Jamiroquai - on Acid Jazz Records

Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai

Jason Kaye appeared just after Gilles Peterson departed for Polygram. In fact, Gilles made it plain he wasn’t keen on the retro pop direction that the label pursued through 1989 and he wasn’t too keen on neither the Brand New Heavies, nor their bastard child Jamiroquai.Jamiroqaui was part of the underground scene that coalesced around the Acid Jazz label and Gilles’ WAG and Dingwalls sessions. Most of the early artists on the label were drawn from the same tiny pool of talent and Jason Kay was no exception. From a musical family – his mother was the television variety show vocalist Karen Kay – the 17 year old first came to the attention of Eddie Piller through the Heavies manager, Tunji Williams (brother of Family Funktion DJ and later Young Disciple Femi ‘Fem’ Williams) who brought a cassette to the Tin Pan Alley label offices. Several versions of the story have circulated but this is the way Piller remembers it:“Tunji had booked a meeting with me at 21 Denmark Street to go through the promotional campaign for the Heavies next single but when he arrived he walked over to the tape player, whacked on a cassette and yelled ‘listen to this…!’ Now Gil Scott Heron was a major inspiration at Acid Jazz and I was amazed when the voice kicked in. Definite shades of Gil but with a touch of a young Stevie Wonder too. The voice was quite high pitched and I thought it was too high for a man; I reckoned it was a woman, possibly black, probably in her late twenties, it never occurred to me that it might actually be the voice of a white kid”. There was no real music to speak of, Jay had just sung directly over a track from the newly released Heavies debut. An instrumental, probably the Mizell Brothers-tinged BNH, recorded directly onto a cassette. Piller asked if he could see a photo of the singer, Tunji laughed and told him to look out of the window…”The singer is standing outside the music shop on the other side of the street”…Confused, Eddie Piller could only see a teenage white kid in a poncho and a gargantuan fur hat, sporting the obligatory Gazelles and burgundy Wrangler cords. Tunji opened the window, called him over…”Yeah, I know, he has that effect on people…he dances as well!” was all that was said as Jay was running up the stairs. Piller again “We didn’t really believe that Jason Kay could have been the singer we heard on the tape and so immediately I put a copy of the Heavies record on and asked him to sing there and then. Never one slow in coming forward Jay did just that, oozing self-confidence, he danced and sang his way around the office. It was incredible. This kid just exuded star quality. Buckets of it!”Work soon began on recording Jamiroquai’s debut single; an ecological-inspired rare groove masterpiece entitled How It Should Be which set out Jay’s stall in the direction he was to follow with his debut album. Recording progressed slowly because, in spite of his inexperience, Jay Kay was a totally obsessive perfectionist. Initially Piller turned down the earliest versions of the song and it was eventually reworked as his extraordinary opus, When You Gonna Learn? All was not well though. Acid Jazz at this time were still a tiny two room operation on the fringes of Soho with a staff of three. Although the Heavies debut album had just started turning a profit, it had cost only £7,000 to record. Jamiroquai’s debut single alone had come in at five times that with all its re-records and re-mixes; sums that were clearly unsustainable to Acid Jazz who took the decision to try to find a major label partner.“I was dismayed at the lack of interest in an artist I clearly thought was about to redefine the wheel. He can’t sing, he can’t write songs and he wears a stupid hat was something I heard again and again at meetings with the UK majors. Sony, London, Warners, Polygram, A and M, Arista all disparagingly passed. It wasn’t until I took the tapes to the States that the A&R team at Columbia, Faith Newman and Pam Turbov (who managed the Bangles) gave me the time of day. In fact, they bit my arm off and a deal was duly done through their UK operation. The Jamiroquai phenomenon was about to explode, worldwide.”

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