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Salsoul survivor

Ricky Morrison on 'Salsoul Nugget', Paradise Garage and more…

2021 Jun 20     
2 Bit Thugs

This is not just a reissue – this is an M&S reissue! We get some nuggets of wisdom from a true legend of the UK's underground house scene

As you've probably spotted, currently riding high in the Beatport charts – in 20th Anniversary Remixes form – is disco-house classic Salsoul Nugget (If You Wanna) by M&S presents The Girl Next Door. 

The EP's been sitting in the aforesaid Top 30 for a few weeks now, too. Clearly, new rubs from Mark Knight, Mighty Mouse and Jolyon Petch, coming courtesy of Australian label Tinted Records, haven't just brought the early 00s filter disco fave up-to-date, they've also brought it firmly back to the forefront of people's minds – whether that's as a trip down Memory Lane or perhaps, for today's younger house buyers, a whole new experience.

Naturally, you can count Team iDJ in the former camp – yours truly actually interviewed M&S's Ricky Morrison and Fran Sidoli about the record the first time around! So when we were offered the chance to talk to Ricky about it again 20 years on, how could we say no? Especially given that by all accounts, the Salsoul Nugget reissue is just the start of a return to the limelight for this most respected of UK house veterans.

Read on to get the full story of that famous Double Exposure sample (and why Pete Tong's to blame for everyone getting the lyrics wrong), as well as the duo's early soundsystem days, Ricky's 80s pilgrimages to the Paradise Garage, and what's going on with his new album…
 


Thanks for taking the time to chat (again) today, because back in the day you and Fran were never much ones for doing interviews, were you?

“Nah! We used to have a saying, 'It's better to know than to be known'. So we never really went down that route of 'look at me, look at me'. But we were lucky to have a good team behind us, Danny D who always had faith in us and Simon Fuller, so we just carried on doing what we were doing. 

“Of course, these days you couldn't survive like that – you'd have to have the Instagram followers and a whole massive team behind you to feed the machine. And for me what happens with that is, the music gets diluted, it just becomes an asset.

“Back in the day, though, me and Fran were doing music just because we loved doing music. The money was a secondary thing. But we were lucky enough to have a person who was very influential in the dance community, Danny D, to help us along. And we were lucky enough to have the privilege to work in some high-end studios, which is why people used to think we were American producers because of the sound we had. We were working on an SSL desk, so our sound was quite 'big'. I think that's why our productions have stood the test of time.”

Well, Salsoul Nugget clearly has! So how did the new mixes come about?

“Well you see, it never got re-released or remixed 20 times over like a lot of things do, because FFRR folded and a lot of the records just disappeared. People have asked me about it over the years, but there was never anything really going on.

“But then we had a phone call from Jamie Raeburn at Central Station Records in Australia. He's got this label Tinted who put out a lot of the old 90s stuff, and he was actually calling about Blockster You Should Be Dancing, which was something we did with Brandon Block. But Ministry didn't want to play ball, so he said 'What about Salsoul Nugget?'. 

“We weren't sure, because we'd been toying with the idea of putting it out again ourselves, but Jamie convinced us that he'd do it justice, so we said okay. They asked us who we wanted to remix it, and I knew Mark had loved the record first time around so that was a no-brainer. 

“I've known Mark since the late 90s – I think we first met at WMC in 97/98, when he was there with the Garage City crew. So we asked him and he said yes. These days, of course, Mark's a massive player in the industry… and he's been getting back on the soulful vibe more himself lately, so it fits in with what he's doing as well. His upcoming album is fantastic.”

So let's rewind 20 years – what do you remember about making the track in the first place?

“Really it was born out of frustration. See, in the early days of M&S we'd had some success, had stuff out on Strictly Rhythm and remixed Ultra Nate and all that, but by the early 00s we were signed to Simon Fuller's 19 Management, writing tracks with Cathy Dennis for Fame Academy and things like that. You know, pop stuff… we wanted to get back to our roots and do a record we actually liked!

“We both loved Salsoul Records, and at that time Ministry had the rights to their catalogue. So we thought we'd kill two birds with one stone, because we loved the groove from Double Exposure's Everyman (Has To Carry His Own Weight) and we'd loved an early 90s record that had used the same loop, but we knew there was something else in there.

“We stuck a two-bar loop on the MPC-3000 and played it for about five, six hours straight. And we both had MPCs at home, so we went away and knocked about bits of the record so that instead of just one loop, we had three or four. And we came up with that sequence.

“Then because we had our pop brains in, we thought, 'We need a vocal hook', and that's how we came up with the two vocal samples that we mashed together – “if you wanna” and “that the road would be paved all smooth and nice”. We wanted a record that had a similar feel to Nightcrawlers Push The Feeling On but with the disco element of Spiller Groovejet, so we knocked those two samples together.

