Saturday, 2 April 2011

Manchester's Northern Soul

Northern Soul is a music and dance movement that emerged from the British Mod scene in Northern England in the late 1960's. It is based on certain styles of black American soul music with an up-tempo beat from cities like Detroit and Chicago although not the more mainstream Motown or Motown-influenced music.

The phrase 'Northern Soul' was thought up by journalist Dave Godin sometime in 1968 as a shorthand sales term that helped employees at his London based Soul City shop to sell to the northern football fans who came to buy records in his shop while they were in London following their teams after he noticed that they weren't interested in the latest developments in the Black American chart, in an interview in 2002 he told them that it was just to say 'if you've got customers from the north, don't waste time playing them records currently in the U.S. black chart, just play them what they like - 'Northern Soul'. It was also used to differentiate between the music played in the Southern and Northern Soul clubs of England.

The first Northern Soul club to define the Northern Soul sound was the Twisted Wheel club in Manchester which began in the early 1950's as a beatnik coffee bar called the Left Wing, in 1963 however the run-down premises were leased by two Manchester businessmen and turned into a night club which went on to become the focus of Manchester's emerging mod scene in the mid 1960's with an eclectic taste in soul and jazz and featuring live performances by British Beat musicians and American R&B stars. Eventually the music policy shifted towards fast paced soul in response to the demands of the growing crowds of amphetamine fuelled dancers who flocked to the clubs all nighters. By 1969 soul fans were travelling from all over the UK to attend the clubs Saturday all nighters, eventually though the club gained a reputation as a drug haven and closed in January 1971 under pressure from the police.

By this time the popularity of the music and lifestyle associated with the club had spread further across the North and Midlands of England and by the mid to late 1970's Northern Soul had reached the peak of its popularity and there were soul clubs in virtually every major town in the midlands and North of England the three venues regarded as the most important in this decade were the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke, Blackpool Mecca and Wigan Casino.

When Wigan Casino closed in 1981, many people believed that the northern soul scene was on the verge of disintegrating. However, the mod revival in the 1970's and the thriving scooterboy subculture and Acid jazz movement produced a new wave of fans and the 1980's featured almost 100 new venues in places as diverse as Bradford, London, Peterborough, Leighton Buzzard, Whitchurch, Coventry and Leicester.

Today Northern Soul lives on in various parts of the UK such as The Nightshift Club all-nighters at the Bisley Pavilion in Surrey and the Prestatyn Weekender in North Wales which hold regular Northern Soul events. Many of those who ceased their involvement in the late 1970s have now returned to the scene and regularly participate in such events. Manchester still remains at the heart of Northern soul with the re-opening of the Twisted Wheel in July 2000 in its original venue (in whitworth street, Manchester) where they hold regular soul all-nighters and these combined with the Beat Boutique northern soul all-nighters at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester ensure that Manchester remains at the heart of Northern Soul.

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