When I was at school in the 1970s, the hip kids were obsessed with old soul records, and while I dug those sounds I never paid much attention to them telling me I should go to Wigan Casino for the soul all-nighters. They’d take speed and dance till dawn in a town 175 miles (281 kilometers) north of London. I loved the records my friends grooved to and regret not going now but at the time I preferred catching live bands around London. MVPs Turning My Heartbeat Up captures the sound that was big at Wigan (and among hipsters at my school); and the film added on this YouTube posting shows the type of dancing done to these records in the UK from the 1970s onward:
There is more of that northern soul dancing added as visuals to Sidney Barnes doing I Hurt On The Other Side. While I love every tune I’ve picked here, the film accompanying them kinda dictated my choices. As far as Sidney Barnes goes I like tunes like You’ll Always Be In Style just as much as this one, but I didn’t want a version done light years after the original record was released, or something with no visual impact. So here’s I Hurt On The Other Side.
Sadly there are dozens of records I’d love to post here that don’t have anything much accompanying them by way of images. These range from James Coit’s Black Power to Billy Butler’s Right Track by way of tunes like A Quitter Never Wins by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson to Burn Baby Burn by Mel Williams (which I was forced to post on YouTube myself, since no one else had it up). However, I will now indulge myself with one of many great 45s lacking a decent video to accompany it, since you’ve gotta hear Ain’t Nothing But A House Party by The Show Stoppers!
Although obscurities were much sought after by northern soul obsessives and DJs, the inspiration for much of the material popular on the scene was Motown, and some Tamla acts were very popular. Edwin Starr was biggest name attracted to the UK by our northern soul boom, relocating here in the 1970s. This is 25 Miles, one of his big hits, although earlier tracks like Agent Double O Soul are considered hipper by northern soul purists.
Another US soul act that relocated to the UK was The Flirtations. The video made to accompany their best known song Nothing But A Heartache is a a groove sensation even without the sounds! This song was recorded, and the promo film shot, in the late sixties after The Flirtations had settled in Europe.
By way of contrast, Geno Washington made his name as a singer after coming to England as a GI. What he did wasn’t subtle, and isn’t big with northern soul obsessives, but he attracted a huge following of mods and skinheads. Between the waning of Brit glam rock (T. Rex, Sweet, Slade etc) and the late-seventies punk explosion, I spent a lot of time spinning Geno Washington’s first album Hand Clappin’ Foot Stompin’ Funky-Butt … Live! The three tracks on the following video – Michael/You Don’t Know Like I Know/Que Sera Sera – were all featured on this 1966 platter, which he made with The Ram Jam Band.
While Geno Washington isn’t considered credible in northern soul circles, they embraced Major Lance without reservation. He was based in the UK for a two year period from 1972 to 1974, and while here recorded his legendary Live At The Torch album, a platter featuring eight of his best known tunes. The Golden Torch was a nightclub in the northern English city of Stoke-on-Trent, and it became the major venue for northern soul between the closure of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club and the rise of Wigan Casino. The music is called “northern soul” because from the late-sixties onwards it was most popular in the north of England, and confusingly the records spun at these clubs included southern soul from the USA. Major Lance made his reputation as a soul singer a decade before he recorded The Live At The Torch album, and here he is from the mid-sixties doing The Beat.
Another American soul singer who relocated to the UK is P. P. Arnold. She came to England as a member of The Ikettes – Ike and Tina Turner’s backing singers – but quit that job and stayed in London after being signed to Immediate Records. Among others she worked closely with British mod band The Small Faces, and If You Think You’re Groovy demonstrates the psychedelic direction one stand of mod music took. The die-hards and especially those in the north of England, wanted to stick with the older stomping soul sounds, and therein lies the origins of the northern soul scene. Anyway, here’s P. P. Arnold.
And since we’re talking about the Ikettes, don’t forget they released their own records as well as backing Ike and Tina Turner. Peaches and Cream just happens to be one of my favourite Ikettes tunes.
Both The Torch and The Twisted Wheel began their life catering to mods, and the early northern soul sounds have an overlap with mod tastes, which are as much rhythm and blues and jazz based as identifiable as soul. I’ve always loved those mod sounds and go for them just as much as the more obviously sixties soul tunes played at Wigan. When I look at the footag of King Curtis opening for The Beatles at Shea Stadium it makes me wonder why anyone stuck around for the inferior headlining British act – but then there’s no accounting for taste!. Ladies and gentleman, King Curtis doing Soul Twist!
When I was at school in the seventies the most popular northern soul song of that time must have been Gloria Jones doing Tainted Love – later covered and turned into a hit by Soft Cell.
Jones started out working alongside Billy Preston among others, and here she is doing her single Heartbeat way back when in the swinging sixties.
The Olypmics achieved fame as a rock and roll band, but moved into soul territory in the sixties. I can’t get enough of this tune Good Lovin’, featuring Billy Preston on keyboards.
While these days Billy Preston might be best known as a keyboard player and ‘the fifth Beatle’, on Short Fat Fannie he just rocks out riding the cusp between rhythm and blues and soul.
Sticking with the old school sounds, here’s Sugar Pie DeSanto doing Rock Me Baby, showing once again that close link between rhythm and blues and soul.
And for our grand finale – Jackie Wilson. He is a big name and was a key player in the transition from rhythm and blues to soul. At The Torch or Wigan Casino you’d have probably heard tunes by Mr Excitement like Soul Galore or The Who-Who Song, but since I’ve been working backwards from the classic northern soul sound to its origins, what you get here is the 1963 hit Baby Workout.
All of which IMO puts virtually every contemporary rock act to shame. I like excitement and the sounds I’ve posted here give me plenty of that!