‘MUSIC FOR THE PEOPLE’
BUT WHAT PEOPLE?
We want to put the audience into a time machine and take them back to the 1970s, and to the North of England to experience an underground subculture- Northern Soul. Using one or two clubs (Wigan Casino or Blackpool Mecca for eg) we want to examine where NS was popular (and why these locations in particular), the music being played, the type of people who went to these nights and how the movement has developed into the modern day. All these subsections are fairly arbitrary as they all relate to and inform each other, but it is helpful to have some structure at this point
- PLACE (Gaby)
The Importance of Place within the Northern Soul
When it moved to London, referred to “something taking place to the North of the definer’s map of meanings’
Manchester Wheelers’ book (by “Dave”)
« It seemed depressing; it looked like it was ‘Grim Up North’, but it was far from that. The soul of the city was the underground Mod Soul scene, ironically with its black American music. Soul was black – well, mainly black; our city was black, and so was the music that the clubs blared out in dark underground cellars. However, the music and ‘our’ scene gave us a set of colourful, bright and enthusiastic reasons for Mod Mancunians to get excited about their city. »
Twisted Wheel described as a Beat Club
Places that were dark because of the industrial revolution that were lighted up thanks to the club life
Last Night a DJ Saved My life : The Story of disc Jockey – Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton p 84-117
« in this city of what looked like perpetual night “there was an oasis known as The Wheel. It was as if all the life energy of the great city was channelled into this spot and hidden away under the ground for fear of disturbing the “respectable” citizenry, because looking out of the cab windows on this dank and murky night, Manchester looked like a ghost town. »
Examples of important clubs/cities in the Northern Soul scene
- Twisted Wheel in Manchester
- Became the “first rare oasis” for this rare music people where looking for
- “Part of the enjoyment was actually travelling there” remembers Carl Woodroffe, one pioneer DJ
- The Catacombs and Farmer Carl
- The Torch and The Birth of Northern Soul
- Tunstall : less and less famous towns
- It’s where Northern Soul was polished and gleamed
- « The Wheel and The Catacombs created a fad, The Torch turned it into a fetish. »
- One of the most important event happened at The Torch => Major Lance live at The Torch
Soul Wards : Wigan’s Casino VS Blackpool Mecca
– Soul’s Scene Golden Era centred on those two clubs
Wigan, Lancashire cotton town,
“Thousand of kids criss crossed the country to hear their resident DJs throw down”
Places that embody the peak of northern soul
Wigan declared best discothèque by Billboard in 1978
1973-1981 : Wigan = the biggest and most representative club for Northern Soul
Emblematic of a regional scene
– Most popular rather than the best because it’s the one that had the most people in (here compared to Ministry of Sound)
– Nicknamed “The Heart of Soul”
– “If the Casino was the punters’ choice, the Blackpool Mecca was the connoisseurs’.”
– Difference of crowds between the two clubs : emphasizing how northern soul was slowly becoming a bit more mainstream and attracted more people are the crowds started to split into connoisseurs and the others
– “If you were a serious collector, the only place you could conceive going to was the Mecca’
– Casino evolved into The Emp which became better than Blackpool Mecca by 1973
– Colin and Mary Chapman from Scunthorpe found a venue on the faded east coast resrt
– Local people DJing
– Amalgam of the Casino and Meccq
“Northern Soul was the revenge of the small town
“Its fabled clubs formed a map of geographical unfashoniability: Tunstall, Wigan, Blackpool, Cleethorpes. Despite its near complete isolation from London and for established music industry, its influence was impressive.”
It is important to see how “unfashionable” the cities that were famous were, because it exemplifies how Northern Soul work : the more obscure music seeking was getting, the more obscure the places were true Soul fans had to go. It was like having to prove how connoisseur you became if you travelled miles to not miss an all-nighter. : increased how “underground” the movement was
Wigan considered as a true club for dancers, not connoisseurs
“Following in the all-night traditions of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club of the late ’60s, Northern Soul had been bereft of a spiritual home since the closure of the Golden Torch in Stoke six months earlier. »
– The Heart of Soul
– Northerners came up to London for football and that’s where the notion of Northern soul arrived in London when they were coming to buy records that were not representative of what Southerners would buy : division of the country culturally : differences in what was listened to from South to North
– Where you came from defined your music tastes.
– « f you’ve got customers from the north, don’t waste time playing them records currently in the US black chart, just play them what they like – ‘Northern Soul’.”
Wigan considered as the first bigger club of northern soul. Bigger than the Twisted Wheel, allowed more space for dancing
« The drug culture and the size of the venue made the tempo of the records extremely fast,” explains original Wigan DJ Kev Roberts. “Therefore the Casino created its own records, a wider variety of Northern Soul than you’d hear elsewhere. Northern Soul has never been just about ‘soul’, it means much more than that.” : more authenticity in this club rather than seeking for rarity.
