The Strange World Of Northern Soul

 The Strange World Of Northern Soul

Oh How Unhappy: this has made some people and it appears that Ian Levine who produced this DVD set has been in and out of favour many times with the Northern Soul folks. Some of it has made me unhappy too: when people claim to know how things began: which were the originals? who did what? and said what and who found which record; so it goes on. The DVD and much of the surrounding websites and blogs and news groups about Northern Soul are often people wanting to be associated with the ‘Northern Scene in some capacity – its one of the strangest things about the world of Northern Soul: the arguments about who did what and discovered this and that.

 Its crazy and at the same time interesting as ‘Northern Soul’ came along, long after the original Soul Scene All-nighters were over; the best of that scene had burned out by 69’ and its peak was 66’and into 67’ when most of the later day Northern pundits were still in school.

There is indeed something very strange about Soul music; it can reach the parts that other music cannot; something deep inside. Ben E. King did a song about it; ‘What Is Soul’.  Quite often I hear a Soul music track and it fills me up with some kinda wonderful: exhilarating feelings that are pure emotion, almost ecstatic, sometimes melancholic. If you can get those sweetest feelings if you know it, that’s what its about; its Soul and it cant just be given to those that don’t get it, its more, much more than a feeling it’s a connection, its energy, its emotion, its rhythm, its indescribable, its akin to love in its purest form. Its music, its in Motown and Stax and HI, and Muscle Shoals, and many, many, more.

 

Around 100 of the songs listed in the Northern Soul Top 500 from Kev Roberts – a great book documenting the top Northern sounds; are from the original Manchester Club scene in a much earlier period. These are the apocryphal sounds that ignited the subsequent scene; lets get the facts in place. The subsequent 400, and I love them too, but its got to be significant that a huge chunk of the books content owes its origin to those sounds first played at the Twisted Wheel and the Blue Note clubs in Manchester (and others in London and throughout the UK) in 1966- 67’ which made the core sounds of ‘Northern Soul’.

In those days the originating ‘In Crowd’ for Soul were the Manchester Mods a clique with its own rare obscure sounds of Soul 45’s and in those days before Soul became mainstream, virtually every Soul record was hard to come by. Coming back to the DVD set: it does give some great insights, it is a historical documentation of much to do with Northern Soul. It is also sad to see our ageing Soul stars trying to re-create their peak performances. However many of the new recordings are great. Ian Levine recorded a huge amount of Soul artists on his MotorCity label, indeed the artists performances are very good but it’s a great pity that the backing track, especially the drums had to be digitally generated.

It’s a genuine and worthy achievement for a bloke who loves Soul music: Ian Levine.

Ian Levine was involved in Footsteps Following Me – Francis Nero. Written and produced by Ian Levine – a hit record in the U.K. in the 1990’s And Rocq – E  Harrell’s  “My Heart Keeps Beating Faster” on Ian Levine’s NIGHTMARE RECORDS, both are fantastic Soul records proving that the man can get the true meaning of Soul and get it recorded too.

Every true Soul appreciator ought to at least see this DVD as it is a work of monumental proportions. An incredible achievement by Iain Levine, and almost bankrupting him, but some of the facts surrounding the early years are somewhat biased,… and those backing drums aaagghhhHHH.

 Lets look at a few facts. The people we know and who built the MANCHESTER SOUL website went to the Twisted Wheel in the 1960’s and this website is from their collected memories. The ‘Wheel’ was the undisputed birth place of Northern and original ‘classic soul music appreciation and the location was in Manchester. The period in which it all began was 1964 – 1967 and possibly into 68’. This was when the main bulk of Soul recordings were made; the vast bulk of American Soul music was played at the Twisted Wheel, mainly by Roger Eagle and later by Paul Davis and Bobby ‘Dee’ Derbysher, all of whom were responsible for discovering song after song, and with Roger importing multiple USA records. Wheelgoer’s also imported lots of USA singles usually obtained from deleted lists via postal auctions. 

 

It was sad to see an obviously ill Roger Eagle in the film, on the DVD, but he was rightfully claiming to have originated the later Northern Soul scene, which is undoubtedly traced back to him. Then later in the DVD programme Phil Saxe (Wheel DJ 69’) saying Roger didn’t! There appears to be a lot of fairy dust associated with discovering rare tracks and the value of rarity with some people seems to eclipses the song’s own value in some cases, in favour of the vynil it was distributed on (container V content!). Certainly the discovery and popularising of 45’s has its own cashay with Northern Soul D.J’s.

I think that Phil was really referring to the music played in the end period of the Club 69-71 as ‘Northern Soul’ but as mentioned earlier Kev Roberts includes around 100 of the originating scenes discoveries in his book claiming the best of originating Soul recordings.

A lot of it is about ego building; its as though the locating and playing of a record by an individual (DJ) becomes as important as the skill and the delivery of the artist and the musicians involved in recording it! In objective terms one does eclipse the other: its called talent, the other is called ego and the it never existed before ‘I’ found it syndrome. There is obvious value in this but lets get it straight when it comes down to it: the music is more, much more important than the DJ.

 

Roger & John Lee Hooker at The Brazennos Street Twistwed Wheel (Pic (c) Brian Smith.

Lets get some more facts straight; without Roger the Northern Soul scene would never have got started with such an impetus, and it would not have been in Manchester (probably London). Obviously some people that make claims in the DVD programme did not go to the ‘Wheel’ at the formative period, they know nothing of the records played, and many believe that recordings they heard later (at the Wheel in 69’ 70’ at the Wigan Casino, Golden Torch, etc) were discovered by their contemporaries, but this was years after the originating crowd had danced all night long to many of them on multiple occasions in the mid-sixties.

Some people are commenting and making assumptions without the facts. When Roger left the Wheel he took his record collection to the Blue Note Club, a few streets from the Wheel, here he was able to expand his playlist to include a much wider range of black American music. He increased his import activities and the club benefited by attracting lots of Wheelgoers who appreciated the wider musical range. Roger focused the club upon Stax recordings and continued with a huge range of lesser known artists. The subsequent DJ’s at this club followed in his footsteps- keeping the faith!

 It appears that the name Northern Soul was given in the early 70’s by the Soul City records promoter and music press writer Dave Godin but in fact this scene had been started half a decade previously and with many of the tracks that were in the early 70’s being unearthed as ‘new’ Northern Soul had already been found and played till their grooves wore out by Roger and his successors.

The Twisted Wheel was playing lots of what was then (early-mid 60’) called R&B and Rogers playlist reflected all the early Motown and lots of other great tracks e.g. such as the records from the Essex in 63’ (“Walking Miracle”) and this date is significant as noticed on the Strange World Of Northern Soul by Bob Stevens an early Soul record collector.

 

Sadly Roger is no longer with us and cant put the record straight, however we his friends and admirers @ SOUL DIRECTIONS can.

Many records were also discovered and played at the Blue Note Club in Manchester that also have later been claimed to be discovered only by the latter day ‘Northern’ crowd.

Its easy to show some proof of this by looking at Kev Roberts Northern Soul Top 500: its peppered throughout with tracks that we danced too when originally put on the turntables at the Twisted Wheel between 65-67 and at the Blue Not till 1970.

These facts are also verifiable by lots of our own friends who remember with great respect and admiration of Roger. He truly was the Grandfather of the classic period of what was later tagged as Northern Soul. Look at the playlists from individual artists on the Soulbot section of the Manchester Soul website to see all the tracks originally played at Manchester’s Soul clubs before the decade of the 70’s.

 We all owe a huge debt to Roger for turning us on to Blues, R&B and Soul and the least that can be done is to set the record straight. And another thing, the Wheel management had virtually NOTHING to do with the music and the ‘scene’ going on at thier club.

But please don’t take our comments as an attack on Northern Soul’ we love it and do appreciate the tracks that have been truly discovered, the ones that we missed and we appreciate that! The real difference between the originating Soul scene was that the sixties scene played a mix of slow Soul as well as the faster tracks that the later Northern crowd wanted – thus their scene is better described as focused upon dancing whilst ours was dancing and also listening.

