Best known for a video where a room tries to escape from him, Jay (real name Jason Cheetham) Kay is more familiar to the 30 million people who bought his albums as Jamiroquai, and to the bitter minority of haters who found him annoying as The Twat In The Hat.
In the mid-90s, the UK charts were full either of American bands in plaid shirts pretending to be on heroin or British bands in Fred Perrys pretending not to be on heroin.
Jamiroquai – the band, not just the singer – were the rarest of things, a UK group rooted in soul and jazz, rather than The Kinks or punk.
Vilified by sections of the music press at the time for being “Music for estate agents,” Jamiroquai’s hit singles and albums brought a snaky funk sound to a chart world which only permitted dance acts to be cool if they were Fatboy Slim or The Chemical Brothers (and generally even then only if they were remixing Feeder or Oasis).
Jay Kay was out of step with his contemporaries and all the better for it. A survivor of the acid jazz scene, he’d unsuccessfully auditioned for The Brand New Heavies.
Undaunted, he formed Jamiroquai and his bounteous sense of self and brimming self-confidence enabled the band to take on music which most people were then approaching with crate-digger reverence.
His love for Roy Ayers, Sly Stone and – perhaps most extremely obviously of all – Stevie Wonder put him funny hat and shoulders above most of his rivals, who were too busy struggling with old Wire riffs to be any serious challenge.
Infectious singles like Space Cowboy and Virtual Insanity did no harm and Jay Kay was all over the 90s like a Kappa tracksuit.
Fittingly for the time, he had a touch of the eco-warrior about him. He also remains the only successful artist apart from Rolf Harris to have regularly incorporated a didgeridoo into his music.
Original keyboard player Toby Smith died in 2017. He was just 46.
Jay Kay (Jason Cheetham)
Nick Van Gelder