Northern Soul Takes the North West by Storm

by | Apr 27, 2018 | 1970s, Music

iNostalgia remembers a music phenomenon that took the North West by storm in the late 1970s – Northern Soul

It’s odd to think that Northern Soul probably got its name from a record shop in London’s Covent Garden.

Journalist Dave Godin coined the term to cater for northern football fans who came into his shop Soul City on match days.

They weren’t looking for the latest, trendiest singles in the black American chart, but rather the smooth, Motown-influenced soul of the mid-1960s.

Godin told his staff: ‘Don’t waste time playing them records in the US chart, just play them what they like – Northern Soul.’

And so the name stuck – right through Northern Soul’s heyday from early gigs at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel nightclub to the famous all-nighters at Wigan Casino.

northern soul

Northern Soul dancers at Wigan Casino, February 1975

Northern Soul emerged from the British Mod scene in the late 1960s. It was based on a particular style of black American soul music with a distinctive heavy beat and fast tempo.

Devotees preferred lesser known artists and bands, placing the highest value on limited-number recordings and smaller American labels. The mainstream commercial success of Motown was largely ignored.

As the popularity of Northern Soul grew, it brought its own dance styles and fashions. Baggy trousers and brogues along with energetic spins and turns soon graced the Wigan Casino dance-floor.

Northern Soul in its early days was strongly associated with the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. It started life as a coffee bar called The Left Wing in the early 1950s but gained a new lease of life when Manchester businessmen Phil and Ivor Abadi leased it in 1963.

They quickly turned the coffee bar into a music venue, hosting live music at the weekends and Disc Only nights during the week.

All-night parties started on Saturdays in September 1963. The mixture of live and recorded music included imported American soul, jazz and rhythm and blues.

Club DJ Roger Eagle built up a large following for his wide playlist, but the club’s taste gradually shifted towards more fast-paced soul to suit the growing crowds of dancers.

Eagle left the club in 1966. Two years later, the Twisted Wheel was attracting fans from all over the UK as the owners recruited new specialist soul DJs. These included Alan ‘Ollie’ Ollerton, Brian Rae and Paul Davis.

By the time The Twisted Wheel closed in January 1971, the popularity of Norther Soul had spread across the North and Midlands.

All-nighters sprang up at venues like Room at the Top in Wigan, Va Va’s in Bolton and King Mojo in Sheffield.

Northern Soul reached its peak towards the late 1970s when three venues ruled the roost – the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Blackpool Mecca and, of course, Wigan Casino.

Formerly known as the Empress Ballroom, Wigan Casino held its first all-nighter on Sunday September 23rd 1973. Local DJ Russ Winstanley was on the decks, soon joined by Ian Fishwick, Kev Roberts and Richard Searling.

DJ Russ Winstanley

DJ Russ Winstanley with the single Footsee by the Chosen Few, February 1975

As the dancers sported sew-on badges on their sports vests and Oxford trousers, Winstanley and his fellow DJs played a mixture of American soul, R&B, carefully selected Motown and jazz.

Wigan Casino

A dancer takes to the air at Wigan Casino, February 1975

Favourite tracks included Tainted Love by Gloria Jones, later made popular by Soft Cell, and songs from Jackie Wilson and Jimmy Radcliffe.

Gloria Jones and Marc Bolan

Soul artist Gloria Jones with her partner Marc Bolan, January 1976

There were even a few homegrown products. Our photo from 1975 shows Russ Winstanley with a copy of the remix single Footsee, originally released in 1968 by Canadian band The Chosen Few. It enjoyed an 11-week run in the UK charts.

The Wigan all-nighters always finished at 8.00am with three songs that became known as the 3 before 8. They were Tobi Legend’s Time Will Pass You By, Jimmy Radcliffe’s Long After Tonight Is Over and I’m on My Way by Dean Parrish.

Wigan Casino held its last all-nighter on December 6th 1981. The final song was the Northern Soul classic Do I Love You (Indeed I do) by Frank Wilson.

Annual reunions are still held in Wigan by the original DJs.

Northern Soul heavily influenced the domestic disco hit Kung Fu Fighting by singer Carl Douglas in 1974 and singer John Newman’s No. 1 hit Love Me Again.

Carl Douglas, whose single Kung Fu Fighting was influenced by Northern Soul, August 1977

John Newman

Singer John Newman was influenced by Northern Soul, April 2014

The 2010 film Soulboy, starring Felicity Jones and Martin Compston, sets a love story against the backdrop of all-nighters at the Wigan Casino.

Felicity Jones

Actress Felicity Jones who appeared in the Northern Soul film Soulboy, January 2012

Martin Compston

Actor Martin Compston from the Northern Soul film Soulboy, June 2015

Finally, Manchester DJ Terry Christian summed up the legacy of Northern Soul when he wrote: ‘There’s always been an instant credibility for any artist or brand associated with a scene has always been wild, free and grassroots.’

 Terry Christian

Manchester DJ Terry Christian, January 2009

That was, and is, Northern Soul.

Many more memorable pictures of the past can be found in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Manchester in the 1970s.

Clive’s two companion books, Around Manchester in the 1950s and 1960s, are on sale at the special reduced price too!