Sunday, 10 August 2008

Still Not Souled Out

In the next week or so shooting begins on a new film entitled “Souled Out” here in Stoke. For the last few weeks my youngest son who is a freelance film cameraman has been working on the film in preparation for shooting. The subject of the film is close to my heart – Northern Soul. I would have quite liked a part dancing in the film, but its set in 1974, and at that time there were not many Northern Soul dancers in their mid 50’s. Both then an now Northern Soul was and is a phenomena, and what is significant for me a largely working class phenomena.

Watching some of the programmes today of past decades TV gives a very distorted picture of reality. In the 1960’s youth culture was divided effectively between Mods and Rockers. The Mods were listening to The Small Faces, Amen Corner, and the Who, whilst the Rockers were listening to Elvis and Heavy Metal. Even at that stage by the mid 60’s although the Beatles sold lots of records, and managed to get followed round by lots of screaming young teenagers they did not really fit into either category. They were largely listened to by what would become known as teenyboppers, their parents for whom the Beatles were safe, and by all those who participated in youth culture vicariously through the TV and listening to Top of the Pops. I remember seeing an interview some time ago with Sandie Shaw and Cynthia Lennon, and the latter was somewhat put off by a comment by the former that nobody who was really “in” listened to the Beatles. In fact, I can remember one day when I was about 13 going home and telling my sister that there was a great new Beatles song out, to which she replied she’d heard it, and it was rubbish. She was 8 years older than me, and had been going dancing for several years, and was by this time well into listening to R&B to Rufus Thomas, Long John Baldry and the Soul Sisters who were regulars at local clubs.

By around 1967 the Mods and Rockers division had broken down, and now the division was between those like me who were into Motown and Black Music, and the headbangers into Heavy Metal. At school that again was the division with just a few of the kids who didn’t really fit in still listening to Top of the Pops. At school from around the Third Year – it was a very small village school – we had use of a common room with an old record player. For a while you might here Mick Jagger thumping out Honky Tonk Women, but mostly the school corridors resounded to the sound of the Four Tops, Supremes, Temptations, Edwin Starr, and Martha and the Vandellas. Half the people had long hair and went off to Pop Concerts like that at Madeley where Mungo Jerry came to short lived prominence, whilst the other half of us, were practising our dance steps, tricks, and going up to Rosina Ward’s junk shop in Hanley to look for soul records from years gone by that people had thrown out.

By the time I was 14 I was going to the Golden Torch in Tunstall, which a few years later was to become an icon on the Northern Soul scene, and venue for people from all over Europe. In the week the Torch used to open its doors often for free, or else there would be a 6d (2.5p) entrance charge, and free beer for the first half hour. The Torch, which had been a cinema had in the early sixties been a Mod Venue featuring many of the top Mod Acts of the time. In fact, when I first started going there was still a strong Mod influence, and the dominant personality was a guy called Tombo, also known as King of the Mods, and his three friends. In fact, still at the time there were Mod v Rocker bust ups with Scooters left outside the Torch getting trashed, resulting in a subsequent visit to Gracy’s Café in Burslem by Tombo and his friends who proceeded to throw a couple of motorbikes through the café window.

In fact, in those early years fights inside the club were a nightly occurrence, and the police and police dogs were equally frequent not just to stop fights that got out of control with people being thrown off balconies and so on, but also because it gave them a good reason to come in to look for drugs. In fact, although the Torch was no worse than any other venue at the time for drugs it had that reputation, and the Council were continually trying to close it down. They eventually succeeded in 1973, but on Environmental Health grounds. In fact, a few years ago I was working with the EHO who was responsible, and I didn’t hold it against him honest.

But, by the late 60’s Motown and what was becoming known as Northern Soul was, as far as dance clubs were concerned, all pervasive. Not only were clubs opening up all over the place, but existing clubs were looking for DJ’s who had Northern Soul collections because that was all anyone wanted to be played. When I left school in 1970 I was dancing every night of the week – its no wonder that we were all so thin then, because I can’t remember ever thinking of going to a Pub let alone out to eat rather than go out dancing. In addition to the Torch every Youth Club ran discos playing Motown and Northern, every Labour Club and Workingmen’s Club had Soul nights. Like many other kids at the time who had grown up with the Torch I had by then a sizeable collection of records of my own, and again like many others used them to DJ at various Youth Clubs – not of course for money, but just because we loved the music.

It wasn’t surprising that when I started work as a Stoke Council trainee I came across another trainee who was a Torch regular. In fact he worked at the Torch. When I got the sack by the Council within the year for causing trouble by going to the Union with a complaint I was out of work for a while, and started to work myself at the Torch. Again, of course, not for money, but to get in free, and in return for doing a bit of glass collecting free drinks. And I was also able to do a bit of DJ’ing too. In fact, it was around this time that we decided to rearrange the inside of the Club. There had been a central round stage in the middle of the dance floor going back to the Mod days, and we decided to get rid of that because it hindered dancing. The DJ’s booth, which was always getting bounced when a fight broke out we moved from one end of the dance floor up on to a raised area which would originally have been where the cinema screen was. I was still only about 17, and for me this was absolutely great.

Around that time we also started to get a lot of US acts coming to the club. They were great too. On many occasions I’ve sat before we opened talking in Chris Burton, the Manager’s, office, with Edwin Starr, Junior Walker, Arthur Conley and many others. When the Elgins came they all chipped in helping to unload their gear from the entry behind the club. What I think gelled was that this was music listened to and danced to by young working class people, and sung by American working class people. Most of the Motown Artists were from black working class families in Detroit, and the same was true of the other main centres in Chicago, and of course down in the South with all the Stax artists like Sam and Dave. In fact, with many of the artists that came to prominence when Northern Soul really took off they had often gone back to work, or never gave it up, singing as a side line. Many of them were amazed to be asked to come to Britain or to Europe where they were famous.
The renovations we did in the Club heralded also the beginning, in addition to bringing over these big acts, to also becoming a more hard line Northern Venue, and the beginning of All Nighters. Dancers began to come from all over the North West, and later even from Europe. People who came just for the music, and to dance weren’t interested in fighting, and that disappeared overnight. And dancing became for most young blokes THE thing. By this time I’d been dancing for several years, and for every night for several hours solid. In fact, when I went back to College for a few months between jobs I used to dance every dinner time in the Northern Soul disco we ran at the College.

Back in the day I was no mean dancer, able to do all the spins, back drops, splits and other tricks demonstrated in the videos opposite, and more besides. Like many more Northern Soul fans I have continued to go on and off to various All Nighters and events held at Keele University, and Stoke Town Hall (where the dance scenes for the film are being done) which now again regularly attracts large numbers of people from Europe, particularly from Sweden. In fact, a year ago it was a friend of mine’s 50th Birthday. He had been some years ago a T&G Convenor at a local Lucas Plant. He had also been a member of my LP Branch and local Councillor. After being made redundant he became a Trade Union Studies lecturer alongside a miner friend of mine from back in the 84 Strike. His birthday party was held at the Port Vale Social Club and was filled with lots of Labour Movement friends. But he is also a Northern Soul aficionado, and the music for the night reflected the fact. I hate to see an empty dance floor so that was my first port of call, which resulted in an ovation for my solo effort. Later in the evening after a great deal of sweat I took a brief rest. A woman came along and bent down to speak in my ear. “I don’t know who you are, but you are the best Soul dancer I’ve seen,” she said. I have to say that I was a bit flustered by this as it didn’t look good sitting next to my wife to have some woman come along and start whispering in my ear, and I’m afraid to say that in my embarrassment I was probably a bit rude to the woman in not thanking her for her compliments!

I don’t know much about the film. My son has read the script but I wouldn’t compromise him by asking too much about it. What I do know is that its set in 1974, year of the great second Miners Victory that kicked Heath’s Tories out of Government. The Miners had also won in 1972, and I remember at that time I had just started going out with my wife. In Burslem where I worked there was a record shop called Bews. Not only was it the outlet for all the latest Northern records – many of them bootlegged – but it was staffed by DJ’s. I remember a big argument one day, obviously when the strike must have just started between one of the DJ’s who was supporting the Miners, and the owner of the shop, who for fairly obvious reasons, wasn’t. I think shortly after he opened his own shop.

Although, the film is not specifically set in Stoke the actors have been having coaching lessons to try to grasp the Potteries accent, something which my son has also been able to help the language coach with. The only other thing I know is that the main character decided that they want to know more about Northern Soul, and decides in order to find out to go to Wigan Casino, the club which took over the mantle of the Torch after it closed in 1973. A bit shaky on the plot, there because as I said at the time everyone knew what Northern Soul was, and you didn’t need to go to Wigan to find out, just go to your Youth Club, School Disco, Workingmen’s club and so on. Still I’m not complaining about a film about Northern Soul, and with Duffy going to Number 1 with a Northern Soul revival it all seems good to me. Perhaps I might get a job as an extra playing some old duffer collecting money in the cloakroom.

Try These stormers:

Eddie Parker - I'm Gone

and Eddie Parker - Love You Baby

and finally Gil Scott Heron


Anonymous said...

My generation had house music and warehouse parties. I think there's some lineage from soul to house music. It also had this anti-commercial aspect to it as it was what everyone was listening to but the artists were rarely seen in the charts. The best thing was the way parties were organised and the length we had to go to avoid police roadblocks to get to them. The way information was passed in secret ways to a large group of people to arrange secret meeting points from where convoys could set off. We had no mobiles and no internet so most of it was word of mouth networking. To finally get to a party after all the cat and mouse antics made it like finding the holy grail.


WhiteDwarfStar said...

There was no "heavy metal" in the 1960s. What groups are you referring to, Boffy?

Boffy said...

Sean, yes I think you are right, and I think it came out of that general dance scene.

Jase, bloody hell mate you're asking me to think back 40 years for the names of groups whose music I wouldn't have been seen dead listening to, if you could listen if you'r dead.

I'm not sure about the Rockers because like I said I was really only about 13 at that time, but when I occasionally went to the village Cafe where they hung out - the Village only had about 1,000 people living there if that so we all knew each other whether you were Mods or Rockers, and we all got along fine as far as that was concerned - the main thing I can remember was mainly hearing Elvis. But I suppose it would be more correct to say they listened to Rock rather than it being "Heavy Metal".

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying there's anyhting wrong with Elvis. We used to play Jailhopuse Rock at the Torch because its good to dance to. Witness final scenes of the Blues Brothers.

But, in the later 60's when Mods had divided in two there were those of us who were into Motown and Northern Soul, and the others who we used to call Blues Boys, as opposd to Blues Brothers, because that was what they said the music was they listened to. Personally, I don't think it was. To me Blues is B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Little Johnnie Taylor, whereas they were listening to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix (who started out as an Isley Brothers band member, and such like.

We didn't call it Heavy Metal, we referred to it as Fribbo Music, but basically it was stuff that was very loud, lots of twangy guitars, lots of bass and to us sounded very discordant. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that at that time some of my friends were listening to Deep Purple, and led Zeppelin. Certainly by 1970 one of my friends I went to Day Release with was into that stuff. I can also remember some of them in the 60's being into Free, Cream, Chicago Climax Blues Band, and so on. Maybe you wouldn't call that Heavy Metal I don't know.

There was some leeway. I've already referred to playing Jailhouse Rock, but similarly in the early years a lot of us went from being Mods into not quite skinheads, but we listened to Reggie (though today it would probably termed Ska) alongside the Soul and Motown. Such as

Phoenix City Rolando Al

People used to do the Moon Stomp long before Michael Jackson turned it into the Moon Walk, and wore bright white butchers trousers that effervesced under the utra violet lights, along with the Ben Sherman originals, and braces, but not always dockers for dancing.

Also, just because you have to be able to dance really fast to keep up with it we used to play

Nutrocker - B Bumble and the Stingers though this video is a bit of a feeble version.

One thing that puzzled me is that I can remember seeing an interview on Ready Steady Go with the Beatles, whose best record I think was Get Back, which owed a lot to the involvement in it of Billy Preston, in which when asked who THEY listened to they said Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and particularly the Impressions. The Impressions were a Chicago based group made up of Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, and Gene Chandler all of whom Curtis Mayfield in particular went on to solo success. Some of the Beatles earlier stuff that was R&B based of course owed a great deal to Black Music, but I can't help thinking that there is literally an ocean of difference between Yellow Sumarine and these Impressions classics.

You've Been Cheating


You Ought to be in Heaven

WhiteDwarfStar said...

No, I wouldn't call Cream or Hendrix metal. Things they did were taken by metal bands and rather drastically altered. "Heavy Metal" as a term didn't appear until 1970 or so, I think. It meant Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin (which wasn't really a metal band, aside from a few songs that could fit in that category), Humble Pie, Blue Oyster Cult, Mountain, other such bombastic bands.

