The term Northern Soul was first phrased by soul enthusiast, collector and journalist Dave Godin. It was termed ‘Northern’ in order to differentiate the style of soul music enjoyed by teenagers in the (mainly) north west of England from that being played in the night clubs of London and the south.
Northern Soul was initially based around the sounds emanating from the American studios of Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic recording companies. But as interest in and demand for the music grew there began a thirst from UK Northern Soul fans for more and more newer and different sounds from the many soul artists trying to emulate and gain the fame and fortune of the stars of Motown.
DJs, collectors and dealers from the UK started to visit the States to scour shops and record warehouses for the records that had the ‘Northern sound’ and brought them back to this country. These, many obscure and rare, records were played by Northern DJs, starting a feeding frenzy of teenagers wanting to own the obscure sounds they had heard and danced to on Saturday nights. Records started changing hands for serious amounts of money. Many teenagers would part with £10 (their week’s wages in many cases) to own a particular record.
This trend of paying much higher than face value sums of money continues today, with a current highest value of £15,000 being paid to secure a copy, (one of only two known to exist), of Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I love you, indeed I do’ classic record on the America ‘Soul’ label.
The birthplace of the ‘scene’ arguably started in 1963 at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and as the popularity of the music grew, mainly through youth clubs across the north west, more and more Northern Soul venues opened.
The most famous of all Northern Soul venues is the Wigan Casino, first opening its doors in 1973 and, in its heyday, having some 100,000 members. Teenagers from the whole of the UK used to make a weekly ‘pilgrimage’ to Wigan to attend its weekly all-nighters. The Northern Soul fan’s preparedness to travel huge distance to hear their favourite music has continued to the present day. Wigan Casino closed its doors for the final time in December 1981, the derelict premises later destroyed by fire.
Other soul venues of high reputation during the prime of the Northern Soul scene in the 1970s included the Blackpool Mecca, The Torch at Stoke on Trent, Catacombs in Wolverhampton and Whitchurch Civic Centre - to name but a small few.
As the 1980s progressed many of the teenage Northern Soul fans got married and had children; priorities changed for many and the Northern Soul scene went into decline. It was kept going by a small, but dedicated number of collectors, DJs and very committed fans, but clearly the number of venues fell away substantially.
However as the 1990s progressed the scene began ‘reappearing from the shadows’ as erstwhile fans saw their children growing up and thus having more of their own leisure time available. There was a steady ‘return’ to their first love in music and the Northern Soul scene has experienced a burgeoning and continuing renaissance to the present day. As the millennium came and passed hundreds of Northern Soul venues opened across the country (including a number of high profile venues in London) with attendances each weekend probably now exceeding those of the 1970s. Whilst still very much an underground movement, (i.e. it relies on no external support or publicity from the general British music press or industry) its numbers of fans are in the hundreds of thousands.
Unfortunately very few young people are interested in the scene (despite it being very friendly and welcoming to anyone who wishes to get involved) and many of its original fans are now into their 40s, 50s and some in their 60s. How long the Northern scene will last is up for debate – but at the moment it continues to thrive and develop.
In June 1999 we opened a monthly Northern Soul night at the Broughton Wings Club and the club has gone from strength to strength with a regular attendance approaching 200. The DJ mix is an important feature and we have the services of two resident DJs – Brian Ellis and Soul Sam, with each month seeing a visit by a ‘national name’ DJ and one of six North Wales-based DJs on a rota basis.