PublishedFri, May 24, 2013, 11:45
- Details of a dispute between the two original members of the Chicago house outfit have emerged.
Virgo Four founding member Merwyn Sanders has revealed his frustration that "no one knows" about his departure from the group in 2011.
For the past two years, Eric Lewis has been touring as Virgo Four with his cousin Terry Ivy against Sanders' wishes. Lewis and Ivy appeared in a recent Slices interview that reported them as the original duo, while recent flyers, interviews and promotional material have done the same. This has angered Sanders, who feels his attempts to launch a solo production career have been hindered as a result.
"We split as far back as November 2011, but no one knows this," Sanders explained via email. "There are people who come to my Facebook wall or send me emails and say 'looking forward to seeing you at next show,' and I have to explain because they don't know we split."
In the late 1980s, Sanders and Lewis worked together on music that was eventually released under a variety of aliases. The popularity of their music has slowly grown since the pair moved on to other ventures from around 1992 onwards. It was in 2010 that Rush Hour picked up on the cult status of their LP, which led to the release of the Resurrection retrospective. Following a selection of shows and more successful releases on Rush Hour, Sanders claims he made it known that he wished to call time on the Virgo Four project in June 2011, stating that he wanted to focus on solo work, with the name of the group laid to rest at the same time.
"I just asked to make it clear and known that we split," Sanders states, "and at that time, there was only talk of completing gigs we contractually needed to fulfil, which I think was one or two." Lewis, however, disputes this. When contacted for comment on Sanders' claims, he responded, "No, [Sanders] did not say anything about using the name in the future, nor did he suggest not using the name."
At the time of the split, Virgo Four were already contracted to gigs that kept Sanders involved with the project until the autumn. Of the contracted concerts, Sanders rescinded on the final two, one in Australia and one in San Francisco, on the agreement that someone could perform in his place to fulfil those two obligations.
Lewis brought his cousin Terry Ivy in to fill Sanders' role in playing keys and singing at Virgo Four performances, although he disputed the definition of Ivy's role within the group: "You are incorrect regarding Terry fulfilling the role of Merl," Lewis stated. "To perform the music, with as much fidelity and accuracy as possible, a minimum of two people are needed. Terry, being a keyboard player, fulfils this requirement admirably."
More recently, the booking of Virgo Four gigs was handed over to the Fellowship Agency, run by Derek Van Belen. "I started booking [Virgo Four] six months ago," Van Belen says. "Merl [Sanders] already left the band. I was aware of this. Eric [Lewis] and Rush Hour told me they decided to split and found a replacement together and were both OK with Eric moving forward." Upon being contacted about the situation, Fellowship were quick to take down the promotional photo that featured both Sanders and Lewis, although at the time of writing the biography is still focused on Virgo Four as being Sanders and Lewis. Rush Hour and Kindred Spirits, who have been handling the logistics of Virgo Four's bookings, declined to comment.
It seems apparent that Virgo Four is still considered as the pairing of Sanders and Lewis by many, as illustrated by a interview for the blog This Greedy Pig, which makes no indication of Sanders' departure despite being published just last month. Likewise, the recent Virgo Four feature on the Electronic Beats' Slices DVD 1-13, while referencing Sanders in the voice-over introduction, is set around a show Lewis and Ivy performed in Paris. Although Ivy contributes to the interview, no mention is made of his name, nor any distinction made from the original lineup described in the opening of the short film.
"I'm pretty certain there was no formal public announcement of Merl's [Sanders'] departure," Lewis confirmed. "Merl only told a few people, the [Rush Hour] guys and I, of his decision. This was a private interaction between lifelong friends, so in short, I did not see a reason to make a grand, public announcement."
There are numerous examples of bookings for Virgo Four around the world that have used promotional material featuring Sanders and Lewis together, long after the split had taken place. Most recently, an appearance at an event at the Melkweg in Amsterdam on May 17th featured a promotional shot of Sanders and Lewis that has been widely used since the pair first signed up with Rush Hour in 2010.
"There has been no indication or compliance to any of my requests to make it clear we split and put some variation on the name," Sanders claims. "Rush Hour and Eric said, 'yeah yeah we will make it clear,' but a year and a half later I see my picture being used and the general audience doesn't know." Lewis and Ivy were due to play a gig at Louche in Leeds on May 18th, but upon becoming aware of the debate over Sanders' departure from Virgo Four, the promoters took the decision to withdraw from the booking less than two weeks before the event.
"We as promoters have been caught in the middle of a dispute between Eric and Merwyn and their representatives," Brinsley Kazak from Louche explained when asked for a statement. "With the information we were given and the fact we had to promote a show which was two weeks away we decided it was best if we cancelled so we could move forward with our event and leave the guys to figure out their disagreement." Kazak was keen to give credit to Lewis and Fellowship, as both co-operated once the gig was cancelled and Louche received a refund for the booking fee and flight share contribution which had already been paid upfront.
At present, Sanders claims to be finding difficulty in establishing a solo career independent of his history with Virgo Four, which he attributes to the lack of clarity over his departure from the duo. "This past year I have done a few releases as Merwyn," Sanders explains. "Some mistakes were made with the releases adding Virgo Four to my name but that is why I started posting 'formerly known as Virgo Four' on everything I could, so people would think, 'formerly?' and realise Virgo Four has split. It has been an uphill battle for me to get people to know we split and to refer to me as Merwyn."
While it is unclear at this stage whether Lewis will heed Sanders' request to change the name for future bookings and releases, Sanders is clear on the outcome he would like from this situation. "There needs to be an adjustment on the Virgo Four name for Eric to solely keep using it since it is so synonymous with our names," he says, "and just let everyone know it was not cool to keep using my photo for shows and interviews and misleading V4 supporters."
Reporting by Oli Warwick