My Grandad’s old school held an exhibition in remembrance week, focusing on all the old pupils who had fought in the armed conflicts of our country. I...
"REMEMBER LAST NIGHT." A short story.
November 11, 2014
NORTHERN SOUL. THE FILM
October 22, 2014
Wigan Casino was the high temple of Northern Soul. It didn’t matter where in the country you learned your Northern and honed your dancing skills. It did matter that you made it there.
Northern Soul is often portrayed as all about gritty Northern English working class characters, finding relief from the grind and drudgery of daily life. Maybe so, but whatever ‘class’ designation you put on us. Most teenagers who left school at 16 in the 1970s were working and usually, for not much money. Does that make us all, the worker/working class? …… Probably.
Life, as a teenager in the 1970s, was all about making do. One pair of shoes. One best pair of trousers. …….. And the youth clubs. We went there to socialize, hone our dancing, and our table tennis skills, and to get out from under our parents beady eyes.
There was almost no drinking culture among teenagers back then. Alcohol was expensive and difficult to get hold of. It was nearly impossible to buy alcohol in a pub full of middle aged men; occasionally you might chance your arm at an off licence, for a bottle of Cider.
So most of us didn’t look for our kicks out of a bottle, we looked for our kicks on a dance floor or a sports pitch or in a youth club.
Smoking was almost obligatory at that time. I would say that eight out of ten of my friends back then smoked. Why wouldn’t we? When we could see our sporting heroes like George Best, puffing away in the studio of,“A Question of Sport.” …… The legendary Brazillian world cup winning team of 1970 used to have their trainers have cigarettes lit and ready when they came off at half-time. I tried my first cigarette when I was eight years old. Nothing to be proud of. But not unusual at the time.
We learned our dance moves from slightly older people at the youth club or local discos; one or two of whom had been to the holy grail that was Wigan Casino. For me though I just loved the music. As soon as I heard those tracks at the youth club I knew I had found what I wanted. ‘Out On The Floor.’ Dobie Gray, literally, had us running out to dance. That’s not a cliché. It’s a fact.
I shared a bedroom for most of my childhood with my older brother who was into, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, that kind of stuff; which I thought was just awful. The first Motown '45' I ever bought was, ‘Love machine,’ by The Miracles.
Did we practice our moves? Hell yes, but you didn’t admit it to anyone outside of your intimate circle of friends. One of mine had Lino in his bedroom, rather than carpet, and we quickly found this ideal to practice our spins, when his Mum and Dad were out.
While The Casino was the Grail. The reality was that living in the South West of England we were miles away from it, and it cost, big time, to get there. Luckily we had great Northern Soul venues nearby. The best of which was probably the all-nighter in Yate, near Bristol, particularly at The Stars and Stripes.
At first we used to get a local taxi driver to take us down there. He would then sleep in his cab in the car-park and take us back in the morning. All for about three quid I think. I remember the pride of taking my first car, a Mk2 Ford Cortina there. Amazing how many new friends you find you have when you have a car. I used to have a cassette recorder and just press record and leave it in my bag catching the sounds for most of the night. I have dozens of those tapes still. Can hear my mates voices on them. I was offered money for them in the early noughties. The guy couldn’t believe me when I told him I wasn’t interested. They were and are the diaries of my life.
I had strict parents. Who didn’t? Luckily for me the old, ‘sleep over’ with friends ruse worked for years. The great thing in those days was that once you walked out of the front door of your house you were virtually incommunicado. No mobile phones. You told your parents a day and time you would be back and that was it.
I first went to Wigan Casino on a coach from Gloucester bus station. It was raided by the DS. (If you were into Northern Soul at that time, everyone knew without question that, ‘DS’, meant, ‘Drug Squad’). Most were too savvy for that, and we all made it up there.
I remember it all. The smell and the sound and the sweat and the dancers and the music and the butterflies in my stomach and the record boxes and the northern accents and the girls and the smiles and the night owl eyes and the crush and the base and the roar and the clapping……… I remember on the way back I had cramp in my legs from dancing all night, and that was clean, fueled by coca cola and adrenaline. No poncy energy drinks back then.
