House Hunting #38 – Gherkin Records
So after jettin’ back from my NYC diggin’ exploits I was still on autopilot and was scoping where I could next go on crate crusade cruise control. On my House Hunting radar was the Hackney Record Fair and as that was taking place on the Sunday this presented the perfect opportunity for some rack raiding recreation… I rarely have Sundays off work (the joys of being a Retail Manager) so checked out the record fair early doors so could jet back for a rare Sunday lunch down the local with Tonya – didn’t wanna be there too long as I subjected Tonya to enough crate diggin’ in NYC!
So where can you find the Hackney Record Fair? Well, it’s on Stoke Newington Road just a few minutes’ walk up from Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland Overground station. It’s a bi-monthly affair held in the multipurpose EPIC events hall that also holds regular parties, live events and art & flea markets. Upon entering I was surprised how big it was complete with an armada of record stalls so initial signs were encouraging that I may unearth a House Hunting Holy Grail. As well as vinyl vendors also representing were independent music labels, vintage hi-fi dealers Audio Gold and stalls selling collectable cassettes, sought-after books and fanzines – not to mention café couture courtesy of Yolk and a Craft Beer bar so you could quench your thirst when you needed to relieve those dusty fingers from a dose of diggin’ deep…
Anyway, I did a lap of the fair to scope what stalls had House Hunting potential. On initial scanning the majority of stalls were drowning in rock, folk, psyche, soul, jazz so looked like I’d have to dig deep to excavate a house jewel… Undeterred, as the fair just opened and wasn’t too busy this gave me time and space – sometimes you find a hallowed house 12” deep in the crates you least expect. However, fast-forward an hour later and my furious flickin’ proved fruitless bar a few Strictly Rhythm records (George Morel standard…) and futile FFrr represses. I clocked acid auteur Jerome Hill selling records from his ‘Super Rhythm Trax’ catalogue plus the ‘Hornsey Hardcore’ imprint (ha my Hornsey ‘hood got a hardcore scene?) but even a few older Relief Records wasn’t whettin’ my wax appetite – before you ask no none were Gemini EP’s heads need to calm down on all that Spencer Kincy speculator s**t why the hype now?
I was gonna call it day when I did a double-take and detected a stall with house records that I hadn’t checked before so maybe they set up when I was on my House Hunting round. It was manned by two lads who had a few boxes of records including a house selection – I sensed the tide may be turning… On flicking through a load of non-entities I was surprised to pull out the Black Havana comp on Capitol Records (the version with the ace Balearic artwork) which features the long lost Larry Heard joint ‘Twilight’ under his Trio Zero guise with Ten City. I did feature this in the Larry Heard special last week but f**k it this slice of pure Balearic bliss always takes me straight to paradise…
I left the LP as I already got it but for a few quid I hope another house hunter may have picked it up. Anyway, finding this gave me some hope but quickly became evident that this raid proved ineffective with no vintage house unearthed. Delving further and there were a load of drum’n’bass records – was really in last chance saloon now but my exasperation suddenly turned into euphoria as I pulled out ‘The Best Of Gherkin Vol.1’ comp on Gherkin Records, proper record rapture! Most of the shrink was still intact and the record looked in VG+ condition with clean labels so House Hunting quota met – why this was in the D&B section I don’t know… This comp is one of the scarcer Gherkin flavours so was expecting to hear that it be £20+ when I asked how much. On pausing and giving a consulting look to each-other, I was thinking the lads had turned to the dark-side and gone all Discogs speculator on me but couldn’t believe my ears when one of ‘em tentatively countered “Three quid OK mate?” as if he was asking too much! Screaming inside and trying not show my kid in a candy store glee, I handed over the £3 and waltzed off with my cut-price Gherkin…
Now if you regularly tune in to House Hunting you’ll know I’m a bit of a Gherkin geek always on the lookout to add another Gherkin to the jar. My first introduction to Gherkin was via the ‘Rhythm Zone Vol.1’ tape I copped from the record shop on my road (Nervous Records) in the mean streets of Hinckley when I was kid and it’s been a love affair ever since… Though I got the majority of the label’s releases that feature on the compilation I’ve been after the LP for some time as there’s an exclusive in the form of Riley Evans’ ‘I See Visions’ featuring Sonya Grant. Though Riley Evans has a few records on Gherkin offshoot Total Spectrum Records under his The Knight Writers pseudonym (not to be confused with Frankie Knuckles’ The Night Writers) this joint didn’t feature on any of them so some of that obscure allure that I love trackin’ down… Have a listen here along with some of The Knight Writers records on the other side of the Gherkin spectrum…
An ever-present on Riley Evans’ productions is Kevin Dixon aka Chicago enigma Brett Wilcots who founded Gherkin Records. Having worked for record pools and being a buyer for Sounds Good Records, Brett found a kindred spirit in Paul Weisberg who regularly visited him for the exclusive Disco records and latest imports. Sharing a love for the more interesting house records coming outta Europe, Paul approached Brett in going alone with their own venture as he had a site and Brett had experience in retail distribution so this was the catalyst to form the legendary Chicago record store ‘Importes Etc’ – whose alumni included Tony Mundaca, Frank Sells and Chip E.
