Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gonna Make You Sweat!

There has been loads of talk lately about Sir Henry’s and the legendary Sweat night, which has just been celebrated in a well-received documentary called 120BPM at the Cork Film Festival. A young filmmaker by the name of Keith O’Shea had the unenviable task of bringing the club night to life again, with little or no footage. Though I was personally disappointed with the documentary, I admire Keith for getting up off his ass and actually doing it. It was not an easy task.

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Sir Henry’s has been a very important part of my life. I rarely look back on those days now but the documentary and the hype surrounding it has stirred up some memories. I DJ’d there for 9 years and was a regular clubber there at least once a week but more often twice or more for over 12 years. Sweat was a religion to me, Greg and Shane up the front and Donkeyman down the back; this was the best club night I’ve ever been at. When Donkeyman handed the headphones to me and I took over the Back Bar, it was important to keep the legacy intact. When I played my last record there in 2001, I was quite content that I had done so, and I was delighted to have been a part of some great nights in Cork. People get all nostalgic and frustrated by this sometimes, but myself, Shane and Greg knew that the time was right to leave and none of us have ever regretted moving on even for a second.

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Sir Henry’s was a lot more than Sweat however. It was a live venue that Dave Fanning reckoned was the best in the country. It played host to an indie night on Fridays called Tight, which was also attended religiously by my friends and me. The Sultans and Franks played some great gigs there in my time. I was one of only a few who went to both the indie and dance events but this divide was later broken and a night run by Joe Kelly on Fridays played host to some great indie-dance stuff, This was an exciting time in music and acts like Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Orbital and Meat Beat Manifesto were combining different styles. This progressed on to more hard-edged stuff but it was always interesting. I’ll never forget Joe playing “Polly” by Nirvana in the main room, the night Kurt Cobain died. He had played on the same stage where I now stood only a couple of years before, warming up for one of my favourite bands, Sonic Youth, and the poignancy was unreal. The Back Bar on Fridays at the time played host mainly to DJ Fork, who had the funkiest of funk at the Funk Shop, another big influence on this young DJ. The Fridays were great, but ultimately the Saturdays were the more well known, as Cork was drawn towards the soulful sounds of house, reggae, soul and hip-hop.
Sweat had started as a Thursday and even at this time, the Thursdays were still strong, the 4th Birthday in around 1992 being one of the best nights I ever had in there. I had been collecting records since I was a kid but had never thought of DJing. I kinda fell into it and suddenly was spinning in the Donkey’s Ears, my favourite bar, where the Donkeyman’s sister Michelle was manager, and where he and local reggae legends such as Kev and Liam spun. This was another massive influence on my underage self and the fact that Michelle was going out with Sean, the boss at Henry’s, gave me a big opportunity one Thursday night when they were stuck for cover for Donkeyman down the Back Bar of Henrys. I took my chance and got a Sunday residency of Sean, who happened to be in for a few drinks with the mighty Laurent Garnier, who I then struck up a friendship with and who was a big fan of the Back Bar when he used visit. This was the Sunday after his legendary first gig the previous night, seen by many as one of the best ever guest sets in Cork. Laurent liked the way I played stuff like Sonic Youth and the Cure next to hip-hop and he insisted I warm up for him when he visited Cork from then on in. I had some great times spinning stuff like the Clash and disco before e him, and he used ask me for mixtapes whenever he came over!

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Before long Mark (Donkeyman) decided to retire from DJing, and he was delighted to ask me to take over on Saturdays. I had been away in the States for the summer of 1994 and was gutted to be out of Cork for the first long spell in my life. My music life had been taking off before I left, and I couldn’t help but think I was losing momentum going away. I had blown up the spot at an after party after the first weekender downstairs and now it was looking like I could live my dream of becoming a regular fixture there. Before I went Sean told me there was a job waiting for me when I came back and this kept me going over the summer in the States. The States changed me musically forever. I was always into soul and stuff like Marvin Gaye and Mary J Blige was always big in the Back Bar, where I in the meantime asked Shane Johnson’s sister Gina, to DJ with me. She was Soul Sister Number One in Cork and an incredible DJ with amazing taste in music. The Young Disciples, Digable Planets, Soul 11 Soul and lots more were big tunes for us, and my musical education was being fine toned like never before, but the States pushed me deeper into soul and r&b.

