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 Neil Rushton charts the growth of the scene
which proved that soul DOES thrive north of Watford.
NORTHERN SOUL hit B-I-G in '75. For the first time there was splash coverage from the top press, a flurry of releases - many of them mediocore - from the London-based record industry and even the Beeb jumped on the bandwagon with a special edition of Radio One's "Insight" programme devoted to the scene.
That beatin' rhythm even hit the telly - although the sight of Wigan's Ovation merrily murdering the Invitations classic "Skiing in the snow" was enough to make ancient Northern devotees drop dead in the middle of a backdrop.
As one old-timer told me this week; "Christ, when I started going to clubs like the Twisted Wheel ( in Manchester ) in the Sixties it was a really small grass roots movement. It was all part of the mod thing. Everyone used to know each other and we were all really into the music. If someone had told me then what the scene would be like today, I'd have sent him off to the loony bin. It's sickening to see the way the music has been exploited."
Clubs like the Wheel kept the soul fires burning in the Sixties after Southern club owners had given the sound of Black America the boot in favour of flower power and heavy rock. Not that you could blame the Southern clubs - the at - one - time - so refreshing dance beat of Tamla Motown, Atlantic and Stax had got TOO predictable.
But while the London-based business forgot about soul ( with honourable exceptions like Dave Godin's Soul City shop in the West End ) the rare soul discos at clubs like the Wheel, the Catacombs in Wolverhampton and the Chateau in Worcester got more popular. Disc-jockeys like Birmingham based Carl Dene - who played at the imensley popular Sunday afternoon sessions at the Chateau - found they had to constantly go to greater lengths to satisfy the dancers. "One day I got a letter from a guy in ****** who had a copy of Tony Clarke's 'The Entertainer' and I drove up there right away in case anyone else got it. But it was worth it - I got the record." remembered Carl.
Satisfying the dancers WAS a problem. Spinners soon exhausted the Motown catalouge and started looking for UK released items with that uptempo beat that hadn't done a thing first time around. Records like "There's nothing else to say" - The Incredibles ( Stateside ), "Dr.Love" - Bobby Sheen ( Capitol Disco '66 ), "Ready,willing and able" - Jimmy Holiday & Clydie King ( Liberty ) and "Here she comes" - The Tymes ( Cameo Parkway ) became sought after collectors' items and changed hands for £5 a throw. At the same time, enterprising dealers got hip to the cash potential from this underground movement and started importing esoretic US releases.
Clubs like the Wheel were suddenly getting a lot of attention . . . . and Northern Soul was ready to start going overground . . . . But the Seventies started badly - with the closure of the Wheel. Manchester drugs squad were getting increasingly interested in the amphetamine pushers and takers among the mainly "straight" Wheel crowd. After a series of spectacular and headline making raids, the club just had to shut.
At the time, it seemed like a death blow. Other clubs tried to take the Wheel's place but found it hard to get established. Then came the Torch . . . . .
Promoter Chris Burton explained; "We'd been running soul sessions at the Torch - a converted cinema at Tunstall, near Stoke - since 1968. The crowd kept asking me to try All-Nighters but I wasn't too keen. Anyway, I decided to have a go."
The first All-Nighter - on Saturday, April 14, 1973 - attracted a near thousand crowd from all over the country despite little advertising. Encouraged, Chris started running them once-a-month, then once a fortnight and eventually every Saturday. "It was a great time," Chris told BLACK ECHOES. "Really it was the kids' own scene. They knew what music they wanted and created their own magic."
