Jumpin Jack Frost tells DJ Mag about growing up around his uncles who were into a lot of funk and soul, and then experiencing the Jah Shaka Soundsystem — “skanking, being really heavily into it” — before becoming a box boy for Frontline International, “helping to lift the [speaker] boxes and the wires into parties”. His recently published autobiography, Big Bad & Heavy, goes into fascinating detail about his trials and tribulations growing up around the music scene in London.
Soundsystem culture originated in Jamaica in the 1950s, when DJs would load up a truck with a generator, turntables and huge speakers and set up street parties. It was actually the ‘DJ’ who would rap over the tunes while the ‘selector’ picked the tracks, and as time went on crews began cutting dubplates so that they’d have exclusive original sounds — a precursor to how drum & bass would operate several decades later.
After the continued migration of Caribbean people to the UK in the 1960s and ’70s, a plethora of soundsystems emerged in most major cities where there was a Black community. Basements were commandeered, and illicit blues parties would provide these systems with a homegrown DIY dance space to play styles like ska and reggae. Segueing with the growth of discotheques into nightclubs, soundsystems were crucial to the development of UK dance music.
“Most clubs wouldn’t let Black people in, but I discovered places where Black, white, straight and gay mixed happily and enjoyed the music that we all loved.”
— Norman Jay MBE
“When I went to my first proper nightclub I met like-minded people who looked like me, loved the same music as me, dressed like me,” reminisces Norman Jay, “it was paradise for me at the time. I’m talking about the early 1970s to start with, at clubs where Black people could celebrate their music. Most clubs wouldn’t let Black people in, but I discovered places where Black, white, straight and gay mixed happily and enjoyed the music that we all loved.”
“I used to go to St Gabriel’s Youth Club in South Harrow around ‘78 on a Sunday, and was immersed in the soul/jazz funk/disco scene,” says Ashley Beedle. “However, when I was part of a group of four or more Black guys, we were usually turned away at certain club doors — there was a colour bar even though they played Black music!”
Ashley did his first gig at 16, and started DJing at blues parties before joining Stateside Sound System as a box boy, then Shock Sound System with the Zepherin Brothers — Dean and Stanley — Cecil Peters, Ricardo De Force and Paul Denton. “We DJ’d together at Notting Hill Carnival in Powis Square, and we were the first Sound to play house music,” he recalls.
Enoch Powell delivered his inflammatory Rivers Of Blood speech in 1968, but on dancefloors and at gigs Black and white people were uniting through music. Disco and punk were the predominant sounds of the late 1970s, although punk — unlike disco — was pretty white, in the main. “I talk to Don Letts now and he says, ‘It was you, me and the doorman’, but there was more Black faces at The Roxy than that,” Rhoda Dakar tells DJ Mag. “I may have known most of them, but there was still no judgement about it.”
Don Letts — whose parents were from Jamaica originally — was the hugely influential DJ at punk haunt The Roxy, playing dub reggae in between the punk bands. His sounds unwittingly spawned a ‘punky reggae party’ whereby subsequent post-punk bands filled their sound with more space, and acts like Big Audio Dynamite — who Letts featured in, alongside Mick Jones from The Clash — set out exploring a dubwise beats sound.
Rhoda Dakar (left, credit: Peter Dunwell) and baby Rhoda with her mum and dad (right)
The ska-tinged 2-Tone sound was the principal band-centred youth music movement after punk. The two Black guys who flanked deadpan singer Terry Hall in The Specials — Neville Staple and Lyndal Golding — were Jamaica-born, and the multi-racial nature to 2-Tone (bands like The Beat, The Selecter, etc.) helped change a lot of previously racist attitudes amongst white working class youth — as had Rock Against Racism a couple of years before.
Rhoda herself joined The Bodysnatchers, ending up in Jerry Dammers’ The Special AKA a few years later — recording ‘The Boiler’, a song about a rape victim, and singing on the influential ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ track in the mid-’80s.
2-Tone did still attract its fair share of boneheads. “Mate, I stood on the stage in Guildford with a good half of the audience ‘sieg heiling’ at me,” Rhoda recalls, when The Bodysnatchers were supporting Madness. “The rule was, they start ’sieg heiling’ and we stop playing and walk off stage until they stop. We downed tools, and they didn’t stop, so I had to come on and shout at them until they stopped and then we could carry on with the gig.
