Trevor Romeo pka Jazzie B
Before Soul II Soul were an internationally chart-topping act, they were a sound system, born out of the hard work and vision of Jazzie B, a music-obsessed kid who had grown up with older brothers all involved in the north London sound system scene. ‘It was,’ he maintains, ‘always going to be music or sport – if it hadn’t been for the sound system I wanted to be a PE teacher.’
Keen to reflect the multi-cultural street scene around him as a teenager, Soul II Soul took the technique and presentational aspects of the best reggae sound systems and applied them to a broad range of music and attracted a diverse urban crowd. A range of Funki Dred head clothing, on sale at the Soul II Soul shops consolidated their cultural icon status before the series of record releases in the 1990s turned them into a best-selling act.
World domination followed as the unique SIIS sound was successful all over the world and nowhere more so than the USA, where they became the first black British band to succeed there. Jazzie’s self-determination allowed him to create a singularly black London sound, massively popular in America by virtue of the fact it was something they’d never heard before, rather than an attempt to be them. This international success meant a string of superstars including James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Public Enemy and Destiny’s Child found their way to SIIS’s Camden Town studios with production or remixing requests.
Up until lockdown, SIIS’s touring schedule was busier than it had been since the Club Classics days. Re-issues of the Soul II Soul classics in vinyl and digital formats have sparked interest from a range of contemporary artists, who are now collaborating with Jazzie to bring a modern take to his legendary back catalogue.
PRS has more responsibility now than ever. As digital platforms explode the old ways of doing things, songwriters and composers are being left behind when it comes to earning, yet without them there would be no music and no music industry. All my career, as a composer, artist and record label owner, I have fought to maintain the value and rewards of my compositions and performing rights and recognise this has to be a pro-active rather than reactive process. As part of PRS I would work to bring a greater understanding of the importance of my fellow writers and artists knowing what they are entitled to and how to achieve their correct returns.
My 30 years of unique British music industry experience, built on a distinctive and inclusive cultural perspective and developing into international success, would be put to work to this end. My business understanding is from both an artist’s and a company’s point of view therefore appreciates the value of independence but understands the power of the collective and these apply to rights and payments. Practical knowledge of the shifting technology means I can keep up with the game as it changes and bring this expertise to bear on behalf of PRS and its members.
But most of all, my ambitions would be to address the imbalance between writers/composers and artists, to make sure the former is not getting pushed to the side in the rush to celebrate the latter. The most practical way to achieve this is by making sure they get paid according to their works’ success, increasing their worth and the value of PRS.