Film about the northern soul phenomenon, one of the most exciting underground British club movements of the 70s, a dynamic culture of fashions, dance moves and vinyl obsession.
Browse content similar to Northern Soul: Living for the Weekend. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The Northern Soul phenomenon was the most exciting underground
British club movement of the 1970s.
In its heyday, white working class youth in the North of England
travelled hundreds of miles across the region to dance
to obscure black American soul records until the break of dawn.
You had a purpose in life.
You know, you were always looking to hit that next record,
you were always looking forward to the buzz of the weekend.
It was just excitement.
It was just euphoria.
Everybody was there for one reason only and that was the music.
Nothing else mattered.
With its roots in mod culture of the previous decade, Northern Soul
created a genuine antidote to desperate, dead-end times.
Everybody worked in a factory. Everybody worked in the pit.
I didn't know anybody who worked in offices.
You know, you've got one night a week
and you're going to just do everything
that you wanted to do all week in that one night.
It became a way of life,
with its own completely unique fashions and dance styles.
If you went to a club and saw someone do a big high kick,
you would try and out-kick that person by kicking higher.
Northern Soul DJs believe they were creating
a radical alternative to mainstream British culture.
We found our own records in defiance of the market,
in defiance of Radio 1, in defiance of the newspapers,
in defiance of the media, and in great defiance to Top Of The Pops.
But the joyful unity between the northern clubs was shattered
by bitter infighting.
And the rivalries were very intense.
There's no two ways about that. You talk about the north-south split.
This was a north-north split.
Today, in the 21st-century, Northern Soul is being discovered
by brand-new generation and experiencing a glorious revival.
But it was back in the '70s that a strange,
exotic flower pushed its way up through
the concrete of northern England and changed people's lives.
COLLIERY BAND PLAYS ABIDE WITH ME
The late '50s, the Midlands and the North were grim.
We still worked 44 hours a week,
Saturday morning was part of our working week.
Working men's clubs would have been
the predominant form of entertainment.
No glamour whatsoever.
The older generation, my parents, would go to bingo,
or the local liberal club for a comedian
and a turn.
That was people's entertainment.
There was no club scene in the early 1960s in the North of England.
There were ballrooms where live bands usually played
and people went and danced.
There were covers bands that played in halls.
And not very much else.
But, down south, a budding youth movement that would later
inspire the Northern Soul scene was emerging in the twilight
world of London's Soho and West End.
The birth of club culture began,
I guess, with the mods,
or the modernists,
the kids that gave you a glimpse of the future.
They were looking for something new and different.
They didn't want to listen to the music of their parents.
And they wanted to hear, originally, modern jazz,
but then it moved onto Blue Beat and R&B.
And what they wanted to hear were the original records.
It was at underground venues like The Flamingo in Soho where
these sharp-dressed mods danced to black American soul records
all night until the break of dawn.
They were also falling in love with the exciting,
new sounds of Motown, a Detroit-based label,
whose soul releases were now dominating the American charts.
It was, "I love you, darling.
"You hurt me, I hurt you, let's get back together,"
with a thumping great beat and a bloody great chorus to sing along to.
It was refreshing.
Nowadays, you look at the lyrics, they were very sad,
but it had that uptown beat.
It's got a doop-doop-doopy-doop-doop beat to it.
But it's got those lovely chords.
So a new music form was found
with a rock beat and jazz chords
because the chords uplift your mood and make you feel happy
or wistful on a rock beat. That's the Motown sound.
# Baby love, my baby love
# I need you, oh, how I need you
# But all you do is treat me bad... #
The Motown sound was hugely popular in the USA and very widely imitated.
But, in the UK, apart from the occasional chart hit, its artists
initially struggled to gain anything like their stateside success.
Radio 1 didn't start broadcasting till 1967,
so all through the heyday of Motown,
there wasn't a proper station for young people.
In those days, you really had to go to record stores or
tune in to pirate stations to hear black American music.
# I'll be gone, holding on
# Oh, yes, I will... #
So, when the pirate radio ships came along,
we were given a lot of freedom to play the music we liked.
I made sure that I wanted to play black soul music.
People do forget, now that music is ubiquitous in our society,
it was the opposite in the 1960s.
It didn't fall on your lap,
it wasn't something that accompanied TV adverts.
It was something you had to go and seek out.
# And each and every way
# My love is growing stronger... #
By the mid-1960s, London's mod culture, with its love of dancing
all night to little-known soul records, was infiltrating the North.
The mods had The Flamingo and other clubs.
And it slowly transferred north.
It had to work its way up the country by people from Market Harborough,
or Leicester, or Doncaster.
One or two people from that town would catch a train to London
and bring something back.
A crucial destination in the North was Manchester's Twisted Wheel.
This club was a rare oasis for mods in the region.
A young Pete Waterman stumbled across The Twisted Wheel
when visiting the city for a football match.
It was one of those things when you went, "Oh, my God, what is this?
"This is amazing."
You know, I was hearing stuff that I'd never heard before,
but I knew what it was.
And I remember catching the train the next day, and I must've been
very quiet all the way back thinking, "Where do I get them records?"
# Now, what's that sound that make you wanna feel all right... #
Across the Peak District, in Sheffield, promoter and DJ
Peter Stringfellow was creating a similar all nighter at the Mojo Club.
