Home » Tracks I Wish I'd Written » Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #9): Foul Play feat. Denise Gordon – Music Is The Key

Tracks I Wish I’d Written (issue #9): Foul Play feat. Denise Gordon – Music Is The Key

“I made this tune at the request of my old friend Stephen Bradshaw aka “Braddie” RIP from Foul Play. I’m honored to be part of his musical legacy & to know what it has meant and still means to some many over the years” – Denise Gordon

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From left to right: Steve Gurley, Steve Bradshaw, Denise Gordon, John Morrow. Picture taken from the back cover of Foul Play Vol. 4, photography by NSL.

Throwback to 1994, the 9th installment of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series is about a seminal record, written and produced by Foul Play; one of UK’s most respected and influential jungle/d&b acts. Heralding the transition from hardcore to jungle/drum & bass, the fourth volume of their recording series includes two tracks that have transcended time: ‘Being With You’, one of the genre’s most celebrated anthems, which is still being played to date (Om Unit and Doc Scott included it in their sets during their recent gigs in Athens) and ‘Music Is The Key’, one of the genre’s most lyrical and emotionally charged vocal tracks.

Foul Play formed in 1992 with founding members John Morrow, Steve Bradshaw, Steve Gurley and MC Picton, the latter being the 4th “silent” partner. Foul Play had been initially conceived as the title of their first EP, but was later adopted as an artist name, when they signed with Moving Shadow a year later.

As with many hardcore artists, they had started out playing hip-hop, electro and house,  before being initiated to the rave scene. John Morrow had been djing with Picton on mic duties, under the moniker 2 High, at parties and small raves in the area of Northampton. Morrow and Picton were readily approached by Bradshaw, who offered to manage them and very soon their booking schedule expanded all over the UK. Steve Gurley was playing frequently as a guest dj at the ‘Oblivion’ club nights Morrow and Bradshaw were promoting in their hometown and one day invited them over to his studio in Milton Keynes; a few studio sessions later and their first 4-track EP was already in place. A publishing deal with the mastering house JTS Studios, who took over over also the pressing, artwork and distribution culminated in the launch of Foul Play’s own imprint Oblivion Records, named after their eponymous club nights.

The follow-up, Foul Play Vol. 2, established their reputation within the scene. Under Gurley’s guidance, Morrow and Bradshaw started to get familiar and confident with studio production. The third volume was already in the making; however a phone call from Simon Colebrooke, who was the A&R manager at Moving Shadow at the time, turned out to be a pivotal point of their musical career. Literally days before the mastering, Colebrooke inquired if Foul Play had recorded new material. As a result, Foul Play Vol. 3 was eventually published on Moving Shadow.

Foul Play Vol. IV – Being With You / Music Is The Key (SHADOW49, 1994)

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Foul Play Vol. 4

The long-awaited Foul Play fourth volume was eventually released in 1994 and proved once again that their music had no limitations, showcasing their artistic maturity. On the record’s ‘X’ side features the stellar ‘Being With You’. With melancholic synth washes over Mary J Blige’s sampled diva vocals, underpinned by one of the genre’s most distinctive basslines, it’s been an undisputed classic and has set a benchmark against all future productions. Perhaps overshadowed by the dancefloor reaction and universal acclaim of ‘Being With You’, on the ‘Y’ side features ‘Music Is The Key’, which compensates for the unconventional extended use of vocals with emotional gravity and depth. After a lot of contemplation and wavering between the two, being emotionally attached with both, I ended up with ‘Music Is The Key’ as my personal highlight of the release.

Upon Steve Bradshaw’s request, who wrote the poignant and relevant as ever lyrics, soulful jazz singer Denise Gordon, a family friend of Steve’s, delivered a breathtaking, captivating vocal performance. Proclaiming that “music is the key to make the world a better place”, a noble and timeless statement, the vocal line, especially in the first verse, sounds intentionally reminiscent of Anita Baker’s soul classic ‘Sweet Love’ (M-Beat actually made a jungle cover of ‘Sweet Love’ around that time with Nazlyn on vocals). Denise’s stunning voice captures the dramatic essence of the lyrics, that delicate, elusive place between sadness and hope, and works beautifully with the melancholic, almost mournful notes. The recording of the vocals and the final arrangement using a 4-track tape recorder took place in two different studios (one in Northampton and Gurley’s in Milton Keynes), hence the delay to the official release date , which partly explains why ‘Being With You’, a track written prior, was floating around as a dubplate for almost a year.