The Twisted Wheel DJ’s  were:

Pete Van Dort

                                  

                                              Roger Eagle

           The ‘O’ riginator the Godfarther of ‘Northern Soul

 Neil Carter

Roger Fairhurst

(Both mates of Rogers)

John Cohen

Bobby Derbyshire: Quintessential Soul Period

Barry Turner: Quintessential Soul Period

Brian Rae: Quintessential Soul Period

Paul Davis 1967-70 – Quintessential Soul Period

Brian Phillips N/Soul period 69/70

Phil Saxe (mate of Paul Davis)

Les Cockell 70 – N/Soul

Brian Walker

 

The Strange World Of Northern Soul is a good attempt at documenting how it all came to pass, but also highly recommended is the MANCHESTER SOUL website that brings together all the information about the originating scene that really did begin it all:

 Here are some of the customer revues for the DVD set (lifted from Amazon):-

1.0 out of 5 stars not good, 3 Feb 2006

By A Customer

This review is from: Strange World Of Northern Soul [DVD] [2003] (DVD)

this should really be reclassified as a horror movie. Picture this, – a 96 year old ‘Bob Relf'(though let’s face it it could be anyone) shuffling around outside what appears to be an old folks home miming to a synthesized/drum machine version(they
don’t have the rights to the original tracks) of ‘Blowin my mind to pieces’, intercut with footage of what I think is the atomic bomb going off in Hiroshima; or a toothless and it would seem highly medicated Billy Butler pretending to play the guitar in his living room. All these great songs have been destroyed, and legends like Phillip Mitchell are made to look like idiots, the latter prancing around what I think is a
fountain in the local park – all the footage is camcorder and
the versions of the songs are so bad it defies belief. The only
saving grace is the occasional decent interview with the likes
of Edwin Starr

 22 of 25 people found the following review helpful:

1.0 out of 5 stars The Pathetic Re-Recording Of Old Classics, 4 May 2006

By  X-Ray This review is from: Strange World Of Northern Soul [DVD] [2003] (DVD)

I’m sure if you frequented any of the clubs mentioned in this box-set way back when, then this collection may captivate you but if you really are passionate about the music give this a wide birth as all the tracks listed have been re-recorded with a synthesizer/drum pattern machine. The only worthwhile sections on all the discs are the studio get together and jam sessions by the artists and individuals reminiscing about their time spent originally recording the tracks. If the producer of this compilation is as enthusiastic as he portrays about the genre then he should of done the Motown/Soul artists credit by just having the celebration and not trying to re-hash masterpieces.

 28 of 32 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars Words are not enough, 26 Jan 2004

By  J. W. Cartlidge (Stoke-On-Trent, Staffs United Kingdom) (REAL NAME)   

This review is from: Strange World Of Northern Soul [DVD] [2003] (DVD)

Annoying, tacky, overdone, amateurish, poorly produced oh and annoying.
What am i talking about? Ian Levine? his recordings? Could be. But in this instance it’s those awful visual effects put around every artists on these dvds. They cheapen the performances given by these hallowed artists as do the some of the appalling electronic music used to back said artists. The miming of some acts is terrible. I personally think it would have been better to show interviews with the artists whilst playing the original track, but that’s just my 2ps worth.
BUT IF YOU LOVE NORTHERN SOUL BUY THIS SET. If you never buy anything else in your life again buy this set of dvds.
The memories that the music evoke and the fact that a lot of the performers(some that I have met personally over the years) are now departed, literally brought me to tears.
Putting faces to names of singers whose material I’ve loved for 35 years, to see the joy in those faces when they realised that they had huge amounts of fans in the U.K. was truly amazing.
The sheer number of classic soul tracks contained in this set is enormous.
Mr. Levine has been criticised by many people(including myself) over the years, and indeed this project could have been done more professionally, BUT, there is no doubt of Ian’s love and dedication to the music we all know and love ourselves.
This is shown in the interviews for U.S. t.v. and the obvious pride in accepting an award from the Mayor of Detroit.
Thank you Ian for making a grown man cry…………
To ALL northern soul fans out there BUY THIS, you won’t regret it.
Keep the faith.
J.

 LINKS TO BUY @ AMAZON

Also you might pic up a low cost used one at YouTube

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