- MUSIC (Ollie)
Despite being a subculture based in the North of England, the music itself came from far away; old soul records (made predominately by African Americans) were being played at the events. These songs had been completely forgotten about and were stockpiled in American cities such as Detroit- they were reinvigorated by the Northern Soul movement.
Interesting that music had the power to bridge a gap across the Atlantic between white working class people in the North and the African-American musicians/singers/artists responsible for the music. Lyrically, the songs held messages that the English working class could relate to- themes of love and loss, this was an outlet for the people listening to the music. Escapism from their boring week jobs. V important that this is black music- did this have an impact upon the way minority racial groups were considered in the UK? (great article in ‘The Other Special Relationship’ about how Otis Redding received in UK in 1960s, and the impact of this on British race relations). Angel suggested talking about post-Windrush so could do that here if it fits
Would also like to talk a little about the ‘cover up’ aspect of vinyl culture. DJs would cover up the name of the track with white labels- elitism of music was firmly grounded in the movement. In a pre digital era, rare records could be exceptionally valuable.
Linked to class, English DJs that could afford to fly to America in the 1970s invariably had better/more valuable records. DJs would bring back thousands of records and build a career. What are the problems with this? Perhaps the polarity between the original artists, and English DJs making a living out of their unpaid work.
Furthermore, DJs had to have enough capital to be able to fly to America in the first place- NS as a subculture had classist elements. Also something of a self-perpetuating circle existing- DJ buys records, plays records, makes money and builds career, buys more records etc etc.
Sources→ interviews with original NS DJs in multiple BBC documentaries, ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’, could also try to find records of the royalty systems during this time (so how much were the original artists actually paid?), ‘The Other Special Relationship’
- CLASS (Chang)
From my recent research, the Northern soul is used to “define what it means to be black, adapting it to distinctively British experience and meanings” in Afro-British communities in 1960s. This form of the cultural politics seek for: re-frame the value of Afro-Caribbean identities, fight against British hierarchy, and defend for multicultural spaces by producing their own brand.
Desmond’s Hip City: a crucial record store in Brixton, it gives both young men and women a social place to interact with each other outside of school, since the other record stores are homosocial and masculine. However it often associates with criminals and political activists.
BPM(Black Panther Movement) and BASH(Black Against State Harassment)
- BPM is formed to fight against police brutality by questing Soul Power in London by a powerful black woman Althea Jones.
- BASH is related organisation with BPM, states that the attack on black is not only because the race, but also because of the hatred of their cultural identity (e.g. Soul music).
Adornment of Soul Power is a significant sign of the black community.
“Their attire largely consisted of Afros and cornrows, bell bottoms or drainpipe trousers (closely tapered pants), miniskirts, African print head wraps, Black Power T-shirts, and tote bags with Black Power patches stitched on them.”
This sartorial language of Soul culture reclaims a sense of pride and identity, sometime cause interracial problems.
Soul Power is central for the development of Black British identity
- It provides a language they could use to combat oppression.
- Black women can use it to create a woman-centred discourse which can speak for their dual oppression.
- RACE (Leah)
“We were using the black industrial music of the late 1960s to say something about our white industrial lives in the 1970s.” (https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/11/norhern-soul-rebellion-dance-floor-paul-mason )
The relationship between the scene’s participants and African American culture is not direct, it is much more conditional. African American music on record relates more to the cultural possibilities it offers for a British alternative identity, than to any consistent support for the liberation struggle taking place in the US at the time. Although it is a scene where history and tradition are central values, similar to the soul music of African Americans, it is clear that this music held a different cultural significance for the white working class – whether that be in how they related to the lyrics or their attitudes towards race relations at the time.
A key point that we would like to analyse in our presentation is for whom was this scene for? Did it honour African-American culture in the same way as it appreciated their music? In order to answer this we will compare and contrast the conflicting accounts of racial harmony within the scene – some, such as Fran Franklin (a mixed-race woman) mention how northern soul acted as an oasis of harmony against the post-Windrush racialized society that existed in Britain. Comparatively, documentary footage from the time shows two neo-nazi lads speaking on the rise of the National Party in Blackburn, while one of them wears a jumper with the black-fist symbol on it (a clear marker that he was part of the northern soul scene).
“ I’ve always been perplexed by how the whole Northern Soul thing has become so over-inflated in time. It’s an interesting throwback subculture is all, and the real heroes are the people who made the records – not old Kev at school with a crap ‘tache, leather coat and blue eyes.”
- MODERN DAY
Important to mention how the fact that this was the ‘first youth subculture focused on the past’ (<http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/0/24164508>) means that it is able to survive on in a more authentic way. Because the movement from the start was concerned with old music, NS fans today are still looking backwards- just looking back 40+ years instead of 5 or so.
Today you would call northern soul an act of curation. By the time we danced to it, the music was already old: songs recorded in small studios by black singers, mostly between 1963 and 1971.<https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/11/norhern-soul-rebellion-dance-floor-paul-mason >