Express & Star

Jazzie B, the man behind Soul II Soul, tells his story at Wolverhampton Literature Festival

He's the king of cool with a story to tell – a man of music who's life is now part of a book.


Jazzie B, better known as the creator of number-one soul combo Soul II Soul, will be a headline guest at this year's Wolverhampton Literature Festival.

At the turn of the 1980s and during the early 1990s, Soul II Soul became the biggest sound system in the world. They redefined contemporary culture as they went to number one and won two Grammy Awards, while selling millions of records. Enjoying number one albums with their iconic triple-platinum debut, Club Classics Vol One, and the follow-up, platinum global smash: Vol II: A New Decade, Soul II Soul also scored huge hits with Keep On Movin’, Back To Life and Get A Life.

Jazzie started the collective in 1982 and his autobiography is visually stunning. A Happy Face. A Thumpin’ Bass, For A Lovin’ Race tells the story of this London kid who became a worldwide star and earned an OBE.

He will headline Wolverhampton Literature Festival next Friday, February 3, to share his reflections on a unique and remarkable journey during an appearance at Newhampton Arts Centre. The festival, organised by Wolverhampton Council is partnered by the Express & Star.

The band broke through with his life Back To Life.

Jazzie remembers: “Back To Life was huge. The record had broken before the record company knew it was broken and that was because we had the fever on the street.

"At that time, the shops were doing very well. Soul II Soul were what they would call a bullet. A lot of the radio stations were playing the record and we were offered Top Of The Pops.

"When we went to do that, they said we had to mime. Karen didn’t want to mime, she wanted to sing live. We ended up having an argument. They said we either mimed or didn’t do the show. So we didn’t do the show. Two weeks later, the song was number one. It was the best, ever.

“I said something about when you’re making records and you’re an artist and sometimes it’s the mistakes that count. You have to not be afraid. You have to do what you believe in. The beauty of this industry is that there are no rules. So for any budding artist, however weird you think you are, just remember that there’s someone weirder. However wrong you think you are, just remember that it’s just about having balls or belief in what you are doing.

“We believed in ourselves that much that we walked away from Top Of The Pops. Could you imagine what the record company were thinking? It was drama. We bowled out there. We didn’t care about anything. Soul II Soul was a collective thing, it was our way of life. This was our idea about what we wanted to portray. In those days, people didn’t really understand.”

The collective brought together fashion, music, art and music – and still do. That combination was potent and earned them success around the world as they took off in the USA, as well as conquering the UK and Europe.

“The record became big. It was number one and triple platinum in the UK and number one on the US R’n’B chart. It was double platinum in America. Our idea was to keep selling the album as a whole but the singles just took off in club world, where they made a lot of sense.

“It was the whole package. That’s what people bought into. To be honest with you, by that time I was tired. America, for some weird reason, embraced us. It was colossal. We toured America. Everybody came on tour. Then we ended up being nominated for Grammys in America.

“Soul II Soul was always about a collective. We looked at ourselves as being an aeroplane, going from one place to another with all the passengers. So that was everybody from the artists to the producers to writers.

"At the time when Soul II Soul came along, none of us were famous but in our own right, like on the street or wherever we were rolling, we were the dons. Then we had this great opportunity but we just became victims of the circumstances. It was a great trip and a great journey for everyone.”

Jazzie became an international star and struck up a friendship with the legendary funk icon James Brown. He received an OBE and helped others who wanted to achieve similar success.

“I was invited by Mr Brown on a tour, with Soul II Soul. We did Brazil and Europe with him. Mr Brown was incredible. I was literally with him all the time, which felt like 24/7. We just grew into a friendship beyond working together. It was at the point where I was asked to help produce some tracks for his 79th album.

“When I was with Mr Brown, we did everything. We talked about fashion. We spoke a lot about the politics of the time. I think it’s important to say when I met Mr Brown he was probably at a time in his life where he’d been everywhere, done everything and worn the t-shirt. He was a man. He was The Man, do you know what I mean? I’ve heard every single story about him and it’s all true.”

The two grew close and stayed in touch for many years.

“From there, Mr Brown and I had the best time. I had the best time with that geezer. He used to phone me all the time. One time he phoned me for advice. I think it was something to do with filming, perhaps something to do with the BBC, and he made me come over and literally almost assist him, or help with the scenario. I learned a lot of things from him. But you know what I learned the most from him; it was how to put it tidy.

“We all do things and we all feel we know it. This thing about being taken advantage of, I met the man at a time where he’d been through it all and done it all. What he made me realise was that even in some things that he might not have got right, from my perspective, there was still a reason.

“Look, take it back to the start. I was a working class kid with nothing to lose. I’d studied the great soundmen. I’d realised how far they’d taken it. I’d idolised people like James Brown.”

The good times rolled – and continue to. Last year, Jazzie B’s Soul II Soul headline the Royal Albert Hall. The show as such a hit that they were asked back to do it all again this autumn. That can wait, however, for he has a date with fans in Wolverhampton on February 3, when he’ll talk about his life and sign copies of his book.

Wolverhampton Literature Festival will run from Friday February 3 to Sunday February 5, hosted by City of Wolverhampton Council.

It aims to amplify the voice of authors, poets, writers, storytellers, puppeteers, podcasters, vloggers and publishers across the UK, while celebrating the creative communities living in the Black Country and beyond. The festival always looks to provide something for everyone and this year is no exception.

Through an outstanding programme of events, it continues to relight Wolverhampton through the power of literature.

Among the star names this year is Irvine Welsh, who wrote Trainspotting; Brian Bilston, better known as Twitter’s Poet Laureate; Emma Kennedy, who wrote the brilliant Letters From Brenda; and the comedian Richard Herring, whose memoir is called Can I Have My Ball Back?

For full details, visit

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