Denise Gordon pays tribute to Steve’s memory in the comments’ section of a ‘Music is The Key’ unofficial youtube video:

“… yep, that would be me, Denise Gordon. I made this tune at the request of my old friend Stephen Bradshaw aka “Braddie” RIP from Foul Play. I’m honored to be part of his musical legacy & to know what it has meant and still means to some many over the years.Still performing, touring, producing and writing but I miss Braddie’s advice/experience in music industry but I know he’d be proud of these comments….

20 yrs old and still kicking – Music is truly the key!! and then some….”

Masterfully programming and rearranging the drum beat of Blowfly’s ‘Sesame Street’, using their trademark relentless snares and slinky downward rolls, Foul Play wrote a powerful and passionate track that still resonates with many two decades after. Additional production is by Neil Shepherd, who joined the third incarnation of Foul Play a few years later.

Foul Play Vol. 4 Remixes - Part I

Foul Play Vol. 4 Remixes – Part I

‘Music Is The Key’ has been also brilliantly remixed by Omni Trio for the first part of the Vol. 4 remix series; an interpretation that deserves a special reference. Retaining the passion and musicality of the original and the vocal chorus, Omni Trio’s studio wizardry and the supplementary use of the ‘amen’ break transformed the track into a drum & bass symphony.

Regrettably, this was the last output of the band’s original first phase. Shortly after, Steve Gurley amicably left the band to pursue a solo recording career under his Rogue Unit alias. Foul Play carried on as a duo, recording their first LP titled ‘Suspected’ and the fifth volume of their production series for Moving Shadow. In 1996 they established their own label Panik Records, however shortly after the label launch, Steve got ill and untimely and sadly passed away, resulting in Morrow folding the label. Morrow formed the 3rd and final incarnation of Foul Play (Productions) with Neil Shepherd and vocalist Shereen Ingram. For the final chapter, they joined Partisan Recordings, a label run by old friends and former members of the Moving Shadow managing crew. Major changes where happening in drum & bass at the time, with a wave of noir sweeping the scene. Foul Play realized that they no longer fitted into the new bleak d&b reality; three singles and a studio album for Partisan seemed like an apt farewell to drum and bass.

“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.” – John Morrow, excerpt from the blog’s feature ‘Whatever happened to … Foul Play?

For extensive biography, reviews, discography highlights, quotes, anecdotes and all things Foul Play visit the blog’s archive here: “Whatever happened to … Foul Play?”.

Every track that is presented here has been selected from my personal record collection and has had a profound impact on my musical taste. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems, all are tracks I wish I’d written, as the title of the series suggests.

Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.

Links and credits:

Denise Gordon official site

Foul Play discography on discogs

Music Is The Key lyrics:

Bad or good, misunderstood

Inside we’re all the same

Time will fly by, your love may lie to you

Get on up and try again

Be colour-blind, not narrow-minded

Playing silly games

The time has come to unify

And live in peace again

There are times in my life

When I wish the world was a better place

No more war and no more pain

No more suffering and no more hate

When we could all reach for the stars

Nothing to stand in our way

Forward, onward, upward

Together

Music is the key, together we are strong

And nothing is impossible

If you see the beauty that’s in everyone

Music mends and heals all broken hearts

Life’s a lonesome journey if

We try it on our own

It’s better to move together

Than to try and walk alone

Concerned, be wary of the dangers

Out there in the night

Step out of the darkness people

And come into the light

There are times in my life

When I wish the world was a better place

No more war and no more pain

No more suffering and no more hate

When we could all reach for the stars

Nothing to stand in our way

Forward, onward, upward

Together

Music is… music is the… music… music is the key

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