Best Soul Nights in the North East Ever
1. DUNELM HOUSE, DURHAM.
My first all-dayer was in 75 and I tend to think of them amongst the best days of my life. Most of the records I hear as I go round Northern Soul Nights still, I heard for the first time that first day. People came from all over the country and all the top jocks played. Searling did an afternoon set due to commitments elsewhere on the evening; with Levine and Curtis moving increasingly into disco, Funk and Jazz Funk, he was head and shoulders above the rest playing traditional northern, though some prefferred Soul Sam. Some things never change.
Alex did an all-nighter in 77 but staying up all night wasn't my thing and I hated it. Probably the most important dj set of his life though as he played Hi Tension to a mostly northern crowd and got away with it.
The following year he put Chris Hill on armed with fireworks, a portable mick and just about the last great set of Funk and Jazz Funk newies and wearing red trousers. Somewhat ill advisedly, Alex copied and wore his for years.
2. THREE TUNS, DURHAM.
Its legendary bouncy dancefloor wouldn't get past health and safety now, the Bottle generally got things started and Jimmy Radcliffe normally brought proceedings to a close. Whatever Alex became, we benefitted from the last relevant years of Wigan, the peak of Cleethorpes and the last great flowering of the Mecca before Saturday Night Fever and Georgio Moroder made disco naff. Levine and Curtis both guested.
3. BERWICK WEEKENDER.
Technically on the Scottish side. Not as life changing as what happened next, but it certainly had its moments and hinted at what was to follow. A time when the djs were discovering they were playing the same records as each other before they started deliberately playing the same records as each other. Funk and disco maestro Paul Cooke asked me to produce his radio Soul show and became an unlikely hero among certain serious Soul folk and some of the records he played became staples on the Modern Scene.
4. MANOR HOUSE, WEST AUCKLAND.
Solely in terms of music, in a league of its own, though too ahead of its time for anyone who just wants to dip their toe(nail) or those who want to play politics. Similar manifesto to Rhetford but much of the music there is as naff as the term Just Soul with its connotation of unimportance. Been tying to remember if I gave Paul: Curtis - No thing on me, George Jackson - Aretha and the Tops - Still Water to play at Berwick.
5. AYCLIFFE. Legendary Northern Soul town, the home of many a day/ night in the mid seventies including the first all-nighter I ever went to which was the first time I heard the Flasher and the Ojays I Love Music. John Howard persuaded us to go and I never told him how much I hated it.
I particularly remember a great night in nearby Spennymoor around the time of Cathedrals when my big sister, obviously keen to lose her kid brother, told me another child had started coming. For decades I thought it was local legend Paul Shoulder until he recently confessed to being 3 years older than me.
In the 80s Gaz Simons and Baz Atkinson arrived on the scene to offer spirited resistance to the demise of Northern Soul in just about every venue in Aycliffe and the surrounding area, initially playing mostly well chosen oldies, before gravitating to sixties newies with mixed success and then more Modern and Just Soul. When the crowds returned they sought out obscurity, cynics might say, for the sake of it.
6. COACH AND EIGHT, DURHAM.
The second venue Alex ever played after Nevilles X Youth Club; in fact he would feed his several dozen records to the resident dj. At 12/13 I was too young to get in but I was talking to North East Northern Soul stalwart Pete Donnelly just last night and was reminded that I used to go down to the bus station to see people coming out. On one occasion he was armed with a selection of Dells albums, announcing, in his inimitable way, they were his favourite group. Who ever guessed he would prove ahead of his time?
Alex retrned in 77/8 playing 50/50 Funk and northern though it only really took off when he jettisoned the northerm catching the last classic era of Funk and Jazz Funk. Wild and crazy.
7. NEVILLES X CLUB.
His last full on northen night, if you include Lamont - Back to my roots, JB - Body Heat, Kool and the Gang - Open Sesame, 3 tracks off the Tramps album Disco Inferno and Carwash by Rose Royce. Both Bill Swift and Paul Mooney guested so not quite sure who to thank or blame. Now 15 I was developing a critical ear saving my trips to the loo for You're ready now and Jnr. Walker - I aint goin nowhere, part of his ill concieved Motown half hour. Also divs ( remember them? ) on the horizon.
