DJ Vern & DJ Ash ‘Squeeze/Magnificent’ – 1995
The story starts at 2 pirate radio station based on the infamous Nightingale Estate, an estate built in 1968 with 6 22 storey tower blocks and a history of trouble and crime. They loomed over the skyline of Hackney, each holding their own level of notoriety; Seaton Point, Embley Point, Farnell Point, Rachel Point, Rathbone Point and Southerland Point. Though only Seaton still stands, their collective names still invoke memories and flashbacks of a history that still envelopes the area where they once stood. DJ Vern AKA Big Vern was a DJ on Rush FM, a station that was famously raided in July 1993, with nationwide media coverage. DJ Ash was playing on Kool FM. Both stations were transmitting from the same block, Embley Point. It was only a matter of time that the two DJ’s would meet, though this didnt happen at Embley but on Lower Clacton Road at a Reggae dubplate cutting house.
Ash frequented this place “because Music House would get very busy, and it was closer to home”. Anyone who cut plates back in the day knows how expensive it was to keep the ammo stocks high! Vern was down there that day getting his V. Experience EP cut for his label World Bass Records, a label that ran from 1994 to 1995 and released 3 records that still resonates its legacy to this day. Vern had heard of Ash and knew he was a formidable DJ on Kool FM and wanted to enlist his help with 2 tracks he was working on but couldnt complete. Ash agreed to helping out as he had wanted to get into the studio. Those tunes were ‘Squeeze’ and ‘Magnificent’.
L-R: DJ Smurf on the decks, DJ Ash and DJ Slippery (MC Remedee’s older brother) at Kool FM 1993.
Vern had built himself a studio after being advised to do so by Noise Factory, who also lived on the Nightingale Estate. They told him to sell his car and invest the money into building himself a studio, which he unduly did. It was basic and consisted of an Akai S950 and Cubase being run on an Atari STE – “Dont forget the E” Ash chips in, causing the both of them to laugh. The STE being the better model than the standard Atari ST! Also within the studio was a ‘crappy desk’, a ‘cheap Yamaha Keyboard running midi’ and a £100 portable DAT machine that was bought from Noise Factory. “I still have that” Ash says. “You nicked that off from me?” Vern bites. “Nah mate, you gave it to me!!!” Ash strikes back.
These two havent seen each other for 17 years and only got together tonight for this interview, so there memories are flooding back and the humour and banter that bonded the two of them back in the day is as strong now as it ever was!
Anyway, back to the story of these two tunes… They had been sat unfinished on Vern’s Atari ST -E(!!) for a while. So the opportunity was taken to get them finished off with fresh blood and fresh ears and in early 94 they were finally completed, but they then stood dormant for a further 18 months whilst the pair waited on Tearin Vinyl to release them. One of the main issues for the hold up was the sample usage in ‘Squeeze’. Vern had lifted a big hook from Courtney Melodies ‘Kill A Sound Boy With Ease’, a track that appeared a few years earlier on the Sound Clash 89 album released by Super Power Records. As jungle music was now on the radar of a lot of Jamaican DJ’s, the decision was taken by the label to start to try and clear the bigger samples in case they ended up getting sued. But back then, before the internet, it was a lot harder to track down anyone who could sign off the sample. Eventually the sample was sorted, clearing the way for this release to make its mark on the world in 1995 on Tearin Vinyl.
Vern, who has a hell of a lot of amazing stories, tells me about another incident that happened in regards to a non-cleared sample. “I had sampled Junior Delgardo on a tune I was producing for 2 guys who came into my studio. I cant remember who they were but I use to ‘produce’ for a lot of artists, basically write the tunes!” Vern informs me. “Then one day I was record shopping somewhere when the guy in the shop told me that Junior was in the country from Jamaica looking for me with a shooter. He had heard of the sample being used and wasnt happy about about it. I then decided it was probably best to get this sorted, though if he had found me, he would of got a lot more than he would of been expecting. I wasnt the sort of guy that you messed with back then!”
