Craig Charles: What’s your life like now, without festivals – which I see you at often?
Norman Cook: I’ll be honest, it’s a bit turgid but not altogether unpleasant. For someone who’s always shared their music with other people via the medium of DJing, it feels like a part of me is missing. So things like doing this compilation album [the new Back To Mine series] really help. In a way it’s good timing for it to come out because most action is going on back at people’s houses these days. So that’s quite timely. It meant I could really wallow in the compilation process and the curation of it, whereas before you’d just do it on your lap in an airport or something. I really got to gorge myself on my record collection and really think about it.
Craig Charles: I see that your daughter has followed in your footsteps and is playing Camp Bestival next year. I think I’m playing it too and she’s ‘Fatgirl Slim’.
Norman Cook: Yeah it was just one of those strange, weird anomalies that comes out of lockdown. We were at a loose end and she’s started DJing so we though we’d do a little stream of her. Camp Bestival was going to be her first ever festival this year and so to cover her disappointment I let her DJ. She just won the hearts and minds – she got about 7.5 million views which I’ve worked out means all those hotel rooms and airports I’ve hung around in the last 35 years, she’s eclipsed – played to more people in one foul swoop than I’ve played to in my entire career.
Craig Charles: How did you get your kids into the music? Did they know the ground-breaking DJ and producer that you were, back in the day?
Norman Cook: I mean my job, I see, is to be the embarrassing dad. Both my kids, bless them they’re lovely children but having me and Zoe as parents, they haven’t really grown up in the normal world. So they’ve been exposed to an awful lot of music and an awful lot of showing off! So, it’s only natural really they carry on. My son has just belatedly started DJing. For ages he just said “yeah all you do is play really noisy music to drunk people who shout to you”.
Craig Charles: Listen, I’m quite a successful DJ myself but you are next level. What does that feel like, being an arena level DJ?
Norman Cook: It’s weird. It’s very satisfying obviously. You know that that beautiful moment in DJing is when the whole room becomes as one like a collective euphoria and a collective abandon, which is a very powerful thing and if you can achieve that at arena level it really is quite an emotional thing to witness that kind of, the togetherness and the community within it. Having said that I’ll be honest with you, the arenas, I don’t do that often because it feels like work. You really have to work the crowd all the time, every minute, you can’t really sort of let up. And you tend play the big tunes because you know they’re going to work.
Craig Charles: But it is a bit like being a popstar isn’t it. You can’t go on and DJ, just play underground stuff that’s turning you on. You’ve got to go on and play your hits haven’t you.
Norman Cook: Yeah, which I why the yin to that yang is that I always still play small clubs and that’s where I really feel most soulful as a DJ. That’s where I go on a journey with the crowd – rather than me being the entertainer and them being the crowd, we all become part of the same journey and we all just wonder off wherever that night takes us. It’s nice to be able to do both but as you know, being a DJ it’s such a beautiful job because you’re in the midst of the music you love and you’re surrounded by so much excitement and abandon. You can understand why we’re all missing it now.
Craig Charles: Let’s talk about samples for a minute, how do you find your samples [… ]?
Norman: Yeah I mean I used to do it religiously. It started that I just had a big record collection so when I discovered a sampler and the fun you could have with it, I started trawling through my record collection. I was always a crate digger and I was always a vinyl junkie and that just kind of fed my habit that I could – when I was DJing abroad, I would always hit record shops in the afternoon and thrift stores and then yeah, so I would go out actively looking for strange old records that I could take little tiny bits of. So again it sort of fed my addiction of being a vinyl junkie but I was calling it my job because this was source material.
Craig Charles: You must have made an awful lot of money for forgotten or no longer performing or selling artists surely?
Norman Cook: I don’t measure these things in money. I am still very much in touch with Camille Yarborough who sung Take Yo’ Praise. We’re still pen-pals. All she talks about is show she loves the way that that lyric still resonates. She wrote it about black soldiers in the Vietnam war. She said “you took it out and put it in a different arena where it means so many things to people”. In times of the pandemic it rings true when you think about key workers. Or just people’s relationships. So things like that I find delicious, that she not only approved of what I did but continues to thank me for the journey I took it on. It’s not about the money that’s made its about the message travelling throughout different cultures and different eras.
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