I’D BEEN down to the Ministry of Sound a couple of times previously, when it was still a booze-free zone, but in 1994 a big bunch of us from Leeds, Manchester and Burnley went down for a party in London one weekend and ended up in Elephant & Castle on Saturday night.
None of us were particularly impressed with the place – there was a long queue, it was expensive to get in, the music wasn’t great, it seemed to be full of twats and Australians – so the next time someone had a house party back up north, they printed up some invites with the name Ministry of Shite on them.
See what they did there?
Me and Earnshaw liked the name so much we used it when we started putting on all-nighters at an old mansion house in north Leeds a year or so later. The place was owned by a friend of the guy who ran Dream FM – in fact we had the studio there for a while – and I’d been to a few parties there already. Martin lived on the top floor, rented out the middle floor and kept the ground floor as a two-room party venue, complete with a pretty tidy custom-made soundsystem.
Since the mansion wasn’t strictly – or indeed, remotely – licensed, Martin was a bit nervous about money changing hands on the door, so we ripped off the Ministry of Sound portcullis logo, replaced the word ‘sound’ with ‘shite’ in punk rock blackmail lettering, and flogged the invites for a fiver, upfront. We had to hire a bouncer as well, just in case.
Me and Earnshaw alternated on the decks, both of us playing house music all night long, more or less, on labels like Strictly Rhythm, Henry Street, Azuli, Produce, Slip ‘n’ Slide, Tribal and Six6. A typical night took in everything from booming Tenaglia dubs and soulful Mood II Swing vocal garage to old time jackin’ acid like We Are Phuture and even little bits of classic hardcore like Bombscare by 2Bad Mice.
We even tried to fake a hip-house revival. We weren’t exactly what you’d call purists. And what we were doing wasn’t exactly rocket science. It was sexy, soulful, freaky, trippy party music. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that what house music was supposed to be about all along?
Earnshaw would start off all light and fluffy, then we’d swap over and I’d get progressively more dirty and twisted before moving back into more vocal territory, and then we’d swap over again – and we’d carry on in a similar rollercoaster-like fashion all night until we got chucked out at stupid o’clock the following morning. It was a real buzz.
We did a couple of parties a year and a few consecutive New Year’s Eves towards the end of the decade, and ended up getting a fairly decent reputation. We tended to attract a slightly older if not wiser crowd who, I think, wanted to get messy without having to worry about the daft kids and meat-heads who often frequented the city’s clubs at the time.
It was cheap and cheerful, and it wasn’t remotely elitist – far from it – but you needed to know one of us, or someone who knew us, to even hear about it in the first place. We managed to keep it all very relaxed and low-key but also a little exclusive at the same time. There was a genuinely friendly vibe. And people used to go absolutely bananas.
It was a lot of fun and certainly no more debauched than you’d imagine any illegal after-hours pay-party in the north of England of the late Nineties would be. And, after the Microdot debacle, it was good to be involved with a night that people actually seemed to be into, something that didn’t lose money like it was going out of fashion.
Having said that, I don’t remember ever making that much money out of the Ministry of Shite, but that wasn’t really the point. People weren’t exactly falling over themselves to employ either of us, despite all of the exposure we’d had on my various shows on Dream FM (Earnshaw had done a weekly mix and acted as my not-so-glamorous assistant towards the end of the station’s life). We had to do it ourselves.
While neither of us were particularly great technical DJs – don’t get me wrong: we could beat mix without it sounding like someone kicking a drum kit down a flight of stairs, most of the time anyway – we both had great taste and a reckless disregard for musical purism. Earnshaw spent quite a bit of money on tunes, and I was still getting shit-loads of promo stuff from the mailing lists I’d blagged myself onto through Dream FM.
Never Gonna Let You Go was one of those mailing list freebies. I used to get dozens and dozens of them every week so I probably got a touch blasé about getting a constant supply of fresh new music for free – but anyone with a beating heart could appreciate the quality of Tina Moore’s soulful 2-step anthem as soon as they heard it.
Moore’s soaring, superlative vocal wouldn’t shame the likes of Toni Braxton and it adds considerable weight to a very ordinary, by-the-numbers lyric (“Never gonna let you go, Cos you’re my baby, Worth more than a million in gold …”) but it was Never Gonna Let You Go’s stripped-back groove which really set the dancefloor alight.
Although it was an Artful Dodger remix which eventually got into the charts, my promo had a great Kelly G Bump-N-Go Vocal mix which seemed to emphasise the song’s R&B roots but in the form of an innovative, out-there, house / hip hop / dub / R&B / hardcore hybrid. It’s all about warm, soulful, melodic minimalism and clipped, irresistible rhythms – combined with Moore’s impressive vocal.
Maybe speed garage was just house music with the blackness reinserted. Either way, rougher and more pumped up than its US counterpart, snappier than the thudding filtered French stuff, funkier than the deep house starting to come out of Germany, it seemed fantastically fresh, vital and exciting.
It wasn’t like it came out of nowhere. The remixes and productions of early innovators like New Jersey God-botherer Todd Edwards and Nice ‘n’ Ripe Londonboy Grant Nelson were pointing the way long before Never Gonna Let You Go surfaced.