Every Saturday night, that was it,
the whole neighbourhood was boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp.
And they would stay until ten o'clock Sunday morning.
They were taking these things called blueys, and off they would go.
And I think there was a wild one called the Black Bomber
which would keep you dancing for a week.
It was these small underground venues like Sheffield's Mojo
and Manchester's Twisted Wheel with their culture of dancing
all night to black music that were now sowing the seeds
of what would become Northern Soul.
Down south, pop culture was changing at an increasingly dramatic pace.
1967 was the year that psychedelic rock exploded.
But it wasn't embraced by everyone.
The reasons psychedelia didn't work in the North is
cos it was too industrial.
There's just no way you could tune in and drop out in the North when,
on a Monday, you've got to go work in the steelworks in Scunthorpe.
What they needed was an escape for the weekend.
Peter Stringfellow attempted to introduce
psychedelia into the underground soul clubs of the North.
# If you're going to San Francisco... #
It was 1967, I was wearing a kaftan and flowers,
I walked on stage, and I was playing my kind of flower power music.
# If you ever go to San Francisco. #
And I'm throwing flowers,
and they were throwing Pepsi Cola bottles back at me.
"What the hell are you doing? Get off, it's rubbish!"
As Stringfellow discovered, the mods in the North did not want to change.
They weren't interested in Jefferson Airplane.
They wanted to continue taking amphetamines
and dancing to R&B music.
And the amphetamines had an effect of the music speeding up.
Anyone on amphetamines tends to be talking ten to the dozen
and, likewise with the music, the music became faster and faster.
It was these up-tempo soul stompers with their non-stop 4/4 beat
that created the blueprint for Northern Soul.
I Can't Help Myself by Motown act the Four Tops epitomised this style.
# Sugar pie, honey bunch
# You know that I love you... #
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
# Cos I love you... #
All the way through doesn't let up, that's all it is.
It is absolutely... The beat is not complicated.
There's no swing element, there's no...
IMITATES SWING BEAT
There's none of that. There's no swing element,
there's no time signature changes. This is just a straight beat.
# I can't help myself
# No, I cannot help myself... #
It's important because it's almost a template
for what became Northern Soul.
It has the yearning vocal, it has the beautiful orchestration,
and it has the snare on every beat.
# And I kissed it a thousand times
# Sugar pie, honey bunch
# Sugar pie, honey bunch
# You know that I'm weak for you... #
Then you get to the chorus,
# I can't help myself
# I love you and nobody else. #
It's just... Everybody sings along
because everybody understands the message.
# Sugar pie, honey bunch
# Sugar pie, honey bunch... #
And everybody's bouncing about to a beat singing a sad song.
And that became the kind of signifier of every great
Northern Soul stomper.
So, the really up-tempo records that were known
in the Northern Soul scene were pretty much all
based on that kind of sound, the Four Tops, I Can't Help Myself.
# I love you and nobody else
# Ooh! #
MUSIC: "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" by James Brown
But as these up-tempo tracks became the records of choice in the budding
Northern Soul clubs, times and music were changing in black America.
'Some people say we've got a lot of malice,
'some people say it's a lot of nerve...'
This time, there was the riots.
There was protests at the '68 Olympics.
The assassination of Martin Luther King.
There were people who became radicalised.
There were black GIs coming back from Vietnam with a new militancy.
As the slower, tougher, more political James Brown funk
began to dominate the black American landscape,
the faster, optimistic, mid-60s Motown sound was now out of date.
But soul fans in the North of England didn't like what they heard.
Musically, it was too off the wall, and it was too slow to be
consumed by 500 kids in a basement off their heads on French blues.
They wanted something quicker, something faster,
and funk wasn't it.
If the clubs in the North of England wanted to keep playing
uplifting, up-tempo soul, they were now forced to look back into
the past, sourcing their records
from this mid-60s golden era of Motown, whose sound
had been widely imitated across black America.
Northern Soul started out as us
looking for records with the Motown sound that weren't on Motown.
And the more they had flopped, the more they were a B-side that
no-one had ever seen before, the more desirable they became.
So, we went looking for flops or B-sides of obscure records
that no-one had ever heard of.
On one hand, you've got the highly polished,
industrialised music machine like Motown,
but lower down the food chain,
you know, there were these little artists is in the back of nowhere,
so badly recorded most of them were little more than demos.
But what appeals is the honesty and the integrity and the truth.
I guess that's what people love about them.
At the end of the decade,
clubs like Manchester's Twisted Wheel were
miming this mid-60s period for forgotten soul records
and playing them at their all-nighters
for the very first time.
I would say the landmark record from The Twisted Wheel would be
a record by Leon Haywood called Baby Reconsider.
That was the tip of the iceberg for what we were then to see over
the next four or five years -
an absolute landslide of amazing American imports.
When you had a record like Baby Reconsider
that everybody wanted to dance to, everybody, there was no other club
in England you could hear it,
so they had to travel to The Wheel to hear this music.
Ian Levine - from an affluent Blackpool family -
was just a teenager when he had his very first Twisted Wheel experience.
It was in a stone cellar, painted black, with wheels on the wall,
and the heat hit you...
