Coming of Age in Wigan’s Anarchic Northern Soul Scene

By Paul Mason, September 2013

 

One Saturday night ­in 1975, I met my mate at a shop in Manchester that would, for certain, sell you Bronchipax: ephedrine capsules, the poor-man’s speed, banned now but sold without prescription back then.

We bought a packet each and swallowed the lot with tonic water: eight times the maximum adult dose. But what did we care about the adult dose? We were 15, and about to set off for the greatest dance club in the world.

We reached Wigan Casino around midnight with my mate’s cousin who was a “face” on the Northern Soul scene. That got us into a café nearby, packed – not with soul boys as I expected – but with music journos from London, cool Italians in micro-sunglasses, American vinyl collectors and other global bohemians.

But I cared nothing for them. I shoved my way, like everybody else, through the door to the Casino and onto its vast, sprung maple dancefloor. There, in a steam-bath humidity that reeked of Brut, sweat and cigarettes, I executed spins and back-flips until I dropped – which was about half past four, doubled up with stomach cramps from the Bronchipax.

By 8AM, I had recovered to the point where the following memory could imprint itself onto my brain: a kid with a quiff, in a leather jacket, doing long, slow spins through a shaft of sunlight. It was an endless, graceful movement, hands wedged to his hips, eyes fixed to a space beyond the horizon. He could still taste the Bronchipax. He was already hooked on Northern Soul.

 

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It’s the first law of sociology that all youth subcultures eventually come back. Northern Soul’s latest karmic go-around involves very young kids from Wigan – aged 15 to 18 – not only dancing to rare vinyl but wearing the full outfit: wide trousers and white socks copied from Tony Palmer’s 1977 documentary Wigan Casino.

 

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