Car crazy: Life in the fast lane
Jamiroquai's frontman is never happier than when he's at the controls of a fabulous car. And there are some drives that he'll never forget - the Australian Outback, Death Valley, the Moroccan desert... But best of all? Well, says Jay Kay, it's got to be Scotland
Sunday 13 November 2005
You can't beat Scotland for road journeys. I own a crofter's cottage south of Ullapool, and I love some of those stretches on the west coast, particularly the route from Achnasheen to Kinlochewe, which is absolutely stunning. It has double switchbacks, dodgy cambers, sheep: it's all there. The journey up there takes me 12 hours.
But if I had to pin my all-time favourite journey down to one, I think it would be from Fort William to Mallaig. The first time I did it was back in 1998. I went up to Fort William and stayed at Inverlochy Castle because I felt like pampering myself. It was a great place to stay; I can really recommend the breakfast - a piping hot fry-up with great Scottish bacon.
On road trips I like to try to stay at a Relais & Chateaux hotel - that's if I'm feeling a bit flush. But normally I don't book ahead; I just turn up, because I like to get off the beaten track and don't know where I'll end up. I've got it down to a fine art now.
On a long journey I'm quite happy to stop at an Ibis Hotel. There's nothing better than parking up the car and just chilling. I have been in the position of sitting outside the gates of a hotel in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Seven at midnight, thinking: "Even though the car is a comfortable one, I don't want to end up sleeping in it." So, just in case I ever have to, I make sure there's an extremely warm jacket in the back. My current favourite is a North Face 900 waterproof jacket, which is duck down and would probably still be warm in temperatures of minus 20C. I usually take my computer so I can catch up on some films when I'm resting. When I go to Scotland I take my dogs if I can. I've got two German Shepherds, Luger and Titan.
Back to the journey. From Fort William you follow the A830 towards Arisaig and Mallaig. The scenery is fabulous, and it's a fantastic piece of road. The first time I followed it I was driving a Mercedes-Benz E50 AMG. I remember coming to a section that was being repaired. There were no other cars around; nor were there any road markings. It was completely clear and you could see for miles. It was truly amazing. In some ways it reminded me of a racetrack.
Much of the route takes you through forest. On one occasion there was a lot of logging going on. At one point the road turned into an up-and-down single track with passing places. I was listening to one of those jolly Scottish bands on the radio when two young lads in a Vauxhall Astra somehow managed to overtake me and started hammering it down the road. They obviously knew the road like the back of their hands and I followed them, listening to this fantastic Scottish Highland dancing music. I was cracking up it was such fun. I passed some of the most stunning beaches along the way.
Actually, I've done the whole of that west coast and I don't want to tell you the best bits because I don't want everyone else to find out about them. What was really great about that trip was that I hadn't been to Scotland since I was a kid and I decided after that week that it was my No 1 destination. There is so much to see up there. In fact, there's still masses I haven't seen yet.
I'd like to do a road trip like that in Sweden, too. In the summer I really fancy doing some Alpine regions - in a very fast car, of course. At the moment one of my other ambitions is to take a Mercedes G-Class wagon, fully kitted out, and drive into the Moroccan desert through the kif fields - where the hashish is produced - and on towards the Atlas Mountains. I'd love to really get off the beaten track out there. What I also want to do is Perth to Sydney in a microlight, following the railway line across the Nullabor Plain.
What I have done is Perth to Monkey Mia in Western Australia, which was a blast and about 900km long. Monkey Mia is where great pods of dolphins come into that stretch of shark-infested coast on the Peron Peninsula. Parts of the area a bit like the Skeleton Coast in Namibia - without the landscape being quite so extreme. I completed the 10-hour drive in a rented vehicle. It was awesome and very different from anything I'd ever done before.
We'd just flown in from Japan and I'd given the band and crew four days off, which everyone was delighted about. I told the band I was going to do something with my time off and have myself a little adventure. It was really funny because Rick, my engineer, called me and said that he was up in Monkey Mia and why didn't I drive up to meet him. I'd never heard of the place, but it seemed like a good idea at the time and I rounded up two or three of the guys from the band, telling them it was the opportunity of a lifetime - and off we went.
We hired one of those Mitsubishi day vans with sliding doors and drove off into the great unknown. Swan Valley, Australia's oldest wine-growing region, was the first place we came to. From there we made our way up the route through old townships such as Gingin and Cataby and the Nambung National Park, which has awesome limestone formations.
I remember we came to a little truck stop in the middle of nowhere, and I just couldn't believe that this girl there recognised me. We decided to stop and stock up on Australian pies. The Aussies in the desert seem to live on pies and crisps.
The next time we stopped we got out of the car and there were flies everywhere. Mark, one of the guys with me, was just desperate to get back in the car. Other highlights on the journey include the Pink Lake, which appeared purple at the time, Kalbarri National Park and Shark Bay. I remember there was a 55mph speed limit, which is strictly enforced by the police, but the temptation is to hit the road and go at 90mph. But you can't. It's really draconian. The other thing to look out for is the wildlife, especially the kangaroos, because if you hit one of those at 90mph not only would it be distressing but you are going to get hurt.
Driving through Kalbarri National Park with its long, straight roads, with what looks like red moon dust everywhere, was just magical. When we got to Monkey Mia, the dolphins swam right over to us and ignored the American tourists. To celebrate the end of the journey we played a mean game of football on the beach.
Another recent journey I took was on a Harley-Davidson right across California. It was really exciting. I'd never ridden one before so I hired one. I'd just finished shooting the video for "It Feels Like It Should", the first single from the current album. Again, I was with Rick, my engineer. We had both got our full motorbike licences about three years before that and thought it would be a terrific idea to ride a couple of Harleys deep into the desert. We managed to pick up a couple of bikes in Santa Monica, where we were staying, and then we chugged out across the desert to Palm Springs.
