Northern Soul was a strange scene – peculiar to the UK. I first came across it when I was about 14 or 15 years-old, in my last year at school. Some of the kids who hung about in my street would be telling everyone about these coach trips they were taking to the north of England, to the Wigan Casino and other venues to hear DJs playing classic and rare soul singles from the 1960s. They would get the coach back right after that and sleep for the 8 hour journey home. The kids I knew started bringing boxes of 7″ vinyl singles out to the street and showing off their rare finds – a big part of the scene was buying and swapping singles. A change was happening to the kids outside as they became entranced by the clothes and I saw more and more wide flared trousers with pleats at the top and flat-soled brogues shined to maximum luminosity (the flat soles were easier to dance with and a sharp contrast to the platform-soled shoes still in fashion). The night bags with the sew-on patches of the various Northern Soul venues and mementos of particular nights where there were Golden Oldies nights playing songs from record labels like Tamla-Motown and Okeh.
I was getting into punk at the time, so I didn’t quite get this desire to hark back to the past for music when there was fresh music all around the country, also cultish, but with some similarities – both strongly working class, both off the radar of daytime radio. But the similarities meant that in local youth clubs there would be kids who would bring along records to play that were difficult to hear elsewhere. In Aberdeen, in the city centre, the 62 club was such a place. We’d have nights where we had to share the dance floor with the Northern Soul kids. You’d hear a song like Landslide by Tony Clark or Breakout by Mitch Ryder and Detroit Wheels with all these kids doing twists and turns, always clapping to the correct parts in unison (they knew the songs inside out), then the next song there’d be bunch of punks scrambling randomly about around the dance floor to The Damned’s New Rose.
I left school at 15 and got an apprenticeship Electrician job, which meant going to Technical College for 6 week blocks. It was here that I befriended a guy who was a mad Northern Soul fan. He started making me compilation cassettes, mixing up classic Tamla-Motown and rare soul singles, some of which he’d paid a lot of money for at the All-nighters. I loved those tapes and quickly became a fan. This was my introduction to Black music – although there was a Funk music fan at work who would let me hear loads of the American cuts from the 70’s – ironically, the Funk-Soul fans were into newer grooves and went to All-dayers, almost the opposite to the Northern Soul scene!
Northern Soul melodies and grooves found their way into Jasmine Minks songs early on with the Soul-stomp of Where The Traffic Goes right through to the songs on our electronic-pop album Popartglory – where I sampled Northern Soul songs and played over them, singing new melodies. Recording our first full album in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, we had a trumpet player, Derek Christie – he was playing on loads of our new songs. Me and Iain Slater (who recorded the album for us) would hum trumpet parts for Derek to play, while he was in the next room, headphones on. When the tape was running he’d replicate those melodies, adding his own amazing ones too. Painting/Arguing in particular owes a lot to Northern Soul – the coda in that song with the trumpet fading out in a pure-rare-soul groove.
Too much to choose from for a song to accompany this blog, but I’ve gone for a personal favourite and one that brings back strong memories – Open The Door To Your Heart.
Feel free to post your own favourites…