The man behind a happy face, a thumpin' bass, for a lovin' race. Still keeping it real in 2013
Jazzie welcome to DMC and I have to say it's great calling an 07836 phone number - I thought I was the last person on the planet with one...proper 80s stylee…
“Hey Dan great to speak to you again. This phone number is pre-Panasonic days from around ’84 when your phone was like a brick and you had to carry a power pack around. The reason I kept this number was because when everyone got mobiles they all started getting up their own arses finding themselves fancy numbers. I am classic Dan, so I kept my original number. The furniture may have changed, but that number is staying for the long haul…”
I have danced alongside you for many years and sat in back rooms of clubs talking nonsense until the sun came up. But - and I have never mentioned this to you before, I was going out with this girl around 1989 who was into her indie music and wouldn’t entertain the thought of dancing in fields, heading off to the Africa Centre or driving up to The Hacienda with me. I thought I’d take her to The Brixton Academy to see Soul II Soul perform, I had visions of converting her to dance music.
Q: Anyway ten minutes into your set she fell asleep. Was that a regular occurrence for Soul II Soul?!?
“Ha ha. Is that true? Wow, I have to meet her and put her straight about her taste in music. What happened to her?”
Long gone dude, long gone. Probably still listening to her Smiths and Wedding Present albums, somewhere dark and danky…
“Well it’s great to be speaking to DMC again. You have no idea how important DMC was to me and Soul II Soul back in the day. Hold on a minute whilst I walk into my music room, I want to talk to you about something that's in there. Right, I’m standing here in front of all my awards, I’ve got my Ivor Novello, my Grammy’s, something flashy from the BPI, but Dan I’m telling you - right at the front is the DMC Award that your dad presented me with at your awards at The Wembley Arena. What a night that was.”
I was there dude. It was incredible seeing superstars who I looked up to from the dancefloor suddenly on stage – artists like yourself and Mantronix rocking out a venue normally associated with boring rock artists…
“I've got to tell you Dan, DMC were the first ever people to recognize Soul II Soul. I have always said that there are two people from back in the day that I have massive thanks and respect for – Lindsay Wesker and your dad, I am forever grateful to DMC for how they reached out to us back then. And another thing that’s great about DMC is your whole family vibe, I love hearing stories of how people pass the baton on. I convinced my mum to retire in the late 80s and come and help me as our company secretary and there were two sentences you could always guarantee she would say to me at least once a week – ‘are you eating?’ and ‘turn it down’."
Q: What were your thoughts regarding Kym Mazelle appearing on ITV’s The Voice a couple of weekends ago, must have been slightly surreal seeing a singer associated with Soul II Soul appearing on a talent show?
“Yeah I heard about that, I was away at the time but some friends told me about it. I heard Kym was great.”
Yes she was. Nice of Will.i.am saying that if wasn’t for Soul II Soul he wouldn’t be where he was today, such was your influence. It’s a shame your fashion range didn’t rub off on him though…
“Ha ha ha, well that’s Americans for you.”
Q: Let’s talk about the Funki Dred brand for a minute. Your family was all into the Rastafarian religion and movement, growing up in a West Indian household you couldn’t have locks because dreadlocks were seen as non Christian. How did you get around that issue?
“I just wore a woolly tea cosy hat at home and I shaved the side of my head so my mum couldn’t see the locks. Within a few days a couple of friends followed and then everyone else did. That was the how the Funki Dred was born. Growing up as a young black man in those days was a different world though, we were getting chased around the streets of London by teddy-boys and mods relying on the skin heads to protect us who luckily loved our music and our style. They were crazy times.”
Q: And then punk came along…
”Exactly, and everything changed again. Suddenly there was no regime or formula which was brilliant for guys like me. Suddenly we all had a voice, the voice of a whole scene, not necessarily the music, but the whole culture with regards to that whole era."
Q: A couple of weeks ago half of Britain were in uproar about the cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Your whole clothing empire though flourished under Thatcher, she encouraged kids like yourself to believe you could do something with your life...
“Maggie basically helped ‘legitimize’ kids like me who came from working class environments. There was no way before that regime I would have envisaged setting up my own clothes stalls or getting a shop, no way. There was no lottery back then, I would have had to marry into royalty to be able to do what kids on the other side of the tracks could do. We were from the days when a number 14 bus and a supermarket trolley got us around remember!"
Q: Your Soul II Soul Classics Creation range has just launched at Harvey Nichols, coinciding with the 25th Anniversary of Funki Dred - quite a way from the days of your stalls in Camden market…
“Well Dan I called Woolworths but I didn’t get a call back so Harvey Nichols had to do! To be honest the whole clothing side of things started by accident. We were putting on all of these parties and the kids coming along had no idea who the organisers were, so we got a few logo t-shirts screen printed and the first night people were literally trying to take the shirts off our backs. I knew we were onto something there and then.”
