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A Personal History Of Northern Soul by Ady Croasdell

A Personal History Of Northern Soul by Ady Croasdell magazine cover

I first went to a rare soul all nighter in early 1969. It was in a solitary disused railway station about half a mile from the hamlet of Kelmarsh in north Northamptonshire, 5 miles from my home town of Market Harborough. I knew the big soul acts of the day whose records had made it to the UK - Otis, Wilson Picket, Carla Thomas, Temps, 4 Tops, Supremes, Fontella Bass, Brenton Wood Etta James - but the records I was hearing at the nighter were by the Esquires, Tony Clarke, Homer Banks and the American Poets who I had never heard of. The small function room soon filled up with 100 skinheads most of whom were dancing in groups or solo, so being on my own I felt comfortable to get up and move to the music. The crowd seemed intense but friendly despite my hair being longer than all the other blokes combined.

I told my mod/skin mates in Harboro about it and soon there was a crew of us going over, getting the pills down our necks while dancing to this alternate type of soul which we referred to as Old Soul. Who knew Tamla singer Kim Weston had recorded an uptempo soul mastepiece in ´Helpless´ or the Velvelettes had cut one called ´These Things Will Keep Me Loving You´? We made friends and recognised some of the other attendees as characters from Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough whom we´d normally avoid but here in this secret meeting place it was all cool and we had a shared love of the music and the speed.

It turned out there were outcrops of similarly minded youths around the country in Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester and Derby. Even handier for an impoverished student like me a bloke called Dave Godin wrote about it in the Blues & Soul magazine; complete with playlists and tips and recommendations of places to go to hear these secretive sounds. Eventually Dave would dub the scene Northern Soul in his Blues & Soul column and the name would stick.

The clubs were keenly watched by the dedicated drugs squads of the local police. Northants was supposedly one of the most serious in the country and they were getting pissed off at the number of chemists that were getting broken into around the county.

The raids they conducted eventually closed Kelmarsh and I mentioned it to Harboro´s local dance promoters who ran the Frollickin´ Kneecap nightclub. They started to run all nighters at our town centre venue, renaming it the Lantern for those dances and making it a dedicated members club to get around the restrictive licensing laws. The scene was so small yet dedicated that there would usually be only one or two nighters on in the country at any time and when the Twisted Wheel in Manchester was finally raided early one Saturday night, the blocked up youths made the 100 mile drive down to Harboro to dance their blues away; in all senses of the word. The Wheel had been the brand leader and the epitome of cool, style and sounds and its demise was a major blow to young go-getters across the country. Like the Lantern a handful of other nighters would spring up and be closed down as the drug taking soared and the squads clamped down.

The next venue to become the undisputed Mecca for the nighter goers was the Torch in Tunstall, Stoke On Trent. It was bigger than the traditional 100-300 clubs that had previously been host to the scene but the 6-800 capacity old music-hall, complete with balconies and theatre boxes, was ideal for the rapidly expanding clientele. Also it was dark as hell, dripping with atmosphere and sweat and the DJs were moving away from the classic mid to up tempo Chicago and Tamla beat to seriously stomping sounds that could keep pace with the drinamyl-induced pumping hearts of the mainly teenage audience. DJs, collectors and record sellers were finding more and more ways of getting their hands on the vast number of mid 60s soul releases that had not reached our shores before. Johnny Sayles, The Younghearts, Mamie Galore, The Fuller Brothers and the Cooperettes seemed to be even more glamorous soul names, none of which had ever got close to an English release.

The Torch lasted for little over a year but had accelerated the scene´s growth and demand so that when the next big all nighter started in 1973 it was more than big, it was massive.

