Derrick May claims he was six months into negotiations to sign with ZTT in 1991 – but why did the deal fall apart? The truth is out there, somewhere…

One of the questions that has been asked of Derrick May over the years is why did he stop producing music in the early 1990s. Records like “Strings Of Life”, “The Dance” and so on came out frequently between 1987 and 1990, but very little new material appeared after that. The same story could be seen on the remix front – the last remixes credited to Derrick May were his reworks of “Sueño Latino” by the band of the same name.

Back in the early 1990s, the dance music press was full of rumours of new material by Derrick May being imminent. It never actually materialised, for reasons that will become clear later, but it’s true to say there was a period in the 90s when big labels were very interested in signing May.

In 1991, he was contacted by Trevor Horn, the man who ran ZTT Records – they’re the label which gave a head start to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, to name but one. The story goes that Horn asked him to remix some songs by a then unknown artist called Seal. May listened to the records and turned down the offer, saying he thought the songs were excellent in their existing form.

This wasn’t the response Horn wanted, but May shot back with another proposal. He wanted to create a band, with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson also being involved. Some six months were then spent putting the band together and getting contracts and legals sorted out.

Just days before the final contracts were due to be signed, Horn asked to see May in his office – where he asked him, in the event of the band having a really big hit, would he be prepared to appear on a British TV show called Top Of The Pops.

Having spent some time in the UK previously, May was familiar with the show and didn’t rate it, so he said no. Horn was somewhat surprised by this response. The show did well in the UK and its broadcast on a Thursday evening often helped increase sales on Saturday – the busiest day of the week for selling music back in the 90s.

Two days later, May’s manager received a phone call confirming the deal was off. Or so goes the official story. And for once, I strongly suspect this tale is true – but one crucial detail has always been omitted.

You see, there’s another reason which we now know – Derrick May cannot play the piano. Not one single note. Suddenly, this story he gave to Red Bull back in 2006 can be seen through new eyes…