MAVERICK, INNOVATOR, POP STAR, DJ, PRODUCER, MUSICAL DIRECTOR, BON VIVEUR, RACONTEUR. IT’S HARD TO PIGEONHOLE JEREMY HEALY. FOR OVER 25 YEARS THE PECKHAM-BORN RENAISSANCE MAN HAS BEEN AT THE CENTRE OF THAT SWEET SPOT WHERE MUSIC, FASHION AND HEDONISM MEET.
We first saw Jeremy in early-80s British band Haysi Fantayzee. He discovered hip-hop in the mid-’80s, started the seminal and hugely successful club night Circus, then, during Britain’s ‘Second Summer of Love’, he and Boy George launched the dance label More Protein., where – as part of E-Zee Possee – Healy produced the hit anthem ‘Everything Starts with an ‘E” launching a whole new chapter in his musical career.As one of the most sought after ‘Superstar DJs’ on the planet, Jeremy was responsible for the biggest-selling DJ mix album, which, at the time, outsold all the most popular mainstream pop albums – a feat which has never been replicated. All this, and of course the legendary tours everywhere from Ibiza to Bali over the last twenty years, which have seen Jeremy headline nights for some of the most respected club brands in the world. In addition, Jeremy’s long friendship with designer John Galliano has provided the fashion industry with some of its greatest ever runway moments. From 2001 Jeremy worked as musical director of the spectacular annual TV Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show with its mix of the world’s most beautiful models, A-list entertainers and Jeremy programming the music and sourcing the acts. Not bad for a man with such humble beginnings. So how did it all begin? Jeremiah Healy was born to Irish parents in Woolwich, south-east London. To stop the squabbling and shenanigans with his sister during the school holidays the folks would ship him off to their parents in Peckham, where he soaked up the smells and sounds and cultivated a love of music, especially reggae. At night his grandad would drag little Jeremy on a tour of the local pubs where the eccentric old codger would sing Irish ballads in exchange for pints. It was among the denizens of these smoky boozers where Jeremy became accustomed to a nocturnal life where music paid the way.
London was a very different and certainly less gentrified place to live in the early 1980s. There was a deep recession, but from it grew a vibrant subculture of artists, creatives & partiers who were able to live cheaply and centrally, often in large squats and raving in empty warehouses. During this time and in this environment, Jeremy came into contact with Kate Garner.
Haysi’s music was unique at the time. It blended reggae, country, a bit of electro with political and sociological lyrics thrown in. The London Evening Standard described the band’s look as:” white Rasta, tribal chieftain and Dickensian”. They released a gold album with three hit singles ‘John Wayne …’, ‘Shiny Shiny’ and ‘Holy Joe’.
At this time I lived in West Hampstead with Kate and Paul Caplin. One night I wrote the lyrics for a silly song called ‘John Wayne is Big Leggy’. I’d just bought a guitar and she came over to me and asked me if I wanted to be in band. I told her I couldn’t play the thing but she didn’t care. Next thing I knew I was in a studio recording as Haysi Fantayzee. I had begun sprouting dreadlocks, which got the group an article in The Face, and subsequently some demo time at the EMI studio. We made our demos, shopped them around, and somehow, with our deranged songs and strange looks, we landed our first record deal on my twentieth birthday. I went out and bought the biggest TV set I could find and convinced Paul to buy a ’59 Oldsmobile coupe.
Jeremy was always into clubbing but his first foray behind the decks happened by chance. Legendary club promoter Philip Salon needed a DJ as welll as someone to man the cloakroom at a new night he was starting at London venue Planets.
I started working there in the cloakroom – I wasn’t happy. George was DJing but the night ended up with about 40 people screaming at me because I couldn’t find their coats. I talked to Philip the next day and we swapped things around. Boy George did the coats the following week and he nicked the money out of everyone’s pockets.
On an earlier trip to New York, Jeremy had been blown away by the energy and sound of Danceteria, a club where breakdancers, bodypoppers, and trannies all mixed happily in an anything-goes atmosphere.
Inspired by the mixture of styles he’d experienced in Manhattan, he returned to the UK, flogged that guitar, bought a pair of turntables and started a club called Circus. The London club night was unique in an era of Ritzy-style nightclubs and word spread. With queues around the block Circus soon became the most phenomenal, seminal and standout club of its day – until it collapsed under the weight of its own success…
So a quick aside. Life in the 80s wasn’t all clubbing and carousing. In around ’85, Jeremy entered a competition an ad agency was running, won the account and began working in the industry as an outlet for his music production.
Jeremy had been handed a white label and thought it would be perfect for a little British Airways ad he’d been working on. The song was “Beastie Revolution” from the Beastie Boys’ “CookyPuss” EP – the first hip-hop based song they ever released.
The Beasties, at that time a hardcore band playing bad punk rock. Imagine their surprise as they settled down with their popcorn in a Manhattan movie theatre and heard a tune they had written. They sued BA of course and received a cool $40 grand pay-off which they used to rent a new apartment on the Lower East Side. ‘Licensed to Ill’ followed and the legend was born…
Jeremy had taken a break from promoting and began tasting London nightlife again with Boy George, who by this time was over drugs and over Culture Club. Acting on a tip-off from Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Paul Rutherford, the pair travelled south of the river to a small, draughty fitness club in Southwark.
They had found Shoom, a club night run by Danny and Jenny Rampling. It was 1987 and 200 people were in there going barmy to acid house.
Shoom was the antidote to glitzy west end clubs. The music was uncommercial and the crowd – an eclectic mix of football casuals, London A-listers, gas fitters and suburban party animals – were euphoric. For the first time what you wore was unimportant. You were there to dance. Club culture as we know it today was being born.
A trip to Ibiza soon followed.
The first time (in Ibiza) was fabulous. Fat Tony got sunburnt, Jenny Rampling got arrested and we got inspired. The music was much more open and less formulated. We came home and I went straight into the studio with my friend Simon Rogers [now in Slacker]. Anyway, we programmed our idea of house and I found a sample on this Ronald McDonald LP of him saying, ‘Everything starts with an ‘E’. We had our title!
I wasn’t really into the idea of going … It was 2½ minutes long, a total mob scene to get into and all the models came out swinging dead mackerels that they then threw into the audience! I was totally amazed. My mouth was just like hanging open … I’d never seen anything like it. I was just thinking, ‘Did that just happen?’ – and it takes quite a lot to shock me. I was totally blown away so I went backstage..