Top-line artists like The Stylistics and Junior Walker appeared before the most knowledgeable soul crowd in Britain . . . . but the real crowd puller was Chicago soulster Major Lance. "He put us on the map and made people realise we were there. I don't think anyone in the industry could believe what we were achieving."
Contempo Records cut a live LP of Major at the Torch and it's still selling steadily. The record industry had at last cottoned on to what was happening north of Watford and was spotting gold in them Northern hills. "I suppose the industry had to sit up and take notice of us," admits Chris. "Personally, though, I don't think we had that much influence on the business - I'd say it was Wigan Casino that has done that."
When the Torch closed after 16 months of All-Nighters ( and a protracted battle with the drugs sqad that was eventually lost in the court room ) it seemed like nothing could ever emulate it. By the time it closed, Chris Burton's International Soul Club had 33,000 members. The market was huge - and DJ's like Tony Jebb and Alan Day were spinning an incredible variety of stomp-stomp dancers.
Other venues - like Bolton's Va-Va's and the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca - filled the gap. But what was really needed was another big All-Nighter venue.
Enterprising disc-jockey Russ Winstanley convinced the management at Wigan's Casino club that an All-Nighter would be a success.
The first one was in Autumn '73 - and there's been one every week since. The club now claims a membership of 70,000 pluss, and manager Mike Walker proudly boasts that the club attracts soul fanatics from all over Europe.
One contraversal thing about the club has been the link with Northern copyists Wigan's Ovation with whom Mike Walker has a financial link. As one fan told me in the packed Wigan bar as scores of sweat-stained dancers took time off to plough through record boxes full of rare goodies for sale; "Trouble is, people who don't know anything about the Northern scene will think groups like that are what we like." "In fact, if they ever appeared here we'd throw things at them. We're into soul - not pop rubbish like that."
Just what Mike Walke's views are on the subject is unknown. When BLACK ECHOES checked Wigan out recently he was "unavailable" for an interview.
The growing Northern following has resulted in specialist Northern nights springing up all over the country - but quantity is no substitute for quality, is it ?
Cleethorpes. TOP NORTHERN venue on the East Coast is at Cleethorpes Pier where the Lincolnshire Soul Club run fortnightly All-Nighters. Cleethorpes has proved so successful that Wigan Casino recently tried to get in on the act by promoting a rival All-Nighter at the nearby Winter Gardens - but after four flops, Casino boss Mike Walker dropped out.
Says Mary Chapman, the only woman running a Northern club; "Our members - we've got 2,000 in the new membership book - all stood by us. Their loyalty was quite staggeringand very heartwarming." Mary reckons the main problem at Cleethorpes is the growing gap between followers of the old traditional Northern-style sound and the new wave of funkier sounds that are getting spins. "It's impossible to keep everyone happy all the time - I like the new funky items but there is a danger of Northern Soul losing it's true identity." The club will be holding a gala first anniversary All-Nighter on February 21.
The five favorite sounds for the discerning Cleethorpes crowd are : -
1. "Right on" - Al De Lory ( Capitol )
2. "I can see him loving you" - Anderson Brothers ( G.S.F. )
3. "I don't know what foot to dance on" - Kim Toliver ( Castro )
4. "Seven day lover" - James Fountain ( Peachtree )
5."Out of my mind" - Rain ( Bell ).