Beeswax head-honcho, Rise resident and proper Rotherham gentleman Leiam Sullivan had taken me and Earnshaw to an early incarnation of Niche after the Leadmill one night a couple of years earlier – it seemed like a glorified blues, and a bit of a moody one at that – and the pitched-up, booming garage the DJs played there was noticeably different to the deeper sounds favoured at Rise.
Wasn’t it the famous U2 warm-up DJ Paul Oakenfold who said: “House is where you live. Garage is where you park your car”? I don’t actually understand what the fuck that’s supposed to mean, but I think it’s probably a load of old bullshit, whatever it is.
I split up with my girlfriend and couldn’t face another New Year’s Eve at the mansion doing the same old things with the same old faces again. I’d been living in Manchester for a while and, apart from a few old friends, I couldn’t really be arsed with Leeds anymore. And I’d got myself a new lady. We decided not to bother doing anything for the turn of the brave new mimmellium and spent the night itself in the hills of East Lancashire.
A while later, me and Earnshaw went back over to play at a mate’s party at Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park. There was a bit of an atmosphere – this mate had recently split up with another friend of ours and we’d made the mistake of taking sides – and it wasn’t much fun.
Coming over from friendly, open-minded, egalitarian Manchester, Leeds suddenly seemed bleak, small-minded and positively hostile. Some local kids chucked half-bricks at us as we were going into the club. It seemed to sum up the whole place for me, perfectly. Obviously, nothing like that would ever happen in Manchester. Never in a million years.
The evening got progressively worse. After the party ended, we all went back to someone’s house in Headingley. Earnshaw parked up in the ten-foot behind it but we couldn’t be fussed taking everything out – the pair of us were all-abuzz with some super strength ching I’d got from my wacko landlord and we weren’t at our best – so we grabbed the decks and a couple of boxes and left the rest.
After a couple of hours of strained, not-so-friendly banter – the guy we’d come over from Manchester to play for, for free, ended up telling me I was “an utter cunt” and half-seriously threatening to punch my lights out (funnily enough, I can’t recall what I did to prompt such ungracious behaviour) – we decided to hit the road.
Some person or persons unknown – or more correctly, some skank twat or twats – had broken one of the windows of the car and taken a couple of bags of tunes, assorted leads and my Sennheisers. We were distraught. It’s never nice getting robbed, but losing something as personal and important as maybe three-dozen well-played, much-loved classics between us – it felt like a real violation.
No sense of proportion whatsoever.
Our misery was compounded by the journey back to Manchester, with the broken window allowing an unforgiving, icy Pennine wind free rein to batter us about like grim-faced rag dolls – though the stuffing had been knocked out of us already. What made it all worse was the fact that we had absolutely no one to blame but ourselves.
I wrote a list of everything that should have been there but wasn’t. Name of the act, title, record label. For some reason, the only other tune that I can now specifically remember going west in the Great Headingley Tune Heist was Hip Hop by Chris Cuevas – but there were fucking loads of them. Loads. I worked my way through the list, ringing up the labels and PR companies who’d sent me the tunes in the first place and telling them my tale of woe, blagging what I could and buying what I had to.
God bless ‘em, a lot of them came through for me (maximum respect to Nicky Trax, Ian Cheek, Anna Dockerell, Pete Jenkinson, Gordon Duncan and the guys at Pomona in particular) and one way another, eventually all of the missing tunes had been crossed off the list – apart from Hip Hop and Never Gonna Let You Go.
We did another couple of Ministry of Shites at this dodgy snooker bar in Manchester city centre – I haven’t a clue why we ever thought it was a good idea – but we didn’t have the same kind of network of mates we had in Leeds and they weren‘t well attended. Manchester had pretty much fallen completely out of love with house music at the time, so we were probably onto a loser from the start.
They singularly failed to go off. The British Frisbee Team came down one night but that was as wild as it got. By that time, I was playing a bit more UK garage, speed garage, 2-step or whatever the fuck you want to call it – stuff like So Solid Crew‘s Oh No (Simple Things), Toxteth Renegades’ The Rhythm Trak, Trinity Hi-Fi’s Turn The Lights Down – and Never Gonna Let You Go would have fitted in perfectly.
But the night just wasn’t happening at all, and the slightly edgy guys who ran the place had started to talk about the money we owed them for previously-unmentioned PA hire over the last few weeks, so we decided to knock it on the head and never go anywhere near that bit of town ever again. Luckily, it closed down a couple of weeks later.
I ended up forgetting all about Never Gonna Let You Go – the tune itself, the title, who sang it, what label it was on, what the cover looked like, the lot. It became a fleeting memory, a vague impression more than anything else – but we were caning it when I first heard it, so maybe that’s not so shocking.
I have no shame. I’m happy to admit that I heard it on a TV advert for, ironically enough, some Ministry of Sound golden greats of garage compilation. A light bulb gets illuminated and a couple of clicks later it’s all sorted.
So God bless Federico Mancini at Vinylminded. It took a while to get to me – surface mail. What can I say? I’m cheap – but the whole thing cost me just €6 and most of that was postage from Italy. I could have paid up to sixty quid elsewhere. No shit. Waiting a couple of weeks is alright by me. It’s even got the Kelly G Bump-N-Go Vocal mix on it.
Sometimes it seems too easy though. Maybe I need to sweat a bit more.
Then again, who cares? The tune is mint – and that’s really all that matters.
“Worth more than a million in gold ..” in fact.
Although I am open to offers …