Contrary to expectations, and unlike the England ‘footballers,’ Classic Song for the Day is back early into training for the forthcoming season.
This is one of those songs I can never remember the title of even though it is repeated throughout it, only the name of the band, and it was a chance pub conversation about bands that were huge in the UK only virtually to disappear and then to be found to have become huge somewhere else that prompted me to hunt down a tune I hadn’t heard for years.
And what a tune; a dance classic, and possibly one of the best tunes ever. All the better that the writers and singer were all from my home town, which has a reasonable but not great track record where popular music is concerned.
N-Trance was formed at Oldham College in 1989 by Kevin O’Toole and Dale Longworth, who were sound engineering students and who used the laboratory to produce music similar to the rave music that was in the charts at that time. They came to the attention of record companies including Pete Waterman’s 380 Records, which signed them as N-Trance, a change of name from the previous Quartech. Despite some early problems they persevered and recruited a new college student, 16-year old Kelly Llorenna as lead vocalist. I have a feeling that she was living in Shaw at the time, which is where I am now, while one other band member was from Failsworth, where I used to live, so there is something personal to me about this band.
Set You Free was recorded at Revolution Studios in Cheadle Hulme in 1992, and released on just 500 12″ vinyl copies. Troubles within their record label meant the song was not released as a single. After a year with 380 Records, N-Trance signed to a new label, All Around the World.
The single went through three re-releases, the last one in 1995, when it became a big hit on TV and radio, reaching #2 in the charts and being certified Platinum in the UK, after selling over 600,000 copies and becoming the top selling dance record of the year. The single was also released in other European countries and Australia. By now, N-Trance had also achieved popularity for their live shows. Later the song was remixed, and re-released yet again, in 2001.
The group recorded their first full-length album, Electronic Pleasure, in the summer of 1995 featuring seven of the group’s expanding roster of vocalists. N-Trance’s musical range expanded at this time, embracing rap, disco and other styles.
The group’s next single, a cover of the Bee Gees hit Staying’ Alive, was a big international hit and featured a vocalist/writer who would help define N-Trance’s sound in the future, Ricardo da Force, previously rapper with The KLF. It entered the UK charts at #2, and internationally it became one of the biggest UK exports of 1995, reaching #1 in Australia and entering the top five in a number of European charts.
The band then built their own recording studio in Manchester called Deep Blue and recorded their second full-length album Happy Hour there , which was eventually released in 1999. In that year Dale Longworth retired from N-Trance leaving Kevin O’Toole to continue while he decided to retire from performing live. To cut a long story short a ‘best of’ compilation album was released in 2001 and a third studio album in 2009. Separately, a side project, Freeloaders, issued an album and single.
More recently a new lead singer was recruited, Lynsey-Jane Barrow, and work began on a fourth album. The band has started playing live again and their Facebook page gives their members as Kevin O’Toole, Lynsey-Jane Barrow, MC B and Junior K (the Official DJ).
As for Kelly Llorenna she has had three solo careers since 1995, interspersed with two returns to N-Trance on which she sang on several popular tracks. Her own singles have been a mix of originals and covers. She has worked with Peter Hook and producers/band Love to Infinity, with which she formed her latest incarnation Freak Asylum in 2010. She continues to perform as lead singer in Freak Asylum to this day.
Which brings me back to my earlier comment on bands that seem to disappear but then you discover they are huge in some arcane foreign land. I’m sure I recall reading in the Oldham Chronicle (‘When the Chronicle speaks the world listens’) about 10 years ago that N-Trance had become the biggest and best known performers in Greece. Or was it Turkey? Or was it Kelly Llorenna? If anyone knows please make a comment at the end.
Enough of the history; what about the song? It came about courtesy of an instrumental piano piece written by Kevin O’Toole. Dale Longworth thought a song could be teased out of it. Presumably it is the opening piano section of the song here, which recurs throughout it. An additional piece of piano was written to create a bridge between the intro and main riff of the song and the bass line was played on keyboards. The lyrics reflect a night out Kevin O’Toole had at the Hacienda in Manchester in 1989 during which an ‘excited woman’ hugged him so hard he could feel her heart beating. Hence the opening line “When I hold you baby, feel your heart beat close to me.”
Apparently the remaining lyrics were written in 20 minutes as Kelly Llorenna was on her way to audition and this last-minute panic approach became a regular feature of their writing. A local DJ, Mike Lewis, collected her to record the demo at Kevin O’Toole’s parents’ house. Lewis had championed their earlier demos and had been the first DJ to play them and to arrange bookings at the clubs he appeared at. The rest is history.
The thunderstorm effects were added to mask the crackling endemic to vinyl records after a few plays although there is a suggestion they are supposed to be representative of a rave.
In my opinion, if there was such a category as ‘classic dance,’ something you could listen to on Radio 3 or Classic FM, this song would be played as often as Beethoven and Bach. Simply entrancing, and fully deserving of its ‘legendary’ status.
You can find several versions of Set You Free on the internet; the 1995 version has about seven million hits to its credit on You Tube but this, as far as I know, is the very original, rough and ready 1992 White Label Mix.
©D J Bentley, 2016