By the time I left school at sixteen in the late-seventies the big sound was disco. That said, the real hipsters among the kids who underwent the same non-education as me were into northern soul (rare mainly American and mainly 1960s records that sounded like Motown but never made the pop charts). I first came across northern soul in the mid-seventies because a school friend shared a bedroom with an older brother who was obsessed with a handful of northern soul platters. This big brother would come in from his factory job, put Tainted Love (later a huge hit when it was covered by Soft Cell) or some other northern favourite on a record deck, then flop on his bed to listen to the music until his mum had made his tea. For some reason this particular teenager also liked prog, so he was also the first person to play me Greenslade!
By the end of 1976, I was into punk rock (one of only two pupils in my school into that scene then), while a couple of kids in my class were regularly going to Wigan Casino for its northern soul all-nighters. I can remember them saying to me: “You should come to Wigan, it’s great, we drop a load of blues and dance all night!” My reply was: “Why would I got all that way to listen to records? I like seeing live bands.” There were plenty of blues (amphetamine tablets) around at punk gigs too…
And so that was that, I blew my chance to go to Wigan – possibly the worst decision I made at the age of 14 or 15. Tony Palmer’s 1977 TV documentary makes it very clear there was a truly extraordinary youth culture blossoming there. Space put it this way: “Wigan Casino documents an idiosyncratic scene based around the weekly club night that ran from 1973 to 1981. From elegant slow motion dance shots to fervent scenes of vinyl swapping, Palmer precisely captures the bustle and energy, as well as the overarching subcultural strangeness, of the Northern Soul phenomenon.”
If you have any interest in soul music you should have seen Palmer’s incredible dance shots used by other film-makers or simply posted on YouTube. But it is worth seeing those scenes in context, with a record dealer talking about the prices paid for northern vinyl and a girl who works in a hospital laundry explaining that going to Wigan is the only meaningful thing she does in her life. There is also an interview with the manager of The Casino and a couple of elderly Wigan residents giving their take on life. Cut into this are old photographs of industrial Wigan, and shots of factory machinery that turn with an almost Brion Gysin-like flicker effect. The contemporary scenes of Wigan, particularly images of terraced houses by a canal, make it look every bit as derelict as the rest of England in the late-seventies.
Wigan Casino may be a 32-year old piece of TV, but it’s the best thing I’ve seen in an art gallery for some time! It is on until 19 December at Space 129-131 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8 3RH. Catch it if you can…
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by Lara on 2009-12-03 10:41:00 +0000
Do you mean December 19th?
Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-03 11:20:15 +0000
Comment by Zen Master K on 2009-12-03 11:43:07 +0000
There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, ‘cause I can do it in the mix, In the mix, in the mix, in the mix, in the mix….
Comment by The Real Tessie on 2009-12-03 11:46:07 +0000
Tony Palmer (smokes) rocks!
Comment by Paul Conneally on 2009-12-03 12:25:07 +0000
From Sheffield to Wigan was not too long a journey and the Casino sometimes had a punk night on up to 12 followed by Northen Soul 12 till dawn – and then the public baths…
Comment by Matt on 2009-12-03 13:43:26 +0000
The wigan casino was SHITE ! Full of boot boys and suede heads who’d headbutt you for simply treading on their bootlaces, plus the beer tasted like piss.
Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-03 16:52:16 +0000
I never could see the appeal of Northern Soul, and cardigans just aren’t cool.
Cleethorpes Wintergardens was also a big Northern Soul hub… slightly oddly, while at a record fair in that same venue in the early 90s, I happened upon a Northern Soul compilation CD. On the back was a woman, who, according to the caption was Mary Chapman, ‘the queen of Northern Soul.’ Just so happened that the wizened chainsmoking humpback who ran the next stall was also one Mary Chapman….
I’ve just realised what a tedious anecdote that was, but havig typed it, I’m buggered if I’m not posting it anyway.
Comment by Cap Ital on 2009-12-03 18:04:30 +0000
‘And I guess that just goes to show.. The Lie/Dream of The Wigan Casino Soul Scene’
I once went for a job as a sound recordist with that cunt Palmer. He rejected me COS I COULDN’T READJUST THE AZIMUTH ON A NAGRA IN THE FUCKING FIELD!
Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-03 18:30:32 +0000
Matt: you may have been to the Casino of an evening but you obviously didn’t go to the all-nighters. The only reason they were able to stay open for the all-nighters was because they didn’t sell alcohol, it was strictly booze free… This is very clear from the Tony Palmer film. So while what you’ve got to say may be true of other events at Wigan Casino, it obviously doesn’t apply to what we’re talking about here…
Comment by Joseph Jacotot on 2009-12-03 20:23:09 +0000
Northern nights were pretty well organised affairs in essence, they had to be with travel arrangements etc. By nature they could be rough with some of the hardest characters from all over the country attending but they did have what was later claimed by the Rave scene – a unified identity that pacified gang tensions…for a night or two..no point in lying.
There’s something in the Palmer documentary which may be self mythologising Blues and Soul talk but it’s the articulate guy testifying the deeper meaning of the Northern Soul fan’s experience..something that gives me hope when I despair of the loss of working class resistance
Comment by Soul Brothers Six on 2009-12-04 00:19:56 +0000
Keep the faith!
Comment by Michael Kearney on 2009-12-04 10:16:41 +0000
All we need is a drummer for people who only need a beat….
Comment by Scott MacLeod on 2009-12-04 10:29:52 +0000
I love Wiccan Casino! Temple of afro-celtic dancing and bardic revelation!
Comment by Tim on 2009-12-04 11:56:32 +0000
Nice post. Too bad I’m not around to see the show. I always wondered about northern soul. Like the mention of ‘gyson-like flicker effects . . . always wondered about that too . . .
Comment by Old Rope on 2009-12-07 23:37:19 +0000
Aaaaaaaaaaah rats, I wont be in London till alter this month. Dagnabbit. But I will be there for a northern all-nighter, which I suppose makes up for it in some small way