Q: I interviewed Jazzy Jeff the other day and he was telling me how much the Americans were influenced by Soul II Soul, he told me that one of your tunes even featured on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. That is some claim to fame. In your opinion, how do you think Soul II Soul influence the States…
“Dan I ain’t got a clue! I have been going to the States since the 70s, I’ve got family over there and my Aunt was a massive influence on my life who took me everywhere. The way I look at the American side of things is like this; the UK had a small window open up when for a period we were the coolest country in the world. And it was very flattering for all concerned. What we tried to do within Soul II Soul was try and portray that yes…we are British, we have great music and we are proud of it. What we wanted to achieve was that we were distinctively English and were not trying to be American with our sound or vibe at all.”
Q: The UK press thought we had lost you to America after your first two albums were released, you toured the world for the first half of the 90s and then seemed happy working at Motown. What made you return?
“It was actually Barry White and my mother who convinced me to return to the UK which I am forever grateful for. I have to say though, it was a very different scene I came back to. When I left the music industry was pretty much 100% white based but when I came back things had changed. Trevor Nelson was doing his thing on Radio 1, I was suddenly dealing with black executives in meetings and the whole essence had started to move on.”
I saw you on breakfast television last week speaking about your children. Do you give your son Mahlon a hard time if he has a bad game playing for Gillingham Town FC, you being an FA coach and all…
“Well let’s ask him shall we, he is just coming through the door after a run! But no I don’t, it’s the usual scenario of looking out for him but he is doing really well. I was down at the Burton game last weekend and it was great to be amongst all that youthful energy.”
Q: You used to be quite handy on the pitch though…
“In the early 80s I was, I had the dream like so many others. In the end though I left it to my friends like Laurie Cunningham and Clive Best to pursue their careers in football and I just played in record industry matches. The game has changed so much these days, I miss that old style of physicality we used to have. You know, kicking each other up in the air then going for a pint with them after the game. Footballers have it too easy these days."
Q:Speaking of your children, they are now at a stage of their life when they understand and appreciate great music. What do they think of your early Soul II Soul albums?
“Ha, nobody has asked me that before. Well I hope they like it, I have to say though that I haven’t heard them playing any of it…”
Q: Do you like the music they are into?
“Love it. I like all kinds of music Dan especially all the great British stuff that’s out now. I am a great believer in diction and pronunciation, something UK hip hop is great at, unlike a lot of American artists who have a huge problem overdoing it.”
Q: Well I would imagine your kids will be looking for some guest list places for one of your up and coming gigs, the Groove Odyssey House Legends event at Pacha in London on May 26th with Spen, Ralf Gum and Monique Bingham. Do you still have a passion for DJing, does driving through London in the early hours on the way to a club still give you a buzz?
“Yeah 100%. DJing was my first love and still is. When I started I wanted to have the biggest sound system in the world and it’s wonderful to be involved in the game still. I love the fact that people are still interested in listening to my weirdness!”
Q: You will be hosting the 80s Soul, R&B and Boogie room at Groove Odyssey. How do you prepare for different gigs, does each city have it’s own vibe for instance?
“To be honest I just watch the audience, they influence me which way I go. What I try and do is try and give the dancefloor an inclusive and not an exclusive feeling. What I mean is that I will play a lot of stuff they will know but sprinkle a few records they won’t have heard before as well.”
Q: And finally, tell us about the new life sized ‘portrait bench’ sculpture that has just been erected at the finish of the new walking and cycling route near your north London home. Quite an honour to be alongside a Suffragette and a health pioneer…
“Wow so glad you have asked me about that, I am so proud of it. It’s such a fantastic project and I am honoured to be recognised by the community that I grew up in. I have to say that it is right up with all the things I have achieved in my life. For all the teachers at school who dissed me and told me I wouldn’t achieve anything, well there you go - I didn't follow your advice to become a milkman after all! I’ve ticked so many boxes with my career but this ranks right up there. I woke up in the middle of the night last week with the thought that I was the only living person honoured with these sculptures which is kind of weird. I have to take my hat off to the sculptor, it really is a thing of beauty.”
Groove Odyssey: ‘House Legends’
Sunday May 26th, 10pm - 6am
Pacha, 1 Terminus Place, Victoria SW1V 1JR
Main Room : DJ Spen, Ralf Gum, Sean McCabe, Bobby and Steve Zoo, DJ Leo
PAs: Monique Bingham and Sabrina Chyld
Room 2: Jazzie B, Lee Jefferies, Sammy Confunktion, Soul Master T, Funkos Smith, David Bailey
Room 3: Hosted by HouseFM.net with DJ’s Ted Lawrence, Lady T, Crucial B, Steve Harrington, Brockney C and Kev Chase