“What I’ve managed to do is get an all-star band from the UK and we’re talking about the next generation,” enthuses Jazzie, who is bringing Soul II Soul to Wrexham’s William Aston Hall on Friday, December 1.
“Half are from the old school and half are from the new school but what we’re doing now is like an old-style Revue – I’ve taken a leaf out of James Brown’s book and we’ve got a great line-up.”
Starting life in 1988 as a North London sound system, it wasn’t until March 1989 that Soul II Soul released their breakthrough single Keep on Movin’, featuring Caron Wheeler on lead vocals. The song became a worldwide success and sold over one million copies in the USA before the group released their first album Club Classics Vol. One. The album reached number one in the UK and sold over four million copies worldwide. That summer saw the classic single Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) hit number one on the UK singles chart, winning the group their first Grammy Award.
Then there were the resident club nights all over the world; live concert tours; radio and TV appearances; Jazzie had his own show on London’s Kiss FM and there was even an Adventures of the Funki Dreds comic book. Soul II Soul had become household names.
“I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t look back,” says Jazzie, 53, reflecting on next year’s anniversary.
“On a personal level I’ve got to give credit to the collective which is everyone from the roadies to the guys who set up the rigs to the person who answers the phone.
“The way I’ve managed to walk through this musical experience was by starting off as a studio tea boy and cleaning spit out of brass instruments.
“I had dreams and aspirations about having my own band and then in the early 80s I made my first trip to the States and I saw Earth, Wind and Fire in concert. It blew my mind – it was like watching 100 different musicians and I think I heard every one of those musicians without them playing a solo!”
In 2008 there was royal recognition for Jazzie when he was awarded an OBE for services to music and in 2013 he was honoured at his birthplace – Finsbury Park – when residents selected Jazzie as one of three locals honoured for their contribution to the community with an ironwork sculpture.
“We’re from the days when a number 14 bus and a supermarket trolley got us around,” he laughs.
His first North London sound system, Jah Rico, played mainly reggae, but after three years changed the vibe to more soul and funk and Soul II Soul was born when he teamed up with guitarist Daddae Harvey.
“We came up with the name not just because of the music we played, it also stood for Daddae and myself – two souls moving together. We’ve always had that kind of relationship – there are not many words exchanged between us, but everything that’s happened has been very much in tandem.”
In 2013, Soul II Soul began a series of full band, old school-style gigs all over the UK and keeping the band on the road has become a priority for Jazzie.
“We’ve been at it now for what feels like forever but it’s actually been about two years and I’m not going to lie, I’m really quite enjoying it.
“We’ve evolved to the point where we’ve got up to 14 people on stage performing so it’s not purely sample-based anymore. It makes it really interesting – my favourite band are Earth, Wind and Fire and for me it’s all about the melodies and the grooves and it pays homage to the old school. I have a great musical director and he understands what I want and along with Karen we get to sprinkle our bits on top and the band follow us.”
The popularity of Jazzie’s sound system took him all over the UK and the chance to reconnect with towns where Soul II Soul’s music had an impact is one he is relishing.
“When I was in my teens I started DJing and I played everywhere from Leeds to the south coast to Bath and Bristol,” he says.
“In the old days with a sound system we saw ourselves as the radio which would deliver the music to the places people wouldn’t go. Those territories are more important to me than anywhere and it’s more important that I get a reaction there than I do in the heart of the smog.
“Those places are the real tonic of Britain and a happy face, a thumping bass for a loving race should be reverberating in places like that just as much as in LA, New York or London.
“We play everywhere from the Bronx to LA to Wrexham – it doesn’t get any better than that because at the end of the day, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
l Soul II Soul play Wrexham William Aston Hall on Friday December 1 2017. Box Office No: 0844 888 9991 / www.glyndwr.ac.uk.
See full story in the Free Press