People smoked in the club and the nicotine and sweat
was dripping off the ceiling, literally, like stalactites -
a brown-coloured gunge -
and everybody was on that floor clapping on the beat.
Not like some bunch of mums and dads at a wedding -
but so sharply clapping to every beat.
That was Northern Soul -
Bob Brady and the Con-chords More, More, More Of Your Love
at The Twisted Wheel. That was it. There was no going back from that point.
Other clubs in the North inspired by The Twisted Wheel
were setting up their own high-octane soul all-nighters.
When we were going to the all-nighters it was a special club.
You could leave Huddersfield, and on the train
you'd get the people from Leeds getting on,
the girl from Dewsbury, we'd get on at Huddersfield -
you just knew people that'd be on the train
were all part of the same group,
were going to the same club.
Here we had underground, American, black music
taking over and producing the culture
that became Northern Soul.
Although at this time nobody
called it Northern Soul.
It was just excitement.
But this was about to change.
It needed some sort of
tag to identify it.
The story goes that Dave Godin
who had a record shop in London called Soul City Records...
On a weekend, people from the North -
may be in town to watch Manchester United at West Ham - who knows -
would take the time to go into his shop
and ask for a certain type of sound.
A soul sound.
And, of course, Dave was in the middle of London
where the culture was very much James Brown,
a very much funkier side of sounds,
and kids from the North would go down and ask for faster records.
And Dave got to understand that this was happening,
not just occasionally, but week in, week out.
And he realised a different thing was developing in the north of England.
Before that, we called it rare soul, up-tempo soul.
People would say,
"What, like Motown?" "No. Like Motown but...on different labels."
You couldn't describe it.
But Dave, by coining it, gave it an identity.
-# Hey, girl, don't bother me
-# Don't bother me now
-# Hey, girl, don't bother me
-# Stay away, girl
-# Go away, come back another day
-# Don't bother me... #
The first signs that
Northern Soul was becoming something more than a localised phenomenon
was when certain old records
began to be rereleased and revived and to get into the charts.
One was The Tams - Hey, Girl, Don't Bother Me.
-# They said you liked to cheat
-# Cheat, cheat... #
Tony Blackburn had championed Hey, Girl Don't Bother Me
on the pirate radio stations back in the mid-60s
when the record was originally released.
I could normally spot, in those days, a hit record,
and I thought that one was going to be a big hit.
And it wasn't. It didn't make it.
And it must've been about six or seven years later,
because of the Northern Soul scene they suddenly discovered it up there
and started playing it,
and it actually forced it to become a number one hit.
To The Tams great surprise,
they were invited over from America
to perform their old song on Top Of The Pops.
# Hey, girl don't bother me #
But in 1971,
the same year The Tams hit the top of charts,
Manchester's Twisted Wheel -
the mother club of the emerging Northern Soul scene,
was in trouble.
The drug squad became very aware of what was going on.
The usual thing that would be levelled against a venue
like this was "it's a haven for people taking drugs"
which, of course, really, whilst it was true,
it wasn't the reason people were going there in the first place.
Manchester City Council was putting pressure on that there would be
no more all-night dances within the city of Manchester.
There was only one I knew of and that was The Twisted Wheel,
so the police gunned for it, the council gunned for it
so they closed it.
And I thought when that finished
then that was that, it was over.
The good times had gone.
# I'm just a drifter
# No place to call my home... #
# Nothing but a heartache every day
# Nothing but heartache
# Nothing but a teardrop... #
The North and the Midlands was bleak.
It was tough in the late '50s, but by the late '70s
it had gone into serious depression.
We've had strikes in the car industry,
we'd had strikes in the pits...
The North was being hung out to dry, there was no question.
There was so many unemployed,
people that couldn't make their living
the way they'd made their living before.
There was gloom and despondency all around.
So many patches of, like, waste ground.
Because a lot of the mills had been knocked down at that time.
And yet, as kids, we all used to play on the waste ground.
I couldn't see any way
of breaking out of the town I lived in.
Everybody worked in a factory.
Everybody worked at the pit.
I didn't know anybody who worked in offices.
Everybody seemed to be leaving school at 15.
When I was at school
I was asked what I wanted to do.
And I said, "I want to work for a record company."
This is, like, 15 years old in Mirfield,
and they're, like, "We don't have many
"record companies in Mirfield
"but can work at the cement factory."
I think the Northern Soul thing in that early period
was the only hope that anybody had up north
of getting out of it.
# Ooh, girl...
# Be my sweet darling... #
It was a quiet street in the town of Tunstall
close to its traditional pubs,
that the underground spirit of Northern Soul was revived.
# Sweet darling, yeah, Sweet darling... #
Although The Torch had been operating for a number of years,
in 1972 this club started its very first Northern Soul all-nighter.
It was strange, because it was in an odd place.
It was in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent.
I mean, we'd have to get a train to Derby
and then Derby to Crewe
and jump off at Longport railway station
and walk a mile up the hill.
And it was a residential street.
As you turned into Hose Street and the queue -
and this was a built-up terraced house residential area -
you'd hear the bump, bump, bump...
of the sound of The Torch.
And that's all it was.
It was almost like the building was shaking.
And shaking everything else around it.
The magic, as you turned into the street, was just phenomenal.
And then you just couldn't wait to get inside the club.