“Then we added a little key change to make it more interesting, and that was it – we actually finished the whole track in a day. Very swashbuckle-y, we did the filters using a Pioneer EFX-500! Really we just did it to get it out of our system, and we never really thought much more of it.”

Clearly something changed, then…?

“Well, because of the association with Ministry, we played it to them, but they declined. So we went okay, fair enough. But then we pressed up 50 copies ourselves. We'd got to know a lot of the high-end American DJs, people like Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Louie Vega, Todd Terry, and a few guys in Italy, like DJ Ralf. So we sent them out these 50 copies with handwritten letters saying thanks for all your support, we'd love to hear what you think of this… and it just caused absolute mayhem! 

“It was getting played everywhere, everyone was asking what it was, so it got to the point where we had a few offers on the table, and there you go.”

You mentioned the vocal, which is one of those everyone gets wrong, isn't it? Because as you said, the chorus of Salsoul Nugget is really bits of two different lines from the original song…

“Well, the version we originally sent out to people and that we ended up signing to Dream Beat in Italy – that just had the Everyman sample, and of course we'd pitched it up from 107bpm to 128bpm, so you couldn't really make out the words. Then when FFRR signed it they wanted it to cross over onto the commercial side, and that meant it had to have a song, it couldn't just be a loop. So we had to write a topline for it, but still using the hook as a chorus. 

“But you see, before Pete signed it to FFRR he'd played the original Italian release on his radio show, testing the waters, and he'd made a little competition of it… like, 'Phone in and tell us what the chorus says and you can win tickets to Ministry', or wherever he was playing that night. And they all came to the conclusion that it was, 'If you want I'll rock the rhythm with you babe all through the night'.

“So we wrote a song with that as the chorus. And we got Natasha Brice in to sing it, because we'd seen her in The Fifth Element and found out she was a vocalist as well. We got her to sing those words in the chorus, and then we ran them really quietly below the Everyman sample. So the record that was in the charts, it's actually got both bits in there – the original sample and the words that everyone sings to it.”
 


Ha, I never knew that! Okay, so now let's rewind even further, because by the time Salsoul Nugget came around you'd already been in the game for over 10 years…

“Yeah. I'd always been into music, and I was classically trained on clarinet as a kid – I used to play in a symphony orchestra! My Mum and Dad, being typical West Indian parents… they wanted me and my sister to have all the things they never had. So my Mum got me a clarinet and paid for clarinet lessons, paid for cricket lessons, rugby… she was working three or four jobs to do all that as well, she sacrificed so much, looking back.

“And me and Fran, we've been mates since we were teenagers, and we started out doing school discos. I was part of a sound called Midnight Vibrations, playing funk and soul and disco. Then I left school, but again, typical West Indian parents… they were like, there's no money in music! So I had to go to college, get a diploma and become a computer engineer. So I got away from music for a while but I was still buying records – I used to go in Abbey Shah's old shop Bluebird Records on Church Street. By this time it's the early 80s and I'm a computer engineer, more money than sense… but it all went on records, and that's how I ended up as part of System Inc soundsystem. 

“Fran was in the car game at the time, but we both had soundsystems, and we'd meet up at weekends and play music. And our mate's dad was an estate agent, so he'd give us the keys to these empty houses and we'd go in there, set up the soundsystem, go down Prontaprint and do some flyers, give 'em out in the street and have a party the whole weekend! Then on Monday we'd go back, pick up the speakers and go on to the next one.

“It ended up where we controlled all of northwest london, going up against Rap Attack, Paul Anderson's Troublefunk, Norman Jay's Good Times Roadshow… that's how I ended up going to the Electric Ballroom and listening to Paul Anderson play. But what really swung it for me with the disco and soulful house and stuff was going to the Paradise Garage. I was going there between 82 and 86 and that just opened up my whole mind.”

What were you doing in New York – was that with the computer job?

“No, my friend moved there to be a dancer with a dance company, so I started going to New York every year then. And the first time I went, he said 'I want to take you to this club… it's called the Garage'. Okay. So we walked into this place and… Jesus Christ! You walked up this long ramp, and people would have little overnight bags so they could change their clothes during the night. Then you walked through this door and the sound was unbelievable… I can't even describe it. 

“The first time I walked in, Larry was playing Prince If I Was Your Girlfriend. He couldn't actually mix to save his life, but the way he programmed… it was like he was talking to you through his music. A lot of the great DJs did that, like Frankie and Tony, you could tell what mood they were in through the music. Larry would play sound effects over records, so if he was in an aggressive mood he'd play lots of thunderstorm sounds, or Bostik Yello, really aggressive sounds, or if he was in a nice soulful mood you'd hear Carl Bean I Was Born This Way. Creating moods and textures, leaving 20 seconds of silence and then going off down another road… absolutely stunning.

