THE BIG ISSUE
Return Of The Cash Cowboy.
He says he's an eco-warrior but he drives a Ferrari. He talks about poverty but he lives in a mansion.
Should we take Jay Kay seriously? Precious Williams finds out.
Jay Kay, the phenomenally agile 29-year-old frontman of funk outfit Jamiroquai leaps to his feet and screams:
"Fifteen million! She's saying I'm 15 million quid, Toby! Where's the 15 million?"
The pigtailed singer and songwritter raises his tin shoulders in a shrug:
"There's no way in the world I've got 15 million. You can't believe everything you read, sweetheart. And whatever money I had, I spent most of it on a house and a studio. There's very little left in the kitty. If someone can locate the missing 15 million pounds, I'd be most grateful..."
"Oh actually, I took it Jay," interjects Toby Smith, the band's keyboardist. "I embezzled it."
Smith turns to address lead singer Kay with a mocking smile. "Sorry mate, didn't think to tell you I got it."
Kay returns to his seat with a satisfied smirk and grins impishly as the rest of the band dissolve into fits of sarcastic laughter.
"I've bought a nice big house, and I've got a few decent cars, yeah," he says conspiratorially.
"But it's not like I've exactly bought a lot of cars lately," he adds, eyeing his Jamiroquai colleagues, who collectively nod their agreement. "Is it?"
Kay suddenly lunges forward and snatches up a copy of the group's latest album Synkronized from amid the half-eaten food and smoked-down-to-the-roach joints that litter the room's dining table. "Why is that not done in Jamiroquai writting?" he demands.
"Er, that's not the finish thing," explains Derrick McKenzie, Jamiroquai's drummer.
"It doesn't matter," continues Kay. "It should still be in there. It doesn't look the same if it ain't like that. You've gotta stick to the standards."
Kay, in fact, owns a whole fleet of 'decent' cars. At the last count he had two Ferraris, three BMWs, an Aston Martin, a Lamborghini and
a Mercedes, collectively valued at £1.5million. He explains that his obsession with fast cars stems from a childhood spent on the move with his cabaret-singer mother, Karen Kay, "When you spent half your childhood bouncing about in the back of a convertible Triumph Herald,
you learn to appreciate cars like Ferraris and Aston Martins. I admit I get a total buzz from putting my foot right down,
I'm a speed freak, but the cars are not status symbols. I know how to appreciate them."
Kay's appreciation of his favourite Ferrari led him to ignore speed limits and hurtle along at an adrenalin-raising 110 miles per hour.
His subsequent temporary loss of his licence seems only to have fuelled his arrogance. He derides current British speed restrictions and declares that driving any slower than 70 mph is "a joke". Despite his attitude, Kay has since regained his driving licence and today
houses his prized car collection in the grounds of his 400-year-old Buckinghamshire manor house.
"If you can afford to buy a house, you buy one, don't ya? I didn't buy a house to make a rock'n'roll statment,"
Kay says of his £2 million, 42-acre abode which boasts heated out-door pool, stables and a vast moat.
"I wanted to have a place to park my cars and just to, like, be. And I needed a big house so I could build a studio,"
he continues. "We're the sort of band who need a studio to operate in so that we can become more prolific."
Kay's character is a curious mix of laid-back nonchalance and an intense need to take control. He openly admits to a fatherless childhood
and adolescent years spent dealing cannabis and "robbing and stealing" in order to finance the purchase of recording equipment,
yet becomes intensely angry when questioned about his controversial pro-weed-smoking stance.
"I'm not controversial," he snarls angrily. "Thi is ridiculous. What is controversial about talking openly about the fact that people smoke cannabis, for fuck's sake? It's the people who oppose smoking spliffs and then go out and abuse alcohol who are controversial!"
Despite the scorching heat of the sunlit afternoon, the star has chosen to swathe himself in knitted headgear, battered jeans,
a nylon zip-up jacket and old-skool trainers. The observer recently listed Kay as the ninth richest under-30 in the UK.
He drives flash cars, dates an in-your-face blonde and lives in a mansion complete complete with swimming pool,
and yet singer-song-writer Kay maintains the grungy, street-cool image of a teenage skateboarder.
Kay's girlfriend, former Big Breakfast presenter Denise Van Outen, has just launched a range of bikinis to coincide with the release of her boyfriend's fourth album. "It makes life easier going out with someone who' got their own life and is as well-known as you are,"
Kay says of the pin-up who is as famous for her busty blonde image as he is for his trademark hats.