The Golden Torch for me was everything,
because it was my first ever all-nighter.
We were young,
and we'd decided we did not want to know the charts, by this time.
There was another chart, our chart.
We wanted, whilst in 1972 it might have been Slade
and Little Willy by The Sweet,
we wanted Duke Browner and Crying Over You
and Nolan Chance and Just Like The Weather.
They were the top sounds.
That was our top 20.
In just over a year, The Torch helped reunify
the underground Northern Soul scene.
But it was in a town 50 miles away
where this growing movement would be absolutely transformed.
Wigan was once a major manufacturing powerhouse in the North,
but the town's cotton and coal industries
had been in severe decline for decades.
Russ Winstanley was a local Wigan DJ and soul fan.
I heard in early '73
that the all-nighters were finishing
at The Torch in Stoke,
so I decided to have a look around for a venue.
The Wigan Casino had been built in the early part of the 20th century.
The casino was just perfect.
Fabulous sprung dance floor,
massive areas to it -
held about 3,500 to 4,000.
The very first night at Wigan Casino was frightening,
it was amazing,
it was incredible.
And I always remember thinking,
when we got over the 500 mark - September 23, 1973 -
if we get to Christmas, I'll be really made up.
what a great place.
Have you been to Wigan train station?
It's fantastic. You can go anywhere from Wigan.
You can get to Wigan -
it's on the motorway, it was perfect.
And they never looked back from then on.
It just went bigger and bigger and bigger.
# Temptation's calling my name
# Calling it loud and clear... #
In the same year the all-nighters started at the Wigan Casino,
Ian Levine went on one of his regular family holidays to Miami.
But rather than soaking up the sun,
he spent all his time digging for old 1960s soul records
in a huge dimly lit charity store.
I went at nine in the morning until they closed at six,
and each day I carried a cardboard box of records home.
By the nine days had finished, I'd bought 4,000 records from them.
He was going out there every day going to places, finding records.
That thirst for knowledge,
looking at the label,
and instantly knowing that it could be goer.
-When we left by Miami with my 4,000 records
we were on a tiny little two-engine propeller plane
to go to the Bahamas.
And these 4,000 records were on board this little plane...
And the pilot's took off and he couldn't get any height.
And he says, "I can't get the plane up, the records...
"Those crates are too heavy."
And my dad erupted and said he was
going to open the door of the plane
and throw the great big chests of records -
they were in, like, tea chests, 4,000 of them -
into the sea. And I begged him not to, I'm pleading.
"They're the best records I've ever found! Please don't.
He says, "The plane can't take off!"
Thankfully, Ian wasn't forced to ditch his 4,000 singles
into the ocean to save his family's life.
The find of those records was the greatest significant find
of the Northern Soul scene.
Every big record from '73 and '74 came out of that find.
The greatest haul ever.
After safely returning to his home town of Blackpool
with his huge vinyl haul,
Ian Levine was now a much sought-after DJ.
Colin Curtis had started a new Northern Soul night
at Blackpool Mecca's Highland Room,
and he invited Ian to join him as resident DJ.
That haul from Goodwill left me on a pedestal above Wigan or anybody.
Nobody could compete with those records,
because I found so many at once.
Every week I was coming up with new monster stompers
that were absolute quintessential bare essence
of what Northern Soul was all about.
It was easy to generate excitement in the Highland Room
because of the low roof,
because of the style of music,
and the up-tempo music just kept that air of tension,
that air of excitement up at that level,
and handclapping, spinning,
it was just the whole thing was just...
I still remember my heart beating
as I went up the escalator to the Highland Room.
One of the most exciting clubs I've ever been to in my life.
# My girl You are just too darn soulful... #
As we moved into the early '70s then,
you would have the Blackpool Mecca and the Wigan Casino
as the two leading lights of Northern Soul.
# Hear me girl... #
A healthy rivalry developed between these two clubs
which helped fan the gospel across the region.
The people you were playing to all knew where they would go to.
"Are you going here next Saturday? I'll see you there on Sunday.
"That's going on next week.
"There's an all-dayer at Whitchurch."
You don't have to advertise, everybody knew the DJs.
I remember the adverts we used to put in the mags.
All we did was put the songs we were playing -
that was all everybody wanted to know.
What songs is Pete Waterman playing that Colin isn't playing
or Ian isn't playing
or Russ Winstanley.
Had he found a record that was different?
# Oh, baby...
# If this isn't love
# Ooh, baby... #
Alongside the music, a unique visual style was emerging.
We would go to Burton's and order suits with six pockets,
wide trousers with seams in, turn-ups...
Fashion and music were connected.
Very much was the baggy trousers,
the brown shoes, the jacket,
the shirt, the badge -
keep the faith.
It was total escapism.
It was nothing like what you did in the week.
The experience of going
to an all-nighter in a different town
and meeting all these different sorts of people,
and having this kind of drive
to be better and better at dancing,
better at collecting records...
was such an attractive proposition
compared to what was set out for you.
It kind of propelled you through everything else.
Even if you had a crap job, Monday to Friday,
you could go on autopilot and just live for the weekends.
It's dancing your tears away and dancing your pain away.
You're on the dance floor dancing to a dance beat
but you're hearing this singer
singing about a lost love,
the pain of life, a heartbreak...
