Following in the footsteps of Tom Jones, Keith Richards and Boy George, legendary Soul II Soul frontman Jazzie B took BBC Two viewers on a trip back in time last fall, exploring his 80s memories – sharing his experiences, what the decade meant to him and revisiting some of the key moments in his musical and personal journey.
The documentary film “Jazzie B’s 1980s: From Dole to Soul” tells an against-the-odds story about the success of a young black British businessman and musician in a time of mass unemployment and recession.
During the 1980s Britain was convulsed by social and cultural change, with massive unemployment, strikes and rioting, through to an economic recovery that saw an economic boom and designer labels and branding fuel a new, aspirational Britain.
Soul II Soul frontman and entrepreneur, Jazzie B, one of a family of ten, witnessed this change from both sides of the divide. The decade saw him progress from being a teen targeted by the Sus laws (stop and search laws) – with his own reggae sound system he took round London on a bus, to an international superstar, as “Keep on Movin” and “Back to Life” topped the charts the UK and in America, and came with a fashion line that sold from Camden Town to the world.
It’s a tale of identity: personal identity. In the decade defined by image and aspiration, Jazzie created his own unique style, the “Funki Dred” which set him apart, coining the first definitively British black street style and a Soul II Soul fashion brand – as he says, “before we knew what branding was”.
He achieved this with the support of the Tory government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme, from a shop in Camden Town, while also running a reggae and soul sound system, Soul II Soul, run on a collective basis “at a time of rampant individualism”.
The film also examines the flowering of Britain’s multicultural identity, via the success of Soul II Soul, as a generation of Thatcher’s unwanted kids turned their music and art – through “Warehouse” parties and Pirate Radio – into a positive statement of unity and world-famous rhythm and style. Soul II Soul, by the end of the 80s, created and released their own music which, with the album Club Classics Vol. One and the singles, topped the charts around the globe.
Jazzie explores the 1980s giving his perspective on aspects of the era – from Thatcherism to fashion, racism to TV shows, hairstyles to warehouse parties. The film features a stellar cast of contributors that include Sir Lenny Henry, Ian Wright MBE, Sir Viv Richards, Tony Hadley, Lord Tebbit, DJs Trevor Nelson MBE, Judge Jules and Norman Jay MBE, Caron Wheeler (singer, Soul II Soul), Caryn Franklin (founder, i-D Magazine), Sheryl Garratt (editor, The Face) and writer Lloyd Bradley.
Jazzie said before the documentary aired on BBC Two last fall: “What was really special about the 80s was the change – both culturally and politically; walls actually coming down, being on the cusp of wars and that ending, and a huge shift with new technology becoming available. The changes that happened in the 80s were so important for Soul II Soul, for me and my generation, opening up the doors to the 90s and letting us realise there was a whole world out there. That’s how important the 80s were for me.”
“Jazzie B’s 1980s: From Dole to Soul” is now online for non-UK audiences interested who haven’t had the opportunity to watch it. Check out the full documentary below: