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  • Writer's pictureAndy Przybyla

Northern Soul Revival

If you ask your DJ to play some Northern Soul and they look back at you with a blank gaze you might have chosen the wrong DJ. For me knowledge of where the Mobile DJ came from is as important in this trade is as important as a mechanic knowing who Henry Ford was.

Over the last year the amount of people asking me to play Norther Soul tracks has rocketed. It seems the youth of today have discovered and the older generations have remembered a style of music and dancing that used to be hugely popular in our region. It all started back in the early 70s with the Mods of Soho London, where loved to dance to the black American music. This soul music with a heavy beat and fast tempo was featuring on pirate radio stations and as music was still very limited in its availability.

In Manchester a few clubs started to focus on playing all night sessions of music followed by some underground venues in Sheffield. At the time a night our usually revolved around going out to watch a singer or a band and dance clubs were totally new. At the end of the 60's psychedelic rock started to take over in the capital but it wasn't for all and the Mods in the north were not for changing.

DJs started to import Tamla music from Motown and other labels which was very popular in the US. The music was starting to go out of date in America with Black Power rising and singers moving to funk rather than soul. The UK dance halls found this music too slow. The DJs reacted by heading to the US to purchase vinyl from record shops and look for hits that had previously been missed. At this point in time this style of music had no name, it was just excitement and dancing.

As popularity grew the sound and style needed a name and thus Northern Soul was born. The 4/4 beat of certain older records started to chart and bands that had previously gone quiet started to appear on programs like Top of the Pops. Just as Northern Soul was booming it had its first issue. The police and councils stomped on a few venues for use of drugs leaving the followers very few places to dance the night away. As the 70s progressed and Northern Soul came back but this time in Stoke, then Wigan, then Blackpool.

One of the huge differences that Northern Soul had from most other forms of music was it was championed by DJs. It was a boom in the advent of the party DJ. It came with its own fashion and its own distinctive athletic dance style. Northern Soul was an escape for people who had a mundane work life and hated Monday to Friday. As alcohol licencing didn't allow the sale during nights, amphetamines became popular again. It even saw people breaking into the local chemist on route to the venue if they couldn't get any prescribed.

Northern Soul also started to break down the barriers of racism, after all these people were all really showing love for Black American Soul artists, it was also big in getting males to dance which was previously taboo. Where the Americans has Soul Train the Brits had Northern Soul. Pye records started to produce a series of records to bring the Northern Soul records which the DJs of the time didn't like as it was detracting from what they were doing. This forced the DJs back into the States to look for obscure and rare singles.

This is one of the reasons the purists love it and modern day Northern Soul nights feature only original vinyl tracks played on turntables. Exposure from a TV show in late 1976 helped Northern Soul to break nationwide just as the records started to dry up and the scene imploded on itself. With no new records getting discovered or made and some of the DJs starting to discover Disco which was available in plentiful supply.

Some venues tried to struggle on but and saw them starting to play poor tracks and stuff that wasn't even really Northern Soul. Disco got bigger and it caused all out war between the two camps. It was like soccer hooliganism all over again and many DJs stepped back because of the violence. With the 60s stompers gone and DJs uninterested the Northern Soul scene slowly faded away. When the Wigan Casino closed down it signalled the end.

Northern Soul went underground and popularity grew for Disco, Breakdance and eventually House music. Lots of similarities can be drawn to rise of Acid House and Raves but now its back and people are wanting to get on the dance floor and stomp to the 4/4 beat.

Now you get just the best of Northern Soul, all the best songs, and hopefully some great dancers. I love Disco but nothing not even that can touch a great set of dancers having a blast to a few Black Soul Bangers.

Andy P

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