I am going to have a good time
and leave all my heartbreak
and all my pain behind.
# Baby, that I've ever been lonely... #
That bittersweet feeling of good times
to escape from the bad times.
You've got one night a week
and you're going to just do everything that you wanted to do all week
in that one night
# Oh, baby, if this isn't love
# Oh, baby
# If this isn't love... #
Strict 1970s licensing laws didn't allow alcohol at the all-nighters
but that didn't bother many of the Northern Soul clubbers.
Drugs were absolutely key.
They are a part of the Northern Soul scene.
That was a marriage.
Speed and tempo of record,
four o'clock in the morning.
I tended to be Mr Straight, because I was the DJ.
I was also driving.
But it wouldn't be unusual for my car to be full of people
that were speeding off their heads.
And thank God one of us was straight!
Obviously, for most people it required
a prescription from the doctor,
but for some Northern Soul fans,
it basically just meant breaking into a chemist on the way
to whichever all-nighter they were going to
and relieving the chemist of their slimming pill supplies
and distributing them at Blackpool
or wherever it was they were heading.
People talk about the highs you get from drugs,
whether it's cocaine or whatever else you're taking,
and, for me, that hit
was probably provided by the playing of music.
If you're playing an unknown record
for the first time and getting an unbelievable response,
that's the biggest buzz, that's what this is all about.
It's sharing music with people and getting a reaction.
The majority of Northern Soul clubbers were white working class.
But some young black people were beginning to discover the scene.
Fran Franklin was the child of a black American father
and a white Irish mother.
School in Edinburgh in the '60s and '70s was really tough.
I'd never seen any other black people, other than my dad.
My whole life.
Until I was about 13,
I don't think I'd ever actually seen a black person.
I was bullied a lot.
I had to grow up pretty quick.
# You've got to be good to me... #
I took a lot of verbal abuse
and they used to write names on the wall outside the house and stuff.
So it was pretty nasty for a while.
It was a beautiful experience
the first time I ever went to an all-nighter.
I can always remember being at Wigan in this sea of people
as if I was floating on the sea... on this sea of happiness.
There would never be any racism, everybody loved the music.
It would be very hard for someone to be racist
and be singing along to some black artist.
It changed my life in that I was able to just be free
of all the name-calling,
free to dance how I wanted to dance,
I was embraced in a family of great people
and people that knew me as Fran Franklin,
not "that girl with the big Afro".
Northern Soul dancing brought out of
more traditional Northern guys
something that they probably didn't know existed within themselves
until that music became the catalyst.
For the first time boys were able to just get on the floor
and express themselves in a way that had never been done before.
They probably felt as liberated as I did.
The male dancers on Northern Soul
were like peacocks -
wearing the best clothes,
strutting their stuff...
They learned their moves from watching soul singers from America.
People like Jackie Wilson -
he spins round, he does backflips.
And even James Brown, who had nothing to do with Northern Soul
but he still had the steps and moves.
James Brown was doing this shuffle thing, so I think the fast footwork
probably did come a little bit from there,
but they weren't trying to be Soul Train.
We weren't trying to be anybody else. We were just doing our thing.
The northern clubs and records like Tainted Love were now uniting
people across the region.
I always give credit to Richard Searling for breaking Tainted Love.
It was the right record at the right time.
The fact that it worked so beautifully for hand claps.
The fact is we wanted fast records at the time.
We were all, like, 16, 17,
18-year-old kids wanting to burn our energy off.
If you're going to do it, do it to a song like Tainted Love.
It's like every single person knew when that clap was going to happen
and everybody clapped at the same time.
It just made every hair on your body stand up.
It just all bubbles up like in a big melting pot
and explodes in your head
and you just to throw yourself about that dance floor and just love it.
-# Now I run from you
-Now I run
# The tainted love you give me
# I give you all a girl can give... #
Northern Soul will touch your soul.
The scene in the north had developed in almost total
isolation from the rest of the country,
but then a southern-based record label, Pye, spotted an opportunity.
The Northern scene, particularly at Wigan, was becoming so big
it was bound to attract the attention
of the London-based record companies.
The record industry suddenly woke up that there was an industry
north of Watford,
so the Disco Demands series certainly worked for Pye
because, at that point, nobody in the record industry even cared.
They made popular Northern tracks on the Northern scene available
to people like me who would never get to hear those sort of tracks,
but I can remember there was fierce debate and backlash against the
purists who didn't want their music
to be enjoyed or exposed or bought by anybody else.
The top Northern Soul DJs reacted to this increasing
flood of easily-accessible reissues by hunting down ever more
obscure records to play in the clubs.
You would have to chase down every single lead to try
and find the records that you wanted.
Quite often there would only be one copy
and it would be in someone's collection.
You'd have to try and prise it out.
You'd have to offer really good swaps to get them, but once you got
that record, you could say, "It's the only one in the country.
"If you want to hear it, you've got to come to one of my gigs."
The Wigan Casino's record bar was instrumental in feeding
the desire for rarities amongst the clubbers.
The record bar at Wigan Casino is where the record dealers swap, trade
or buy these records that otherwise you wouldn't have any
way of getting hold of them.
By the end of 1974, rare vinyl fever was reaching epic proportions
and record digging trips to the States were now rife.
