The seventh installment of the “Whatever happened to …?” series is dedicated to Foul Play; a pioneering, genre-defining and innovative electronic music act, heralding the transition from hardcore breakbeat to jungle/drum and bass. Being active almost throughout the 90s (the band’s synthesis changed twice during its activity, due to unforeseen circumstances) constantly re-inventing themselves, with dexterous, second-to-none programming and sample manipulation, their illustrious productions have marked indelibly the UK underground music map.
The founding members have been John Morrow, Steve Bradshaw (both based in Northampton) and Steve Gurley (based in Milton Keynes). As with many hardcore artists, they had started out playing hip-hop, soul, jazz and funk in the eighties. After meeting through the small circle of aficionados in the wider Milton Keynes area, they formed their own label Oblivion Records as a platform to release their own material.
They broke through in the hardcore proceedings in style, with two releases on their own Oblivion imprint; both of them being today among the most sought vinyl from that era. The pivotal point to critical acclaim came in 1993, when they drew the attention of the legendary label Moving Shadow. A phone call from Simon Colebrooke, who was performing A&R duties at Moving Shadow, was the prelude of a glorious music saga. Under the Moving Shadow umbrella they released one personal album, 8 singles (one was in fact on Shadow’s subsidiary Section 5) and a plethora of remixes for well-established artists of the electronic music scene; the majority of their remixes have been arguably better than the originals.
However, life priorities do change and in 1994 Steve Gurley stepped out of the band, in an amicable fashion, to pursue other challenges going solo (recording successfully for Labello Blanco as Rogue Unit and later establishing himself as a pioneer in the UK Garage scene), effectively leaving Morrow and Bradshaw to carry on as Foul Play; Foul Play Vol. 4 being their last output as a trio. The first Foul Play album entitled Suspected was released to critical acclaim a year later, featuring a collection of older tracks, plus exclusive new tracks and VIP remixes previously unavailable to the general public, engineered in-house by members of the Moving Shadow collective.
In 1996 Foul Play released their last single for Moving Shadow before launching their own imprint Panik Records to promote their own work. Unfortunately, Panik never really left the ground, due to the untimely tragic death of Steve Bradshaw.
Two years later, Morrow re-emerged with the second incarnation of the band, paying tribute to his music past. Alongside Neil Shepherd, with whom he had already collaborated during the Moving Shadow era and vocalist Shereen Ingram, Morrow formed Foul Play Productions. They readily signed with Partisan Recordings, a label founded under One Little Indian Records’ wing by five key members of the Moving Shadow managing staff, who had recently resigned from their posts (for more information about the Partisan Recordings activity click here).
Under the Partisan Recordings catalogue numbering, Foul Play Productions released 3 singles and one album entitled Field Of Action. This proved to be their last release that saw the light of day, coinciding with One Little Indian’s financial crisis that duly resulted in the suspension of Partisan’s activities. At that point, Foul Play didn’t feel that they could fit in the ever changing drum and bass music landscape and disbanded as a result (more about that in “The day after and fast forward to the present” section of the article).
Foul Play discography debut took place in 1992 creating serious waves in the UK hardcore music landscape, paving the way for the transition to jungle and drum and bass. Released on their own imprint Oblivion Records (the label logo was already being used for their Oblivion club nights taking place in Northampton) Foul Play Vol. 1 (The Alchemist & Ragatere b/w Ricochet & Feel the Vibe, OR001) is a 4 track-ep that has earned a legendary status among collectors, exploring the paths of breakbeat hardcore in accordance with the prevailing sound at the time, which was being played out in raves. The Alchemist is dominated by euphoric vocals and a captivating hook, sampled from Happiness Is Around The Bend by Cuba Gooding, whereas Ragatere demonstrates innovative, masterful amen break edits and clear ragga influences. The flipside is a hardcore affair with Feel the Vibe and Ricochet; the latter being perhaps the most recognised track of the ep, sampling On The Upside by the American R&B and soul artist Xena.
As pioneering the Foul Play debut might have been, the follow-up really turned heads, attracting major interest across the scene in Foul Play’s production offerings. Foul Play Vol. 2 (Survival & Dubbing You b/w Ricochet (No Stopping The Remix) & Feel the Vibe (Again), OR002, 1992) illustrated Foul Play’s production and sampling skills, cementing their reputation in the scene. The ragga oscillator bass riff of Survival and the distinctly jazzy beat of Dubbing You, with the beautiful Barbara Roy’s Touch & Go vocal sample on top, feature in the info side. The logo side includes revisited versions of Feel The Vibe and Ricochet from Foul Play Vol 1.
4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
The next year, Foul Play emerged with the one-off moniker 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (a direct reference to the quartet responsible for the production, namely the Foul Play trio plus Yomi Ayeni aka Yomster, owner of Tone Def Records) for a seminal release on Tone Def Records. Re-designing the atmospheric jungle blueprint, (Drowning In Her b/w We Are The Future, TONE DEF 013, 1993) received wide support by all the major djs in the circuit and marked Foul Play’s progression and evolution. Drowning In Her is a deep, atmospheric jungle piece, with warm sub-bass and haunting pads. The title was inspired by Robert Owen’s vocals from the house classic Tears by Frankie Knuckles & Satoshie Tomiie. That very track would be also sampled later on Foul Play Vol. 5. We Are the Future was inspired from Central Industrial by FSOL off their Accelerator album. It’s also a pretty rare piece of vinyl and essential purchase for every collector.
The Shadow era
Open Your Mind
Back in January, 1993, Foul Play had already lined up their third volume (Foul Play Vol. 3) for release on Oblivion Records, when a twist of fate changed their career path. Literally days before the mastering, Simon Colebrooke communicated with Foul Play inquiring if they had recorded new material. As a result, Foul Play Vol 3 was signed eventually on Moving Shadow and the band let Oblivion Records go once and for all.
Foul Play Vol 3 (Open Your Mind & Murder Most Foul b/w Survival (remix) & Dub In You (remix), Shadow29, 1993) cemented Foul Play’s reputation in the underground music scene. Open Your Mind was the centre-piece of the ep, with a beautiful artwork on the cover designed by Vinton. Sampling Sahara Simon’s Love So Fine intro and Open Your Mind by New York based disco/funk group Kleeer, that particular track morphed the mild street soul mannerisms into bliss incarnate. The info side includes remixes of tracks appearing in Foul Play Vol. 2. Open Your Mind was remixed also by Foul Play themselves and Tango as part of the acclaimed Moving Shadow 10” Remix series: Foul Play Vol 3 Remixes part 1 (Open Your Mind (Foul Play remix) b/w Open Your Mind (Tango remix), Shadow29R1, 1993).
The pivotal point to critical acclaim however, came shortly after. Ironically enough, their next release (under the Foul Play Productions alias as Rob Playford had requested a different moniker for the particular release) was a bit controversial and created a myth around it. Originally pressed on Section 5 Records, a Moving Shadow subsidiary run from the homonymous record shop in King’s Road, London (on the same premises occupied by Lucky Spin Records, before relocating next to the Monroe Studios on Holloway Road), the few copies of the first (“illegal”) version of (Finest Illusion b/w Screwface, Section 4, 1993) were played everywhere during the summer of ’93. To cut a long story short:
Finest Illusion was using a sample from the tune The Finest by the rare funk group SOS Band. Moving Shadow swiftly withdrew the copies from sale for reasons never disclosed; perhaps due to legal wrangling. Whichever the case, later that year, a new (“legal”) version of Finest Illusion, stripped of the vocals apart from a few snippets, saw the light of day and featured in Foul Play Vol. 3 Remixes part 2 (Foul Play – Finest Illusion (Legal mix) b/w Open your Mind (Nookie remix), Shadow29R2, 1993). The alternative “legal” version was conceived and triggered after a random meeting among Foul Play, LTJ Bukem and Peshay at the Music House pressing and mastering premises. For history’s sake, that same sample has been heavily used into various hardcore tracks of that period. The “illegal” mix features in the acclaimed History Of Hardcore, compiled and mixed by Kenny Ken; a joint release by Suburban Base and Moving Shadow with back to back tracks from their catalogues.
Nonetheless, Finest Illusion has been a point of reference and the stepping stone for Foul Play’s greater moments to come. The track opens with scratches and reverbed drums, followed by lo-fi synth stabs and a rough amen break which lead to the high point, when the vocal part is introduced including the chorus:
“After all that we’ve been through, time won’t change the way I feel about you, out of all the loves before, you ‘re the finest I‘ve ever known …”
The legend goes that the master of sampling Steve Gurley had recorded the vocals live over the beats, at his studio in Milton Keynes. The flipside Screwface is frequently overlooked, although it sounds better production-wise, with crisp breaks and a moody bassline.
Music Is The Key
The last output of Foul Play as a trio took place in 1994 and proved once again that their music had no limitations. Life circumstances resulted in Steve Gurley leaving Foul Play to pursue a solo career. This happened without disputes or acrimonies, which is a rarity in music industry. Foul Play Vol. 4 (Being With You b/w Music Is The Key, Shadow49) has been a seminal release with contributions from Northampton based vocalist Denise Gordon and Neil Shepherd, who later became a member of the second incarnation of Foul Play. It is really hard to decide which the highlight was between the two tracks; both received wide support and triumphant reviews.
Denise Gordon delivered a remarkable, captivating vocal live performance proclaiming that “music is the key for the world to be a better place” on Music is The Key, whereas Mary J Blige’s vocals come along with melancholic synth washes on Being With You. As per Moving Shadow’s usual practice, the shared affiliation with the label initiated a string of remixes by fellow-artists Omni Trio and EZ Rollers: Foul Play Vol. 4 Remixes part 1 (Music Is The Key (Omni Trio remix) b/w Being With You (Foul Play remix), Shadow49R1, 1994) and Foul Play Vol. 4 Remixes part 2 (Being With You (EZ Rollers remix) b/w Beats Track, Shadow49R2, 1994).
Omni Trio’s interpretation of Music Is The Key deserves a special reference, a track transformed by his special touch. The mesmerizing piano with Denise’s vocals is complimented with an amen break assault at the second part, creating a drum and bass climax of epic proportions.
2 On 1 series
In 1994, each month and for nine months, Moving Shadow released a very limited edition run of head to head vinyl abstractions, featuring specially recorded tracks from guest artists back to back with new tracks from Moving Shadow artists. The record cover of each one of the nine formed a part of a 3×3 poster type display of the Moving Shadow logo.
Foul Play contributed the track Cutting Loose to the 8th issue (Essence Of Aura – Northern Lights b/w Foul Play, Cutting Loose, Shadow 201-8, 1994) of the 2 on 1 series. Again, Foul Play beautifully manipulate a sample appearing in Herbie Hancock’s classic Watermelon Man, where the percussionist Bill Summers blows into a beer bottle imitating Hindewhu, a style of singing/whistle-playing found in Pygmy music of Central Africa. The track was engineered by Hyper On Experience (Alex Banks of EZ Rollers and Flytronix).
Back again in 1994, Moving Shadow had decided to organize promotional events for the label under the name Voodoo Magic. Moving away from the basements and warehouses that used to be the norm in the early days, the label’s management selected the Equinox club in London’s flamboyant West End. The prestigious line ups included UK’s finest djs including the likes of Andy C, Fabio, LTJ Bukem, Randall, JJ Frost, Brockie, Dr. S Gachet, Kenny Ken, Grooverider and Tango among many others, as well as Moving Shadow artists of course. Foul Play performed in the inaugural Voodoo Magic night on May, 29th, presenting the unreleased at the time Being With You, as well as their acclaimed version of Lord Of The Null Lines (originally by Hyper On Experience).
