Well, this is the fifth release I have so far done with Mr. Majestic aka the don papa Ellis Dee. And I know this won’t be the last either! This guy has been at the forefront of the rave scene since its inception and is still out there (covid aside) plying his skills to new generations. And as a bit of an Ellis Dee fanboy from when I was just a teenager, its always is and will always be an honour to work with him and to give his awesome tunes from back in the day the opportunity to shine again on the format that made them what they are; vinyl.
But what the hell do we talk about this time? I mean, we have covered so much of his history in previous interviews, charting his rise to success, and his nimble ability to travel through genres, keeping himself at the forefront of up and coming scenes. I mean, when myself and Roy finally met, it was at a breaks gig in 2003 and he was creating some proper bangers within that genre! But for this interview, we are covering the era when Roy was stamping his place within the jungle and early drum and bass scene. His transition from the old skool was via his alias Norty But Nice (repressed recently on Vinyl Fanatiks) which brought his upbeat rave vibes and blended them with the jungle riddims that were blowing up around London, especially around this birth place in the east of the city.
This release wasn’t his first foray into the jungle scene proper, that came via his White House release ‘One For The Ladies/You Got To Believe’ in early 1994 alongside the original release of ‘Big Up Your Chest’, which was a successful tune for him at the start of the year. He wanted to give that tune a relick and to add another ragga vibed track on the flipside, as Roy recalls “’Big Up’ was a popular tune for me back then, one I use to play often in my sets. The release did really well, so I just thought I should capitilise upon that sound and add something else on the flipside that had a similar vibe. I’ve always tried to produce stuff that was a bit different to what other people were playing. I always thought about my DJ sets when I made tunes. I wasn’t thinking about the other producers when I made music. I was thinking of other DJ’s and how I could stand out against the competition”.
Rhythm Section – TCR BBQ – Camden Lock – 2006
I found this comment to be quite striking as a producer myself. I know we as Aquasky always made tunes and purposely tried to not sound like other producers. I think being cut off from the country by being right down south, in a little pocket, that we created a unique sound and we liked that. We liked being different, we didn’t like to conform. We even purposely never used an amen in our music as there were so many at the time. I actually remember the first time we ever did use an amen beat and that was in our remix of Omni Trio ‘Who Are You’ for Moving Shadow in 1996. It appeared after the middle breakdown, but even then we tried our best to mash it up, putting it through the filter of the Yamaha CS5 keyboard so it got mangled. We were always thinking about ourselves as producers and not sounding like others. We never actually thought about the role of a DJ when in the studio. I actually remember once Danny Bukem calling us up and saying “Boys, you need to do me a special Danny mix of your tunes. I need a crash at the start of the tune and then some hi-hats, otherwise I can’t mix your tunes and that means I can’t play your tunes!” It had never dawned on us till that point that our ambient intros were impossible to mix. It was a valid lesson and made us think about the DJ playing our music and from that point onwards we always made our tunes with a ‘Danny intro’. I suppose perhaps we were producers first, that then became DJ’s and Roy was a DJ, who became a producer. So the role of a DJ was at the forefront of his mind when masking tunes.
The first question I needed an answer on was the record label name. Back in 1993 I was wearing Caterpillar work boots. I came across their warehouse by chance when in Derbyshire during the summer of that year and bought a pair that I hadn’t seen before down south. So I wondered, perhaps Roy was also an old skool Cat fan? “There was a lot of it back then being worn, clothing and footwear. I actually had a pair of boots myself. The colour scheme and artwork they had looked great, so I just thought ‘why not’ and used it for this label, though I only ever released one record on the label!” As it was the only release on the label, why was the catalogue not CAT001 but CAT 010 then? Roy laughs “I didn’t know that! It was supposed to be 001, that’s what I asked for. I have no idea why they got that wrong and how come I have never noticed it before! It was cut around the corner from me at JTS (Jah Tubby Studios) as that’s where I have always had my stuff cut, even my last release on Academix in 2019. Perhaps some heavy herbs were being smoked that day!”
So, who is N. Lambert, credited for the vocals on ‘Junglist Warrior’? “Nigel was a friend of a friend. He was part of the Reality Sound System which was from my area. My mate hooked us up as he said Nigel was up for doing some vocals and I needed someone for a tune I was working on. So he came down to my studio, which at the time was in Bethnal Green, as he lived nearby. The session was a heavy session, a lot of smoking went on during that session, a hell of a lot of smoking! I already had the track title in my head of ‘Junglist Warrior’ which I told Nigel about. He just went on the mic and freestyle those lyrics off the top of his head. He jammed the lyrics straight into my Ensoniq. He was actually the first vocalist I remember using for my solo projects. I had already used vocalists as part of Rhythm Section, so was familiar with how to record them”. Roy explains, adding “I stayed in contact with Nidel for a while after doing that tune. He loved the tune and wanted to do some more tracks with me. I’m not actually sure why we didn’t release anything else together at the time. It was so long ago now! He was already aware of the rave scene when he came into the studio, he was clued up to the vibe. But he hadn’t been involved in the scene before, this was his first experience. I do remember we recorded some other vocals, but I don’t have those files anymore, they are gone. The guy was super talented though”. I would fully agree with this final statement, Nigel Lambert was an awesome vocalist and I would love to hear him on more music like this, he had a unique style and a great delivery. “You should do something with Nigel again Roy” I tell him, which Roy agrees with. Fingers crossed we see these two powerhouses hook up again in the future!
Fast Eddie and Ellis Dee – Electric, Brixton – 2016
As we chat about the release I was intrigued to find out more about the sample sources Roy was using and I wasn’t quite ready for the reply he gave me but I have to say it’s a bloody creative bit of sampling and totally out the box. On ‘Big Up Your Chest’ (the original and the remix) Roy uses a sample from Kate Bush ‘Wow’ which I think is a stroke of genius, especially when you know the other sample source in the tune is from a reggae tune by Carla Marshall titled ‘Champion’. This tune really was ‘One For The Ladies’! I love creative sample use and I think it says a lot about the artist when you find out how broad they were casting their net in the search for fresh gems to spice up their tunes. Roy wasn’t out there sampling the obvious; he really was thinking about it all and about the end result of making sure his DJ sets didn’t sound like anyone else.
“The start of ‘Junglist Warrior’ is a famous reggae riff that I loved from back in the day. I wanted to make something with it so I played the riff in myself using the E-MU Vintage Keys. It really worked well with Nigel’s vocals” Roy explains. “At the time I had a nice little set up at the Bethnal Green studio. I had my much loved Ensoniq ASR-10 which was my workhorse. I loved that bit of kit. I had the Vintage Keys which had some great sound sin it and the Novation Bass Station. Not the rack-mounted one but the actual keyboard. I also had my 32:2 Behringer desk. The one with the wicked meter bridge across the top that made it look like the more expensive Mackie desk that was around at the time. I also had my old faithful JBL speakers as monitors. Some great tunes were written on that set up”.
And that’s a statement I fully agree with. To think how basic studio set-ups were back then, how limited producers were with the amount of sample time that was on offer. Our little trick back then was to record all our samples at 45rpm +8 which also seems to be the way lots of people around the country were doing it. That limit of gear and sample time only went to help advance the creativity of the music and give the tracks that raw, gritty sound that people try and replicate now. At the time we always wanted more, but it was that lack of technology of the time that has made this music so loved to this day and it’s the perfect snapshot of an era in time that was so innocent and carefree.
This release was painstakingly mastered from a mint condition vinyl copy by the ‘engineer incredible’ that is Dapz at Compound Audio.