Yesterday, Stoke reclaimed its title as Northern Soul Capital of the world. A couple of years ago, as I've written about previously, my youngest son worked as a cameraman on the film, Soul Boy that was made on location in Stoke. He also got a bit part in the film. Yesterday saw the Stoke premiere of the film, which goes on general release on 3rd September. So we got free tickets to see the film, and meet the films Producer and Directors, as well as tickets to the Northern Soul All-Nighter in Stoke's Kings Hall, which is where most of the dancing scenes are filmed because of its similarity to the Wigan Casino Club. There was also a perfomance on stage by Gabriella Cilmi.
As one of the DJ's said, they didn't get it perfect as a description of Northern Soul at the time, but they gave it a bloody good go. The story is set in 1974 in Stoke. It features a young lad Joe, who having spotted a girl he fancies, and gone to have his hair cut in the salon where she works is introduced to Northern Soul played on her cassette player, and tempted to join her in a trip to the famous Wigan Casino Club, which was the best known Northern Soul venue of the time. In fact, so well-known that many celebrities visited it. Anna Ford the newsreader was an attender, and so was Newsnight's, Paul Mason. Others attendees were one Mark Almond, who so liked Gloria Taylor's "Tainted Love" that his group Soft Cell, released their own version, along with another Northern Soul classic, Dean Parrish's "Tell Her". The Club was voted world's best disco ahead of New York's 49 Club, and its reported that even in a hut part way up Mount Everest, someone has inscribed the words "Wigan Casino Rules".
On the bus up to Wigan, Joe finds that some of his friends, including a girl who has a crush on him are also Northern Soul fans. Joe finds he can't dance as well as he would like. Something we all felt when first starting to learn the moves. Joe had come second in quite a few ice skating competitions, the scenes of which were cut out of the final edit. But, with help from the girl who has the crush on him, he begins to learn the basics, and, of course, quickly becomes pretty good. At the club there is a bit of a bully guy, something that was out of character, because all the All-Nighters were remarkably free of any trouble, as everyone there just went to dance. Long story short, it ends up as a confrontation between Joe, and this guy, and a dance off. But, I'm not saying more than that, because you should go see the film.
There were some criticisms I'd have that I've mentioned before. As the film was based in Stoke there could have been some mention of the Golden Torch in Tunstall, which was cloed down by the Council in 1973, but until that time, had been the main Northern Soul Club in Britain. I can see why they didn't mention it, because it would have not fitted the script. Also, in 1974, there were still at least half a dozen pits still open in North Staffordshire, and alongside the Pottery Industry, and the steel works was the main employer, certainly for men. 1974 was also the year of the Miners Strike, and of the three-day week, and it was, therefore, something that affected most of the people who lived in Stoke. In fact, I remember a heated debate in Bews record shop, which was, and had been for many years the main source of Northern Soul records in the area, and where some of the DJ's from the Torch also worked. If Soul Boy II is made, some of these other background features could be included to give the script a bit more depth.
The film was premiered at Stoke's Film Theatre, with a second showing in the King's Hall. My main complaint would be that either the sound system was a bit crap, or else the DJ had the bass turned up way too much, because a lot of the dialogue on the film was hard to make out. I also found that during the actual All-Nighter, I was finding that many of the records were a good way through before I recognised what they were, because the bass was just drowning everything out into a monotonal thud. That might be okay for the modern dance music that is just a repetitive bass back beat with little or no variation, but the thing about Northern Soul is that it is uplifting, and it gets that uplifting feeling precisely from the variation between low and high notes. In fact, when I play it, I turn the bass down, and the treble up, in order to emphasise that variation, and also because too much bass simply drowns out the rich variety of sounds, and instrumentation that goes into the whole texture of the music.
There are some videos on Youtube if you search for "Soul Boy Stoke Premiere", but I haven't put any up, because apart from the Gabriella Cilmi one all the others are very dark, and I expect some better ones will be posted soon.
What was great to see was the number of young people there, and the fact that the tradition of the dancing continues. I was talking to one young lad, who had got most of the moves, who must have been not much older than about 13, and one great bit was to see him and another teenager dancing off against each other, and both recognising the talent of the other. Brilliant, except it made me want to be 16 again.