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Wigan Casino
Ask most people on the scene to name the original DJ's and the reply will be Russ Winstanley, Richard Searling, Dave Evison, Keith Minshull and Brian Rae etc., but this is the story of Kev Roberts, the first to join Russ only weeks after the Casino started, and the man responsible for introducing countless classic sounds to an eager new crowd, this is his story . . . .
"I grew up in Mansfield and in my early teens started going to youth clubs and disco's, hard core working class towns like that were always very Mod, Skinhead, Motown orientated and the first time I ever came across Northern Soul was at a place called The Folk House in Mansfield in 1968. There were a couple of real heos there called Dave Presolloc and Paul Harrison and they played things like 'Our love is getting stronger' by Jason Knight and Jackie Edwards 'I feel so bad' which were impossible to get, and I also remember hearing the Tams 'Hey girl don't bother me' for the first time there. Now the good thing about coming from a place like Mansfield, and it's the same with any town that has a young underground club scene, is that you also tend to find good record shops, and the first shop that I used to buy my records from was Syd Booth's who has now sadly passed away and his shop long gone. But he used to get imports and odd bits and pieces to satisfy demand. I remember he used to have 'You ready now' in his window for 37 shillings and 6 pence which was a lot of money, probably more than it's worth now!


   
           KEV ROBERTS
  By now it was 1970 and I was still at school but I got tipped off that there was a stall selling records in Mansfield market run by Brian Selby and John Bratton, the very guys who went on to create the chain of stores called 'Selectadisc'. Their store would be full of soul boys from near and far every Saturday afternoon who had come to snap up the latest releases, but apart from selling other peoples records they also went on to create their own label 'Black Magic'. Now most people had to treavel to get the kind of education these guy's offered but I was lucky, they were just down the road.
  In 1972 I left school and by this time Selectadisc was growing very fast with new records pouring out every week and I started going to a club in Nottingham called 'The Brit', one of three rowing clubs down by Trent Bridge and there met an idol of mine called Billy Swain, he never got to Wigan or anything he was just a local DJ but he obviously lived in Selectadisc. This was a bit of an odd time for northern soul, the Twisted Wheel had just closed and the only scene on at the time if my memory serves me right was 'Up The Junction' in Crewe. Now the guy who used to sell the records behind the counter in Selectadisc was Alan Day who also used to be the DJ at 'Up The Junction', so he would feed us all the stories when we visited the shop on Saturdays. Big records at this time were Bobby Freeman 'I'll never fall in love again' and Esther Phillips 'Catch me I'm falling'. Decimalisation had just come in then and these records would cost about 75p and if we had enough money left, and after spending the whole day listening to the latest releases, we would go down to The Brit Club to listen to Billy Swain. There was no need to go home and get groomed cause we weren't going to pick up girls, we were going to listen.
      
    Black Magic; all part of the
           Selectadisc setup.

                     

  The original Casino line-up; Russ Winstanley,
        Kev Roberts and Richard Searling.


       

 Wigan's first nighter badge
     23 September 1973




 

