Tell me the basics.
It’s the granddaddy of underground UK clubbing culture. In the early ’70s, a tribe of dancers, DJs and music fans formed a tight-knit scene across a host of northern cities. Unlike most youth movements, the music that spurred the kids on wasn’t new or trendy. It was old, commercially unsuccessful American soul records. They had to be rare, but they also had to be fast – to feed the scene’s incredible, loose-limbed dance moves. It died out by the early ’80s, but not before places like the Blackpool Mecca and the Wigan Casino showed what devotion and passion a UK dance scene could engender.
Why the interest today?
The main focus is a new British film called ‘Northern Soul’, released this week. But why settle for passive, popcorn-munching nostalgia? There are still places that keep the flame alive, even in the soft south. Soul Nites run regular all-day sessions at The Dome, while the 100 Club is the place for regular all-nighters. Organised by the 6Ts Rhythm & Soul Society (est 1979), these soul sessions start at 11pm and go through until 6am.
What happened to the music?
Thanks to the competing efforts of a handful of DJs – each unearthing obscure soul stompers to keep their dancefloors fresh – the northern soul scene excavated a treasure chest of classic records. Some, like Gloria Jones’s ‘Tainted Love’ or Chuck Wood’s ‘Seven Days Too Long’, became well known after being covered by Soft Cell and Dexys Midnight Runners respectively. Others, like ‘Do I Love You’ by Frank Wilson were saved from total obscurity (only 250 copies of the 45 were ever pressed) to reach the giddy heights of being featured in a KFC advert.
Who cares about northern soul today?
There’s Pharrell Williams, for one. Many have noted how ‘Happy’ has a northern lilt – a debt ol’ big hat acknowledged when he was backed at this year’s Brits by a troupe of flare-clad dancers. A more unlikely fan emerged a few weeks ago, in the form of the Intellectual Property Office, a Newport-based government agency. They showed solidarity with the scene by preventing a Manchester clothes shop from trademarking the famous ‘clenched fist’ logo. Who said government agencies couldn’t be cool?
Read our review of the new film ‘Northern Soul’
A guide to Northern soul
The scene that invented UK club culture is celebrated in a new film this week
Tell me the basics.