Wigan Casino was a similar ancient music hall / dance emporium but about four times the size and more of a complex than a venue; you could house a small town in its many rooms. Early attendances were adequate but the place was far from full and in fact seemed a bit too big for purpose when I went to one of the early nighters. A few months later on my next visit it was rammed to the rafters, using the Torch´s blueprint of non-stop stompers its reputation had spread across the country and youths across the whole breadth of Britain, disaffected with both the teeny bopper and pompous undeground of the UK’s pop scene had become die-hard soul fans overnight. It was admittedly a certain style of soul starting at 85 mph and going up to 140 in extreme cases, sometimes the soul quotient was forgotten about. What the hell, there were thousands of stunning sounds out there in good ole black America just waiting for jaw-grinding scruffy UK youths to hop on an aeroplane and rescue them for their own personal kudos and wealth and for the edification of 2,000 kids moving as one, hand-clapping in just the right places. The scene was so big it could accommodate other big all nighters at places like Cleethorpes and Yate near Bristol as well as the big and influential evening events at the Blackpool Mecca and elsewhere. The Northern Soul weekend experience was so intense it would incorporate big Sunday all dayers so that reprobates need never see their parents between Friday morning and Monday tea.

It continued as a big noise throughout most of the 70s but the alternate punk, jazz funk and disco scenes creamed off many attendees and offered alternatives for potential new recruits: the scene was becoming jaded. In London in 1979 the mod revival was underway and a small club called the 6TS Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Society was showing those style converts what the original mod soul music was about.

After 18 months of moving around the capital, the 6TS ended up at the 100 Club slap bang in the middle of Oxford Street where it still runs in that distinguished basement club today. In a way it was back to the roots as a venue as well as musically and the classic dingy, smoke-filled, basement club was ideal for the nutters and fanatics who have slunk down those famous stairs over the last four decades. Musically though it started out as classic club soul with a dash of R&B, it reverted to the more standard Northern Soul formula once the all nighters were established around 1981. There was even a period when the rare 70s soul scene made an equal contribution to the musical playlist but that was reduced drastically when the club took up the gauntlet handed down by the 60s Mafia DJs of Stafford’s Top Of The World All nighters around the mid1980s.

DJs Keb Darge and Guy Hennigan in particular were fed up with the staleness of constantly played oldies and reckoned there were still a lot of records, hardly known by the public let alone collectors, that could turn the scene on its head. Keb had a devoted band of followers who he would give cassettes of his new finds to so they would know his playlist when it was debuted at Stafford. They would rush to the floor to dance to records that otherwise would only have had interested looks. Guy was similar and mixed up the tempos a bit more than stompy Keb. He was the prime mover in big beat ballad scheduling and records like Tommy Navarro’s ‘I Cried My Life Away’ and Romance Watson ‘Where Does That Leave Me’ became massive. Keb also DJed at the 100 Club and Leicester nighters and soon the word was spreading. I was converted by the Latin sound of Bobby Valentine and spun a few down the 100 Club as well as big beat ballads like Johnny Maestro, Kurt Harris and the Trends ‘Not Too Old To Cry’. However what really put the 100 Club on the map, and helped the newies revolution, was finding some magnificent previously unreleased 60s soul tracks from the record company vaults. Melba Moore ‘Magic Touch’, Maxine Brown ‘Torture’, Chuck Jackson ‘What’s With This Loneliness’ started it and the Pied Piper RCA finds of Kenny Carter ‘What’s That On Your finger’, Willie Kendrick ‘She’ll Be Leaving You’, Lorraine Chandler ‘You Only Live Twice’ and Sharon Scott ‘(Putting My Heart Under) Lock & Key’ took it to a new level.

With the newies scene now established the super-rare scene started driven by one of Keb and Guy’s gurus the Stoke DJ Butch who had the best rare soul collection in the world and possessed records and later acetates so rare nobody could come close to him for 20 years (ongoing). It’s the territory of “how many of these are known in the world?”; the answer is usually less than five.