Square dealing with the faith. c/o Pen & Paper ( edited by Dave Godin )
  "During the past year I have had the pleasure to share and enjoy Soul music in the company of many young people from all over Britain. When the doors open at our venues and everyone pours in - there's no doubt that Soul was made for sharing. How sad though that between one event and the next, those feelings get so trampled on until they remain just a faint glimmer of hope. In the course of presenting our All-Nighters at Cleethorpes, I've come acrosss so much ill feeling outside the actual event that the very word "Soul" becomes tarnished. The political manipulation indulged by individuals in order to gain prominence, money etc., at the expence of others makes me wonder if I wouldn't be off out on the dance floor with the happy throng of dancers. At least they know the meaning of the word "Soul". Recently it has become all too clear that jealousy, spite and greed are rapidly transforming the "Northern Scene" into a rat race that will eventually kill it. Our "scene" is so often at the mercy of owners of venues and promoters whose selfish concern for wealth and position leads to unscrupulous deals which result in "ripoffs" to the tune of literally thousands of pounds, and yet when an opportunity to set the record straight arises, our "wandering jounalist" Frank Elson prints all the "facts" without even bothering to check whether they are true or not. I would like to see the "contract" he says I had with The Winter Gardens, and if the manager, Mr.Galloway, had been honest he would have admitted that the Hull Drug Squad were showing more than usual interest in the activities of our members. Obviously he puts money before any other consideration and doesn't care how many innocent young people might well spend an unpleasent night at the local police H.Q. whilst they hunt for the guilty. Perhaps not, but then his friendly welcome to The Winter Gardens extends no further than his pocket so far as Soul is concerned. When we originally asked to hold All-Nighters there, early last year, he thought our members would "lower the tone of the place" and refused our idea. Thank goodness that the local Council have a more healthy respect for the youth of today. Not two days after our first successful All-Nighters at The Pier, Mr.Galloway begged us to go back to the Gardens. Strange how the very sniff of money makes all the difference. Odd too that with the invasion of Wigan Casino, came a sudden 50% rise in our hire fee for the Pier, and an ultimation of "everyweek" or nothing. Coincidence maybe, but then it seems that the price of success is paid in terms of sleepless nights if you've got any feelings at all. As easy as it may be to remain neutral, when the chips are down you've got no choice but to fight for survival. I wonder if competition from the forthcoming new Soul journal BLACK ECHOES will drag Frank off his precarious fence? Will his view be so bland and neutral when his own going gets rough? Competition is only fair when the rules are clean, and I can fight with the best for what I believe. However, my efforts to create a good scene where the right values count could well be shattered unless I am prepared to join the uncaring band of profiteers. I'll gladly queue up with the reat and pay my admission fee to enjoy Soul music rather than sell-out on the two things that make it all worthwhile - the music, and those who pay to appreciate it. Frank seems to do neither, but I think they deserve a better deal. Keeping the faith."
Mary Chapman. Lincolnshire Soul Club.
Samantha's Sheffield. ONE MAJOR Northern venue that has avoided the limelight and quietly got on with promoting top class All-Nighters is Samantha's at Sheffield. It's run by Mecca but most of the hard work is done by DJ John Vincent - who also plays at Wigan. Regular once-a-month All-Nighters began two years ago and soonestablished themselves. The management decided to put on fortnightly promotions and then this year the move to every Friday was made.
Regular spinners are John and Ian Dewhurst. Guests including Blackpool jock Colin Curtis and Johnny Manship also appear at regular intervals.
"Sammy's" top five sounds are : -
1. "Gonna be a big thing" - Yum Yums ( A.B.C. )
2. "Right on" - Al De Lory ( Capitol )
3. "I don't know what foot to dance on" - Kim Toliver ( Castro)
4. "Pick me up & put me in your pocket" - Jeanette Harper ( 20th Century Fox )
5. "Ton of dynamite" - Frankie 'Loveman' Crocker ( Turbo ).
Blackpool Mecca. SATURDAY NIGHT soul sessions at Blackpool Mecca are as big an attraction to Northern Soul followers as the town's Tower is to their Mums and Dads. DJ's are spinner-turned producer-turned songwriter Ian Levine and the much respected Colin Curtis. Says Colin; "We have a policy of helping the progression of Northern Soul music. We attract good crowds because we don't keep going back into the past and we play good NEW soul releases whenever possible."
He's got no time for cynics who protest that the "new and funky" policy is a sell out to the traditions of the Northern scene. "A lot of the criticism comes from people who have never been to the Mecca - if they come, listen and then criticise us we'll pay attention."
Rare soul started at the Highland Room five years and apart from one break has been going strong since.
      Bernie Golding and Ian Levine
      ( Never Mind the Quality, my boy ! )
  ( photo by Frank Elson at The Carlton 1974 )