        The old face of Wigan
                      Casino

  In late '72 Billy Swain left The Brit and I got my first job there as DJ with a small box of records which I had been eagerley collecting since leaving school. I couldn't even cue a record in properly but I'd been buying about two imports a week for the past year and built up this little collection, so I started playing The Brit and the crowd remained. It was about this time that Alan Day became big name DJ and just before leaving Selectadisc he took me to the Torch for the first time, it was December 1972 and my first introduction to the real scene. The Torch was packed that night and my head was spinning, I didn't know half the records they played even though I thought I knew quite a bit. Then suddenly WOW The Younghearts 'A little togetherness', Just Brothers 'Sliced tomatoes', J.J. Barnes 'Please let me in', I'd never heard of any of them before and I thought it was wonderful. The next week I got the train which was a hell of a journey, we were there waiting at the door at 8 o'clock and from then on I was hooked.
  Then I was offered three nights a week at The Brit and suddenly I was earning £45 a week which was great because it meant that now I could go to the Torch and afford to spend the £6 - £7 needed to buy the rarities which I couldn't afford before. When I took these records back to Nottingham it improved my reputation because I had the records that people wanted to hear but couldn't get locally, but soon the Torch got closed down, mainly for drugs, which was a shame because those were the best times of my youth, there was no pressure on me I was just a paying punter there for a good night out. After the Torch there were a few interim all-nighters, Troggs in Bolton, which had a very violent reputation, and then in August '73 I went to a Friday all-nighter at a club in Bolton called VaVa's where for the first time I met Richard Searling who was the resident DJ and Les Cockell the DJ from the Twisted Wheel who had a monstrous reputation. Richard S. as he was known had his own sounds, things like 'Tainted love' by Gloria Jones and some other things that we had never heard before, so he stuck in my mind.
  And then six weeks later on September the 23rd whilst at Blackpool Mecca somebody said "we're going down to this new do at Wigan Casino". I said no, I'm not going, I had just become friendly with Colin Curtis and Ian Levine. I had previously been introduced to Simon Sousan who was in California and set up a deal to supply Selectadisc with records, he had started to send me piles of records. Suddenly I had things like 'Take away the pain stain' by Patti Austin which I took along to the Mecca and I think Ian raised his eyebrows as if to say "who's the new kid on the block". Anyway the rest of the kids went to the Casino that first night but I chose to give it a miss. Apparently there were about 400 in that first night and whilst most of my mates who went weren't over impressed with it, they vowed to give it another chance the following week. So next week after the Mecca the lads said "we're off to Wigan again Kev are you with us or not" to which I replied "oh alright then" so off I went to Wigan with my record box, which I took to show off with, it was September the 30th 1973 and as I walked in I thought "crikey, this is a big place". It looked like there were about 600 in that night and the place held 2,500. They were playing an awful lot of pressings, stuff out on Jay Boy etc. and I thought "this is crap" the Mecca has got the best rarities, which to be fair it did at that time.
          
      A view from the balcony.
A crazed dancer lept off the Casino balcony just to dance to Sandra Phillips "World without sunshine".
  I had not met Russ Winstanley before and I remember a bunch of lads from Nottingham giving him a really hard time, "Have you got Patti Austin?", "Have you got 'Im gonna change' The Four Seasons?", "Have you got this, that, or the other?", and of course Russ was saying no. So somebody said "Well why don't you put on somebody who has?", "Like who?", was the reply. It was then that I got shoved to the front and Russ said "Who are you?" "Kev Roberts" I said, "and I'm from Nottingham". Anyway he put me on and thanks to the helpful enthusiasm of my crowd from the East Midlands I went down well. I must have made the right impression because Russ said "Do you want to work here every week?", so I said "Yeah".
  My fee in those days was £10 a night and the DJ line up was Russ Winstanley, Ian Fishwick and myself and the three of us did the whole night. The following week we had about a thousand in, and the week after that even more. Suddenly the pressure was on, my name was known and I was expected to keep getting the new records. I was hungry and started finding my own sounds with the help of Simon Soussan. By late October Ian Fishwick was being frozen out of the situation mainly because he didn't have the tunes. Russ had some songs but I probably had the best ones because of my connections, but Russ was on the look out for another DJ and I remember saying there's a guy called Richard S who had some great stuff at VaVa's in Bolton. The next thing I knew Richard had joined us. Suddenly we had a new credibility and this big, new easy to get to venue. Richard brought with him records like 'There's a ghost in my house' and some other great all-nighter type stompers, and so the word began to spread. By December '73 we were rocketing with attendances up around 1500 / 1600.
  So to 1974 and of course the buzz word was Northern Soul, I was only 17 years old and we were breaking new ground with a sound of our own, songs like Lou Ragland 'I travel alone' and some more commercial stuff like 'The joker' and 'Strings a go go'. Now the commercial angle started to appear with regular attendances over 2000, music industry people started to appear, Blues and Soul were up there practically every week. Television cameras began appearing for the first time and Pye records in particular began to latch on to what was happening and set up a division to start releasing things which would appeal to this new audience. Unlike the Torch and Wheel which only ever got bad publicity for their drug culture, the Casino was getting good possitive publicity and people were latching on to it. At it's peak the Casino was pulling regular attendances of 2,500 and Northern Soul was a household name.
  Russ had by now started to take over the relationship with Simon Soussan. I think Simon saw that as it was Russ's night he was the man to be dealing with if there was a sound that could be broken at the Casino. So I started to look elsewhere and began to acquire some good sounds of my own. But eventually the outside commercial pressures forcing us to play more and more records like 'Footsie' that were guaranteed floor packers led to my departure from the Casino and so in 1975 I went back to my real love of record collecting. I don't feel bitter about it, when something as successful as the Casino did, such forses are bound to come into play but I must admit after leaving the Casino I did feel out in the cold for a bit, seeing the enormous success that it continued to have for the rest of the seventies.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .