Keeping the faith: a brief history of Northern Soul

As part of this year’s Guy Garvey curated Meltdown festival, Manchester Northern Soul night Different Strokes will be setting up shop on Friday the 17th June for a one off night of 60s and 70s Soul classics in the Royal Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all got a hazy image of cartwheels and the Motown sound, what follows is a brief history of Northern Soul and why you should be excited about the chance to keep the faith at the Southbank centre this summer.

The story of Northern Soul starts, rather bizarrely, in Covent Garden, at a shop called Soul City. Owner and journalist Dave Godin coined the term to refer to the smoother, Motown influenced sound that customers from the North of England were interested in buying, as opposed to the funkier and more modern Soul being released at the time. This interest in Motown influenced styles was originally concentrated at the now famous all-nighter events at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, which imported large quantities of obscure Soul records from the USA and played them from 11pm on Saturday night through to 7am on Sunday morning to an ever growing crowd of enthusiasts from across the North of England and the Midlands.

Whilst the Twisted Wheel shut in 1971, other clubs stepped in to take its place, including the Golden Torch in Stoke, Blackpool Mecca and Wigan Casino, ensuring that the legions of Northern Soul fans weren’t left out in the cold with nothing to do come the weekend. Wigan Casino was the largest of the Northern Soul venues in the mid-1970s, but was forced to play more and more songs that weren’t considered Northern Soul by purists as the supply of obscure records that were actually any good dried up, leading many to fear the death of the movement was imminent.

Thankfully however they were proven wrong, and whilst the Wigan Casino closed in 1981 Northern Soul refused to die, and there are regular reunions and all-nighters across the North of England, although it still never really managed to penetrate into the South of the country, leaving Guy Garvey to give it the final nudge into London so that us Southerners can finally find out what we’ve been missing. So if you like having fun, are open to a bit of classic American Soul that you might not have heard before, and don’t mind dodging the occasional cartwheeling Northerner, the Different Strokes night might just be for you.

For examples of the kind of music that will be played, check out a few of these Northern Soul staples:

Frank Wilson: Do I Love You (Indeed I do)

This was the last track ever played at The Wigan Casino, and is so rare that a copy sold for over £25,000 in 2009.

Dobie Gray: Out On The Floor

This 1966 recording became a UK hit in 1975 and was ranked the 2nd most popular Northern Soul track by DJ Kev Roberts.

Yvonne Baker: You Didn’t Say A Word

And finally the best James Bond Theme that never was, recorded by Yvonne Baker, former member of Doo-Wop group The Sensations.

Originally published on the Southbank Centre blog as part of the Meltdown Festival Young Journalists scheme.


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