Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Northern Soul

Northern Soul refers to music and dance styles popular in the dancehalls of northern England from the late 1960s. In the beginning, the dancing was athletic, featuring spins, flips, and drops. The music consisted of obscure American soul recordings with a fast beat, very similar to Tamla Motown and rare labels (for example Okeh) along with a several blue beat records. Much of Northern Soul music was recorded in the northern states of the US, although music from the South is not excluded, neither is music that is not strictly "soul". By 1970, UK artists were recording tunes for this market, and the rarity of soul records with the required rhythm led to the playing of stompers, tunes by any artist that featured the right beat. The term 'Northern Soul' was coined by journalist Dave Godin after visiting the Twisted Wheel Club around 1970 for his column in Blues and Soul magazine.

A large proportion of Northern Soul's original crowd came from the mod movement, with their passion for soul music. As some mods turned moved away from these sounds to embrace the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s, many mods - especially those in northern England - chose to stick to the original soundtrack of soul and ska. Some became what would eventually be known as skinheads, and others went on to form the core of the Northern Soul scene.

Early Northern Soul fashion included US bowling shirts, button-down Ben Sherman shirts, blazers with centre vents and many buttons, Poly-velt shoes, baggy trousers or shrink to fit Levis. Many dancers wore club badges.

The first venue that effectively defined the Northern Soul sound was theTwisted Wheel Club in Manchester. Other early clubs included the Golden Torch in Stoke, the Casino Club in Wigan, Blackpool Mecca, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton, North Park in Kettering, The Mojo and KGB clubs in Sheffield, the Winter Gardens in Cleethorpes (still hosting Northern Soul events today), and Va Va's (where Richard Searling used to DJ).

Northern Soul is possibly the most expensive of musical genres to collect. Hundreds of 7" vinyl records have broken the £1,000 ($2,000) barrier. Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You" sold recently for £15,000 ($30,000). The cost of many records has risen due to rarity, quality of beat, melody and lyrics (often expressing heartache, pain or joy related to romantic love). In recent years, many Northern Soul fans went on to add to their collections and accepted the richer and more complex Modern soul sound in the early-1970s and beyond (eg. Garfield Fleming's "Please Don't Send Me Away").

Many Northern Soul artists sought fame without all of the necessary ingredients in place. Small town low-budget independent labels couldn't provide the necessary promotion and radio play. Many artists went back to their day jobs, considering themselves failures, their records vanishing into obscurity, until they were discovered by the Northern Soul scene. Tunes by the Fascinations and the Velvelettes that were unsuccessful in the the 60’s became top 40 UK hits in the 70’s. The Fascinations made number 30 with "Girls Are Out to Get you" and the Velvelettes made number 35 with "These Things Will Keep Me Loving You."

Some artistes have toured the UK to perform their golden oldies at all-nighters, often many years after the original releases. In the 21st century, rare 1960s soul sounds are still being discovered by devotees, and Northern Soul is going strong right around the world, with strong scenes in Germany and Australia to name but a few places.

written by Peteunea Platter of

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