My Generation is a year-long season of programmes charting the history of pop music across the decades, and has featured Tom Jones, Keith Richards and Boy George exploring the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This month, the series will call on Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B to front the documentary film, Jazzie B’s 1980s: From Dole to Soul.
It tells the against-the-odds story about the success of a young black British businessman and musician in a time of mass unemployment and recession, exploring his 80s memories, sharing his experiences, what the decade meant to him and relating some of the key moments in both his musical and personal journey on BBC Two, Four and BBC Radio.
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 Britain, defined by image and aspiration.
Jazzie B gives his perspective as one of a family of ten, a teen targeted by the Sus laws, lugging his own reggae sound system round London on a bus, to an international superstar.
Soul II Soul was to top the charts in the UK and America with, Keep on Movin’ and Back to Life, defining a distinct R&B sound for the dawning 90s. He also inspired a fashion line that sold from Camden Town and became synonymous with styled locks, funki dreds, culminating in the first definitively British black street style and a Soul II Soul fashion brand – as he says, “before we knew what branding was”.
The film also examines the birth 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.
Jazzie’s 1980s – from Thatcherism to fashion, racism to TV shows, hairstyles to warehouse parties, features a stellar cast of contributors including 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, i-D Magazine founder Caryn Franklin, The Face editor Sheryl Garratt and writer Lloyd Bradley.
Jazzie says, “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.”
My Generation airs on BBC Four. Find out more here