Stafford closed but the 100 Club kept on and new venues like Lifeline, Rugby, Burnley, Prestwich, The Dome, and others had their deserved moments in the spotlight. The 90s saw many returnees to the scene but a lot of those were happy to dance to the tunes of their youth and the rare scene has struggled in recent years. However the 2010s has seen an influx of new young faces and they are as keen on the new as the old, so there are signs of a revival in all areas and attendances are on the up again. A great new film on Northern Soul has been made by a Bury lass who has been a 100 Club regular for twenty years and the impact of that is eagerly anticipated.

site note

this article submitted by Ady C has also just appeared in the latest issue of Nutsmag and also ties in with The Crossfire oldies allnighter in London on this Easter Bank Holiday Sunday

further info via http://www.newuntouchables.com


Comments below are from the original comments posted at the original time of publication

Peter99 Apr 18 2014 06:54 PM

Nice read Ady.

Thanks for putting it together and sharing.


AGENTSMITH Apr 18 2014 09:45 PM

compact yet concise in its many elements...does adey croasdell do it better than carlsberg.....probably!

binsy Apr 18 2014 11:31 PM

Great story, really well balanced.nice one

Jim Elliott Apr 19 2014 12:28 AM

Succinctly put Mr C.

I'm biased being a home grown Northants boy, obviously.

Jim, Earl of Irthlingborough.

dthedrug Apr 19 2014 10:57 AM

Well what can I say ADY them early years were something, I remember Chris G taking me to some of these places Earls Barton Bletsoe Kelmarsh, Black Horse Leighton Buzzard however I can recall those great nights at Wigan with Pete Wid & M ick Smith there is so much you should of written,

I personally believe that the 100 Club original's kept the scene alive and your work with ACE RECORDS bought a few people back to the scene,

I have always looked upon you & Mick as mentors, I think you should fill in the many gaps in your story.


Russ Vickers Apr 20 2014 01:11 PM

Makes me proud to be part of a proper Rare Soul Scene....great article Ady, thank you...


arnie j Apr 20 2014 02:27 PM

good stuff,i enjoyed reading that,cheers ady


whereismy record Apr 20 2014 02:39 PM

Really good read Ady enjoyed reading it now just to wait for the book...

little-stevie Apr 20 2014 04:25 PM

My regards to Ady, You still strive to " keep it real " and command the respect of so many... A respect that some others will never get come close to... No matter how much they blow their own trumpet....

You gave many of us some of the best times of our life and still life in the old dog yet...

You made a lasting impresson on me with your events and taste in music......

Your fashion sense at times did not have the same effect but who in this world is perfect..

Hope to catch up sometime and its your round, i don't tend to send love letters and big up many blokes...


Byrney Apr 20 2014 05:39 PM

Now that's history, cracking Ady.

Jim Cafferky Apr 21 2014 07:24 PM

Great article from a great guy

So many tracks I have come to know via Ady and Kent - rare or just plain top quality

Many thanks for all the contributions you have made and the great tracks I have managed to hear via Kent

richo991 Apr 22 2014 07:31 PM

Thank's Adie ,I enjoyed reading Your artical. which gives a fair account of the soul scene,With regards to the music, my only gripe is that a lot of the music that was played ,is rarely heard due to either its rarity, or where you were at the time.I have come across some guy's with fab collections,which you can come across now & again but due to the amount of clubs now running its rare unless you happen to be at a weekender when there on I find that some of the afternoon sessions are the best

whats your oppinion on how the scene is musical.

thanks Richo


itsthebeat Apr 28 2014 07:59 AM

An excellent read!!


manusf3a Apr 29 2014 05:36 PM

AS above excellent read,one of the very best on here thats for sure.


ZootSuit May 09 2014 01:35 PM

'69 Kellmarsh, my first nighter, great read, brought back ALL the memories....more like a floodgate !!!!


alfranco Jun 06 2014 08:43 AM

Brilliant read even though I only went my 1st all nighter at Wigan 77 I was hooked 4 years before with my older sister going to VaVa's in Bolton and other Soul nights still am


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