“Did any neo-Nazis have their minds changed by the multi-racial element of 2-Tone? Some of them did,” Rhoda continues. “I used to spend a lot of time talking to people in the audience before or after we went on, and used to get told off by the promoter. But it did used to change their minds. With the best will in the world, it’s pack mentality — these people aren’t mental gymnasts who’d thought it out, at that age it’s about outside influences, not people who are thinking for themselves.”
Simultaneously at the turn of the 1980s, Kool Herc — who’d emigrated from Jamaica to The Bronx, NYC when he was 12 — is credited with being the founding father of hip-hop by cutting up instrumental breaks on two turntables and for his syncopated speaking on the mic. He too was influenced by Jamaican soundsystem culture.
Hip-hop gradually got huge through the ‘80s in the US and internationally, and the credible UK version was kick-started by the London Posse in the late ‘80s. Unlike most UK hip-hop acts up until that point, the London Posse refused to rap in fake American accents. Rodney P, himself of Caribbean origin, and cohorts instead used their London vernacular, in turn laying the groundwork for grime 15 years later.
“Acid house was a multi-cultural explosion, it was a time of change. We had people from all backgrounds and cultures coming together and becoming friends.”
— Jumpin Jack Frost
Soundsystems would often provide the amplification when acid house parties first came along. A young Carl Cox, whose parents had come to the UK from Barbados, had his own soundsystem in the ’80s, which he lent to the first two Shoom events — the Danny Rampling-fronted club-night that was instrumental in kicking off the UK’s late ’80s acid house boom. Not sure quite whatever happened to that Coxy fellow... (clue: he became a global ambassador for our scene).
Soul II Soul were also a soundsystem to begin with, and their dances at the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden — a huge influence on Jumpin Jack Frost, and many others — provided a bridge from soul, funk, hip-hop and reggae into house music. Soul II Soul were fronted by funki dread Jazzie B, whose parents originally came from Antigua in the Caribbean, and their multi-racial party nights helped set the dance scene up to be a welcoming place for all loving races.
Before the so-called first Summer Of Love in 1987, clubbing was dominated by funk and rare groove — the latter a term coined by Norman Jay himself, who had been throwing his Shake ‘N Fingerpop parties since the early ‘80s. “For many people, 1987 was Year Zero,” Norman says. “For my generation of DJs, we looked at that and smiled, cos our dances had been around a decade or two prior to that. So for me, I saw it coming, I embraced it, I loved it and I enjoyed it for what it was, and was grateful and thankful to have been part of it.”
“Acid house was a multi-cultural explosion, it was a time of change,” says Jumpin Jack Frost. “We had people from all backgrounds and cultures coming together and becoming friends.”
Fabio with his dad (left) and baby Fabio (right)
DJ pioneers like Fabio and Grooverider got swept up in the rave revolution, and when they took a residency at Rage at Heaven in the early ‘90s they inadvertently helped create drum & bass with their mash-up sets of breakbeat hardcore, jungle tekno, sped-up hip-hop and bonus beat house rhythm tracks — speeding up tunes and chopping up breaks.
Goldie — whose dad was Jamaican — used to go to Rage with his girlfriend Kemistry and her best mate Storm, and made it his mission to make a record that Grooverider would play at the club. ‘Terminator’ was the result, a game-changing track using time-stretching techniques that helped shape the future for drum & bass — a scene chiefly built by a whole gaggle of ‘children’ from the so-called Windrush generation (Randall, Fab & Groove, Frost, Bryan Gee, LTJ Bukem, Roni Size, Brockie, Goldie, Congo Natty, Ray Keith, etc.). Without these foundation DJs, there would be no drum & bass scene whatsoever.
From Trevor Nelson and his smooth R&B grooves to cats such as Matt ‘Jam’ Lamont, Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown and Norris ‘Da Boss’ Windross birthing UK garage, first lady of ‘90s house Smokin’ Jo to Imagination’s Leee John in disco-funk and many more, the influence of many Children Of Windrush in building the UK dance scene is immeasurable.
“My mother is finding it increasingly difficult to navigate her way through the NHS, she is getting constantly asked about her nationality and her tax status — which she paid for over 40 years in the UK! It’s insulting and depressing, and not something I’d expect her to have to put up with in 2018.”
