Foreword by Paolo Hewitt.
In 1963, The Twisted Wheel, in Brazennose Street, Manchester, opened their doors for the very first time. In doing so, they gave birth to Northern Soul, for it was here, that the prototype for this amazing youth cult, was created.
Northern Soul was a working-class phenomenon that was built on that ever-fruitful combination, of British street style and black American music. In the age of glam rock, prog rock and heavy rock, this unique scene, would grow and thrive in secrecy, until the TV cameras showed up.
The Wheel’s musical policy had originally been based around the blues, but this changed when a DJ named Roger Eagle, began spinning modern day soul and r’n’b, to a young and enthusiastic crowd.
Crucially, Eagle, was not content to just play UK soul releases or the latest hit tunes from Motown or Atlantic. He began sourcing rare records from the USA, often discovering tunes which were only available in one city.
The huge success of Motown records in Detroit, had inspired many entrepreneurs to start their own local record labels with limited distribution, and it was these sources that Eagle drew heavily upon.
This music developed new dances. At The Wheel, (now located at Whitworth Street,) the young clientele would form a circle and shuffle to the rhythm. Someone would then go into the circle and express themselves, and it was this dancing that would later develop into the unique style that dominates Northern Soul clubs to this day.
The Twisted Wheel, opened at eleven at night, closed at five in the morning. Help was needed. Hello amphetamines.
This was fine except that the speed driven crowd now started urging Eagle to play much faster music to match their mindset.
These demands, followed by the club owners refusing him a wage rise, saw Eagle leave the club. But the template had been set.
All the elements that had started at The Wheel, now beautifully blossomed into fruition at the Wigan Casino, the Torch in Stoke, the Mecca in Blackpool, and other major clubs.
At Wigan, its reputation drew dancers from all over the country. In the late ‘70s, Billboard named it the ‘Best Disco In the World.’
At the Torch in Stoke, the American soul singer Major Lance, a God like name on the scene, chose to record a landmark live album here, knowing that every one of his songs would be rapturously received. (According to folklore, there were just as many people outside trying to access the concert as there were inside.)
At The Mecca in Blackpool, crowds gathered in the Highland Room, and unlike others, finished at two in the morning. But what really distinguished the venue, was its willingness to feature a wider variety of soul music. Songs bordering on disco, for example, found acceptance here.
Of course, every scene creates its own fashions. Out went the ‘60s Mod emphasis on tight fitting suits (not conducive for dancing,) and in came vests or open buttoned shirts, flared trousers, brogue shoes, for the men, loose tops, long skirts and ballet type shoes for the girls.
Another distinguishing element of Northern Soul clubs (the term was originated by the brilliant soul writer, Dave Godin) was their inclusiveness, their friendly nature.
In the Northern Soul world, everyone was your friend, did not matter if you were off or out on the floor, and protective street smarts were at a premium. When the local police sent undercover officers into Wigan casino to try and bust drug users, the crowd spotted them straight away and spread the word – mind the guys who have jeans with creases in them, they are law.
This wonderful scene was hidden away from the mainstream, hidden away from the spotlight for a good proportion of the Seventies, until….
In 1977, the BBC filmed at Wigan Casino for their This England documentary strand. When it aired, the whole country was let in on the secret. The scene could not live within such attention.
After a huge burst of popularity, it faded. But its many strengths held. Today there are Northern Soul clubs operating all over the country.
One of the scene’s original slogans exhorted people, To Keep The Faith.
WHICH IS PRECISELY WHAT THEY DID.