There was still life in Foul Play after Gurley’s departure and the next year the duo emerged with the fifth volume of the series engineered again by Hyper On Experience. Foul Play Vol. 5 (Total Control b/w The Stepper, Shadow57, 1995) had a more minimalistic feel than their previous works and was the prelude to their first personal album. In Total Control they sampled again Robert Owens’ vocals from the house classic Tears (see the 4 Hoursemen Of The Apocalypse section), however the flipside The Stepper is widely recognized from the cascading drum percussions, as it has featured in numerous jungle/dnb compilations over the years.
Following the success of the first single artist album (Omni Trio – The Deepest Cut), Moving Shadow released on October, 1995 Foul Play’s first LP. Entitled Suspected, Foul Play’s first album was a collection of older tracks as well as several previously unreleased tracks and mixes, featuring collaborations with artists from the Moving Shadow stable including head honcho Rob Playford, Hopa & Bones, Adam F, Omni Trio and Hyper On Experience. Origin Unknown (Andy C & Ant Miles, owners of Ram Records) also contributed a fine remix of Total Control. Engineered at Purple Rain and Manic One studios (Manic One located at the same building with Moving Shadow HQ in Soho, London) the album is complimented with a cheeky artwork illustrating a crime scene with a chalk-outlined body figure. Legend says that it was Paul Rhodes’ (of 2 Bad Mice) idea and modeled for the outline himself!
Volume 4 may have been Foul Play’s best work for Moving Shadow (remixes excluded), however Suspected demonstrated production versatility and proved once again that drum and bass is everything but one-dimensional.
Karma – The end of the Shadow era
The last Foul Play output for Moving Shadow took place in 1996 (Vice b/w Karma part 1 & 2, Shadow86). Jazz-influenced and characterized by beautiful drum improvisations, warm basslines, illustrious pads and flutes, this release has been underrated in comparison to their previous works, however it could easily feature in any label’s back catalogue.
However prolific producers Foul Play might have been, perhaps they are most well-known for their exquisite interpretations and dexterous remixing of other artists’ works. With no specific formula, other than keeping the basic components of the originals, adding their personal touch and present dj-friendly, easier to mix versions, Foul Play have been credited with remixes for established artists including the likes of Hyper-On Experience, Omni Trio, Bug Khan & The Plastic Jam, DJ Pulse, EZ Rollers, Nookie, King Just, Mickey Finn & Aphrodite, Ray Keith, Mandalay and The Shamen among others. The majority of their remixes are considered classics today, prolonging the anthems’ life and in many cases they are more recognizable than the originals.
Special reference will be made to five Foul Play remixes:
- The Lord Of The Null Lines remix (original by Hyper On Experience), released on Moving Shadow, which took them only 3 hours to complete! Being only in the test press stage and with a handful of copies handed out to the top boys only, the Lord Of The Null Lines remix was played out almost 10 times at a rave in Sanctuary, by every dj in the line-up.
- The Stay Calm remix (original by DJ Pulse on Creative Wax) .
- The Sound Of Music remix (original by Nookie), off Nookie’s homonymous album on Reinforced.
- The Flowers Bloom remix, (original by Mandalay) released on Organic Records, remixed also by PFM and Alex Reece.
- The non-debatable pinnacle of Foul Play’s artistic career: the Renegade Snares VIP remix (original by Omni Trio), transforming the original into a breakbeat symphony, still regarded today as one of the most significant, ground-breaking, influential pieces of electronic music
In 1996, Morrow and Bradshaw launched Panik Records to cater for their new material. In the meantime, they had been also responsible for a rather obscure release on 10 Inch Press, contributing the track Chrysalis (Cutting Edge 2/3, Foul Play – Chrysalis b/w Trinity – Magnetism, CUTT 2, 1996). Foul Play recorded 3 singles on Panik in the next two years, exploring new music paths, experimenting with a darker, tech-oriented sound that was dominant at that time (Foul Play & Nexus – Visitations b/w Taboo & The Chase, PAK1, 1996 / Foul Play – Neuro Pressure b/w Sci-Fi, PAK2, 1996 / Foul Play – Black Sun b/w Avalon, PAK3, 1997). Sadly, the label never took off the ground and suspended its operations due to the tragic death of Steve Bradshaw….