From there we planned to go up towards Death Valley, taking in Bagdad Café and bits of the famed Route 66. We didn't have the right camping equipment with us though, so we thought we'd better just stay in motels.
I was wearing a really thin pair of trousers and I'd forgotten that after you get beyond Palm Springs and off the beaten track the altitude gets really high. At one point we were as much as a mile up. It was really cold. We didn't have proper gloves or anything because we made the mistake of thinking that it was going to stay warm. We knew we were unprepared, but it was only for a couple of days so we decided just to go for it.
When we got down into the desert region it started to get really hot. We saw some dust storms, which were amazing. We stopped at one of those crazy, nutty kind of weird desert stops. All I remember is that there was a dusty bar and it was really dark.
Unfortunately we didn't get as far as Death Valley. As luck would have it, a massive storm came up and checked our progress when we were only about 100 clicks away. You really do need your food, water, shelter and fuel situation sorted out, and we hadn't done that properly. I also had time constraints. But you can't go into Death Valley and muck around, because, although you see signs and marks on the map, there's actually nothing there when you arrive.
To be honest, getting out there in the desert on a Harley-Davidson was kind of mad because if you want to go off-road you need an off-road bike. The fun thing about riding the Harley- Davidson is that it really is like riding an iron horse. Harley-Davidsons have been around since about 1903. They've been the right kind of transport for the United States with its huge distances. I did see some of what they call the Hundred Year Bloom though, which is when they have really heavy rain and all the flowers come out in the desert.
Jay Kay has just been promoting the car-racing computer game 'Need for Speed: Most Wanted', by EA Games, which is out on 25 November, from £39.99. Jamiroquai's new album 'Dynamite' is out now on Sony BMG, price £10.99
My longest drive
I once did Calais to Rome in 13 hours in a Ferrari 550 Maranello. I love driving in Italy. I drove down through Turin, Alessandria and Santa Margherita Ligure. I carried across to Florence and then had fun in Bologna, which is stunning with all its ancient arcades. Bologna is the centre of the world for me in terms of cars, as major manufacturers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini have their headquarters near there. Then I went on down to Rome. It was the first time that I had been there in a car and at first I thought it was fab seeing all the Roman ruins from the driver's seat. But, as the roads got smaller and narrower I got a bit desperate driving a really big car, so I hired a Vespa to see the sights. I'd planned to head down to Naples, but gave that up as a bad idea as I didn't think my big motor would go down well there either, but for different reasons.
My favourite road music
I love the soundtrack to 'Easy Rider', especially the Jimi Hendrix track. Perfect whenever you're in the car. It's hard to pin down particular music as I find it's more mood-dependent than journey-dependent. I often stick on an album and keep repeating tracks. I listened to "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols when I was hammering down to London. I also like listening to "Mas Que Nada" by Astrid Gilberto and anything by Blondie, especially "Heart of Glass". Oh, and you can't beat "Back in Black" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC and "Say It Again" by Harvey Mason. I like classical music or even just the sound of the silence. If I'm in England I often listen to Radio 4 and the news.
Tips from the driving seat:
PICK A PERFECT PASSENGER
Who I travel with depends how far I'm going. I like a female companion as it's fun, but I also like to be with a male friend. A couple of good ones are into cars. One used to sell my Ferraris to me, and another is a great car painter.
KEEP LOOKING COOL
I'm very attached to my sage green Dunhill driving jacket. It's made of perforated suede with steering wheels on the cuff zips. The detailing makes it cool. I've got nice gloves to go with it - dark green with yellow-green detail.
PACK THE ESSENTIALS
I have to take a pair of binoculars and they have to be Swarovski - they are such a fine instrument, with truly fine lenses. I don't use sat nav because it makes you lazy and takes away from the driving experience.
THE DREAM JOURNEY
If nobody else was on the road, my fantasy road trip would definitely be from Vancouver towards Banff. It would be a really hardcore, high-speed, full-on-Canadian, flat-out-through-the-forest journey.
YOU CAN'T BEAT A BUTTY
Forget Michelin-starred restaurants - you can't beat a homemade sandwich. My favourite is made with really old Cheddar, chives, lettuce, thick slices of cucumber, brown cob, white pepper and Hellmann's mayonnaise.
TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
As a rule my favourite scenery to drive through is mountains, especially if there are plenty of them. I like to get out on fast, sweeping mountain B-roads. Scotland has some of the best in the world, as far as I know.
WATCH YOUR SPEED
In my 1950 Bentley Continental S1 I do 50mph. If I'm in something that's got 660bhp and I see an Italian mountain road I like to give it some. I've enjoyed drift-driving when working on the game "Need For Speed: Most Wanted".
DON'T FORGET YOUR HAT
I seldom wear hats when I'm driving, especially in open-top cars because I'm usually driving so fast that the hat would come off. But I'd wear a hat driving my Bentley. In summer, I'd wear a basket or straw hat, whatever is cool.
My favourite wheels
If I had to pick three cars they would be a Talbot Lago T150S Teardrop coupé by Figoni & Falaschi, a Ferrari 250 GT short wheelbase California Spyder, and a short wheelbase Audi Quattro, the original factory 1988 model. The Talbot is the perfect choice for driving around Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. I'd keep it traditional with the Ferrari and drive it up Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I did that trip once in a disgusting Lincoln Town Car, which had terrible suspension. As Jeremy Clarkson might say, it was like an elephant with a gammy leg. The Audi I'd keep for driving round Scotland, as it's ideal for those switchback roads. I can't forget the Harley-Davidson though.
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