We found a B-side to an obscure record from Detroit that
nobody had ever heard of in their life.
We made it into a turntable hit.
We didn't get record companies coming in saying, "This is our new smash.
"Play it." We found our OWN records in defiance of the market,
in defiance of Radio 1, in defiance of the newspapers,
in defiance of the media and in great defiance of Top Of The Pops.
Times were changing. Freddie Laker announced £59 one way to the USA.
We were racing. We didn't know how long it would last.
Would our dreams be shattered by 1976?
Would there be no more Northern Soul scene?
Maybe these records were going to be worth 10p in three year's time.
Let's find as many as we can and bring them back and sell them,
We just lived for the moment.
# Do I love you?
# Indeed, I do
# Hey, my darlin'
# Indeed, I do. #
It's a really great year for Wigan
and in fact we now have Wigan's Ovation
and we're going to go Skiing In The Snow!
# Days are growing colder
# Snow's a fallin' upon the hill
# I gotta get my gear out ready for the winter chill. #
I think there was a time in the '70s
when the Northern Soul had been very
underground and then suddenly
obviously promoters saw the potential
and they started recording their own records.
# Run on down, skiing in the snow
# In the up down... #
Wigan's Ovation's cover version of a rare Northern Soul song
became a major top 20 chart hit in 1975.
I think Wigan's Ovation's Skiing In The Snow was bad for Northern Soul.
Terrible cover version of The Invitations' classic.
That was when it was no longer underground.
Everybody knew about it.
I was into Bay City Rollers last year. Now I'm into Northern Soul.
You'd be speaking to work colleagues.
They'd be saying, "What are you into?"
You'd say, "Northern Soul."
and they'd go, "Oh, like Wigan's Ovation?"
"No! How many times do I have to explain
"that's as far away as it can possibly be?"
# Skiing in the snow. #
It horrified the purists.
None of us at the venues were very happy about it
but what it did,
it put Northern Soul on the music map for the industry.
When Granada Television broadcast a documentary about Wigan Casino
in 1977, an incredible 20 million British viewers tuned in
to discover all about the Northern Soul phenomenon.
If you go to Wigan of a Saturday night, stop there all night,
don't come home till 12 o'clock the next day,
people think you're crazy or there's something going on there.
They might think wrong thing, like, you know,
like a lot of parents think.
Oh, stopping out all night, getting up to all sorts.
You're going somewhere where there's a certain good time.
Well, it brightens up the people's lives who go.
When the film came out, I think we all had an immense sense of pride
and, of course, it did attract, as Saturday Night Fever did for disco,
a lot more visitors to the Casino, so great for the venue.
Did it turn people away as well? Maybe it felt we'd sold out.
To an extent, but I wasn't aware too much of that.
It was more inclusive and seen as a good thing at the time.
# Turnin' my heart beat up, beat up
# Turnin' my heart, baby
# It's gettin' louder It's gettin' louder
# I feel it burnin'
# It's gettin' hotter, yeah
# Turn it, turn it up, yeah, yeah
# Burnin' my heart, aah-ahh! #
Norman Jay, a young Londoner, had been avidly reading about the
Northern Soul scene in music magazines for years, but he made
his very first trip up north the year the Granada film was televised.
I'm queuing to get into Wigan.
I remember we were allowed to jump the queue,
because when the people in the queue heard us
speaking with Cockney accents, they couldn't believe that we'd
driven all the way from London to Wigan and I was really excited.
And it was like a football match cos I can vividly recall
standing across the road outside the main entrance
and watching coaches from Manchester,
from Huddersfield, from Leeds,
from all parts of Scotland and Bristol, and I'm like, "Wow!"
But just as Northern Soul broke nationwide,
the scene was wrestling with its biggest ever dilemma.
I can remember us having conversations in 1975
and actually being worried about are the records going to dry up because
we had such an unbelievable run from let's say '68 through to '75
where every other week people were discovering records that nobody knew
and sooner or later it's going to dry up, isn't it?
It had to implode at some stage because you can't build
a scene on oldies because eventually you'll run out of great songs.
That was the inherent problem with Northern Soul.
You were relying on finding records that everyone else had
forgotten about. Now, there is a finite amount of those records
so inevitably it had to kind of run into a brick wall at some stage.
# Give me love
# Give me all that you got
# You know that I need you, babe. #
Blackpool Mecca DJ Ian Levine was now frequently travelling
to New York, fascinated by its blossoming disco scene.
The heat and the atmosphere reminded me
of the early days of Northern Soul.
Everybody was into the music and it really hit me like a bullet
and it influenced me forever, so, of course, coming back from that,
I started to get more discofied at the Mecca.
They began to play the more up-tempo disco records that were
starting to be made in New York.
Now these records, in a lot of ways,
were harking back to the golden era of Tamla Motown in the mid-1960s.
They had the horns, they had the strings,
they had the lush production that Northern Soul fans loved.
Ian's view was initially to merge the two
and take it to what he saw as being the logical
progression of Northern Soul, which was just great dance music
and that didn't sit well with a lot of guys from some of these small
northern towns that didn't want to know what was
going on in New York or Philly or Chicago.
They were more interested in what happened there in the '60s.