Impatient and easily agitated, Kay tends to respond to questions by hopping from his chair and onto the window ledge of his ultra-modern
hotel room. Sometimes he pauses to gaze through the window to take in the panoramic view of London it provides.
Most often, he raises up his thin arms and exclaims : "Can you hear what she's asking me, guys?", before darting back to his seat.
Questions frequently have to be repeated, because Kay has become so engrossed in performing to the rest of the band.
"Believe it or not, I'm a lot calmer now than I used to be," he adds, slapping the CD back onto the table resignedly. "The new house has got a gate. So now people can't just bowl in like they did in London, where everybody came and partied while we were recording the last album."
That album -Travelling Without Moving- sold seven million copies following its 1996 release and its upbeat,
light-hearted tone represented a major shift away from debut album Emergency On Planet Earth.
Jamiroquai burst onto the scene in 1993 as champions of green politics and won over fans in a whirlwind of politically correct
environmentalist angst. The band took their name from the Iroquois, a tribe of socially persecuted native Americans.
The second album, 1994's The Return Of The Space Cowboy continued the trend for consciousness with Manifest Destiny,
a particularly sensitive and moving track that charts the unburdening of white guilt over 400 years of black enslavement in its lyrics.
Synkronized - which is to be followed by a series of live dates - is a funky, disco-inspired affair.
Its tracks echo the raw, upbeat Seventies output of Earth, Wind & Fire and Sly Stone.
Kay hopes that with the release of their fourth album, the band will be taken more seriously than ever and that critics will concentrate on the music rather than on the front-man's famously outspoken comments. Political themes and messages are noticeable by their absence
from the new album and it seems Kay has decided to quell the hype and focus on the music.
"I'm still into environmental isues and all the rest of it, but I also make music" says Kay succinctly.
"People have to understand that I'm not prepared to give all of my time bigging up social issues and then getting knocked for it. I've come to a point where I've said a lot of what I wanted to say. I've voiced my views and opinions; and that's all they are; they're my opinions.
I'm not a political spokesman and sometimes I just want to write music that's about enjoying yourself."
Kay springs up from his seat to pose for the camera and arranges his frail frame against the monochrome blackdrop.
"Sometimes you know, I do wonder what the hell I'm doing and want to ask why can't I just have an ordinary life," he says unexpectedly.
"Like when it's pissing it down with the rain outside and I'm hungover and I took and feel rough. Instead of being able
to slump in front of the TV like my mates, I've got to be on the TV - in front of 10 million people."
Ever since the release of their first single When You Gonna Learn? in 1993, Kay's peronnal style and readily voiced opinions have
commended at least as many column inches as the band's genre-expanding music. Kay, a scrawny white Londoner with a
distinctive falsetto that has been likened to that of Stevie Wonder, was instantly accused of 'stealing the soul'.
Today the diminutive star says that is often scares him to think that other people form their opinions of him from misleading media articles.
"If I had my way, I'd change a whole lot of things, and you can write all this in your article! A lot of things are wrong with this world, and we can improve this planet no end," rants Kay, his narrow face radiant with enthusiasm. "I wouldn't have spent £750 million on a dome for a start.
I would've spent that money on something useful. Like housing. There's people laying in the streets, for fuck's sake."
While constantly referring to the band as a family, Jamiroquai it seems, is all about Jay Kay. It's Kay who wears the hat, Kay who drives the flash cars and Kay who pays the other band members their wages. While Kay is signed to the Sony label as a solo artist, his band colleagues Toby, Derrick and Wallis Buchanan (the band's didgeridoo player) are unsigned. Their wages and advances are deducted from Kay's own money.
New album Synkronized in fact, had to be re-recorded from scratch last year after Jamiroquai's former bass player Stuart Zender
hastily departed the band. Kay's expression changes to one of mischievous delight when Zender's name is mentioned.
He leaps out of his chair once again and shouts to the rest of the band: "She's asked me a question about Zender!"
He laughs loudly and mockingly, pauses for dramatic effect and then proceeds to give his version of events.
"The album track King For A Day is basically written about him, because that's what he was - before I kicked him out! He betrayed us basically. He decided to quit the band and then went around telling tabloid papers that he left because I was greedy."
"From childhood, I've always known that you have to look out for yourself or people will shit on you," adds Kay thoughtfully,
"And when someone jeopardises my plans, I go into total overdrive."