Northern Soul, that's just Motown ain't it?
The amount of times that has been said to me over the last few years is bordering on the ridiculous. It’s got to the point now where I don’t even bother to answer. So what is it all about then? The origins can be traced back to the Twisted Wheel nightclub in Manchester where pilled-up Mods danced to up-beat Soul music. Their voracious appetite for fast paced unknown Soul tunes grew and before long other clubs were hosting all-nighters. The term ‘Northern Soul’ came from the record shop Soul City in Covent Garden, London, which was run by the Blues and Soul journalist Dave Godin. He first publicly used in his weekly column in the magazine in June 1970. Godin said he had come up with the term in 1968, to help employees at Soul City differentiate the more modern funkier sounds from the smoother, Motown-influenced soul of a few years earlier that the Northern football fans were looking for whilst on away days and in the record shop.
Over the next few years super clubs would emerge; The Torch in Stoke, Wigan Casino, Blackpool Mecca and Cleethorpes Pier to name just a few. Each club brought new DJ’s and each DJ brought new music. Names like Ian Levine, Russ Winstanley, Colin Curtis, Richard Searling and Ian Dewhirst became household names. Some fell into obscurity but others carried on flying the flag for Northern Soul. Ian Levine went on to produce Take That in their early career, as well as bringing old singers back into the limelight like Rose Baptiste, The Exciters and Barbara Pennington. Every DJ wanted to break a new record and this meant scouting warehouses in America. Some huge records were found in dusty old warehouses and the acts careers resurrected in spectacular fashion. The Tams ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ is a great example of a song hitting the charts years after it was first released.
You have probably heard more Northern Soul tunes over the last few years than you realise. Adverts are using them, pop-stars are re-working them even mainstream radio shows are now playing them as part of their daily schedule. Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ was originally sung by Marc Bolans wife Gloria Jones. Kylie Minogue’s ‘Time Will Pass You By’ was by Tobi Legend and was one of the famous Three Before Eight played at the close of Wigan Casino. Yazz’s song ‘The Only Way Is Up’ was originally by Otis Clay. The list could go on and on. Songs have been used in adverts for KFC, Sheba cat food and The Happy Egg Company. Shredded Wheat had a whole advert based around Northern Soul. The KFC adverts even spawned a double CD of tunes featured in their adverts.
But why is it that this underground musical cult has kept going so many years later? To be honest there is no easy answer to that. The only way to find out is to listen to it. Northern Soul grabs you and takes you on a journey like no other music can. Listen to Eddie Holman singing ‘’Hurt’, The Spinners ‘Truly Yours’ or Chris Clark amazing ‘Loves Gone Bad’ and feel the raw emotion coming from every word. Almost every song exudes passion, angst and fills you with a warm glow. Every weekend up and down the country there are Northern all-nighters. To me it’s one of the only dances where the male dancer is more graceful than his female counterpart. He’ll spin, kick, execute a backdrop and clap with all the elegance of a male ballerina. Don’t get me wrong, I know some women who are amazing dancers but it’s the men who just have it. The sight of a full dance floor in full motion, all in their own world, is like no other. If you’ve never experienced it, try it out. You don’t have to be a top dancer, I know I’m not.
So the next time someone says Northern Soul is just Motown tell them to wind their neck in.
Article by Nic Dunnaway.
Be sure to keep up to date with Nic on his weekly radio show A Casual Affair.
He also has a regular slot over at Bognor Regis Radio.