.’
By embracing change Jazzie B has remained the same. His infectious grin flashes from beneath the brim of his hat with as much youth and vitality as when he was playing outside his mother’s house in the 70s on a homemade sound system and transporting gear to gigs across London on buses. The music has changed but not the attitude. ‘I want a reaction,’ he says. ‘It’s brilliant when I drop something like Tom Jones, It’s not Unusual. It’s fantastic,’ he laughs. ‘I want them to have that lasting memory of what music is about,’ he explains. ‘I look out to someone in the crowd and as long as they’ve had a reaction to something I’ve done, that’s what I want.’