Over at the Wigan Casino,
they also weren't that thrilled about Ian Levine's new disco
direction and decided to stick to tradition,
playing obscure up-tempo 1960's soul records.
But with rarities from that era now drying up, the Wigan Casino
would increasingly play anything with a Northern Soul beat.
At Wigan, a general... I would call it a dumbing-down, where the
beat almost became more important than the actual piece of work
itself, so if it had that right on-the-fours, shall we say,
beat, it would get played and certain people weren't too
concerned about was it even a soul record?
You'll always get some people who were saying why on earth were
certain records played?
One record called Joe 90,
and a version of Tony Blackburn's I'll Do Anything.
It was just a fact that if a DJ played them and you get a very
good reaction to it, you know, you'd probably still keep playing it.
Russ was quite happy to play records that may have been white pop,
some abominable records got played.
Records that I was very vociferously slagging off at the time.
Pissing Ross off no end.
He didn't like the fact I was criticising his music
so it got a bit fractious.
The Tony Blackburn record that was getting spins at the Wigan Casino
had originally been recorded by Tony back in 1968.
He had then completely forgotten about it for years.
I was doing a Radio 1 show
and I got this phone call from somebody in the North saying,
"Do you realise that you've got a big Northern Soul hit?"
And I said, "What's it called?"
They said, "I'll Do Anything." I remember saying, "It's awful!
"It's absolutely appalling!"
It was one of the worst records I've ever made.
What had happened was that somebody got hold of a white label,
which was a demo album,
and they made it into a single under the name of Lenny Gamble.
They didn't want to make it under the name of Tony Blackburn, which
would have been a complete disaster, and I said, "Well, these people...
"People in the North in these clubs don't know it's me."
They said, "No." And they said it was selling like hotcakes.
Well, I went there, into the Wigan Casino,
and I mimed to the record, and I got a fantastic reaction.
And then when I finished doing the song, all these people come up
and wanted me to sign my autograph, so I signed Tony Blackburn.
And I remember one person saying,
"Would you mind signing Lenny Gamble?" And I wasn't aware
whether or not they knew it was me or not, Tony Blackburn,
so I asked one of them, I said, "Of course I'll put Lenny Gamble,"
and I said, "You do know it's me, do you, Tony Blackburn?"
He said, "Yes, yes, Lenny."
As Blackpool Mecca embraced disco
and the Wigan Casino played more
and more watered-down 1960s soul stompers, the hostilities
between these two citadels of Northern soul reached a climax.
When it got ugly was that on a Sunday,
we were all on at the Ritz in Manchester.
The Wigan crowd were all there for Richard and everybody
and they couldn't stand the music I was playing and they threw things
and people got into fights,
and the Mecca crowd couldn't stand the Wigan stompers. "Get off!
"We want Levine on!"
And they were saying "Get off, Levine,
"we want Richard on," and then it became all-out war.
Certainly there was a lot of real passion
and anger, I suppose, even.
They talk about the north/south split. This was a north/north split.
People at Wigan had "Levine must go" badges,
"Levine must go" banners, "Levine must go" t-shirts,
that's the worst thing,
they actually had "Levine must go" t-shirts and it was like football
fans, it was like Manchester City and Manchester United.
Very nasty, very, very ugly, and I'd had enough in the end.
As the Northern soul scene unravelled,
the drugs were also taking their toll.
We lost a couple of our Edinburgh friends through the drugs.
In the space of a year it was probably, you know,
maybe seven or eight.
And they were all teenagers or just turning 20 or something.
And we were young and it was heartbreaking, it really was.
If there's one bad word said about Northern Soul
then it would be the drug scene.
By the end of the 1970s, the focus on rarity that had made
the Northern Soul scene so special had gone.
All the purists hated me
because they blamed me for changing the sound.
They still wanted to hear '60's stompers.
I think I went too far.
The more they hated me,
and the more they dragged on their "Levine must go" campaign,
the more determined I was to go in the opposite direction,
so we ended up playing Sylvester - You Make Me Feel Mighty Real
and records like that and even some Donna Summer at Blackpool Mecca,
which I think was wrong. I think it was too commercial.
I think, by the time we finished, we were playing records that any
youth club could play and there was no elitism any more.
Ian Levine eventually decided to quit the scene.
I left the Mecca in July of '79 and that was it.
I made that horrible statement, "Northern Soul is dead, it's gone."
Which was not true, but sometimes anger and despair and just,
just an insufferable wall of pain forces you into something you
just can't stand any more. It was horrible.
Just two years later, the Wigan Casino was forced to
close down to make way for a planned civic centre extension.
I think we can draw a line after Wigan
and say that that was the end of the glory years of Northern Soul.
A lot of people decided that, really, do you know what?
That's it, for me.
There'll never be anything as good as Wigan
so they didn't want to go to a second best alternative.
It did feel like there was the end of something very special.
That last night was just absolutely horrible,
because you thought that was it, you would not see these wonderful
people, these new friends on a regular basis any more.
The last three records at the end of the night, I played them,
and then everybody just clapped and wouldn't stop clapping.
I played them again, and they're, "No, no, no, no,"
shouting and clapping, they didn't want to go.
Played them for the third time, and then I'm in tears on stage.
A lot of people were as well.
Couldn't stay any longer, I got so upset.