“And that taught me a lot, so when I came back we'd be playing all sorts of music on our soundsystem, and the only other person that was really doing that was Paul. Paul would play everything – go-go, funk, jazz, boogie, soul, and he'd mix it all seamlessly as well. Paul was very influential to me.”

So how did you go from playing other people's records to making your own?

“Well then I had a bit of luck – I got made redundant from the computer job! So then I could say to my Mum, 'I did it your way, I've been made redundant, let me try it my way for a while'. So that's when I started the record shop Catch A Groove with Abbey, back in the early 90s. My Mum didn't mind then, you see, cos she figured if it all went wrong I could always go back into computers. 

“If it wasn't for Catch A Groove, I wouldn't be talking to you now. Because that was where I got exposed to so much great music coming from America: R&B, funk and soul but most of all garage – what people call soulful house now. And through the shop me and Abbey got to know people like David Morales, Roger Sanchez, all the New Jersey people. They'd send us DATs and we'd order things so far in advance that other shops like Black Market would come into our shop and then order the records we had in!

“But then that closed, and Fran lost his job about the same time as well, and me and him had nothing – Fran helped me move all my records and clothes back to my Mum's house. But we still both loved music, and Fran had an Atari ST, a Juno 106 and a little 16-track Studiomaster desk in the boxroom of his house and he said, 'Let's try making some tunes'. So that's what we did. We spent four or five months making tunes and putting them on a DAT. And then because I was going to New York all the time, I knew Aldo Marin at Cutting Records, so I said, 'I'm going to take these tracks to New York and sell them'. 

“So I went to Cutting Records, and he took them all! So suddenly all our tracks were coming over from the States – but it wasn't as M&S at that time, it was me and 2 Dope Productions, and Fran and I think it was 411 Productions. And that all kicked off, and that was the start of our production career, really. 

"Then a few years later, I was talking to Danny D one day and we had this hip-hop acapella playing in the background. Halfway through the record a girl starts wailing ‘Justify… justify my love’ and we said, 'Let’s make a record using that!'. We didn’t know it was Barbara Tucker who sang it at the time. So we mapped all the parts out across a keyboard, and from that we made Justify and signed it to Loose Records in Italy.

"Then Gladys wanted it for Strictly, so we signed it to them. We'd already started using the name M&S by then, but we had a lawyer friend and he said, 'Don't sign it as M&S, because then they'll own that name'. So we did it as M&S presents The Girl Next Door, and that was how that name was born.”

 


That's quite a story! But now let's come back to the present, because I gather the reissue isn't the only project you've got on at the moment? And I know you had the single Uplifted out on Quantize last year …

“Yeah. See, after Salsoul Nugget, we kind of got drawn back into the pop thing. But then the whole industry changed, with digital downloads and Spotify and everything, and there wasn't as much of a financial incentive to keep doing that. And Fran had to take a bit of a step back for family reasons as well. But I was still chipping away doing a few bits and pieces, like I did Let's Stay Home with Frankie Knuckles and a few other bits, a few mixes here and there, and I was still DJing as well. 

“The Quantize thing was a record I had on my hard drive for about four or five years. I'd played it at a few parties, and then Spen called me up and said, 'What's going on with that track?'. It was something I'd done as a collaboration a friend of ours, Brian Lucas. And now I'm working on an album that's got Brian on it, and I'm working on Brian's album as well.”

So the new album, that'll be a Ricky Morrison solo project, not an M&S thing?

“Yeah, Fran does want to get involved again but we've got to figure out how to make it work, because things have changed since we were young – you know, mortgages, kids, all that. We're really still in the process of getting it all back together. So this'll be a solo album, but collaborating with a load of different musicians and vocalists. And hopefully there'll be a couple of M&S tunes on there as well, some old stuff that never came out… if we can work out the legalities with the vocalists.

“I'm very influenced by old American soul and funk, so a lot of it's a bit more downtempo, around 108-109bpm, with a few disco tracks, a few soulful house tracks. It should be out by the end of the year, hopefully. But, y'know… I'm not really looking to have a No 1 album or anything! It's just something to get out of my system, and leave something behing me I can be proud of when I go to the great console in the sky…”

Words: Russell Deeks

Salsoul Nugget (20th Anniversary Remixes) is out now on Tinted Records. Catch Ricky on Mi-Soul radio 7pm-9pm every Friday.

Follow Ricky Morrison: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter / website

 

 

 

 

Tags: M&S, Ricky Morrison, Fran Sidoli, FFRR, Tinted Records, Salsoul Records, Double Exposure, Strictly Rhythm, Gladys Pizarro, Dancin' Danny D, Pete Tong, Mark Knight, Mighty Mouse, Jolyon Petch, Catch A Groove, Abbey Shah, Paul 'Trouble' Anderson, soundsystems, Cutting Records, Simon Fuller