INTERVIEW: Normski speaks!

INTERVIEW: Normski speaks!

Normski is the overly charming and quick whited TV presenter from the early 90’s dance shows such as Def II. With his quick whit and ground-breaking presenting style the camera was always attracted to his charm. It is however with the camera firmly in his hands that Normski has introduced a world maybe not many would know he was a champion of.

Normski by Norman Anderson is a book straight out of the top draw, featuring stunning photos of a catalogue of the biggest acts to ever emerge from the hip hop ranks including Public Enemy, De La Soul and Queen Latifiah, making this book an absolute crucial purchase.

Normski sat down with Gigslutz to talk up his new book, what he’s up to now and how he got to capture so many iconic shots:

Can you please tell me abit about your upbringing?

I was born in North West London to Jamaican parents that moved to the UK in the early 1960s. I spent most of my formal years growing up in the North West of London.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

The first music I ever remember was reggae music! The sound of the Caribbean. It was played pretty much every day in the family home.

American hip hop trio, The Alkaholics, one member holding a ten-pound note, on cover of 'Normski, Man with the Golden Shutter', by ACC Art Books.

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

To me reggae music seemed serious, even though everyone was always happy when they danced and sang along, but I guess the popular music of the 1970s that made me stop and think was Rock groups like the Stranglers and the Police.

Did you ever try your luck in music performance before TV presenting and photography?

I have been trying my luck with music since I was in infants school tried playing the basic recorder, Xylophone, in primary school I had go with the violin, but that sound wasn’t working in our Jamaican house, and I really wasn’t very good to be fair. It was the kettle drum that really caught my imagination that I got a chance to hit a few times in the school orchestra along with other percussion instruments. Rhythm was always going to be my thing and once I got to junior school and realized

I didn’t have the lung capacity to play the trombone, I eventually got my chance to play on the drums in the swing band. That was the beginning of me trying to be a drummer without a full kit, until my teenage peers got together and created our first group “Night People” we got a drum kit and I was for a good while the drummer. We did local gigs at street fairs and in a few community project type venues and even played a gig at the legendary Dingwall’s Dancehall in Camden Lock.

How did you start your journey with photography?

I had an eye for photography but didn’t really know until I was taken to a small auction sale in the hopes of getting a bicycle and of course all the bikes were gone by the time my mother and I got there. I was deeply disappointed at the realization trying to get a bike home on a bus, that would have been a challenge in itself! It wasn’t going to fit in a gift box. My mother said with hope “how about a camera?” I reluctantly said, ‘Okay then”.

Like any needy child, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the world through a view finder. It wasn’t long before I became an avid hobby photographer and discovered a magazine called Photo filled with examples and technical info on the basics in photography and the darkroom. My parents came home from work one day saying a friend had some old 1960s darkroom equipment for sale and wondered if I wanted it? Of course, I said yes and that was where it all started.

Were you close to some of the bands you shot in your initial shots like Queen Latifa, LL Cool J and DJ Young?

I wasn’t close to any of the groups at first especially the American artist. Being at the beginning of the scene in the UK most of the acts I first knew of and photographed were from London. When the US artists started to come over, I was already doing photography, but more community-based stuff, reportage type photographs and some live music artists at gigs. There were very few Black photographers in the early 80s, so when the US artists came along, I was lucky to have already gotten my foot in the door of a couple of publications and often was the second choice as there were some really good photographers leading the way.

It wasn’t until Hip Hop Connection magazine arrived that I really started to excel and became the man with the Golden Shutter with my own two-page column. I found out about this new magazine that was dedicated purely to connecting youth around the UK with all the Hip Hop news, Music, Acts and who’s who at the time which was early 1987.

How did you manage to secure so many high profile images of the likes of Ice T, Rebel MC and Public Enemy?

I was everywhere with my camera and a few of the UK artists had me lined up for taking their photographs, but not all as there weren’t many record companies signing and releasing hip hop records and those that were had their own photographers, so no I wasn’t always the first choice. Music of Life records was the record company that made me their No.1 and commissioned me to photograph pretty much all of their acts, Derek B, MC Duke, Demon Boyz, Asher D & Daddy Freddy, MC Einstein, Hijack and Producer Simon Harris. I did a lot of press shots and record sleeves for them.

Were you the first choice photographer for many of the band you took photos of?

I didn’t really get to choose who I photographed, just wanted to shoot everyone, and went to a lot of go sees with the hope of getting more paid sessions but wasn’t often chosen. It took me a long time to get recognition, so I continued to invest in my professional hobby and get amongst it and take photographs out and about and at gigs or even before the gigs at Sound checks like the Ultramagnetic MCs shot at Dingwalls.

Are any of the bands that feature in the book particular highlights for you?

There are quite a few artists that I feature in the book that had a great impact on me. Like UK rap artists Hijack who just had so much attitude and really good idea of how they wanted to be perceived as South London’s Finest Hardcore Rap group and the whole Ying Yang philosophy and the anti-establishment vibe. The Cold Chillin Tour bus in 1988 was another special moment for me. I was at the live show and at the end, I met the tour manager waiting outside the gig. He saw I had a camera and asked if I wanted to travel with them the following day to a show outside London.

I took a lot of photographs of Artists Big Daddy Kane, the late Biz Markie, Roxanne Shante with DJ cool V and had a moment when they were all resting due to jet lag, and these were the moments I chose to have in the book. Being in New York City in 1989 when Soul II Soul had just hit No.1 of the Billboard Chart whilst chart topping in the UK was a super proud moment for me and all their UK fans. So, the photograph of Caron Wheeler in the stretch limo was truly one of the biggest moments for me.