  Ian Levine on the mix, '76.

                  photo c/o Black Music.

James Wells: first time around.
   THE LATEST output from the Levine Machine is James Wells, who recently made a lightning trip to London to add some vocals for a new single that will be released through Polydor immediately after Christmas. Presently, James is featured on the B&S chart with "Baby I'm Still The Same Man" - which incidently, has become a prized possesion on Polydor's promotional-only 12" Disco pressing!
Born in Chicago - his present home - on January 19, 1956, James roots are firmly in gospel music and it wasn't until he was well into his teens that he "wanted to venture out" and became involved in R&B. His first experience gained in R&B circles was with his sister as a duo Sue & James. A year later, they were joined by Sue's friend, Shirley King, who is B.B. King's daughter and they dubbed themselves Shirley, James & Sue.
In 1972, they made their initial recordings for Stax Records but the product was never released commercially. In actuality, the trio merely added their vocals to some tracks that producer Henry Bush had in the proverbial can.
In 1974, James flew to Europe to team up with Chicago group, 100% Pure Poison and it was in London that the confrontation actually took place. It was via this meeting that James first met Danny Leake - who was then the foundation stone of the now defunct 100% Pure Poison.
On returning to Chicago, James teamed up with another local group, Fresh Air - which comprised James, Candi Talbert and a back-up band. An album was recorded for Epic Records under the production aegis of Stan Abernathy but again the product was never put on the streets.
It was at this stage that Ian Levine signed James to his ever-growing production unit and "Baby I'm Still The Same Man" was recorded in Chicago with Ian sharing producers credits with arranger Paul David Wilson. The initial success of the single in this country prompted Polydor to fly Jmaes in for the new sessions.
"The tracks were actually recorded for Tony Austin," Ian admits, "but James sings them a lot better than Tony ever could." The three tracks are "Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow", "My Days Are Numbered" and "All I Ever Need Is Music".
How does James feel about his second time across the Atlantic? "I love it here," he enthuses, "because the people are so nice and friendly. And they seem to like my record!"
John Abbey - B&S (1975)


 James Wells -

"Baby I'm Still
    The Same

DJ Frank ( Yorks ). IAN DEWHURST ( stage name Frank ) is Yorkshire's top Northern spinner. A soul fanatic for many years, he has recently hit the limelight - mainly through his work at Cleethorpes - and wrote the liner notes for Pye's recent compilation album "Non Stop Northern Disco Sounds". Ian plays at Burnley Cricket Club every Tuesday, Primos in Leeds every Wednesday, and then on Friday tackles THREE venues - Leeds Central Club, The Star Light at Huddersfield and Sheffield Samantha's. "And then there's Cleethorpes All-Nighters? Something I'm proud to have been involved in." he said.
His top sounds are included in the listings for Cleethorpes and Samantha's.
DJ Dave Evison ( Manchester ). TWENTY-FIVE years old Dave Evison - based at Manchester - specialises in playing "oldies" only.
"I don't bother trying to keep up with new discoveries - I just stick to the music I grew up with. Some people might accuse me of living in the past but if you just forget about all the old Northern favourites it means you might lose your heritage."
Dave works all over the North and Midlands but is most well known for his spots at Wigan Casino. He plays in the Mr.M's - the upstairs room that plays oldies only - and the main dance floor.
"I know that the Wigan crowd want oldies. The incredible thing is that we can revive an old classic and many of the newer jazz fans won't have heard it before. Suddenly it's a real in-demander and fetching a lot of money."
Critics who blast Northern DJ's for cashing in should note that Dave collects just £2 for playing in the main room. "It's nothing. The thing is that if I packed it up there are 50 people who would jump in and take the job for the prestige. Anyway, I'm not in it for the money - I just love and live for the music."


          REAL SOUL EVENT.

Chicago Soul Review  photo by "Scoop" Elson.
Front row ( L to R ) Evelyn Thomas, Ian Levine, Barbara Pennington;
Back row ( L to R ) L.J.Johnson, Shelia Hart "group babysitter",
Paul Wilson ( musical director ), Bob Mills.