8. RUMORS, SUNDERLAND.
Not really sure why I remember this monday night in 1980 so fondly. Perhaps it was the last gasps of the Jazz Funk scene before it became too night clubby and Funk and Jazz Funk descended into club classics and smooth Jazz. The music wasn't bad though: JBs Doing it to death, Cameos last great album as a full on Funk Band, Gene Chandler - Does she have a friend? and Really, Really love you by Cecil somebody or other.
9. TOGOS, CHESTER LE STREET.
Formerly Sombreros and latterly Crocadillos, Alex and Bill Swift did a mid week night around the time of Mr. Nice Guy and Troublemaker. The Leeds Central Djs ( whose names have temporarily escaped me ) did an all-dayer as part of their Bott1e$ over Britain/ Ar$e$ over England tour and there was an all-nighter which I hated.
10. HOOCHIE COOCHIE, NEWCASTLE.
Easter Bank Holiday all-dayer was the best Northern Soul event I've been to in 35 years. Everything was all wrong but with Soul Musics enduring resilliance it turned out right. No dance floor to speak of, no imported big name djs, a stupidly priced bar, no food and a que to get back in didn't deter people - this was what it was like to go to a Northern Soul Night in its Golden Age. And herein lies the perennial problem, that Northern Soul will forever be judged on how well it can approximate the early/ mid seventies. The trick seems to be in ommiting the ones which haven't aged very well ( for me, the majority ) rather than relentlessly playing Casino Karaoke or I'll name that tune in 1974. I've been trying to think what was played in the 4 hours I was there which I didn't have by the time I was fifteen: two big ballads which were terrible, 2 ska records which briefly reduced it to farce, the Spinners I'll be around and Lou Rawls are a bit bogstandard and probably owe more to the Jazz Funk scene. I always listen to Modern Soul with trepidation and this was no exception: Sam Dees Fragile handle with care and Lew Kirton Heaven in the afternoon are great, if tired, classics and presumably the latter is an inevitable part of every all dayer. Anybody who thinks I've got the need is Modern Soul is using a simplified formula which misses the point and JJ Barnes version of How Long, enjoying its second outing I've heard in recent times, should have been left in the seventies.
Likely to be another one in August and some of the problems should have been sorted, but demand and expectations will be high and it could turn out to be one of those one - off events that nobody can quite explain.
Respect also for putting on: Candi Statton, Azymuth, Rose Royce and Alexander Oneil.
WALKERS: Chilites, Womack and Womack, Tashan.
NEWCASTLE MAYFAIR: Brass Construction, Gil Scott Heron.
SUNDERLAND MAYFAIR: Crown Heights Affair.
NEWCASTLE CITY HALL: George McCrae ( in 74 ), Commodores, Four Tops, Crusaders, BB King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Bill Withers, Average White Band, Benson, Cameo, Mary Wilson, Chilites.
SAGE, GATESHEAD: James Brown, George Clinton, Irma Thomas, Mavis Staples, Ornette Coleman, Swing Out Sister.
GALA, DURHAM: Maceo Parker, Terry Callier, Femi Kuti.
SUNDERLAND EMPIRE: Temptations, Smokey Robinson, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards.
METRO RADIO ARENA: Four Tops, Temptations and Tavares.
Obviously I was 13/14 during the glory years of Northern Soul so my choices emanate from Durham and are somewhat Alexentric. Do you have fond memories of a Soul Night in Newcastle or Sunderland? Was the Garden Farm your thing? Or the Red Lion? Or do you prefer the nightclubs: Julies, Gretna, Buddys, Walkers, Macmillans or As you like it?
I am currently writing a book about my life in music so if you have any info, memories or anecdotes you'd like to share and you see me flying at a Soul Night near you, come and have a chat. If you respond here there's a fair chance I won't read it since I'm seriously computer illiterate and can never find these things once I've started them.
top photo: http://www.flickr.com/people/12653005@N05