Kool FM Massif up inda place! L-R: MC Shocking B, DJ Ash, MC Remadee, DJ Brockie.
Vern made contact with Chris Lane at Fashion Records to get the situation resolved and he did a remix for Chris of a Papa San track as payment for the sample usage. Unfortunately Vern cant remember the tune he made that sampled Junior Delgardo (if anyone knows, please make contact with me and Ill let Vern know) and he isnt even sure if it came out. But that incident created a relationship between him and Chris at Fashion and they became good mates, with Vern even buying a mixing desk from him which was used on various Vern tracks over the following years.
DJ Vern & DJ Ash became mates in 1993 and continued to produce together until 1996. There are many tunes they made that never came out. Ash recalls “There was a tune called ‘Baby’ that we did that sampled Brandy, as I was working in a record shop at the time and a lot of American rap and soul was coming into the shop, so I used my time wisely there and looked for samples to use in the studio. There was another tune we did that sampled Mary J Blige called ‘Hardstrokes’ and I also did the remix of UK Apache ‘Junglist Girls’ with Vern that came out on a 10″ white label back in 1995”. Ash was also the back up DJ for Shy FX, as Ash adds “In the early days of Shy’s career we would DJ together whilst he got up to speed, and got to grips with mixing. I remember I was the first person to play his tune ‘Gangster’ that was the base to what everyone now knows as ‘Original Nutter’. I also did a Radio 1 ‘One In The Jungle’ set with Shy and MC Det, I played the Mary J Blige tune on that. I’m sure that set is on Youtube somewhere”.
(It is! You can check it here at 50.26: https://youtu.be/lMGUZyedtSU and ‘Squeeze’ is dropped at 31.40)
DJ Ash playing on Kool FM, 1995.
Around 2002 Vern & Ash fell out over something trivial, so trivial that neither of them have any recollection as to what it was! As Vern says “Some kinda ghetto vibes!”. By this point Vern had been in prison, which was the start of his downfall, and the music fell by the wayside.
So now, 17 years later, I am given the contact details of DJ Ash from DJ Time and I make contact about the repress and if he would be up for a little interview. He was well up for it but really wanted to do it with Vern, who he hadnt seen or spoken to since 2002. He put word out around Hackney that he was looking for him and eventually, at a street soundclash, he was speaking to someone who still knew Vern. Ash passed on his number and 2 weeks later, out of the blue, he received a phonecall from Vern. The two met up for this interview and I had a great time listening in to their stories, conversations and general catch up. One thing I did take from the phone call was how the two of them had great admiration for one another and how they still retained the same level of humour and could still take the mickey out of each other. It was a great honour to have been some way involved in bringing them back together again.
DJ Ash and DJ Vern, together for the first time since 2002. I challenge you to find a picture of Big Vern on the internet. He is an enigma! – Hackney, London. September 3rd 2019.
At the end of our chat they told me that there was an unreleased remix of ‘Magnificent’!!! A tune they nicknamed ‘Traffic’, as they thought that the string that they used in the tune sounded like a car horn on the streets of Chicago. “We always gave our tunes funny names. There might be a sound in the track or something the tune reminded us of, that we would use as a nickname’ Ash tells me. Ash thinks he may know where the DAT for this remix might be but he is unsure if he can access it. They werent too organised with their DAT tapes. As Vern tells me ‘I use to keep all my DATs in a saucepan. I have no idea why, I just thought they would be safe in there!”.
I can only hope that Ash can locate that DAT tape and that the tune may yet see the light of day and for them to secure their legacy in a new century. On speaking to Ash the following day, after our interview, I ask whether there may be a chance that him and Vern might go back into the studio. “We chatted about it and it may happen. Vern doesnt listen to jungle anymore and is into his guitar, but you never know. I might be able to persuade him”
Watch this space Junglists Crew!