Melody Maker | Feature | 20 March 1993 | Photo: Stephen Sweet
The cat in the hat is perpetual motion personified. He's quite literally bouncing off the walls of the recording studio, his head rocking from side to side on the beat of the playback. He runs his fingers along an air keyboard for the piano break and sticks his thumb in his mouth for the sax solo. At the end of the song, he lets out an excited whoop.
The cat in the hat is buzzing like the National Grid during the FA Cup Final. The only part of him that keeps still for more than a few seconds is the furry thing jammed on his head.
"It's not just for an image," he puffs. "I've worn hats like this since I was a kid. I've had all that, 'Look, it's Davy Crockett!' bollocks for as long as I can remember.
"The hat also has a spiritual significance. The Native Americans call it 'Orenda', which is a kind of vibe power. If an audience at a gig isn't really going for it, I’ll tug the hat down and come on all militant. I'll come on like a buffalo."
This time his whoop is almost deafening.
The cat in the hat is 22-year-old Jay Kay.
The son of jazz diva Karen Kay, his earliest memories are of aeroplanes taking him and his mum from London to Vegas and back. Karen wanted him to grow up into a lawyer, but Jay had a better idea. Teaming up with fellow west Londoners Toby Smith (keyboards), Stuart Hanna (bass) and Nick Van Geider (drums), he called the idea Jamiroquai.
At the end of last year, when Acid Jazz issued Jamiroquai's debut single, "When You Gonna Learn?", few people even knew how to pronounce the band's name. But it was obvious to all that Jamiroquai had a bright future. First there was the music – the haunting didgeridoo, the teasing keyboards and the supple basslines – and then there was Jay Kay's superb voice. Stevie Wonder and Aaron Neville were the instant reference points.
Jamiroquai were soon offered contracts by every major record company. They opted for Sony. Last week, despite the Acid Jazz re-release of "When You Gonna Learn?" and without so much as a sniff of daytime radio play, their debut single for Sony, "Too Young To Die", crashed into the charts at Number 15.
Although their roots are in dance music, Jamiroquai's road to "Top Of The Pops" has been on the gig, rather than the club circuit. Their live show features a 12-piece group and swings through funk, jazz, blues, soul, rap, world music and even classical. It’s exciting stuff. Which is why 500 people were turned away from their Town & Country gig at the start of this year.
"Playing live is our forte," declares Jay. "You never know what's gonna happen next at a Jamiroquai gig. We jam ideas, fly into all kinds of styles. So what if there are a few bum notes in there? So what if we sometimes don't know how to end a song. I haven't tripped over a lead yet, but I'm sure it'll come.
"To be honest, I find studio work a bit stiff by comparison. I have a problem standing still in front of the mircrophone. I just can't help it. But then you know that already, don't you?"
Jay Kay's mind has the same trouble as his body. He seems to be juggling dozens of different ideas at the same time and, when he opens his mouth, everything comes tumbling out. And once Jay starts, there's really no way of stopping him. The simplest question can provoke a reply lasting up to 15 minutes.
"'Too Young To Die' is an anti-war song, yeah, but it's not just about people. It's about all forms of life – the animals, the trees, the planet itself. They're all too young to die. But that's exactly what's gonna happen if we don't start treating the world properly. You'd better believe it, man.
"People mock too quickly these days. Look at how the media ridiculed the Natural Law Party. All you heard about was yogic flying, but some of what they said was spot on. Especially that stuff about cutting back on administration. Why do I need an inch thick booklet to pay my poll tax? What to pay, how to pay, where to pay... As it goes, I don't wanna fucking pay.
"We're talking about paper, man. Paper equals trees equals air. I don't want free newspapers, mail order catalogues, a thousand chances to win with Reader's Digest and special rates from the bank through my door. Don't send me that shit. Just fucking don't. Cos when there's no trees, no canopy, no topsoil and no grain growing, then we don't breathe, we don't live.
"The indians in South America know something terribly wrong is going on. They can see the tips of the grass going yellow. Then you get that silly woman, that Tory MP, wossername, Teresa Gorman, saying there's no environmental problem. Shut yer mouth. Shut yer fucking mouth. What do you think you're doing, getting people to think there's no global warming?
"Politicians make me sick. John Major goes up to Glasgow and what does he do? Does he visit the run-down estates? Of course he fucking doesn't. He meets local business bods for a buffet lunch. The he jumps into his Jag and fucks off. Fuck political leaders, what we need is a spiritual leader. Someone like the Dalai Lama, someone to fight the bad karma in the world.
"There is so much bad karma around now. Politicians say they are worried about crack and smack, but have they thought about where they're coming from? From the very places the Europeans have been robbing for years. Karma, man. It's a higher, natural law. It all comes round, it all comes back."
There's a tremendous sense of urgency about Jay. He really is like a man on a life-or-death mission. There is also an urgency about Jamiroquai's music. It's up, up, up. All the way. Both spiritually and physically.
"We're talking about lots of grief, but there's lots of hope in there too," says Jay. "I believe in people power – and it's getting stronger every day. You can feel it when you walk down the street. Whatever bad things are going on, people are waking up to the fact that they can change the world. The governments shouldn't fuck with us. Not this generation.”
But isn't all this just an empty echo of "The Times They Are A-Changin'"? A brief triumph of naïve enthusiasm over reality?
"The politicians of the Sixties and Seventies were able to fob young people off with 'You're all high, you don't know what you're on about'. But not this time. This time we know exactly what we're on about, we know exactly what's wrong. I will not accept that you can't change the world. The only people who say that are the people who profit from it the way it is."
People, perhaps, like the accountants and lawyers in charge of the music business. What do the Sony Records executives make of you talking like this?
"Good question," laughs Jay. "The point is that Jamiroquai isn't a record company product. It's people power that has put 'Too Young To Die' in the Top 20. That's why I'm not bothered about the media attantion we're getting now. I know we can live up to it. If we couldn't, I’d be shitting my pants.
"Our success doesn't mean that we've compromised in any way. I would never do that. You want me on your television show but you don't want to hear the things I have to say? Then don't ask me on. I don't give a shit.
"But that doesn't mean I'm naïve. I live in the real world and I know what the music business is about. I know that Sony want me to make money for them. Fine. They can have the fucking money. Just so long as I have the voice."