“We’re from the days when a number 14 bus and a supermarket trolley got us around.”
So says Soul II Soul star Jazzie B, as he remembers the lengths he and a schoolfriend used to go to play dances with their first sound system when they were aged just 13.
It sums up the determination, resourcefulness and love for music which got Soul II Soul where it is today.
Their first 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.
Jazzie – 53-year-old Londoner Trevor Romeo – says: “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.”
As Soul II Soul grew, Jazzie was determined to create a dancefloor environment that would appeal across the board.
“We were very arty as an early sound,” he says. “We never had conventional speakers, we used pyrotechnics in a dance, we had banners and strobes in a house party.”
Nothing summed them and their crowd up better than their regular Sunday night spot at the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden.
“You had people from all walks of life at the Africa Centre, a very eclectic crowd,” says Jazzie. “It was like Benetton down there.”
The Africa Centre was a game changer for Soul II Soul, British black music and the nation’s youth culture in general.
It caught the attention of Virgin Records, who signed them as an act in 1988, catapulting them into a tornado of success – 1989 debut album Club Classics Volume One and 1990’s follow-up Volume II: 1990 – A New Decade both topped the charts, spawning singles such as 1989 number one Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), number three hit Get a Life and 1990’s A Dream’s a Dream, which reached number six.
There were resident club nights all over the world; live concert tours; radio and TV appearances; and Jazzie even had his own show on London’s Kiss FM.
To date, Soul II Soul have sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, while Jazzie has accreditation on more than 35 million albums in more than 100 territories.
Into more recent times, musically Soul II Soul has kept itself contemporary – Keep On Movin’ was used for the high-profile Renault Clio television ads. Mary J Blige and Sean Kingston have both released covers of Back To Life, while Beverly Knight released her version of FairPlay in 2011. A year later, Back to Life was featured in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
In 2008 there was royal recognition when Jazzie was made an OBE for services to music – the first soundman to be honoured by the Queen.
The same year Jazzie won the Ivor Novello Award for inspiration – being introduced as “the man who gave British black music a soul of its own” at the ceremomny.
For the man who considers himself a “pleasure giver”, it is paramount to Jazzie to remain a part of the club scene.
He says: “Being a sound system is very important to me, I still DJ in clubs. And the label is run like a sound system. It’s all exactly the same as before, except that the times have changed. Technically we are still a sound system. The singers and artists are our MCs, and instead of mix tapes we now make records and CDs.”
Jazzie B no longer borrows supermarket trolleys and hasn’t seen the inside of a number 14 bus for a while, but the sound system mentality is still very much at the root of Soul II Soul.
Soul II Soul play The Foundry, Sheffield on Friday, November 25. For tickets, priced from £23, visit bit.ly/2fwGwT2