Interview with Peter Isaac of Jelly Jazz

For the last 14 years Jelly Jazz has been keeping jazz funkers in Plymouth, England dancing on the ceilings. Jelly Jazz has been host too many great funk DJs and live performances including; Mr. Scruff, Keb Darge, Gilles Peterson, Tim ‘Love’ Lee, Ian Wright, Simon Goss. Ursula 1,000, Jazzanova, The Quantic Soul Orchestra, Faze Action, The Five Corners Quintet, and The Bobby Hughes Experience. The club night originally started at the Quay Club on a Wednesday night but longtime resident DJs Peter Isaac and Griff are now moving the night to Fridays. To The Disco had the rare opportunity to speak with Jelly Jazz resident DJ and original co-founder of the night, Peter Isaac.

What was the jazz, funk scene like when you started your night? Who were the main players on the scene? How has it changed? Can you give me a playlist from back then?

Back in 1993 when Jelly began the main players were Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge, James Lavelle, Dean Rudland, Norman Jay, and DJ Food amongst others. The scene was incredibly London-centric centred around clubs connected with record labels like Acid Jazz and Talkin Loud, and there was also Dingwalls of course. Manchester, Leeds and Bristol also had groundbreaking clubs. The scene then was very exciting, so much music was being rediscovered and completely lapped up by DJs and dancers alike. There was no eBay so finding records meant digging in record shops or developing relationships with record dealers that were making trips to the US and bringing stuff back. The hunger for new music was immense, and culturally at that time, young people in general were so much more open to hearing different dance music. Remember, this was also the height of the house music explosion so ‘clubbing’ was ingrained into peoples lives.

Today there is of course people that still have the hunger for new music, but to be honest there seems to be less and less of them. It’s so difficult to quantify changes in youth culture as there’s so many clashing factors, ie. technology, the ‘download’ and ‘myspace’ generation has surely affected things? Now you can get any music you want at any time, and probably for free off the net.

As for the music we were playing back then: new music was from labels like Mo Wax, Talkin Loud, Dorado, Tongue & Groove, Acid Jazz, Ninja Tune and so on. As for the old stuff, we played James Brown, Kool & The Gang, lots of Prestige and Blue Note stuff, jazz fusion and Afro Latin and a lot of trip hop and quite slow stuff, the tempo has increased ever since!

Tell me how Jelly Jazz began? Was it a struggle to get punters to come to your night when you guys first began? How did the night progress from the beginning to where you are today?

We started Jelly Jazz in January 1993, the ‘Acid Jazz’ scene was at it’s height yet in Plymouth completely unrepresented. The town was full of raves, rock clubs and chart nights and not a lot else so when we had the chance to start a jazz night we weren’t exactly confident that there would be an audience. The first night was just myself on the decks, a bunch of posters were put up around the town simply saying ‘jazz funk at the Quay Club’ with a tag line of ‘oh for groovy people’. Around 120 people turned up which was amazing, I thought maybe I have something here. Before the next Wednesday I had coined the name ‘Jelly Jazz’ and luckily found another DJ at Plymouth Uni who had great records and we opened properly to a sell out crowd. In the following weeks word spread and we saw queues down the block every single week. For the next 2 years, it was mainly myself and Griff playing the records with just a few local lads guesting, we had a loose policy of not getting ‘big name’ guests as we wanted the music rather than the DJ to be the point. This worked well for a long time but inevitably we did start getting guests in!

After 2 years Griff moved up to London to get a real Job, so I continued and started bringing in many guest DJs and bands and this is when the club really exploded. We had also moved to a new venue ‘The Studio’, and regularly saw 600 people a week coming. Guest back then were people like Norman Jay, Mother Earth, Izit, Chris Goss, Bunny, Courdroy, Soul Jazz, Jasper The Vinyl Junkie and many more.

Then on our 4th Birthday, we decided to throw a big party at The Warehouse in Plymouth, we had local funk band Big World Skunk play and 1100 people crammed in and went nuts! This was the start of a 5 year run of massive Jelly Jazz concerts. These mostly happened at the now closed Dance Academy in Plymouth, and it was here we usually had up to 1500 people freaking out to bands like Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers, Sugarman 3, Sharon Jones, Snowboy, The Soul Providers, Lee Fields, Bobby Hughes Experience and many more. What was really amazing is a lot of these bands were completely unheard of to most punters, there was a culture in town that meant if Jelly Jazz were throwing a party then you had to go. People trusted us with our choices for bands and were never disappointed! For example, when we had Sugarman 3 from Desco Records in New York, it was the bands first ever gig in Europe, it was also our biggest ever session with 1600 people attending and no one had really heard of them! Neil Sugarman on sax was totally blown away by the whole event, as we were.

These days our ‘main events’ are held at The Eden Project in Cornwall, and once again we always see sell out crowds and a brilliant atmosphere like only the South West of England can get. Acts to have played there include The Quantic Soul Orchestra, Lou Donaldson and Fertile Ground.

Can you recall the best night at Jelly Jazz? What made it so special? Can you recall the best guest artist/guest DJ and what made them special?

How can I possibly choose with nearly 1000 Jelly Jazz events spread out over 14 years at venues across the UK! But if I had to then it would be these: Lou Donaldson at The Eden Project, a total Blue Note legend and one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen at a concert. Pucho at our 5th birthday, he had the place going bonkers with storming latin jazz, Snowboy even got up and played a killer conga solo. Manteca have played for us twice and both times dropped an unreal gritty latin soul, boogaloo and salsa sets. DJ wise there has been too many brilliant nights to pick from!

What is the secret behind your success for all of these years? How is it moving to Friday nights?

A simple answer to this would be quality music, but we also present it well and have really tried to generate a loyal following that feel they have some sort of ownership of the night. And that they feel respected and valued by us and the venue. It’s all about having a really good night out, dancing and having a laugh. Not being too serious and elitist. Being a Jelly head can give you an identity of being a fun, forward thinking party freak!

Who are your favourite DJs today and why?

You have to admire Scruff, he’s taken the eclectic style of DJing to the limit, created an empire and still remains one of the nicest approachable blokes in the scene, he’s also super skilled on the decks. I also really rate Mad Mats from Raw Fusion, he has unreal B-Boy deck skills and a demon taste in music. For funk and soul I love Matt ‘Mr. Fine Wine’ Weingarden from New York, he plays a lot of obscure and very deep funk, soul and boogaloo but isn’t afraid to drop some JB or other well know tracks, he’s not a funk snob. For him it’s good or bad music and forgets the whole equation of rarity equalling good. I also hold a great deal of respect for Chris Goss, Dom Servini, Gilles Peterson, Russ Dewbury, John Stapleton and Quantic.

Any tips for novice DJs or promoters on how to get clubbers to their own funk nights?

You gotta love what you do and make that come across, don’t be afraid to go with your instinct, it’s your uniqueness that will sell you and not some formulaic set up. Stand up for what you believe in and be prepared to spend all your cash on records!

If you have a chance to check out Jelly Jazz be sure to stop by every Friday night at Quay Club in Plymouth, England. For more information check out their website at >>

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