This was the summer that Nas, Biggie Smalls, Craig Mack, Wu Tang, Aaliyah, Warren G, SWV and Zhane really blew up. I became addicted to U.S. radio and befriended a local DJ, Curty Cuts, who used mix soul, r&b and hip-hop on three decks, and who was almost like a hip-hop version of Shane and Greg, mixing wise. This was a big part of my education and I started buying two copies of records straight away, so I could do long mixes and keep the flow going when I got back. The fact that my mixing was crap at this stage hardly mattered, as I knew that would come with time. Curty Cuts had a record shop too and he looked after me like I was his brother, in fact, the first day I found the shop, which was located deep in the ghetto, he told me I was the first white boy who had been in the shop in over four months! Him and his friends were laughing and expecting some honky to pull up some House of Pain 12”s. but when I arrived at the counter with about 1,000 dollars of the shit he’s been playing all summer, he knew I was for real and took me under his wing. I had been saving all summer and for that moment and spent about 6 weeks worth of work cash right there. On subsequent visits to his shop (One Track Records in Providence, around 100 miles away from where I was staying), he would sometimes give me his own promo copies of records that were sold out, a gesture I will always treasure. The day before I went back home he invited me to a big Hip-hop Basketball event that his station, KIKS106 was organising, with Public Enemy, Wu Tang Clan, and Craig Mack all taking part. All the big hip-hop names were regulars on his show, he may have been out of the hip-hop heartland of New York, but he had a massive standing in the music community. I couldn’t go and never got the chance to say goodbye to him properly. Curty Cuts died a few years ago, but his music will always live on. His mixtapes inspired nit only me but everyone I played them too, I only wish I could find more of them today, though I have a few in my vaults! I came back to Ireland determined to hone what I had learned off Curty, and after a few months of slagging by half of my friends in Cork, who wanted a more macho hip-hop sound, it started to click in the Back Bar of Sweat in Sir Henry’s.

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By late 1994 the Back Bar was 75% full of girls and the atmosphere was amazing. Sweat had always been soulful and attracted loads of women but even those who didn’t like what myself, Shane and Greg, played used come along now, and many were won over. It was a silly myth that you couldn’t score and meet chicks in Henry’s! The music remained centrefold however, and the team that remained together for the next 8 years or so every Saturday was in place. I became quite close to Greg and Shane, we perfectly complemented each other and were mutually beneficial to each other too, with soul, hip-hop and reggae down the back and house up the front. We later produced some great music together and have worked together since in the Savoy, Fast Eddies, City Limits and of course RedFM. Back then though these were difficult years in Cork and there was a bit of a Henry’s backlash with the place going out of fashion periodically. There were so many times when I was told that the house scene was dead and that Henrys was on the way out. I just laughed, indeed we all did, and we kept our core crowd and went from strength to strength. Other clubs that I was involved in became very big, such as Mor Disco, which packed out the city hall a few Christmas ‘s in a row, and brought the amazing Soul and Disco Festival to Cork too. At this stage I was playing in the Pod, Kitchen and Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway and loads of other clubs in Limerick, Waterford, Tralee and all around Ireland. Sweat was where it was at though, and it remained my heart and soul, because in both rooms the music was cutting edge. I was working by day in Comet Record with Jim and was well on top of the new music as always, so this helped my DJing in Henry’s, and later on on Radio Friendly, which started in 1996. I did on average two shows a week for 4 years there, but it was Sweat that remained the cornerstone of everything.

The music was the key to Sweat. The music in both rooms was top quality and always new. I used finish my night with old favourites (new to many ears) but it was the new stuff that made the club. In the peak years of Henry’s there was no radio In Cork, except 96FM (no-one of our generation listened to it really). There was no internet and no exposure on T.V. plus no pirate radio. The mixtape culture and Henry’s was everything, as Ronan C rightly pointed out in one of the documentary’s better observations. The only place to get and hear the new music was Henry’s and mixtapes. Gorby’s did a more streamlined thing and eventually clubs like Mor Disco, Freakscene, Rubber Dollie, Citrus, Immramma and Revalation Sound kicked off, but for a time it really only was Sweat. My good friend James McGrath (Ruff Cherry) is a wicked graphic designer, and he designed mixtape covers for me and posters for Henry’s. Even today the designs look great. The music had to match and artists like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Pharycde, Gang Starr, Mary J Blige, Dr Dre, Snoop, Wu Tang, SWV, Groove Theory, The Roots, Fugee’s, DJ Shadow, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo. Maxwell, Eric B and Rakim, Nas, Yvette Michelle and lots more made up the Back bar sound. Reggae, soul, downtempo (“trip-hop”-terrible term) and even rock was also blended in while pop tracks such as “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and “Dreams” by Gabrielle, were also favourites. Cutting edge underground hip-hop was massive there, the late great Jay Dee (J Dilla) was not known back then, but his music was massive in the back bar of Sir Henrys. Labels like Ninja Cuts, Mo Wax, Stones Throw were big, as were loads of underground U.S. jazz and funk labels. The 2 Pacs and Biggie’s of the World were still alive then, and their music was large. The Fugees and Blackstreet and others had anthems that were being spun for months on end on import before gaining commercial release here, and it was always special to see another big hit developing. This had always been the Henry’s way, and it had happened with Donkeyman and stuff like “Jump Around” and “Dre Day”, aswell as with Greg and Shane with countless dance classics. The place was special; there was no doubt about it.

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There are a million stories I could tell but I’m getting restless now. The building was a kip but I spent many days in there alone, up front in the main club, making mix tapes and practicing mixes. I did workshops in there, formed the basis of Jam Junior at teenage discos (Susie K and my Jam Partner Colm Kenefick started their careers at these), and made many many friends. I met girlfriends in the club and met a million other friends too. Of the DJ’s, Claude Young, Eric Rug, Jon Aquaviva, Laurent Garnier, Nelson Rosado and of course Kerri Chandler, became good friends at various points. The Back bar, like the front, was never primarily about guests, but Mark Rae, Aim. YZ, Tracy K (with Dextris) Firing Squad, Spikee Tee Marcus Valentine, Harry J, Mikki Dee and many others played there. I have the recordings and a million more pics than I have posted here (pardon the bad quality). The best nights were with the residents though, I’ll always remember Shane playing hip-hop with me one Saturday down the Back, as Greg, who was "in the zone" that night did the front by himself. Both rooms rocked as usual.

I was interviewed a few times for the documentary and I’m sure I mentioned some of what I’ve said today but it didn’t make the cut. In fact the Back Bar was mentioned in a “blink or you’ll miss it” once at the start by Jim, and in passing by Shane and Greg, who like myself, were very disappointed by the documentary. In fairness to Keith, he told me straight up that he didn’t have time to include the Back Bar, so fair enough. He also gave me tickets, which was a nice gesture. Regarding the documentary, I was more concerned with how the club itself was represented. Fair enough about leaving out myself and Donkeyman and Fork and Marq Walsh and everyone, but Shane and Greg were talking for about 2 minutes, and there was more talk about drugs and violence than music in the whole thing. It was more Ball and Chain than Greg and Shane, and for me that was a big disappointment. Despite an impressive interview list, only a few ended up making the cut, so a narrow view of Henry’s was portrayed. To me, it looked like a pretty depressing place. The footage at the start, which I could have seen at Paul Mulvalaney's place if I really wished, was impressive, but I thought the documentary could have done a whole lot better. Interviews with Mike Pickering and Grahame Park were ultimately boring and adding nothing to the mix, it would have possible been better to interview a few more people who went there as clubbers though the years. But hey, what do I know, I’m no filmmaker. Keith, who hadn’t attended Sweat, obviously worked hard to get it done and did it off his own back, so I admire him for that. Most of the people who went seem to have liked it, and I’ve always felt that as an entertainer you should please the crowd rather than the one or two DJ’s in the corner. On that note, he got it right and deserves praise.

As Marq Walsh said last week though, there is no way anyone could hope to capture the memories we have in our minds, as those of us who were there will know exactly how what Sweat was to Cork. I felt privileged to have played there on the 10th Birthday in 1998, one of my best ever gigs, and felt that each one after that was a bonus. We made another three but enough was enough, we have all moved on and while we will celebrate the 20th anniversary next year with a number of low key events, there is no point in trying to bring back the memories forever. I was there. And for that, I will be forever thankful.

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    I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays http://www.pavilioncork.com also you can catch me at http://djstevieg.podomatic.com