Hopped in the car and just drove up to a place, Rimmington near Wigan,
and just looking over the countryside there broke me heart.
# Sometimes I feel I've got to
# Run away
# I've got to
# Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me
# The love we share seems to go nowhere. #
Northern soul went underground again in the 1980s, but it was
already providing the source material for huge global pop hits.
# I toss and turn I can't sleep at night. #
We were looking for a cover version to put in the set,
and at the time, electronic bands, it was the thing to be very cool
and very kind of, you know, very sort of um,
everything was bleak
and everything was like this cool, this cold, sort of northern, robotic
thing and Dave Ball suggested to me,
"What about doing a Northern Soul song?
"What about this song, Tainted Love?"
Well, immediately I loved the title, because I thought that was what
Soft Cell was all about - tainted and love, these two words together.
Something about the song just hooked me in.
Tainted Love brought Northern Soul over to a more mainstream audience.
# Touch me baby tainted love
# Tainted love. #
DANCE MUSIC PLAYS
Northern Soul was also influencing British club culture of the 1980s.
Northern Soul was effectively a template for what
happened in 1988 with the acid house explosion.
It was basically loads of working class kids
dancing in basements to black American music, hopped up on pills.
These events would take place on an ad-hoc basis.
There was a word of mouth underground.
The linkage between drugs, the need to stay up late,
the fast music, the obscurity of it all.
There was an edginess to Northern Soul in the same
way that there was with acid house. There were
so many people that had progressed from the Northern soul scene
onto the early house scene that the parallels are just really
# It might seem crazy what I'm 'bout to say
# Sunshine, she's here You can take a break. #
Northern soul today is alive and well.
One of the reasons why it's such an enduring legacy
is that new, younger kids are discovering it.
Elements of Northern Soul are manifesting themselves,
you know, in loads of current pop tracks.
I mean, you only have to listen to Pharrell Williams - Happy.
That's where Northern Soul is today.
There's a direct correlation between that and music of the '60s and '70s.
If you listen to Happy, I mean, that is straight four on the floor,
it's got all those elements
that we wanted for Northern Soul.
Elaine Constantine fell in love with Northern Soul
as a teenager in Lancashire.
Today, she has channelled her passion into a movie set amongst
the anarchic lives of clubbers in the North of England.
They had passions and they were driven
and they were intelligent and they were sharp.
And they lived a full life, you know, they lived life to the max.
# I wrote my baby 'specially
# And told her I'd been... #
Someone watches that film, that's what I want them to get out of it.
You know, that it is a very cool thing.
As well as inspiring contemporary music and movies,
Northern soul is attracting a whole new generation.
Today, the scene is in a very vibrant state.
Younger people coming onto the scene could not have a better
situation because we've sifted out the trash.
There is no Wigan's Ovation.
We've sorted it all out so, you come to one of our venues,
it's the best of The Wheel, the best of Blackpool Mecca.
It's the best of The Torch.
The best of Wigan and the best of today.
I've always said I never want to see it decrepit to the stage
where it's a bunch of 70-year-old men in zimmer frames trying
to dance to the lost values of their youth.
Northern Soul was cool, hip and fresh.
It was smart kids in Ben Shermans and Brute aftershave spinning round
and clapping their hands on the beat and looking sharp and attractive.
That's what it was and thank God there's a whole new crowd,
not just in England but in Japan, and in Sweden and Austria,
all over the world.
There's even Northern Soul nights in San Francisco. It's fantastic.
It's fresh, it's young, it's vibrant and it needs today's kids to
re-establish it again and take it into the future.
MUSIC: "Be Young, Be Free, Be Happy" by The Tams
The northern soul phenomenon was the most exciting underground British club movement of the 70s. At its high point, thousands of disenchanted white working class youths across the north of England danced to obscure, mid-60s Motown-inspired sounds until the sun rose. A dynamic culture of fashions, dance moves, vinyl obsession and much more grew up around this - all fuelled by the love of rare black American soul music with an express-train beat.
Through vivid first-hand accounts and rare archive footage, this film charts northern soul's dramatic rise, fall and rebirth. It reveals the scene's roots in the mod culture of the 60s and how key clubs like Manchester's Twisted Wheel and Sheffield's Mojo helped create the prototype that would blossom in the next decade.
By the early 70s a new generation of youngsters in the north were transforming the old ballrooms and dancehalls of their parents' generation into citadels of the northern soul experience, creating a genuine alternative to mainstream British pop culture. This was decades before the internet, when people had to travel great distances to enjoy the music they felt so passionate about.
Set against a rich cultural and social backdrop, the film shows how the euphoria and release that northern soul gave these clubbers provided an escape from the bleak reality of their daily lives during the turbulent 70s. After thriving in almost total isolation from the rest of the UK, northern soul was commercialised and broke nationwide in the second half of the 70s. But just as this happened, the once-healthy rivalry between the clubs in the north fell apart amidst bitter in-fighting over the direction the scene should go.
Today, northern soul is more popular than ever, but it was back in the 70s that one of the most fascinating and unique British club cultures rose to glory. Contributors include key northern soul DJs like Richard Searling, Ian Levine, Colin Curtis and Kev Roberts alongside Lisa Stansfield, Norman Jay, Pete Waterman, Marc Almond, Peter Stringfellow and others.