Northern Soul was popular in the late sixties and the seventies in the UK, although there are still many events that take place around the country. I attended many all-day and all-night events in the 1970s, and essentially this music genre was all about dancing. This musical style originated in the famous Wigan Casino, which is why it was called Northern Soul.
What set it apart from other forms of soul music was that the dancers were predominantly male. I remember that it was not unusual for a group of mates to attend an event and all dance together. Not many couples danced together, and the ladies used to gather in circles and dance in a group. The men would dance away all day and night and what was essential to this form of music was the beat. I was part of the local scene, and Northern Soul nights took place at a concert hall on Friday and Saturday nights. These were restricted to pub opening hours and were unusual in that alcohol was served. Most large nationally organized events were alcohol-free, but the local scene usually took place in pubs and bars. Some famous venues that I visited were the “Twisted Wheel” in Wigan, Wigan Casino, Cleethorpes Pier, and Nottingham Palais de Dance.
The style of dancing was unique to this form of music, and it was both intricate and energetic. The best dancers were almost always men, and they used to slide effortlessly across the floor in time to the rhythmic beat. We would often spin just like a ballet-dancer who does a pirouette, but we would never miss a beat. Some of my favorite routines involved back-drops where I would fall backward and support myself with my arms. Other moves involved jumping as high as possible and touching the toes and flips almost like a cartwheel. The process of smooth gliding was enhanced by the spreading of talcum powder on the dance floor.
The music was essentially soul that had a beat and was usually imported from the US. Promoters would avidly scour through obscure record releases until they found the songs that were suitable for dancing to Northern Soul Style. The records would usually be melodic to enhance their widespread appeal to an expectant UK audience. I also attended many events in the old-fashioned working men’s clubs and miners’ welfares, which were so prevalent in the northern areas of England, Scotland and Wales.
Some of my favorite singles were “The Night” by Frankie Valli, “Night Owl” by Bobby Parris, “The Snake” by Al Wilson, and “I’ll be Holding On” by Al Downing. Some of these were so popular that they even featured in the mainstream charts. However, I also liked some classic songs that were often played at Nothern Soul gigs. These included “Out On the Floor” by Dobie Gray, “Baby Hit and Run” by The Contours, “Do I Love You” by Frank Wilson, and “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones. Although the music was predominantly from America, it wasn’t long before UK artists attempted to capitalize on this music’s popularity. I remember “Skiing In the Snow” by Wigan’s Chosen Few, which was actually a chart hit in the seventies. Some other songs were “Under My Thumb” by Wayne Gibson and the “Soul Survivors” album complied by the famous Wigan DJ Russ Winstanley.
Northern Soul deserves its place in the music scene by being completely unique and producing a style of dancing not seen in any other musical genre. I remember that the highlight of the week was a trip to the local soul venue for four hours of unadulterated pleasure. The music was exhilarating, and you could not help but dance to it. It also spawned its very own Nothern Soul uniform of high-waisted trousers and American-themed baseball shirts. I even had a special suit tailor-made to reflect the authentic soul style of clothing. The memories will live with me forever, and I still listen to this music today. In fact, there is still a thriving scene going strong today, but sadly, many of the original dancers are now a bit too old to strut their stuff. Great days fondly remembered.