With Brett’s influence in the burgeoning dance scene, he was commissioned to do remixes (aka ‘Special’ or ‘House’ remixes) along with engineer Erasmo Riviera for artists like September and The Salsoul Orchestra on Dutch Disco imprint Rams Horn Records – his ‘A Special Re-Mix’ of September’s ‘Are You Free Tonight’ is my choice cut and is one of Brett’s personal favourites. As well as the remixes Brett produced an array of early house prototypes including the italo-infused Dub of Danny Alias’ new wave novelty ‘Civil Defense’ on Persona, ‘I Like It’ by Libra Libra aka Jimi Polo and Tony Bowie on Mitchbal offshoot Chicago Connection Records and a couple of joints on Walter Paas’ Danica Records including the 87 Powerhouse Mix of My Mine’s ‘Hypnotic Tango’ with Frankie Knuckles and under his Gallifré guise the Chicago Boogie Rhythm Tracks EP which features ‘House Rhythm’ – a precursor to Mondeé Oliver’s mournful melter ‘Make Me Want You’. Check ‘em all out here…
However, it was founding legendary label Gherkin Records with Jim Stivers in which Brett left a lasting legacy… With a small yet distinguished discography, the iconic imprint released some of the most influential and collectable Chicago House records down at Mike Konopka’s Seagrape Studios including Larry Heard’s more experimental opuses such as the acid-tinged ‘Stomp The Beat’ and Detroit-inspired ‘1990’ EP’s under his ‘Gherkin Jerks’ guise – it wasn’t until years later that Larry revealed that this alter-ego was actually himself. To quote the GHERKMASTER himself Miles Simpson “The transition between Tar-Disc and Acid Indigestion on the original Gherkin Jerks ‘Stomp The Beat’ EP is actually the greatest acid house moment ever committed to vinyl. Nothing touches it, pure energy and goose bumps every time.” Can’t argue with that… Anyway, both the Gherkin Jerks EP probably the most sought after gherkin flavours – if trackin’ down an original or surrendering to a Discogs speculator ain’t your thing then Larry repressed ‘em a couple of years back on his Alleviated stable so easier to score now. He also released ‘The Gherkin Jerks Compilation’ on CD which as well as featuring all the tracks off the Stomp The Beat and 1990 EP’s Larry burrows deep in the gherkin jar and presents some unreleased flavours including the acid-drenched ‘Ecstasy’ and percolating cosmism of ‘Reznaytor’ (these need to be released on vinyl!) – not to mention ‘Psychotic Fantasy’ which first aired on his ‘Dance 2000’ LP via Distance. Here’s a taste of some of that gherk jerk here…
As well as these Larry under his Mr Fingers moniker added his midas touch to the lush soundscapes of Gallifré’s ‘Set Your Mind To It’ and Mondeé Oliver’s ‘Stay Close’ typically turning them into timeless compositions with the complex instrumentation, ingenious sampling and serenading vox all juxtaposing effortlessly. Another Gherkin mainstay is Mondeé Oliver who having previously been a backing singer for Roy Ayers in the seventies (she features on his ‘No Stranger To Love’ LP on the track ‘Don’t Stop The Feeling’) was brought in to add her diva vox – injecting more depth and soul to productions such as ‘Stay Close’, ‘Don’t Walk Out On Love’, ‘Newsy Neighbours’ and the Gherkin anthem ‘Make Me Want You’.
At the time of recording Newsy Neighbours which was one of the label’s latter releases, Brett elaborated that a long lost gherkin was also recorded by Larry and Mondeé entitled ‘Good Love’ which was going to be the next release before the label went bankrupt. Apparently only Erasmo Riviera and the late Tommy White of Seagrape has that demo along with other long lost gherkins deep in the jar – here’s hoping they’ll be unearthed one day. Anyway here’s some of my fave Larry and Mondeé joints and I’m proud to present a House Hunting exclusive as I’ve uploaded the ethereal majesty of Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Dream Version’ of Gallifré’ and Mondeé’s ‘Don’t Walk Out On Love’ – melt away to all these here…
Bringin’ it back to ‘Stay Close’ and though it’s Larry’s ‘Club Vocal’ that most heads turn to his interpretation wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Frank Youngwerth’s original arrangement. Though his roots more in jazz being an accomplished trumpet player, Frank was inspired to produce house music having witnessed Steve “Silk” Hurley get to Number 1 in the UK Charts with ‘Jack Your Body’ so booked studio time at Trax. As he knew Brett Wilcots from his time at distributor C.A.P. Exports, he brought his first primitive production to him on tape entitled ‘Love For Sale’ under his PDC (Paint Dirt Combination) pseudonym as Brett was branching out with his new label and distributor Gherkin. Brett liked what he heard and recommended he get a house mix so put him in touch with acid overlord Armando who turned in a typically 303-drenched workout. To release the record Frank set up his own imprint ‘Viola De Gamba’ as a subsidiary of Gherkin and with Armando on the mix they pressed up a 1000 copies of the record which sold out in no time. Frank released a further 4 record on the label but none ultimately matched the heights of his debut 12” with Armando. However, Brett loved his Stay Close composition and used it as a vehicle for his muse Mondeé Oliver complete with Larry Heard on the remix – ultimately being one of the label’s most commercial successes also getting licensed by Island Records’ 4th & Broadway as was a major hit in the UK. Anyway, check out this interview on Gridface that house historian Jacob Arnold conducted to get his full story – recommended reading! Let’s delve into the Viola Da Gamba vaults – check out Frank performing Love For Sale live on the kids dance TV show ‘Chic-a-Go-Go’ how HOUSE is that?!
