Soul II Soul's Jazzie B: 'I was in Belfast years ago ... it was fun, but I can remember nothing'
Soul II Soul Jazzie B frontman tells Andrew Johnston what it feels like to be a legend in his own lifetime and why he's thrilled his daughter is now in showbusiness too.
Jazzie B has come a long way since he emerged from the London musical underground in the late 1980s as frontman of dance legends Soul II Soul. In 2008, the ninth of 10 children from Hornsey in north London was made an OBE, while Soul II Soul's biggest hit, 1989's Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), was featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. And there's more.
"Three weeks ago, I got an award from the mayor and the Evening Standard as a 'London legend'," beams Jazzie, "and last year, I had a life-size sculpture made and it's sat in the area where I was born and raised, and you know what? I love it all. It's something I'm proud of."
But with Soul II Soul hitting the road for a 25th-anniversary tour – including a date at Falls Park for the west Belfast Feile – could the man born Trevor Beresford Romeo 51 years ago have foreseen fans continuing to connect with albums like Club Classics Vol One and Volume II: 1990 – A New Decade a quarter of a century on?
"Yeah, we knew it was gonna happen," Jazzie grins. "That's why we called the album Club Classics. When I studied music as a child, my piano teacher said, 'A good melody is never forgotten.' As long as I can remember, as a DJ, I've been playing music that's older than me. That's the thing about music – it can be timeless."
Still, a lot has changed in the music scene over the past 25 years, though Jazzie isn't one to hark back to imagined 'good old days'. "Thank God for things changing," he says. "We'd be in a right old mess if things didn't change."
And he knows his audience (of "teenagers right up to senior citizens", Jazzie proudly reports) will go with him, even if promoters and journalists would perhaps rather pigeonhole Soul II Soul as a 1990s act. The Feile gig, for instance, is a nostalgic double-header with old-school pop crooner Paul Young.
"That's all down to geezers like yourself," Jazzie retorts. "If you tell a story and you call it 'the 1990s' – whatever! It's all good music."
As for so-called 'black music', Jazzie is delighted with how it has been embraced by the mainstream since the days when he was one of the few black people working in a London recording studio. "We've (black people) been making music from the beginning of dawn. The fact that the music has evolved in the way it has – and that I happen to be black and a part of that – is quite interesting, really."
Yet there are some aspects of the black music scene that frustrate him. For example, Radio 1Xtra – the BBC's self-described "new black music network" – recently published a "Power List", which was surprisingly topped by the white acoustic folk strummer Ed Sheeran. "I don't buy into all that bulls**t," Jazzie spits. "1Xtra's owned by white people, so it can't be a 'black music network'."
Onto less contentious matters, and Jazzie has another reason to be proud these days. His daughter Jessye B has followed him into showbusiness, becoming a model and one of the stars of the E4 reality series Dirty Sexy Things. "She seems to be enjoying it, you know," he beams. "At the moment, she's riding the crest of the wave."
Back to Soul II Soul, and Jazzie is looking forward to playing Belfast, even if he can't quite remember if he's been here before. "Is that where U2's hotel is?" he asks.
"Nah, wrong place ... I've been to Belfast a long time ago. It was good fun, but I remember nothing!"
- Soul II Soul play Falls Park in Belfast on Sunday. For details, visit www.feilebelfast.com