From Blues and Soul - 1971 - Dave Godin Article on his visit to the Blackpool MeccaA lot has been said and written about the history of northern soul in the UK, normally it mentions the Wheel as the start, the Torch then Wigan and so on. The Mecca in Blackpool is usually remembered with a reference to Ian Levine, However as this article from Blues and Soul in 1971 points out, prior to the rise of New Yorkers, the Mecca was a ... well a Mecca for rare soul.
site note - article reformated
From Blues and Soul - 1971 - Dave Godin Article on Blackpool Mecca
From 1971 before Northern was even called northern this account of his trip to the sea side is a fascinating look back to those far off days, cover ups, pillheads etc all feature and to me a tribute to a place which nowadays doesn't get the recognition it deserves.Thanks to Katie and Chris for sending the scanned original in. Read on for a piece of living history and one of the best written articles on site............
GOOD Soul times. like good Soul sounds. are difficult to convey and communicate in words without perhaps risking boring the reader with endless superlatives, and so when I reflect about the great visit I recently made to Blackpool's Mecca. I remember, when I come now to try and set down all my impressions that a golden rule is just to "tell it like it is". So here goes. and fingers crossed I can do it justice!
Having planned and talked about visiting Blackpool and seeing the Mecca's Highland Room scene first hand for about four weeks previously, when the actual day came I was excited and full of hopes and keen anticipation.The weather in London was miserable and wet after a week of uninterrupted fine weather but l refused to take this as an omen. Like dreams perhaps omens (if they exist at all) do go by opposites, because prior to setting out. I could never have imagined just how true all the good things I'd heard about the Mecca would turn out to be The previous Thursday at The Fountain a lot of interest had been generated amongst people there to visit the North and see if it is as good (or as bad depending on what letters you read!) as it has been cracked up to be and so travelling with me were Alf Billingham, Terry Davis (The DJ at The Fountain with Paul).his brother Pete. and their mates David and Arnold.
I was twenty minutes late. and as we walked the length of the train back and forth vainly trying to find seats (let alone seats all together), we had visions of standing for the entire length of the four hour journey to Blackpool! Luckily, a porter took pity on us, and soon took us to a flrst class compartment which he said we could have to ourselves, and on which was pasted the legend "for the use of second class passengers"
Soon we were moving on our way having had some very bad luck with my camera when I went to The Wheel with a faulty and seldom reliable flash, I started taking some photos straight away just to check out that it was working OK. It wasn't. Wasted bulb after wasted picture, so out of the window it went, whilst we were making about 90 an hour. Always throw your bad luck away from you, and that camera had bad luck on
it anyway, so, take my tip If something brings you bad luck throw it! We all had some good talks about Soul matters on route. but this was but a mild prelude to what was yet to come! As we went along, through unfamiliar countryside, so the weather suddenly began to change and brighten up! The camera incident was obviously paying dividends already! Some Soul brothers had arranged to meet us at Blackpool station. and when eventually the train pulled into the monstrous Gothic-Victorian enormity that is known as Blackpool station. Within seconds we were all introducing ourselves to all, Alf and Harold Grounds who had come to meet us. along with our old friend Led Cockell (who I had met at The Wheel when he was doing a DJ spot there) Despite the fact that there were six in our party. Harold insisted that we all go to his house for tea and soon we were listening to some of his prize sounds. revived and fortified by tea and sandwiches (Cheese for me. and cooked corpse for the others!) By this time it was getting close to seven, and as the Mecca starts getting
Alf, Dave, Led, ]an and Steve by the "Rare SouI '71" sign
underway about 730, we decided that we'd have to start moving in order not to miss any part of the evening By this time Led and the others had come back to Harold's place, and started taking us in his car by shuttle service!