American hip hop trio, The Alkaholics, one member holding a ten-pound note, on cover of 'Normski, Man with the Golden Shutter', by ACC Art Books.

What, if anything, were you trying to capture with the images you took?

I try to capture the spirit and the personality of people in my photographs.

Did you carry your camera around with whilst you were presenting TV shows like Dance Energy?

I often had a camera with me most of the time and occasionally I did have it in the studio whilst filming some of the earlier Dance Energy programs. The Run DMC photograph and the Dream Warriors were both taken on the set.

I specifically remember you introducing Guru and Dee C Lee on one of your shows when they worked together on Jazzamatazz. What are your memories of Guru?

Guru was one of the best Rap artists I got to meet on a few occasions. I saw him perform a couple of times before he was a guest on my TV shows with his solo project Jazzmatazz. Always a very friendly and very inclusive vibe, but serious when it came to his hip hop ethics and his unique lyrical rap flow. I didn’t get the opportunity to photograph him when he and DC Lee performed, but I did catch up with him after an interview he did for BBC radio and photograph him outside.

One of my favourite bands that feature in the book are De La Soul. What were the band like as people to take photos of and be around generally?

De La Soul has always been really chilled and cool to be around. When I got my 5 minutes to shoot with them before they went onstage at Brixton Academy, they were all cool to work with. I remember being quite nervous as I knew they didn’t have much time with a full house of fans ready and waiting. I had made the effort to get some daisies and take them with me as girlfriend Bliss thought it would be really cool, but was a little apprehensive to introduce them into the mix as I wasn’t sure if they would say no to the idea.

After getting some great photos and individual portraits of them I suggested they could hold some flowers for a few photographs to which they did seem a little puzzled until I said “You guys are the Daisy Age rappers right!?” And they kind of liked that, so that got me a few extra frames.

There’s some great shots of hip hop concerts in different settings and arenas. Do you have 5 favourite gigs you’ve attended?

Top 5 Gigs I can think of from back in the day would be Mantronix at the Town & Country club 1986, UK Fresh 86 Wembley Arena, DEF JAM 87 Tour 1987 at Hammersmith Odeon and Ultramagnetic MCs at Dingwall’s Dance Hall.

There are some stories from hip hop gigs of the late 80’s/90’s that seemed to involve an element or danger and risk. Did you ever sense there was trouble ahead attending these gigs?

The old chestnut of expecting danger at Hip Hop gigs is a stereotype of most youth events that have a huge contingence of young teenagers. Hip Hop is and has always been a voice for many that have had to learn to make noise, dance hard and create vivid graffiti to get their point across in an often-dismissible world of young people. Yes, sometimes there was a lot of tension and an edge of danger, but no more than going to a football match or any other high energy competitive sports event. Great rap artists would know how to deliver their messages (that might not agree with all of the audience).

Some people would take the attitude too far and another might step on your fresh Puma in the crowd! So yeah, sometimes things kicked off and artists would intervene, stop the music, and pull the scoundrels up with a little “This is a peaceful party! Leave that crap outside and enjoy yourselves” usually with the backing of the audience and security.

Was releasing a book of your photography something you’ve wanted to do for some time?

I have always wanted to do a book for many years and somehow it didn’t happen until now. I’ve spent so much time over the years being published in magazines and some archive work has featured on TV documentaries, film, exhibition catalogues and many other book publications that I felt it was time to present my photographs purely from my perspective and all together.

American hip hop trio, The Alkaholics, one member holding a ten-pound note, on cover of 'Normski, Man with the Golden Shutter', by ACC Art Books.

How easy did you find choosing the photos that featured in the book?

Finding the photographs was quite easy as I had so much of the work already printed from back when the photographs were taken in the 80s. It was a long journey took quite a few months of digging into the attic at my family home and calling out to a few people like Editor Andy Cowen of Hip Hop Connection Magazine and getting photographs and colour slides back that I hadn’t seen since 1989. Choosing the final selection wasn’t easy to be fair. I collected 3 times the amount up and selected the best of them all for various reasons.

With the help of my brilliant editor Andrew Whittaker from ACC Art Books and great creative vision and art direction from Miami based designer Mariona Vilaros. I had very strong ideas of how I wanted Man With The Golden Shutter to look and I was lucky to have Andy and Mariona as they help translate everything brilliantly. I was also very happy to have the support of the Museum of Youth Culture, who gave me artist in residence status and office, desk space and the use of technical resources like scanning and a lot of coffee. Having worked alongside the MOYC team and having some of my youth culture photography in their archive, it was great to share some of the journey with them as any advice they would have would definitely be valid.

Are there any photos that you wanted to include in the book that didn’t make it?

I think the selection that we’ve all ended up with in the book is really the perfect balance of what I was exposed to in that period of time and from the UK perspective that has had very little exposure on this level of hard back publication. There’s a whole load of photographs that didn’t make it in the book, but having learnt a few lessons on less is more I’m not sorry about what didn’t make it in the book, There’s always another volume…

Do you foresee you releasing any more books with your photography?

I have ideas for a few different book projects that I’m going to produce, I have the bug for it now and as they say the first one is the hardest. Watch this space.

Are you still taking photos of artists?

I have done a few shoots with artists, but certainly not in the volume the I have done in previous years. It’s been great revisiting previous images, but even better to be out seeing, doing, and capturing new things.

Are you up to anything else involving music?

Music is kind of always there with me with most of the things I do, I still DJ and up until venturing into the book was still doing monthly broadcast on internet radio which I have been doing for years. Currently in talks about my own podcast and a tour of sorts that I’d like to see come to fruition later this year.

Finally, what’s on your turntable at present?

Currently playing – Casisdead – Famous Last Words LP.


Normski can be ordered via the following link