Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Origins of Northern Soul

Would be interested to hear anyones thoughts....

The phenomenon known today as 'Northern Soul' was originally a mixture of many things. It has grown out of an underground youth culture, that had prevailing conditions of full employment, so was optimistic, self reliant and rebellious. They - the Mods - had money to spend on entertainment, fashion and records.  In London the Kings Road was a gathering place for the smart Mod set. Dance halls where packed with people stamping the floor to Dave Clark's 'Bits and Pieces'

Unknowns like the young David Bowie were shown on news program's epitomising the rebellious spirit and fashion conscious youth culture. Most Mods followed 'soul' music and built a clique 'In Crowd' culture around it.

In Manchester and other Northern Cities the youth followed the influences from the London scene.
The white UK groups where copying American RnB and Blues artists. Groups such as John Mayalls Blues Breakers Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames and Alexis Korners Blues Incorporated etc. were following the great Bluesmen and The Spencer Davis group were doing covers of Brenda Holloway songs (Every Little Bit Hurts) The Beatles had made many versions of Motown songs and of course Chuck Berry's too. The Rolling Stones were constantly covering USA RnB releases.

Mods being interested and very loyal to many of these bands started to read the sleeve notes and small writing on the record labels to find the original recording artists or song writers. This lead to a new movement, especially in the Manchester area where at clubs like the Twisted Wheel, pressure on the DJ's came from requests for original artists to be played.

This coincided with Roger Eagle the DJ's love of Black American music, only the original artists, were required, and the purist soul movement began.

It should be remembered that this was an active and vibrant 'scene' everything in the soul scene was happening then; the music was being released weekly. It was current and the Manchester soul scene new it and was its uk centre.

Unlike today's Northern Soul Scene, this was the originator, it was vibrant active and new, and hardly retrospective; it was just 'soul'.

Northern soul started at the end period of the Twisted Wheel's history, when DJ's such as Les Cockall predominated, the others had left.

Taking their private record collections with them.

Northern soul looks back to the 1960's seeking out 'new' unreleased or unplayed recordings. The original scene did start off the collectors and the rare record buffs, but this was because soul music in its peak period was hard to find (most 45's had to be specifically ordered, or imported from USA deleted Auction lists).

Today the 'Northern Soul' scene for the most part, can tend to only recognise rare as good. This was not so at the time. Motown and Stax and others where originals at the time and played upon merit not because they where rare. Upon The later Northern Soul Scene the mainstream records that made the original scene are hardly ever heard, the Stax the Motown the Rnb etc. The music and artists that made it all begin are virtually ignored! Is it because these are not rare enough. It would appear that rarity for its own (or the DJ's sake) is the only criteria of this current backwards facing scene. Totally unlike the one in the sixties which of course was modern at that time, as it was intrinsically linked to the Mod movement - Mods where modern, the latest the coolest the greatest.

Its annoying when 'Johnnie come lateley's say the wrong things like:-
Russ Winstanley, who stated in an article in the Manchester Evening News (2005) That, he, being the DJ at the Wigan Casino started off Northern Soul and was teaching children in the area 'their' musical heritage.

A letter in the paper the following week from Mr P. Roman a Wheel original attendee, put the record straight when he said it all began for him at the Twisted Wheel in 1964 when Roger Eagle played In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett. And that Russ had it wrong the Northern Soul scene started in Manchester in the early 60's not in Wigan a decade later.

Lots of books have been coming out about  'Northern Soul' many people talking about 'then' could not have been there, or at a different time or a different 'set' within that originating 'in crowd'.
In the book Too Darn Soulful by David Nowell, someone comments that the Blue Note was only Ska and Reggae etc! It was, but in its final closing down times, after 1969, so proving that these people came on the scene long after the peak times. This book does inform about those early days and does explain the general scene and recognises Roger Eagle as the first great soul (blues) DJ but it gets lots of things wrong.

It was Roger eagle who played great tracks 1967 at the Blue Note; ie 'CHANGES' by Johnnie Taylor a 'B ' side. Other great Stax stuff, in fact the cream of soul was known to be played only at the Blue Note due to Rogers personal collection.

Other comments in the same book; like we only got USA imports in 1969 is total crap - Roger imported 45's years before! Subsequent Blue Note DJ 's followed in the same vein with 'Everybeat Of My Heart' and quite a few others.

Dave Lomas (Blue Note DJ) played 'Tainted Love' there long, long before the other soul joints had heard it.

On page 39 (Boogaloo Party) a Guy called 'Rob' supposedly found Major Lance! - when we had already found him years before (He did cut a track called I'm So lost)  but even the Manchester group Wayne Fontana and The Mind Benders, knew of him and had copied Major Lances Um Um Um Um Um) we had long before danced at the Wheel all nighters to 'Rhythm' and 'The Monkey Time', these people were simply re-discovering sounds we had danced to and played, they came into a scene that, they then re-built, cheekily, claiming originality!

Later they hyped up records to make money leading to the rise of the Wigan Casino and the rarity of newly discovered or unearthed again sixties soul recordings- a trend continuing right up to today.

The crowd at the Wheel from 63 to 68 we were the originals, those after that time started the Northern Soul Scene but it was not the same as those original days it could never have captured the feeling of spontaneous originality as it happened with weekly soul track releases.
taken from Manchestersoul.co.uk


  1. Just found your blog,made my day.I am a very old mod from Manchester now whiling my time away in France. Into northern soul,60's stuff an cooking /baking (but d'nt. tell about the baking)Keep it up and keep the faith .

    Andy S.

  2. My other half was the last apprentice of Roger Eagle! He has continued to be a die hard Mod since 1979 and has been named Martin the Mod because of just that, no wavering for him. He has been DJ'ing throughout and continues to do so! https://www.facebook.com/MARTINTHEMOD?ref=stream&hc_location=timeline

  3. Hi, Stacie! I thoroughly enjoyed this article and learned from it. I have decided to follow your blog on the basis of your love of Northern Soul and American R&B. Since 2008, I have hosted a music and nostalgia blog that specializes in those genres. I invite you to visit SDM&M, have fun listening to great sounds and get to know me and my friends around the world. Thank you, Stacie, and have a wonderful week ahead!

  4. Hi As someone who frequented The Blue Note and knew Roger Eagle, I can confirm that the club did play ska and blue beat music but alongside other - often Stax/Atlantic and less Motown music. One thing which seems to be overlooked in all of the accounts of Manchester's contribution to Northern soul (rather than Northern Soul) music, is the role played by local black youth in helping to inform the overall scene. My recollection of The Blue Note, is that the club was popular with young mixed-race Afro Caribbean youth who helped to create some of the dance styles and influenced the type of music being played. If you look at all photos of Twisted Wheel there never seem to feature any black people. I am currently researching The Blue Note to write a history of the club and would welcome any comments.