I had never fully appreciated that The Mecca is such an enormous place. The huge building stands in a wide road, and it seemed from the crowds that were making their way there, that just about every person who likes a good Saturday nlght was converging on the place If you can imagine the crowds going into a football match, then you'll have a pretty good idea of the front of the Mecca on a Saturday night. They came by foot, by bus (unforlunately the remaining trams in Blackpool do not pass the door or I'd have insisted on arriving by that esoteric mode of transport) by coachIoads (apparently some of these coaches are hired by Mecca to give free transport into Blackpool to people from outlying places. and they return at a set time afterwards which struck me as a very good and emerprising ideal, and in cars. The broad front sidewalk was full of young people milling around. and already people were coming up to us and saying 'hi" and introducing themselves Some old friends from Manchester way and some people that I have only known previously through letters, but mostly new readers who I was meeting for the first time The poster on the outside proclaimed the attraction of the Highland Room "Rare Soul '71" and we took some photos in from of this historic legend
Little did I realise at that moment in time. that not only was this a true description of fact, but in actual reality was a sublime understatement Not only is the Soul they play there is rare some of it is impossible! But more of that in a minute Mr Pye (who is the manager ) had asked me to make myself known to him upon arrival, and he welcomed us. and not only let me in gratis but was also big enough to let in the dozen or some people who happened to be milling around talking with us. So to him I must give my special thanks for his great generosity The Mecca is divided into two levels. On the lower level they have a live band and singers, and on the Highland Room they have the Soul Sounds By any standard the H ghland Room is large, and the decor is modern and clean cut with a long bar at one end (which sells all sorts of drink until about 12 after which you can carry on drinking via waitress waittres service if you want to, and a small rostrum which the djs operate their turntables.
On a Saturday night the sounds are selected and played by Tony Jebb with Stuart Freeman, and during the week Billy The Kid is added to the rostor. When we got in Tony was on stage and Denise LaSalle's never to be bettered "lovers reputation" was playing. It was a appropriate choice since the reputation of Blackpool Mecca has been growing and gaining pace all summer, and this is in large part due to the hard work and discriminating selecting that Tony and Stuart put into their work And they certainly work hard, but as they are both dedicated Soul brothers, they have energy and enthusiasm to spare, and it was great to meet them (and later Billy The Kid on the spiral staircase) and talk to them about the Soul scene in Britain.
The general layout of the Mecca is a great one, and there must have been something like 5,000 people there the night we went, and I reckoned that a good 2,000 were in the Highland room! And by 1130 it seemed that I'd spoken and and shaken hands with a good 90 per cent of them! If there is one thing we Soul fans like doing next to listening to Soul Sounds it's talking about them! But, even though there were that many people about, the place is so spacious, that it never seemed overcrowded and cramped
The highland room has a huge dance floor, dim lights as well as ultra violet (you know the sort that shows up all the dandruff on your shoulders, and the fillings in your teeth),and the music is loud with a predominant bass amplication to hook the dancers.Plenty of chairs and tables to sit around and rap and altogether I would say the classiest soul location discotheque I've yet visited Comparisons are of course fatal, and lots of people asked me if I thought it better than The Wheel, but it is a mistake I think to compare the two.The wheel well, it was The Wheel, and anyone who went there will know what I mean by that. It had an atmosphere and rapport that had slowly grown and developed over the years, and it was unique to that particular location, but now that The Wheel is no more a new and exciting scene is growing at the mecca.
To say it is slightly different is not to put it down - in their own ways they are both unique, but never, in my wildest nights of fancy even, did I imagine that I'd see so many people at one time grooving out to such esoteric and way out Soul sounds! And they are known and loved! About 3 or 4 years ago I included in my top 20 for that particular year a record by Barbara Carr called "Don't Knock Love" which at the tlme didn't arouse much interest as an import, and I had merely thought it was another of those odd and funny sounds that do things to me personal]y, (because I am, I know, a bit of an odd and funny person myself at times!), and part, my fatal infatuation with female Soul singers! I can't tell you how thrilled I was when it came on and the dancers really moved to it and obviously loved it as much as I do!
I mention this particular item because I think it shows how Soul music has become the only true "underground" music in the country now.2,000 Soul brothers and sisters grooving out to a record that was never issued here, and which record companies continue to sneer at what we fans try to tell them, and if they issued it would take all the credit and the BBC DJ's would consider themselves way out super cool cats for playing it. Oh and ESMF,s they just don't know when to cut the mustard and each and everyone of the young together, hip young people at the Highland Room that night could tell them just where it's at and put them to shame in the process!
Meeting readers of this column is always humbling experience for me, because although one gets a lot of mail, it isn't until you meet a collective mass of the faithful as I did at Blackpool that you realise just how many Soul people there are in Britain. We are far more numerous than we think and perhaps the time is now right for us to capitalize on this fact and seize the time in our own Soulful way! Anyway, it was a great experience to meet so many readers and to know that we are all digging the same things and thinking much the same sort of thoughts. If I were to list all the names of the people who I was privileged to meet, it would cover a whole page of "Blues & Soul", but I must mention a few of the brothers and sisters who you will see in the pictures along side this article. Boogaloo (I never did manage to find out his real name could he really have been baptized that?) is a well known brother from Manchester and a way out character who has really got Soul power to spare and then some. He was trying to get me to start a fund to buy The Wheel to run as a Soul Co-operative (a cool idea that), which he swears is up for sale for a mere £5,000 (say it quick and it seems within the realms of possibility) He was there with his girl Lynn Garrrity who also knows her Soul and has wide knowledge and good taste in Soul Sounds.
Boogaloo was sporting a beautiful gold blazer badge which commemorated The Wheel with his name above it.Then there was the loveable Denise (who I remembered from The Wheel once met, how could anyone forget her) She's a great character, and was really having herself a ball. Then there was Tubby from Accrington who as well as being a regular good guy has the distinction of being probably the only person in the whole wide world to have the legend "Ric Tic Records" tattooed on his upper arm. Not only is this his personal tribute to his favourite record label, but the tattoos had managed to copy the type face of the
Alf Billingham and Lynn, with brothers and sisters at Blackpool Mecca
lettering on the record logo exactly! It really freaked me out and I couldn't get over it all evening! What a splendid way out crazy tribute to a whole attitude which is exemplified by Soul music! I jokingly teased him that he should have 'Keep the Faith - right on now" put on the other arm it'd never surprise me if when next we meet he's done just that. Little Chrissy (who is about exactly the same height as Rob Blackmore, and like him what he lacks in height he makes up for in Soul quotient!) asked me particularly to send his (and mine) greetings to his mates Gedd and Johnny who were unable to be with us that night. Maybe next time eh?
2 a.m.- --- time to go home.
Mick Blake and his Iovely wife had come all the way up from
Leicester to be with us that evening, and it was really great meeting these two! It's surprising how many Soul brothers are lucky enough to marry Soul sisters! Maybe it's as well though, as I just cant imagine living with anyone who didn't appreciate Soul. Trevor Hall from BBC Radio Blackburn was there and we had a brief discussion about the new Soul show that he will be responsible for in the very near future. And so many others who I remember as people, but whose names are now lost in the sheer, overwhelming complexities of meeting so many Soul people in such a competitively short time, but old, regular friends like Fran Francisco, John Bollen and Jacckie, and Steve Craine and Lynda and their friends were all there too, and I can honestly Say that I felt completely at home Perhaps more so than in many other places I have been to somehow, there was a special Soul magic and atmosphere about the friendliness of their reception. It was(sincerely) too much.
FUNNY though how some people mistake what they read someplace else for what they read in my column I was hurt when someone said that I had written (and you can search my every published word and you'll not find it) such insensitive and unfeeling prose as to ever refer to a fellow human being as a "pillhead" Certainly I'll take the can back for what I do write, but that sort of jargon (and all the bigotry of attitude that goes with it)just isn't me. But on the other hand some people reminded me of bits I'd written and records I'd mentioned that I'd forgotten all about - it's a simple fact and truth that they just know and love their soul in the North!
Well, with all this rapping to be done, I was hardly in a position to listen deeply to the Sounds that Tony and Stuart were laying down, but I heard enough to realise that this probably was the esoteric and knowledgeable selection of soul sounds being put out anywhere in Britain that night (if not the world).
