1. Love, Love, Love
2. He Who Picks A Rose
3. The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday
A COMPLETE INTRODUCTION TO NORTHERN SOUL (4 CD BOX SET)
As I first popped the needle down on the Temptations, ‘My Girl’ in 1965 and discovered the exciting, foot tapping, heart pumping, ‘Northern Soul’ in 1967, I never dreamt that I’d be working with my heroes at the club I founded and ran from 1973 – 1981, Wigan Casino.
Dusty Springfield and the Beatles used to champion soul music – especially Motown and covered many of their favourite tracks. Spurred on by my heroes, I started to seek out the originals and developed an appetite for Detroit’s finest. I started to collect as many magical Motown 45 and albums as possible then widened my appreciation of this wonderful genre of music by hunting for similar records offered by a variety of small American labels trying to emulate the success of Hitsville U.S.A.
Spending all my pocket money on 5s/6d vinyl singles, I was bought an Elizabethan tape recorder which enabled me to record Radio Caroline and later Radio One, retaining my favourites and saving a fortune before I could earn a decent ‘crust’ and become a professional vinyl junkie!
My passion for the foot-tapping, up-tempo, exciting, happy go lucky dance tracks to be known by Dave Godin’s term, ‘Northern Soul,’ just grew and grew, together with my record collection! Although too young for Manchester’s Twisted Wheel which went 100% soul in 1967, I started working with local groups before leaving school in 1969 and then regularly attended The Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca. My favourite DJ Tony Jebb, with Ian Levine and Colin Curtis, spun the turntable terrors including ‘At The Discotheque’, ‘In Orbit’, ‘Love, Love, Love’, ‘’I Got The Fever,’ ‘Tell Me It’s Just a Rumour’ and ‘One Wonderful Moment’. This was absolute heaven – this was my vocation – a Northern Soul DJ.
In 1970, I started spinning the sounds in the Wigan area – and with most mobile discos playing the same mix of mainly bland chart sounds, I decided to specialise in soul; landing my first Monday night residency at The Beer Keller then every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon at the Wigan Rugby League Club, Central Park. I concentrated on Northern Soul and the originals I managed to purchase at the Mecca and from various dealers across the U.K. and America. Another key to my popularity was my uncle living in Florida and touring the States for his job – this enabled him to keep shipping me ‘in demand’ and unknown discs. I set up a mail order business and also sold sounds at the rugby club and on Wigan market. My stall was next to a guy called David Whelan – wonder what happened to him?!
The town had always been associated with soul music. The Room At The Top tried to emulate the notoriety of The Twisted Wheel and Wigan was virtually in the middle of two very popular venues. These were The Golden Torch at Stoke and Blackpool Mecca which had free coaches bussing soulies there and back every Saturday.
With a capacity of just 750, I quickly filled the Rugby Club three times a week. When I heard The Torch was closing, I looked round for bigger premises and, hopefully, an all-nighter. If ever there was a custom made venue for the original dance music it had to be Wigan Casino; custom built in the late 30s as a Big Band dance venue, the acoustics were superb with a specially fully sprung floor which dominated the venue. When the Mayor opened the ‘club’ his actual word were “I’m sure it will soon become the heart and soul of the town!” A large stage complimented the arena and vantage points of the dancers could be secured on the massive balcony which led to a smaller version of the main hall, Mr M’s which was around half the size – holding about one thousand. In addition, on the ground floor, there was another club called The Beachcomber which was opened early to keep the crowd off the streets and served breakfast in the morning. The Beachcomber held 500. Total capacity of The Casino, Mr M’s and The Beachcomber: a staggering 4000!
After agreeing to provide all the DJ equipment, book the jocks and available acts and handle all the marketing, promotion and advertising for 50% of the profit, we opened at 2am September 23rd 1973. 652 Soulies visited The Heart of Soul on this historical occasion. Admission was 75p and drinks 10p (with an average weekly wage of £20). Just before our attendances soared to capacity, my profit was adjusted to £50 but I was allowed to run my record bar without having to pay rent! I soon ran four nights at the Casino attracting over 10,000 per week and over four million in almost nine years.
We also put on many live acts, started our own record label and, in 1978, The Heart Of Soul was voted the ‘Worlds Best Disco’ in America’s Billboard magazine and I was voted the No.1 soul DJ. Always spinning the vinyl for the first and last hour every Saturday, I only missed one night due to being in America! Lots of sounds hit the charts and membership shot over the 100,000 mark.
Wigan Council demolished the Casino in the Spring of 1982 to extend the Civic Centre. Due to running out of money, this never happened. 26 years later in the spring of 2007, Modus Properties opened the £100 million Grand Arcade and thankfully included a permanent exhibition to our favourite venue plus the Casino Cafe. Each September we celebrate the anniversary on two levels at the centre, retaining the unique Casino atmosphere and attracting over 2,500 Heart Of Soul lovers.
A selection of my favourite floor fillers:
Sammy Davis Jr. - You Can Count On Me 2:11
(Morton Stevens/Hermine Hilton) Copyright Control
p 1976 UMG Recordings Inc.
Surprising vocal to the Hawaii Five-O theme. You’ll love or hate.
Terry Callier - Ordinary Joe 4:13
(Terry Callier) Warner Chappell Music Ltd.
p 1972 Geffen Records
Only ever mentions the title once! Sounds as fresh as ever and one of soul
lover Paul Weller’s favourites.
The Dells - Wear It On Our Face 3:20
(Bobby Miller) Chevis Publ. Corp.
p 1968 Geffen Records
Classy 1966 sound on Cadet from the world’s longest surviving vocal group.
Kiki Dee - The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday 2:30
(Pamela Sawyer/Joe Hinton) Copyright Control
p 1970 Motown Records, a division of UMG Recordings Inc.
What’s this? – Kiki Dee and on Motown?! Surprisingly didn’t make it in 1970.
San Remo - Golden Strings Festival Time 2:31
(Joanne Bratton/Linda Bunten) Jobete Music Co. Inc.
p 1967 Motown Records, a division of UMG Recordings Inc.
An incredible instrumental from Ric Tic Records’ finest. Even hit the charts in Christmas 1971.
Bobby Hebb - Love, Love, Love 2:52
(Joe Renzetti/Jerry Ross) MCA Music Ltd.
p 1966 The Island Def Jam Music Group
From his hit album, ‘Sunny’ – crossed over to a No. 32 hit in 1972. Great feel good factor.
Frank Popp - Ensemble Breakaway 3:37
(Frank Popp/Peter Horsch/Jürgen Dahmen/Sam Leigh Brown) Edition Unique Club
Music, Amv Alster, Reverb Music Ltd.
p 2004 Unique Records
Faultless 2005 dancer that really grabs you.
R. Dean Taylor - There’s A Ghost In My House 2:26
(Eddie Holland/Brian Holland. Dean Taylor/Lamont Dozier) Jobete Music (UK)Ltd.
p 1967 Motown Records, a division of UMG Recordings Inc.
Another massive smash courtesy of Blackpool Mecca and Wigan Casino. Hidden on a ‘Music For Pleasure’ album. Recorded by R. Dean Taylor in 1968 and made No.3 in May 1974.
NORTHERN SOUL MEMORIES
On a Saturday evening, sometime in early 1974 when I was about 16 or 17 years of age, I experienced true ‘Revelation’. That night showed me a world where dancing wasn’t all embarrassing school-dance shuffles, or stumbling waltzes with your elderly Aunt, but strident self-expression, where ‘discos’ weren’t just places to meet girls and drink, but excited gatherings of people with a common love and where the music policy wasn’t just a lazy re-playing of the radio’s ‘Hit Parade’, but had passion pouring from the speakers and that passion returned ten-fold from the crowd. That revelation was “Northern Soul”.
I’d been an apprentice bricklayer for some 6 months or so, having left the local Grammar School with absolutely no idea of what to do with my life and just a couple of ‘O’ levels. My callow teen stature didn’t really fit the profession with its burly, beer-bellied builders and I didn’t last long in the trade.
I liked music a lot, as most early teens do, and this was the time of “Glam Rock”. I had early flirtations with the likes of David Bowie, Sweet and Slade, but my mostly ‘scattergun’ collection of singles & albums was populated with chart hits and novelty singles. Among them though were a small selection of ska / reggae & Motown singles collected over the previous couple of years from when I’d started to attend a Monday night youth club disco. “Al Capone” by Prince Buster was always a favourite played among the chart hits and became the first 7” single I ever bought for myself out of my paper round money. I was 14 and it sparked a love for Jamaican music that remains today. The Motown influence was all my elder sister, who used to play me her “Chartbusters” L.P.’s almost constantly. And it was she who, recognising my growing passion for black music, suggested on that night back in early ’74, that I come with her to a ‘soul do’ she and her friends were going to in the town centre.
We fetched up at the local “Central Hall”, which was just around the corner from the youth club I’d gone to and that gave the occasion a sense of me ‘growing up’ a little bit, leaving the ‘youth’ behind… The venue itself was the kind of large, old Victorian dance hall that I’d always associated with hosting genteel, but fusty, ‘tea-dances’ during the day and ‘Big Band’ music in the evenings. But, crucially, (as with most old dance halls of that era) it was furnished with the sprung wooden dance floor that became so beloved of the Northern Soul dancer.
The poster on the doors said “Soul Sounds: 8 till late” and there was quite a queue despite it being a chilly evening in a small Midlands town. I remember feeling warmed, surrounded by the slightly older (than me) crowd, bustling around the entrance, eager to get inside. I was excited and nervous. Nervous, because ‘they’ all knew what was waiting inside and I felt like the conspicuous ‘greenhorn’.
Once the doors were opened, there was the usual crushing and shoving to be first in. (A nation of queuers? Not at this door matey!) and it took us some time to get up the steps. Eventually we got up to the entrance and I started to hear muffled booming from inside, punctuated by sharp short busts of music and voice as the inner doors to the actual dancefloor let another cold body through. After ‘shelling the shilling’, we walked quickly across the large, cold entrance area and I heard the low muffled boom of music get louder and louder as we neared the double swing doors. My sister, who was in front of me, pushed through first and the low muffle instantly exploded into a huge tidal wave of heat and loud sweet soul music that engulfed me. I was momentarily stunned and stopped to take it all in, to let my eyes get used to the large dark room. The sense of warmth and welcome from inside was like being wrapped in a ‘Central Hall’-sized hot soul duvet and the sound of this ‘Motown-style’ uptempo music ringing out loud and proud - music that up till then I’d only heard played on a small, tinny record player at home – made my pulse start to race and my heart thud with excitement.
My eyes began to acclimatise to the low-lit hall and the few ‘disco’ lights they’d bothered with, then the real ‘frying-pan-in-the-face’ moment hit me…dancers were already packed onto the dancefloor, feet and handclaps in perfect time to the music and, what??….mostly MALE dancers!! On their own! With amazing moves! No ‘can’t-dance-and-don’t-want-to-but hoping-to-cop-off’ pathetic shuffle in front of some (un) lucky girl after the night and the drinking are over. No regimented “1-2-3 step, 2-3-4 step” ex-ballroom patterns with partners. These were proud, accomplished, athletic dancers who danced for themselves and for the thrill of the music and I looked on with bottom jaw swinging freely.
Then, hang on…who’s that over there dancing? That’s Mick Brown! I know him!! He was in the year above me at school! My sis said “Yeah Mick’s into Northern Soul – didn’t you know?” Mick ‘back-dropped’ and all I could think was “How can all of this have been going on without me knowing about it…in my own town...with people I know??”
I had a great time that night taking in as much as my ears and eyes would allow. My first introduction to a true ‘underground scene’ was complete and I was instantly hooked.
I was too new on the scene to have had a chance to go to the early influential clubs of The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, or The Golden Torch in Stoke, so I began modestly, cutting my teeth at the ‘Soul Nights’ that I discovered were on twice a week at my local working men’s club. It’s a cliché to say you practised your dance moves in your bedroom at home, but it was true. I’d watch dancers at the club and try to remember bits of their steps (sometimes nipping into the toilets to try out foot movements when no-one was looking) then attempting to re-create the moves at home with some of mine or my sisters more uptempo Motown tunes playing in the background. As I got to know more of the music being played and classed under the ‘Northern Soul’ banner, I was thrilled to find that I had in my record collection a few of the Motown records that did get played on the scene. Tunes I didn’t know, but sounded great, I’d ask the DJ about, then go looking for them on market stalls.
In a ‘bridge-burning’ moment, I sold most everything else in my record collection to a guy at work who ran a mobile disco, but then snuck back to dig out a couple of singles I’d forgotten I left in the box!! My greatest stroke of luck came with my sister’s partner bequeathing me his quite extensive ‘Northern’ collection. He HAD been a regular at The Golden Torch, and his record collection was full of classics from that era. He’d decided he was ‘settling down’ and thought, generously, that I would get more out of having the records than if he just let them gather dust at home. True or not, they in turn became MY classics and remain among my favourites today.
I was lucky enough to have visited, on a few occasions, the legendary Wigan Casino and danced on that hallowed floor to tunes spun by the equally legendary Russ Winstanley a fact for which I am eternally grateful. I made fantastic friends, heard fantastic tunes and had a fantastic time, and though I’ll never get ‘frying-panned’ again, the thrill that courses through me when I hear a favourite tune is still with me.
To my mind, the Northern Soul scene & Fred Perry are inextricably linked. The popularity of both born and nurtured by the “sharper-than-thou” mod movement. The mods created their own look, their own style & their own soundtrack. And like all ‘street’ movements that generate themselves, from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Punk and Hip-Hop, they become historic. They survive long beyond their beginnings and ‘hey-days’, because people who understand, will always recognise ‘authenticity’. That essence that comes from the emotions and the heart, not from a contrived ‘next-big-thing’ attempt. And what ‘authenticity’, by its own nature, bestows is the much-coveted ‘cool’.
Today, dress styles of once youthful dancers, who, like me, came up through the scene during the early seventies have changed and mellowed somewhat. Many are now 50 plus (and more!), mostly with grown children and all the adult responsibilities modern life brings. But they still make their moves at soul gatherings alongside more youthful – and energetic – dancers. And always in evidence will be one style item they can still feel cool in – a Fred Perry polo shirt. (Mine had to be the black with gold piping!) And one great thing about Northern Soul and Fred Perry is that they remain ageless. Both current and retro in a truly unique way. You’re as ‘sharp’ today whether an 18 year-old wearing Perry and dancing to Northern Soul, or 50 year-old doing the same.
The Northern Soul scene was and is friendly and inclusive – if you have the love, you are always welcome! Despite its working-class roots, your background meant nothing if you truly loved the music. Not to say there wasn’t snobbery, there’s always snobbery in any ‘scene’. From who has the best clothes and who the best dancer is, to who’s been on the scene longer and who has the rarest records. But these days maturity has taken the scene past those days of good-natured rivalry. And in its place is an unspoken understanding and friendliness from other ‘soulies’ that tells you ‘We’re in this thing together’. White, black, young, old, rich, poor, male or female…Northern Soul is “Togetherness”.
Paul Brown, 2008
MY TOP 10
(NB: this could change from week to week with so much great stuff to pick from, this is my list for now)
The Younghearts – A Little Togetherness
The Superlatives – I Still Love You
Gloria Jones – Come Go With Me
The Isley Brothers – Tell Me Its Just A Rumour Baby
Checkerboard Squares – Double Cookin’
Little Richard – I Don’t Wanna Discuss It
Lynne Randell – Stranger In My Arms
The M.V.P’s – Turning My Heartbeat Up
Tony Clarke – Landslide
Frank Wilson – Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)