We meet the Birmingham DJ behind Miss Moneypenny’s & Chuff Chuff ahead of Crooked House in the Park Festival
DJ Jim ‘Shaft’ Ryan tells us how he developed legendary club Miss Moneypenny’s as it prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary at the Crooked House in the Park Festival in Lichfield on August Bank Holiday Weekend
and live on Freeview channel 276
DJ Jim ‘Shaft’ Ryan is one of clublands most establishment figures, an innovator, a visionary and ambassador for dance music. He has built an enviable legacy as an internationally respected DJ, a talented remixer, producer and radio show presenter.
He is one of the creators of Miss Moneypenny’s and Chuff Chuff, both internationally acknowledged legendary clubbing brands, as well as the start-up of many new branding projects in both the music and fashion business.
This pioneering spirit has seen him tour the world as well as hold down one of the longest residencies in Ibiza, Miss Moneypenny’s legendary residency from 1995 to 2010 in Pacha and El Divino. The club celebrated its 25th anniversary with a concert at the Symphony Hall where The Birmingham Gay Orchestra covered house classics.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Moneypenny’s?
Initially, me and my brother Michael had a clothes shop in Birmingham called the Depot which opened in 1986. The shop became the epicentre and the networking centre of the rave scene. Kids would buy their tickets for the raves, purchase DJ tapes, videos of the rave and collect flyers of up and coming raves.
So we were in the middle of that cultural phenomena. This motivated us to start putting on our own events, which were originally running small boat trips on the River Severn for the Depot family friends, associates and people that used to come into the shop.
These evolved into what became the Chuff Chuff parties, which were one off events in stately homes and country hotels. Chuff Chuff then evolved into the weekly club, Miss Moneypenny’s, in August 1993. That’s a quick breakdown of the sort of timeline of how Miss Moneypenny’s evolved.
Why do you think it’s been such a success? It’s such an iconic brand in Birmingham
Numerous reasons. Firstly, we were at the right place at the right time. We were very active in the club scene at the time, going to events in a club called Venus in Nottingham and the Milk Bar in London, and consequently collected a network of people from around the country, which gave us a platform.
We had an appetite for promoting club events as we were so deeply involved in the rave scene because of the Depot. We were also involved in the music business at the time - again, because of the shop. We had a distribution network for DJ tapes, initially recordings of the DJs playing Chuff Chuff and then recordings of the DJ sets at Miss Moneypenny’s.
These were sold all over the country. So all these incidentals came together and as a result Miss Moneypenny’s kind of came about becoming an instant success. Chuff Chuff gave us the platform to launch Moneypenny’s. Moneypenny’s was successful because it was a Birmingham entity and because we were based in Birmingham. It pulled a diverse and very glamorous crowd. We had a large gay following.
It was a place where people could express themselves. A sense of freedom if you like. It very soon attracted a national and international crowd. People arriving from all over the UK. The club would be full by 9.30pm, coaches coming from as far as Scotland.
It soon attracted pop stars such as Robbie Williams, Boy George, The Pet Shop Boys, Mick Hucknall, Heather Small. TV celebs such as Zoe Ball, Melinda Messenger. Sports stars such as Lennox Lewis, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards to name but a few.
It made a huge national impact, capturing the imagination of the national celeb columns, all from a club on the outskirts of the city in Hockley. It soon garnered an international following, the concept initially touring the UK, then the world, with residencies in Ibiza, Mallorca, Tenerife and Cyprus.
We did Miss Moneypenny’s in Ibiza for the best part of 15 seasons, initially in Pacha in 1995 for 2 seasons and then to our Ibiza home El Divino until 2010. This allowed the creation of our record label, Miss Moneypenny’s Music, releasing numerous singles, with a top 10 hit in 2006 with Tom Novy’s ‘Your Body’ and releasing 21 compilations. Having a passion for the club and music business that became iconically recognized throughout the world for its values of diversity and glamour.
What have you been most proud of?
I am proud that a concept such as Miss Moneypenny’s came from my home city of Birmingham. It incorporated what is the best of our city, a diverse audience, before the notion of diversity was even conceived. We put Birmingham on the map in terms of clubbing because of our values.
Can you tell us a bit about the relationship with Crooked House and how have you come to be a part of that?
I met Chris Walton, the guy who ran the VIP many years ago. He used to DJ for Miss Moneypenny’s at our weekly events in Birmingham. He also became one of our touring resident DJs. He played for us in Ibiza and many of the international events and Chris and I became friends.
When Chris first started programming the VIP at Crooked House, he needed a few leads with regards to some of the DJs and acts which I had access to through my Miss Moneypenny’s endeavours. So I helped him out as a friend, as I was aware of his passion for the festival.
Consequently I have DJ’d at Crooked House in the VIP area since it started. The event in August is the third Crooked House in the Park so I have had the pleasure of seeing it evolve into the brilliant festival that it has become.#
Just a bit about you personally. What’s your favourite ever track?
Now you’re asking! I would say probably my favourite ever track is the early 70’s track by Curtis Mayfield ‘Move On Up’. Not really the style of music that I’ve become associated with, which is house music. I have however been a DJ for over 30 years starting off in the rare groove scene where Move on Up would be often played. My music style has evolved from those early days, but I have always played a funky sound so my roots can be seen in this track which is close to my heart.
What about your best ever gig?
I would say off the top of my head, a Miss Moneypenny’s closing party in Ibiza in 2001, which fell on September 11th - the day of 9/11. So I could go on about this for hours and hours, but in a nutshell we had the challenge of deciding to proceed with the event because of the catastrophe.
Doing a party when a world event of that nature took place was not an easy decision. Ibiza is always incredibly dramatic which added to the trauma of what had taken place. The beaches were empty, the town was isolated, everyone stuck to their TV sets fearful of what had taken place and the consequences for the world. People thought it could possibly be the end of the world.
We went through a day with the dilemma of whether to continue with the closing party or cancel it. Eventually we decided to go with it. When the decision was made to carry on with the closing party we were unsure whether people would go or not because, again, people were in shock.
We promoted it as we normally would, however, the beaches had closed down, but by the evening there was activity starting to happen in San Antonio and Ibiza town, which allowed us to do our parade of dancers, drag and glamorously clad people through Ibiza town and through San Antonio.
El Divino opened at 1am, it was quite a slow starter, but very soon we had a very full house on our hands. Far busier than we expected. It was as if people were experiencing their last ever party. Flights had closed down in Ibiza, nobody could come in or out, so people responded accordingly.
I’ve never experienced an atmosphere at a party or at an event like the one that took place at this closing party. People were feeling vulnerable and required an opportunity to express their vulnerabilities on the dance floor.
As a result, as a DJ I decided by putting together a set that took on a theme of love. Most of the tracks I played had some reference to the word ‘love’. The event just carried on going. I think it was about 10am and it was still going strong, the dance floor heaving and responding to my set in a way that allowed a release for the emotion and trauma that 9/11 had created.
The club staff were trying to persuade us to finish the night, the dance floor was euphoric and people wouldn’t leave. I always carried this one record with me which wasn’t a house track, it was a reggae track by John Holt called Tribal War, an anti war track.
I had never played this record in a club where the expected soundtrack was house music. For the first time it felt appropriate to end the night by playing this record. It had an emotional effect on everybody in the audience. It captured the sentiments of how people were feeling like no other record I have ever played. The emotion was palpable. This was certainly the most memorable gig that I ever played.
What is your kind of bucket list gig, as it were? What would you love to tick off?
I’ve never done an essential mix, so I’d certainly like to do an essential mix if the opportunity ever arose. I’ve been lucky. I’ve played all around the world but never played Argentina or Brazil so I would like the opportunity to play those countries. Glastonbury would probably be the peak of my DJ ambitions. That would certainly be one that I would love to DJ at.
You must have had some very wild tales over the years. Is there one that you could tell us sort of hilarious, wild account?
There’s too many to recount. The Chuff Chuff parties were always legendary in the sense that they were incredibly hedonistic and people totally let themselves go. For me, I was quite boring in many respects. I had kids and family to consider, so my hedonistic activities were limited.
I do recall David Morales DJing in his underpants at El Divino in Ibiza which was quite unexpected! The drag acts we used to bring to Miss Moneypennys in Birmingham and to the Chuff Chuff parties from Barcelona and Amsterdam, always captured people’s imagination.
One crazy memory was when I put up a 7 foot transvestite candidate in the 1997 general election. It was our take on a uniquely original PR campaign. We were launching our first compilation album ‘Glamorous One’. On the cover of the album was the candidate in all of his crazy regalia.
He was a phenomenally visual character known as The Transformer. He epitomised Miss Moneypenny’s, he was working as front of house at the club and going on the dance podium at the end of the night. If you look up Miss Moneypenny’s Glamorous One, you’ll see him in the middle sitting on a throne with a scantily clad girl and guy on either side of him.
This was the 1997 general election, and Tatton was the highest profile constituency, Neil Hamilton the MP accused of ‘cash for questions’, which contributed to bringing the Tories down in that election. Martin Bell, the man in the white suit, was fighting the seat to demonstrate the corrupt nature of the political system.
I had a friend living in Knutsford, which was in the Tatton constituency in Cheshire and he made it possible to get the ten nominations from local people for our candidate, the Transformer, to be on the ballot.
We had three or four weeks in Tatton just creating havoc not only with the political system, but also with this character running around Middle England capturing the imagination of the locals, for better or for worse. Without a doubt it was the most memorable episode.
From a PR stunt we became political activists capturing the imagination of every UK paper both tabloid and broadsheet with TV appearances on all the mainstream news channels. We were even picked up by NBC in the United States who were doing a piece on alternative candidates of the 1997 election.
So what’s the legacy piece around Moneypenny’s?
Miss Moneypenny’s as a club brand, the amount of people that we touched is just phenomenal. And that doesn’t take into account the tours, the international gigs, the magazine articles and the column inches and TV appearances. For a while Miss Moneypenny’s was everywhere.
I have recently started compiling some great footage of our gigs from around the world, from Ibiza, Cyprus and Las Vegas. I am now talking to documentary makers about making a documentary showing life on the road of a DJ in the 90s and early 2000s. So this may open up the opportunity to create a documentary of those incredible times.
Sometimes I feel we have been overlooked, possibly because it evolved from Birmingham. If it had been a London or Manchester phenomena, it is doubtful it would have not been celebrated. So it is time we told our story.
What’s next? What can we look forward to for the next 30 years?
Moneypenny’s is certainly not as active as we used to be. We did a weekly club in Birmingham every Saturday from 1993 to 2006, to around 800 people in the early days to up to 1500 people on a weekly basis. Alongside this we toured nationally and internationally, most notably 15 years of our Ibiza residency and summer seasons in many of the summer resorts. We had residencies in New York, Dubai and we were the first club to play in Beirut. However this started to wind down as we needed new challenges in life.
Nevertheless Miss Moneypenny’s still gets dusted down for festivals. We did a big orchestra show for our 25th anniversary at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall playing to 2000 Miss Moneypenny’s fans. To celebrate the 25th anniversary we did a dinner event at Marco Pierre White’s at The Cube, followed by a club style event for another 600 Miss Moneypenny’s faithfuls.
So as a concept it’s still very much alive and there is still a huge demand for Miss Moneypenny’s. Obviously the production values are always recognised and I would say that events like Crooked House are a perfect way to kick off our 30th anniversary.
So we’re always up for challenges to expose the brand and its values to new and old audiences alike. As for a week by week entity, I think that would be unrealistic. We are involved in a project creating a platform to publish the years of photographs and videos accrued from our gigs, albums, artwork which we are hoping to have completed in 2024.
On a personal note I have written a musical branded ‘Ibiza the Musical’ and in discussions with Birmingham theatres about production partnerships for the concept. I have recently had my first book of poetry published. There are discussions taking place to celebrate the 30th anniversary in a very, very special venue in the city near the end of the year. So watch this space!
How would you like Moneypenny’s to be remembered?
As the Studio 54 of the UK club scene where anything goes, where diversity was embraced before diversity was celebrated. Where freedom reigned. And all from the city of Birmingham.