The second incarnation
The next year John Morrow formed the second incarnation of Foul Play, resurrecting the alias Foul Play Productions which had been used once for Finest Illusion. Morrow, alongside fellow-producer Neil Shepherd and vocalist Shereen Ingram, joined the Partisan Recordings collective, re-uniting with five former members of the Moving Shadow managing staff who had resigned and were running Partisan at the time, namely: Caroline Butler (Label Manager at Moving Shadow Records), Sean O’Keeffe (aka Deep Blue and Art Director at Moving Shadow also), Simon Colebrooke (of 2 Bad Mice and A&R Director – responsible for the recruitment of all artists), Paul Rhodes (of 2 Bad Mice also) and Gavin Newman.
Being in a familiar environment helped with his grief and Morrow picked up where he had left off. Foul Play Productions recorded three singles (*Synthetic Bitch b/w Golden Gate, PART007, 1998 / Risk b/w Swell. PART017, 1998 / Redrum b/w maximum Risk, PART019, 1999) and one album entitled Field Of Action under the Partisan Recordings umbrella.
*The first single was dedicated in the loving memory of Steve Bradshaw.
The highlights of Foul Play Productions’ outputs on Partisan are undoubtedly Golden Gate, featuring a kick-in-the-stomach double bass by Steve Musgrove of Glass Records, Synthetic Bitch and Field Of Action, the latter off the homonymous album. As per Foul Play’s usual practice, their LP is a mosaic of past works, new material and previously unreleased remixes by Omni Trio and Blueboy.
In 1999 Partisan’s parent label One Little Indian Records faced a serious financial crisis and had to let go all its satellite labels including Partisan Recordings and Fat Cat Records among others. Field Of Action proved to be Foul Play’s swan song. After this series of events, Foul Play Productions felt that they no longer fitted in the trajectory drum and bass seemed to be following and decided to retire from drum and bass in style, looking for new challenges.
The day after and fast forward to the present
Steve Bradshaw sadly lost the fight with the MS disease in August of 1997, leaving behind him a remarkable music legacy. This tribute piece is dedicated to his memory. RIP
Steve Gurley, after leaving Foul Play, went solo, initially under the sobriquet Rogue Unit, recording for Labello Blanco and its satellite sub-labels, as well as Dee Jay Recordings. Soon however, he decided to step away from drum and bass and the direction it was taking and started experimenting with UK Garage, which was at an embryonic state at the time. Having the Midas touch, he released one anthem after the other, establishing himself as a leading figure in the genre. His tracks have received wide support from underground, as well as mainstream radio stations and he is regarded by newer generations of artists as a point of reference and a mentor. Lately he has been recording house music material under the guise G Connection.
John Morrow, after the Foul Play Productions disband, branched out from drum & bass to produce breaks and house, both solo and collectively under several aliases including Johnny Halo, whose releases on Cellar Door received worldwide DJ support. In recent times, John has increasingly devoted himself to producing bass fuelled house music, with the birth of Skeleton Army.
Excerpt of John Morrow’s comments on how he had envisaged Foul Play and a brief account of their achievements:
“There was never any kind of master plan, we were just a bunch of DJ’s who progressed into making music and continued through until its natural conclusion. The fact that people are still interested in that music 20 years later is an achievement none of us would have thought possible, and I for one am extremely proud of that.”
A recent John Morrow interview on Uncle Dugs’ RCFF show on Rinse FM is available here:
Extensive discography, reviews and all things Foul Play can be found following the links below:
If you have ever wondered whatever happened also to Hidden Agenda, Creative Wax, Partisan Recordings, Endemic Void, Voyager, Essence Of Aura and Mouly & Lucida, visit the blog’s archive following the link below: