(The Northern Town with a lot of Soul)
“Keep the Faith”
“Cause all them voisler dancing all through the night
Fresh from working down on the cold
And those pretty faces in the flashing lights
They put the magic into my Northern Soul”
Top Mancunian Terry Christian’s Top Five Northern Soul tracks
1) Darrell Banks: Open the Door to Your Heart
2) Sandi Sheldon: You’re Gonna Make Me Love You
3) Eddie Parker: Love You Baby
4) Frank Wilson: Do I Love You
5) Gerri Grainger: I Go to Pieces (Everytime)
As Manchester is a Northern town, and typified by it’s musical heritage, I thought I’d combine the two in this blog and focus on something that is a passion in my family- and still has a devoted and passionate following in our favourite City – yes you’ve got it – Northern Soul!
Northern Soul as a musical genre has influenced the city’s clubbing scene enormously, and I’m going to explore the impact it has had on the city for your enjoyment…
Northern Soul was a musical, cultural and social phenomenon in our City and for its devoted followers continues to be so…and this is the City that became its heartland.
On a personal level, as part of my research, I have interviewed a number of Mancunians who lived and breathed the scene. Sean and Jasp remember saving their dinner money so that they could enjoy a couple of bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale while listening to some ‘top tunes’ in FUGBA (Flixton and Urmston Good Buddies Association). Mike remembers being first introduced to the scene at the Blue Rooms in Sale; ‘Keeping the Faith’ from that point onwards, he then enjoyed countless ‘All-Dayers’ at Belle Vue. He remembers strutting his stuff in ‘wafters’; large flared trousers which increased the impact that the foot spins made on the dance floor, whilst trying to impress the ladies who donned long skirts, collared t-shirts and leather coats. He recalled that on one instance, the place had been grooving so vigorously that perspiration was dripping from the ceiling…even the towels that were carried to venues in retro Adidas sport bags couldn’t help the situation!
In the book ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History of the DJ’, the authors describe northern soul as “a genre built from failures”, stating: “…Northern Soul was the music made by hundreds of singers and bands who were copying the Detroit sound of Motown pop. Most of the records were complete failures in their own time and place… but in northern England from the end of the 1960s through to its heyday in the middle 1970s, were exhumed and exalted.”
Northern Soul, as it is has become known,began here in Manchester in the mid nineteen sixties at clubs such as the Twisted Wheel and the Blue Note. Other Soul locations of note were: The Jigsaw, Rowntrees and Bolton’s Boneyard, (AKA The Caroline Lounge) in fact most ‘Beat’ Clubs favoured soul music at that time.
Without doubt the instigator and originator of all this was Roger Eagle the legendary Twisted Wheel DJ. It was Rogers enthusiasm and knowledge of Black American music that made the place the epicentre of the cities love affair with Blues, RnB and Soul and all focused at the Twisted Wheel Club.
The Brazennose Street Twisted Wheel started in 1963 until around September 1965, playing mainstream pop music. But an exciting change was about to take place when Roger Eagle became the DJ in early 1964 and started out in his mission to bring American black music to the club; Jazz such a Jimmy Smith, Blues like Muddy Waters were mixed with early Motown releases and Rolling Stones and Beach Boys tracks.
Northern soul reached the peak of its popularity in the mid to late 1970s.At this time, there were soul clubs in virtually every major town in the midlands and the north of England. The three venues regarded as the most important in this decade were the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke , Blackpool Mecca and the legendary Wigan Casino.
The Wheel kept going until around 1971/2 but the original ‘In Crowd’ by this time had been replaced. Following the closure of The Wheel, Northern Soul became the buzz and started out at The Torch and Wigan Casino. But it all began in Soulchester!
The up-tempo and vibrant nature of The Northern Soul scene was in contrast to some other Manchester bands later on in the decade such as Joy Division and The Smiths; who seemed to define the bleak uncertainty of the city during the 1970s.
However, perhaps it was this uncertainty that led to the popularity of a musical genre that became a lifestyle for many Mancunian youths of the time; embracing the fashion, the dance moves, and the lyrics. For example, a large proportion of northern soul’s original audience came from within the 1960s mod subculture. In the late 1960s, when some mods started to embrace freakbeat and psychedelic rock, other mods – especially those in northern England – stuck to the original mod soundtrack of soul and Blue Beat. From the latter category, two strands emerged: skinheads and the northern soul scene.
‘Skinheads’ and ‘Mods’ signal a desire for the individual to belong to something, and sure enough, Northern Soul offered quite a rare, almost ‘exclusive’ form of recreation. Especially because Northern Soul DJs built up a following based on satisfying the crowd’s desires for music that they could not hear anywhere else.
During my research for this blog, I discovered that for many young Northerners at the time, who were engulfed in a world of mundanity; of dead-end jobs, of economic and social hardship, the joy of the Northern Soul scene offered genuine joy and escapism from a 9-5 reality. The exotic backflips; the spinning ‘till your head went dizzy and the eclectic mix of black soul music and funky rhythms lifted people away into a better place. As one Mancunian told me: “I lived for dancing”.
Northern soul has influenced several notable musicians and writers. Terry Christian, in his 2008 article about northern soul for The Times wrote,
“There’s an instant credibility for any artist or brand associated with a scene that has always been wild, free and grassroots.”
Indeed, Manchester has grown from grassroots thinkers like Tony Wilson, who dived into projects feet first….and let’s face it, us Mancunians are known for being wild and free!
In recent years, the Northern Soul scene has been reinvigorated with an immediate injection of coolness (!) when Welsh singer Duffy used the imagery and choreography of Northern Soul to epitomise and capture the essence of her soulful track ‘Mercy’. Dancers were seen spinning round, feet on fire, grooving and moving to a track that had ‘Northern Soul’ written all over it. Some of the choreographers for the video were handpicked from nightclubs right here in Manchester where the scene is still thriving.
Even Mr. Cool himself, Fatboy Slim has sampled Northern Soul tracks, whilst Al Wilson’s classic ‘The Snake’ is now being enjoyed by a much wider audience due to the fact it has recently been featured on The Lambrini adverts. That’s right; Northern Soul fans and Lambrini girls just wanna have fun!
It’s no coincidence that ‘Northern Soul’ came into prominence in Northern England…’cos we know how to have a good time, so go on…give us a spin, see if you can set those dancing shoes on fire and always remember the wise words of your blogger, Hannah…
‘Keep The Faith’.
The Claydon and Co’s Top Twelve Northern Soul tracks
1) Judy Street: What
2) Tony Clark: Landslide
3) The Casualeers: Dance Dance Dance
4) Jimmy Radcliffe: Long After Tonight is All Over
5) Dobie Gray: Out on the Floor
6) Bobby Paris: I Walked away
7) Billy Butler and the Enchanters: Right Track
8) Timi Yuro: It’ll Never be Over Me
9) Madeline Bell: Picture me Gone
10) NF Porter: Keep on Keeping On
11) Larry Williams and Johnny Guitar Watson: Too Late
12) Jay and The Americans: Living Above you