There were well known favorites of course, but there were lots of specials too, and digging up and discovering these neglected sounds and helping and watching them grow in popularity is all part of the fun of the Soul scene There were few secret Sounds but those people who get uptight about special secret sounds should remember that good DJ's need just a few "specials" to get a following, and also, what secret sounds remain secret for long? Eventually we all find out what they are, and there are always more waiting to move on up to take their places! Such is the vastness and complexity of the wealth of richness of Soul music, that no one person could ever know all there is to know about Soul music, and we can all (myself as much as anyone) learn by listening and grooving.
BY 11:30 I had just about talked my head off, and Fran, Alf and myself slipped downstairs to the coffee bar for a good strong black coffee, and a five minute breather Just before this I had managed to have a chat with DJ Tony Jebb and his charming young lady He told me how hard he had worked in The Highland Room to present just the sort of programme that Soul people wanted, and I could tell he was dead sincere in what he was saying and in his dedication to Soul and The Faith. When Tony is resting, Stuart takes over with a slightly less esoteric selection, and so a real balance is achieved to please nearly everyone Coming back from coffee, we bumped into Billy The Kid who DJ's there one night during the week and is also a dedicated Soul brother. All too soon we had to split, and I didn't see him again untill we were all leaving, and he told me of the super itinerary he'd planned himself to continue the rest of the weekend in the most Soulful way I know
We were now into the final couple of hours, and still there were people I wanted to meet and speak to, and we managed to get some pictures on the camera that Ian had so kindly lent me As the lighting was comparatively dim however, this was very much a hit and miss affair as there was insufficient light to compose the picture through the viewfinder, and so I just took potluck. In the event, I think all things considered they came out pretty well.
Everyone was dancing to a superb version of "Angel Baby" by The Dilutes, and all too soon the last and final record was played Not before Tony had given me a great dedication however and played my all time favourite side. If you know Soul people what more could you really want for in the way of friends and acquaintances?
Billy the Kid, Stuart Freeman, and Tony Jebb - DJs in the Highland room
Soul is more than just music it is a life style I too Not an easily identifiable one since more than in any comparable field there is far less rigid conformity (which is great, and again, typical of the style itself), but the Soul way is a definite way, and I think this is an element of our music that does bring all closer together far more than non Soul people could ever realise or appreciate Outside, the comparative coolness of the two am air was very welcome and the sweet soul soundswere still buzzing through our heads. So many brothers and sisters tp say goodnight to and as Alf, Harold, Elaine and I strolled through the empty streets. I remembered something that Boogaloo had said to me during the course of the evening. He'd said that instead of ending with "Keep the faith", I should say "spread the faith" and I couldnt help but think this made a lot of sense, because people like those we met at Blackpool Mecca are all in their own wayspreading the faith of good soul music, and they know as well as I do that there is something so unique, so magical, and so fantastic about Soul records that somehow all other forms of music seem to fade into insignifigence when you compare them!
Maybe there are some who read this in the southern part of Britain who find it hard to understand just why I rave so much about the northern soul scene and oerhaps this because they've never been there and seen it first hand for themselves, because believe me there is no equivelent in the South , and untill you've been there I dont think any mere written word can fully convey to you that special and unique vibration that generates amongst the brother and sisters there. I only wish it was easier for people to get there so that they could expeirence it themselves, but if you do decide to make it to the Blackpool Mecca one weekend then take my word for it that you you'll find a warm welcome there and a nicer crowd of swingers and friends it would be harder to inagine. Untill Aug 21st 1971 I always thought of Blackpool as The Tower but from then on I shall always and forever remember it as the Mecca Soul Heaven here on Earth, and a pious pilgrimage that i would urge all the faithfull to undertake as often as they possibly can.
Keep the faith - right on now! Blackpool and the Mecca await you, my deepest thanks to you all
Dave Godin 1971- Blues and Soul issue 67
Well there you go, he has a way with words yeah? Thing that strikes me reading this article 28 years on is the passion for the music that stands out, the almost religious feeling about it all change a few words and it could almost be a preachers address.
Thanks again to Katie and Chris for scanning original and sending it in, if you yourself have anything knocking around similar that you want to share , let me know and we can get it up here.
As he said spread the faith...