Drugs on the scene? Of course there were. Like anything in life; some chose not to, some did so in moderation and some completely fucked themselves up with it. A mate of mine went to prison. It happens.
I worked with thirty and forty something nurses in the late seventies who regularly took slimming pills that they had stock piled from the sixties! To get themselves through the night shift. Slimming pills back then were entirely amphetamine fueled. I remember lads not much older than me driving Jaguars back then. That wasn’t financed by working Monday to Friday on a building site was it?
Do we judge? …… Of course not……. Go into any town centre now and see what cheap alcohol is doing to the teenage population of this country and the only people benefiting from that are global, multi-billion pound corporations.. Choices, …… choices….. Yours to make.
I once went to the Casino in the back of a Mini with my then current girlfriend. You wouldn’t believe what you can do in the back of a Mini when you’re a teenager. How cold vinyl car seats were. Another time my own car broke down on the motorway just outside Birmingham on the way back from the Casino. My Dad came and towed it back for me. Didn’t even blink when I told him we had been visiting friends in Birmingham!
Violence? Not a lot, but I was a teenage boy; in the nineteen seventies. I didn’t look for a punch up but didn’t back down from one either. I hated bullies then, as I still do now.
What did I love most about the scene back then? The music and the dancing of course. …… But also the crack. Being young, and part of this big secret that almost no one else knew about. The friendships, some of which last to this day. Even if we’re all getting old and don’t see each other from one year to the next…..But when we do….no one else gets it….and I still like that feeling.
And like most I still dip in and out of the scene to this day. Over the years I’ve been to most of the venues…… Loved, ‘The Dome’, in the early noughties. Not once a week, not even once a month, but enough for me. Much the same as I dip in and out of my record box. Not hearing a sound from one year to the next and the smile when I hear it again, as if for the first time.
Like most Northern Soul fans, I’m Mr Anonymous. I’ve never wanted to make money out of it. Have the biggest record collection. Own the most expensive record in the world, be a DJ, win a dance competition, run a venue. Each to their own though……. I know what Northern Soul means to me and that’s more than enough.
Wigan Casino? …… Yeah, I’ve been there …….. And I can still go there …..It’s still there……. All of it; …… inside my head.
What do I expect from the film? Northern Soul. …… Great music? …… Yes. ……
Great Dancing? …… Yes. ……
The crack? …… Yes……..
The story of my life? …… Of course not…….
Some of the Magic that ensnared us all?............Yes. ……
Because you said the abracadabra words………………………….. ‘Northern Soul’.
I write a bit now……. If someone tells me that my writing made them cry a little, or their heart beat faster, then I’m doing my job properly. Your film Elaine did both to me.
You nailed it……In every, single, way…..
Not just the music and the dancers, the clothing and the mood. You got it all. The tight group of friends, and their ups and downs. Falling out, back together. Becoming part of a bigger tribe, then the even bigger tribe....... The girls, their own tribe.
It’s so hard to explain to people who are on the scene now and go to venues where twenty, thirty or forty people are dancing, what it feels like to dance to Northern Soul with a thousand or more people. With barely room to move or breath, but even so you dance, make your moves, often smoking while you do so.
Your young actors were utterly magnificent. So dedicated....... and absolutely smashed it.
Best of all? My wife wasn’t on the scene in the 1970s doesn’t have the instant recognition of sounds that some of us do. She said. “If you knew nothing about Northern Soul and what it means to people before that film you do now. And, it was a brilliant stand alone story in its own right."
For me, the ending took me completely by surprise. How could I have guessed? The meaning of those lyrics, so special to us, and tattooed above the picture of my wife on my back. I shed a tear at that ending, the lyrics on the walls and bridges actually said....... ‘I get it now, how much it means to you.’
Elaine your film was us, when we were young and in love with a music and a dance and a scene and our friends. And boy the friendships we had.
Like a Wigan Casino all nighter, I loved every single moment. The time passed in the blink of an eye. You perfectly captured, that precious minute.