My best teacher;Interview;Jazzie B

8th May 1998 at 01:00
I loved my time at Montem Junior School, in Hornsey, north London. Those were brilliant years because the teachers gave us all a genuine sense of well-being, almost of love.

My most vivid memories are of Mr Kemp, our form teacher. He was totally Seventies - beard, tweed jacket, always in brown or beige corduroys and hush puppies. I can see him standing in assembly, clapping his hands and telling us to settle down.

He reminded me of John Alderton in the Seventies TV sitcom Please, Sir. He always seemed to be happy, encouraging and close to us kids. His whole vibe was about togetherness and doing things as a team - he was just a very cool guy.

Like everyone else, I also felt very close to Miss Galloway, who was a very giving, warm person. I don't know if I had a kind of crush on her, but it was always great when she was around.

The biggest thing for me at school - junior and secondary - was soccer. Never mind the academic stuff, we all had qualifications on the pitch. Mr Kemp and another guy, Mr Riding, looked after soccer at Montem, with Mr Riding telling us "Play fair, but play hard".

I fancied myself as a pretty good footballer. I played in school, in the street, for Greek cafe sides, on Sundays at Finsbury Park or on Hackney Marshes.

The move to Holloway Comprehensive, a huge boys' school, was pretty scary. Everything was bigger and more detached, and the pampering disappeared. Teachers called you by your second name. You no longer felt hand in glove with the staff. The school served a mixed working-class neighbourhood - Asians, Greeks, Turkish, English, Irish and Caribbean.

I was kind of rowdy. We'd bunk off some lessons, hide on the roof and smoke. But there were a few teachers I had a great rapport with. A black teacher called Miss Pinder, who came in my third year, was quite small and cute. We were all big for our age and almost protective of her.

Mr Gordon took us for RE once a week - a break from other lessons. He was always covered in chalk dust and was so relaxed he didn't even call the register. His teaching was all about self-expression, channelling our energy into something constructive, even if it wasn't "real" school work. He sometimes allowed me to take the class for a few minutes and talk about something I cared about. I was sure of myself from an early age and those lessons weren't the first experience I'd had of working a crowd - I'd been DJ for little disco parties at Montem.

Music was a very important part of my childhood. I remember borrowing my brother's reggae records and playing them in music lessons. The trend for massive sound systems was at its peak in the Seventies and we were all into them. I had that little bit of an edge because my three older brothers were sound men.

In woodwork we weren't interested in chairs or tables. We wanted to build speaker boxes, twin turntable cases, record cases. We'd go to skips to find things to convert into sound gear. I only paid attention to physics because it taught you about electronics, how amplifiers worked and so on.

Most of us had older brothers and sisters and we knew there wasn't much work out there for them. So we didn't aspire to great jobs. You probably thought you'd follow your dad or your uncle as a stonemason, a carpenter or a telephone engineer.

I was out of school like a flash at 16, in 1979, but I quickly found out how difficult it was to get a job, and went back to college when I was 18. Then I came into the music business full time, starting out as a tea boy for Tommy Steele.

I've got kids aged six and two now, and as a parent you start wanting a zillion things from education that you didn't think of as a kid. I just hope my children's teachers don't ever underestimate them, because the teachers at Montem never underestimated us.

I can't say my schooling had any influence on my career in the music business, but that doesn't make these memories any less happy.

* Jazzie B, 34, DJ, songwriter and record producer, has sold more than 20 million singles and six million albums worldwide with his group, Soul II Soul, and won two Grammy Awards. He presents a Monday night show on London's Kiss 100 FM radio. Jazzie B was talking to Daniel Rosenthal

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