■ The DJ, 54, talks about his teenage fashion sense, Kanye’s idiocy and what to expect at BBC Music’s Biggest Weekend
What can people expect from The Biggest Weekend event?
I’m presenting from Coventry – I’m looking forward to seeing some of the bands such as The Selecter and UB40 [featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey] because I’ve never seen them live.
Do you go to Coventry often?
No – I’ve been there, I’ve done gigs there, it’s like Birmingham’s younger cousin. Coventry was really on the map for me during the two-tone revival with bands like The Specials when I was at school.
If you were into two-tone how did you miss The Selecter?
I liked it at school but I was a soul boy. It’s not like today when people go to festivals and see everyone. We were in dingy nightclubs. But I was aware of the ska and two-tone revival due to TV shows. I didn’t have money to go to loads of gigs – every penny went on records. Kids are lucky today – they can access all sorts of music for next to no money. It was more tribal in the 1980s. You were into one thing.
Is it a good thing people are less tribal?
It’s probably good for music but it’s a bit dull. I miss people-watching and knowing what music they’re into from the way they dressed – in the 1980s and 90s you’d look at someone and know if they were into hip hop, house, were a soul boy or a rocker. Could you say that today? Not really. Everyone’s wearing skinny jeans, everyone looks the same, that element of identity is gone. The extreme was punk rock. You couldn’t ignore a punk rocker walking past you. I’d look at them and think, ‘You’ve got balls’. That’s a statement. I remember walking down the road with my clothes in a bag because I didn’t want to walk though Hackney wearing what I was going to wear to the club – which was winkle pinkers, a studded belt, leopard-print top. I was a soul boy. You’d see people in Hackney wearing that now but not when I was 17.
What’s the secret of your radio-presenting longevity?
Honesty is the most important thing – I don’t try to be something I’m not. I love the music. I’m still enthusiastic. I love broadcasting. I’ve always liked old and new music equally and I also try to find music that’s timeless and have fun with it. There are some great DJs who don’t have work at a national level because they’re not perceived as relevant any more. The music I champion is very personal, some other genres are quite faddish but I try to identify tunes that are going to be played in 20 years. I’ve been the same since I was 13 – very single-minded.
What were you listening to at 13?
Jazz – I was at Knebworth Jazz Festival at 13, which is ridiculous. I loved it – Dizzy Gillespie and Chuck Berry performed, I was totally absorbed by it. I always had an old soul. Now I go on Radio 2 and feel quite youthful. Being attached to music is a unique job to have – it’s not like being a footballer. You can be on the radio for 30 years and sound the same.
Which of your heroes were you happiest to meet?
Stevie Wonder. It’s hard to explain how special he is. I met him and he had his keyboard with him. I told him my favourite song ever is As and he started playing an 11-minute version. He’s really warm and engaging.
Any disappointments? Kanye West read a magazine while you were trying to interview him…
He’s the rudest person I’ve ever interviewed but that isn’t surprising. I’ve done some good interviews with him and some bad ones. People don’t remember but before he had his feud with Taylor Swift he did the same at the European MTV Awards. He thought he should have won best video but he didn’t. He went up on stage and started acting like an idiot, saying how expensive his video was, he walked off and came straight up to me and we did an interview. He’s disappointed me with his recent comments – that line about slavery and choice. Sometimes artists should shut up and stop talking and just make music. I still think he’s a genius musically. He’s the most polarising person in music.
Should we leave Eurovision as we always end up finishing near the bottom?
I grew up watching it. It was a novelty when we weren’t used to seeing singing competitions on TV. Now I’m completely indifferent to it. I don’t watch it – I can’t be arsed. It’s become this masochistic event once a year. I don’t know why we put ourselves through it.
Nelson will be presenting from the Coventry leg (May 27 and 28) of BBC Music’s The Biggest Weekend, which kicks off in Belfast on May 25. bbc.co.uk/biggestweekend