As well as the Riley Evans’ affiliated Total Spectrum Records and Frank Youngwerth’s Viola Da Gamba, there are an armada of other Gherkin sub-labels including Conquest, Mixdown Records, OC Records, On The Five Records, Resound Records, Rio Records, Smoove Jam Records, Sound Development Music and Sub-Sonic Records – so loads of offshoot obscurities to discover! As well as being a label Gherkin was also a key distributor of the era distributing legendary Chicago labels such as Alleviated, Chicago Bad Boys, Chicago Underground, Muzique, Rockin’ House, Target and Warehouse with the iconic Gherkin stamp signifying this! As well as all these other Gherkin highlights are the Sherman Rodgers releases under his North/Clybourn alias including the first gherkin outta the jar ‘We’re Gonna Work It Out’ and the elevating ‘O Ban 1’ (which was a Hacienda classic) that won’t fail in uplifting your mood – go on have a few more…
Hopefully in the near future Miles and myself will have a gherkin geek-out and pin the elusive Brett down as his full Gherkin story needs to be heard… In the meantime I’m going to leave you with Miles himself who has presented an exclusive Gherkin Mastermix complete with an introduction and tracklisting – over to you Gherkmaster…
I’ve developed a bit of obsession with Gherkin Records over the years and I would say it’s probably my favourite house label of all time, maybe alongside Prescription, which is something really given the low volume of records the label put out – they’re nearly all amazing though.
The first Gherkin I bought was Mondee Oliver’s Newsy Neighbours, a cover of an old First Choice album track. I found it on the way back from work one day in 1990, in a long forgotten shops called Steve’s Sounds on the cut through alley from Leicester Square to China Town. It was in the 50p bin and whilst I’d never heard of the label, I recognised one of the producers, Larry Heard.
It’s such a well-produced and beautifully composed record, the vocals soar, and it really does nod its head to its disco origins. It whetted my appetite for that Gherkin flavour and slowly but surely I picked up more and more of the records, and eventually found them all. I think the thing that stands out most of all is that while the records all sound quite different, some quite disco, some with reflections of new wave, some mad acid tracks and other straight up house records, they still all have that Gherkin sound.
Despite the cult status Gherkin Records has achieved over the years, most people don’t really know many of the tracks outside the big ones, such as the Gherkin Jerks Eps, which were recently re-released, Make Me Want You which has been championed by the likes of Ame and Dixon, and Don’t Walk Out on Love, which featured on that Warehouse Raves compilation years ago.
This mix tries to cover all bases. All but 3 Gherkins are included (the original of Don’t Walk Out On Love because the remix is in there, 2 Houss People because it didn’t really fit and Scamara, well, let’s not talk about that one, it upsets me) and some of my favourites from the Gherkin’s sub-labels: Rio-D; Ricky Smith; and Frank Youngwerth.
It’s a live mix, put together one evening this week in my bedroom using the original 12”s. I hope it does the label justice – big love to Brett, Larry, Frank and Co for the music.
Gallifré – ‘Don’t Walk Out On Love’ (Frankie’s Dream Version)
Mondeé Oliver – ‘Newsy Neighbours’
Frank Youngwerth feat Ernie – ‘When I See You’ (Sherm’s Underground Mix)
Mondeé Oliver – ‘Stay Close’ (Renegade Philly Dub)
Gherkin Jerks – ‘Space Dance’
Ricky Smith – ‘Hard Drive’
Dezz – ‘Don’t Go’
Rio D – ‘I Got To Acid’
North/Clybourn – ‘O Ban 1’ (Petty Mix)
Gherkin Jerks – ‘Tar-Disc’
Gherkin Jerks – ‘Acid Indigestion’
Gallifré feat Jimmy Lee – ‘Set Your Mind To It’ (Drums and Club Mix)
North/Clybourn feat Ernestine Brown – ‘Don’t Walk Out the Door’ (Dixon Dub)
Mondeé Oliver – ‘Make Me Want You’
North/Clybourn – ‘We’re Gonna Work It Out’
AIDEN D’ARAUJO & MILES SIMPSON