— Ashley Beedle
All the above-mentioned DJs hold British passports and have travelled in and out of the country numerous times DJing internationally. Most of their parents — if they’re still alive — have British passports too, but some, including thousands of the Windrush generation who came to the UK on their parents’ passports, have been caught up in Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. This was where, under pressure from UKIP and right-wing papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express, the Home Office changed the methodology for ‘catching out’ illegal immigrants.
Anyone coming into contact with the NHS, employers and landlords without all their papers intact was suddenly almost criminalised — the onus was on them to prove they were not illegal immigrants, even though they’d maybe lived and worked in the UK for decades. Just before DJ Mag went to press with this article, it was revealed that at least 63 Windrush generation people had been wrongfully deported on Theresa May’s watch. Scores had been sent to detention centres, and literally thousands more have been worried sick by unwanted — and unwarranted — hassle from the authorities. Not so much a scandal as a complete and utter outrage.
“My mother is finding it increasingly difficult to navigate her way through the NHS,” says Ashley Beedle, who’s had a slew of big club records over the years with X-Press 2, the Ballistic Brothers and Black Science Orchestra. “She is getting constantly asked about her nationality and her tax status — which she paid for over 40 years in the UK! It’s insulting and depressing, and not something I’d expect her to have to put up with in 2018.”
“I’m worried about my dad, cos my dad didn’t apply for citizenship, so this is something we’ve got to go through, to make sure he has his proper papers in order,” explains Jumpin Jack Frost, who is now also involved in the Save Our Boys & Girls mentoring scheme for at-risk young people in London. “He’s been here since 1960, you know what I mean? It’s his home. This is something myself and my sisters and brother are looking to sort out for him. And it’s disgusting that we have to think about this at this point in his life — he’s over 70 years old. For him to have to worry about this is not on.”
Frost tells DJ Mag that he’s shocked by this Windrush Scandal. “We shouldn’t have to be worrying about our parents after all the contributions that they’ve made to this country,” he says. “We shouldn’t have to worry if they’re gonna be kicked out — and some people have lost their jobs over this, some people have already been deported.”
“I’m no expert, but I remember a couple of years ago they started deporting people who were originally from Jamaica,” says Roni Size, who won the Mercury Music Prize in 1997. “They ‘dipped’ everyone. I look at my family pictures and I think: ‘We were lucky’."
“My parents were British citizens before they came here, so they didn’t need to apply for anything — why should they?” says Norman Jay, who was made an MBE in 2002 for services to music. “They were invited. But the British government has always tried to muddy the waters with that, which is why they conveniently destroyed all those landing cards.”
“In the community we’ve always known about cases like in this Windrush Scandal — it’s just that now you guys have discovered it,” Norman continues. “My parents have been saying it since the 1950s, it’s nothing new. It’s appalling, and it’s great that we’ve got MPs like David Lammy, the Labour MP, calling it out and standing up to it, he’s one of the few voices we’ve got at that level to directly challenge the government on that, cos like Stephen Lawrence, like Grenfell, the community won’t let go. We will hold them. They’re on a sticky wicket now cos they’re in the public glare.”
Norman Jay MBE
It’s thanks to the work of Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman and others that Windrush cases have been in the public eye of late. In one instance, Hubert Howard was struggling for 13 years to prove to the Home Office that he was in the UK legally — having arrived in 1960, aged three, with his mother. Unable to obtain a British passport, he lost his job, was denied benefits, and couldn’t visit his mother in Jamaica before she died. He asked if Amelia Gentleman could sit in on his review meeting with the new Windrush taskforce in early May, and his application was successfully processed in 45 minutes.
For Rhoda Dakar, now a patron of the Music Venues Trust, the whole Windrush Scandal is just the tip of the iceberg — and that’s before Brexit has even kicked in. “If Canadians can be thrown out, what’s going to happen to Indians and Pakistanis? What about all the people who came here from Uganda?” she asks.
“It’s immeasurable what people have put in, and everything we have to describe the music today is almost directly coming from the Windrush generation or the people who came before to fight in the two world wars and stayed,” Rhoda adds.
The evolution of most major music genres begins with different forms of Black music, and the dance music scene as we know and love it today wouldn’t exist without the Windrush generation migrating to the UK. They worked hard to help rebuild the country, often facing terrible racism along the way, but enriched UK culture immeasurably. In turn, many Children Of Windrush made (and continue to make) an immense contribution to building the UK dance music scene — salute!