A passion for Northern Soul

A passion for Northern Soul
With IKS Kitchen’s Jamie Hartford
East Leeds Magazine, July 2011

I got into Northern Soul through my parents; specifically my Dad, Trev’. I suppose it was the soundtrack to my early life with plenty of music (and dancing) filling the house. It’s a complex genre to explain to the uninitiated. The pioneers in the mid-sixties were clubs such as The Golden Torch in Stoke and Twisted Wheel in Manchester. They were really the first major venues to specialise in black American soul music.

Dave Godin is attributed with coining the term ‘Northern Soul’ at the beginning of the ‘70’s. He ran a record shop in London and imported loads of unheard vinyl from America. He became one of the most important voices championing this new underground youth movement, and his articles in Blues & Soul Magazine brought it to the public’s attention. He noticed the further north he travelled, the faster the tempo and the clientele.

At places like Wigan Casino he commented you could see these working class lads dancing alone to frenetic Motown-esque tracks, which was previously unheard of. Back then you danced as a couple, if you didn’t, then well, you know…

This was in contrast to the clubs in the south and particularly London where there was a much slower tempo and a bigger jazz influence, with a few sounds crossing over from the Mod scene. So ‘Northern Soul’ quite simply described the difference in music being played by the DJ’s up and down the country.

The scene has always contained something for the purists and pedantic among us. Quite literally, in the late 60’s / early 70’s,  as few as three or four copies of a record could find their way over here and become massive dance floor hits in legendary venues such as Wigan Casino and Blackpool’s Mecca. The scene split in the mid-seventies with new contemporary releases having a Disco edge and Jazz Funk influence. Wigan Casino stood true to the original ‘4-on-the-floor’ up-tempo sound. With the DJ’s having to keep finding new ‘Stompers’ that the dancers demanded to fill the floor, more commercial and ‘Blue-eyed Soul’ (sung by a white artist) tracks came to the fore, for example R.Dean Taylor’s ‘Ghost In My House’. One track in particular, The Carstairs ‘It Really Hurts Me Girl’ (1973) is accepted as the catalyst for the split. A lot of die-hard Northern soulies won’t listen to a track recorded after Dec. 31st 1969.

Although not as internationally recognised as Wigan Casino (voted Billboard magazine’s ‘World’s Best Disco’ in 1978), Leeds had the Central Soul Club (now the Hi-Fi Club) where a lot of DJ’s cut their teeth before moving on to bigger venues. Guys like Pat Brady and Ian ‘Frank’ Dewhirst are still very much part of the scene today. There are a number of reunions and all-dayers in the pipeline for The Central.

A mate of my Dad’s, Mally Meah, from East End Park is a well-known face on the Soul scene (and a fantastic dancer) and he used to bring me badges and patches that he’d got from the clubs. Later in life I went to soul nights and all-nighters with Mally. He’s still on the scene, though he now DJ’s as well.

Musically I was brought up on the classic oldies: Frank Wilson ‘Do I Love You’ (only 3 known copies – the last time one went for sale it fetched £15K!),Dobie Gray’s ‘Out On The Floor’ and my Uncle Steve’s (Duffy) favourite ‘Nothing Can Compare To You’ by the Velvet Satins. If I’m honest I preferred Cross-Over (late ‘60’s mid-tempo) and ‘70’s stuff to the classics. I used to take my Dad’s vinyl to the school disco’s, everyone else was taking Def Leppard and Adam and the Ants and I’d show up with these obscure imported records with a large hole in the middle. The teachers enjoyed them but the kids thought I was an oddball.

I went to a few all-nighters in the late eighties, but that coincided with the dance music scene kicking off. My friends were all into that and for a lad in his late teens it was the Warehouse, Astoria, Hacienda and the likes. Even then I was drawn to the more mellow Detroit/Chicago sounds, stuff like Mass Order ‘Lift Every Voice’ and Joe Smooth ‘Promised Land’ just seemed to be a natural progression from Northern Soul. I started going to soul nights regularly around about 2000. Through going out I got seriously into the record collecting side of things. I spent more hours than I care to remember scouring sales boxes and listings trying to find elusive records. E-bay was great in the beginning; a lot of American sellers were letting rarities go without realising their true value. I ended up with about 800 singles, some real collector’s items. Looking back it’s a bit bizarre that the records I was chasing were worth 3 and 4 figures apiece.

That’s a peculiarity of Northern Soul; it was all about obscure records which were ‘broken’ (brought to life in clubs and accepted by the crowd) by DJ’s who owned one-offs and mega-rarities. It was this that got me into DJing.
I did a few nights in the Whinmoor Pub, then a few more local gigs beckoned, then a few scooter club nights. After a while a friend put me in touch with the Baby Jupiter Bar. The owner was looking to put on a Northern/Rare Soul night, so with my mate Rich Buckley, we started “Soulsville”.  Baby Jupiter was a fantastic little cellar bar, we used to get about 150 in and it was a really intimate atmosphere. We gained a bit of recognition as a place to play and we had a fair few ‘name’ DJ’s who came and played for nothing (we didn’t charge an admission fee). I saw some serious rarities on the decks; Billy Woods ‘Let Me Make You Happy’ sticks out for one. We were then featured by NSoul Magazine, then ‘Down In The Grooves’ show with James Addyman on BBC Radio Leeds, closely followed by Calendar. We played at some fantastic venues all over the country, including Manchester, Derby, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and Dublin.

All good things come to an end and are replaced by other good things. I stopped the DJ’ing when I got married (the records went towards that!) and had children. I still love the music and the scene and try to get to as many soul nights as I can. I went to the Hamburg Soul Weekender last October and I reckon I’ll give that a whirl again this year. But for now granite worktops have replaced the vinyl.

Keep On Keepin’ On!

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