Boffy said...

Humble Pie were certainly a 1960's band, because they were fronted by Stevie Marriot who was lead singer with the Small Faces before they broke up.

Boffy said...

Also Deep Puple date back at leas to 1968.

Boffy said...

According to Wiki Sabbath were formed in 1968 too.

Mr. Suave said...

Great post. Always interesting for us Yanks to hear about the real soul scene. Looking forward to the movie as well.

Mr. Suave

Boffy said...

Mr. Suave,

Good to hear from across the pond. Sorry I haven't replied to you sooner. I enjoyed your site, and I've added you to my blogroll.

One of my acquaitances here who is a Northern Soul DJ as a friend in the US who is into the music, and through whom he is able to dig out new tracks. His friend is actually a Native American. I think that Black Music took off over here more than in the US for cultural reasons. I know that many of the artists themselves were amazed at how much people over here knew, and how enthusiastic they were.

I wrote above about little known artists finding that they had become famous. One example, I know which is well known in the circles is that of Robert Knight. At the club where I used to work, the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke on Trent, the resident DJ played a track called "Love on a Mountain Top". As some of the record companies began to realise that soemthing was happening they began to pick up on some of these records and re-issue them. Within about two weeks of its re-issue "Love on a Mountain Top" went to Number One in the UK Pop Charts. See this clip from BBC's Top of the Pops 1974.

Love on a Mountain Top.

Robert had been working for some time oblivous to the fact that his record was so famous, until he got the call to come and perform live at the BBC. He also had a previous song - it ay originally have been released as the flip side to Love on a Mountain Top, I can't remember now - entitled "Everlasting love". That song was covered by The Love Affair, and also became as I recall a Number One, and was certainly a big Mod hit. Both here.

Robert Knight

The Love Affair

Enjoy, and Keep the Faith.

Miss S. said...

I'm several years late, but this is a wonderful post! Here in the US, retro soul music is sort of creeping around on the underground; although most dance night incorporate funk, top 40 60s-70s soul, and latin music along with it. I don't DJ publically, but my sets even include some 'mild' disco (like Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up"). You see today, even the old-school soul that charted is getting obscure. The hooks remain familiar as long as rap and hip-hop groups sample them. But other than that, they risk slipping away into obscurity.

Being Black American myself, I remember growing up and having parties and picnics, and inevitably, the "old folks" would get to the record player and start playing 'their music'. Us young people (who were into Ice Cube, Bobby Brown, SWV, etc.) would just disburse). My Great-Uncle is 76 years old and sells records. I went to his shop yesterday and cleaned house with $30 (he sells all 45s for $1...but gives me a 'deal' so I actually got 43 I believe). Two other guys were raiding the 45s with me. He looked at them after a few hours and basically said, "What the hell? Are they going to go through EVERY 45 I have?"). Hahaha...but he was smiling when he said it!

I hope it never ends for you!

Boffy said...

Miss S,

Thanks for your comments. Its always nice to hear from people in the US. I have to say I don't have a lot of time for Rap or Hip-Hop. As a dancer I've got quite a few disco toons, and twenty years ago when I was teaching I had a few good days with some of the students who were teaching me to body pop, and break dance.

I hope you check out some of the stuff listed in my Northern Soul Index.

Vasil said...

Hi Arthur, do you know where I can get hold of a full listing of the live bands that played at the Torch? Me and my pals from Leek used to particularily go to the Torch on the Sunday Blues sessions and had a wale of a time.

Any pointers you can give me would be great.


Boffy said...

Hi Vas,

Best bet would be to try to track down Chris Burton, the manager. he used to live in New Inn Lane, Trentham many years ago.

You could try the Leek Soul Club, to see if anyone there has any current contacts.

Unknown said...

been trying to locate you Arthur for a few years , please contact me Keith Beardmore in Cheddleton . my last address for you was in Kidsgrove

Boffy said...

Ey up KB. Thought I might have seen you at Stoke Town Hall All Nighters. I've thought of coming to one of the Leek soul nights that I saw you were involved in a while ago.

Haven't lived in Kidsgrove for five years now, and have should we say an interesting time in the intervening period. Can you give me your phone number, and I'll ring you.

I'd have to get Simon to explain to me how do work some of these other social media thingies.