Leeds Central Soul Club Remembered
The Coronavirus lockdown has given me much time to reminisce and I have decided to put into words a bit about my early days as a 'soulie' in Leeds.
I first went to The Central in 1975 I think, when I was 19 years old - I was certainly a member by then, as I still have my membership card which was valid until 31-Aug-1976. I lived in Leeds at that time as it was where I grew up - although, I haven't lived there since 1982.
I remember in the early to mid-seventies buying reggae records at Jumbo Records in the County Arcade upstairs - tunes such as 'Skank in Bed' by Scotty and Lorna Bennett, 'Duppy Gunman' by Ernie Smith, and 'Dat' by Pluto Shervington. They used to have adverts in the shop for the International Soul Club and I particularly remember an advert for an All-Nighter at Queens Hall featuring (amongst others) Major Lance and JJ Barnes. Unfortunately, at that time those names didn't mean anything to me and I knew little about 'the Northern scene' and so wasn't tempted to go. I also remember they had a flier for a soul club event in a frame hanging on the wall - with hindsight, I'm guessing that it was probably an advert for a big night at The Torch, Stoke-on-Trent - possibly the last all-nighter held there? As well as buying records there, I also bought 'Blues & Soul' magazine - and that sparked an interest in Northern Soul for me.
I remember going to a pub in Leeds city centre called The Precinct which had a DJ who played pop soul records and they had a dancefloor which looked like a boxing ring. I think that was the first time I saw lads dancing on their own. Pop soul was very popular in the charts and on the radio - with artistes such as The Three Degrees, The Detroit Emeralds, George McCrae, The Hues Corporation, MFSB....as well as all the Tamla Motown classics.
If I went to a 'do' around this time, the favourite records would be songs such as 'Sweet Soul Music' by Arthur Conley, 'Land of a Thousand Dances' by Wilson Pickett, and "Ghost in my House' by R Dean Taylor. It was clear then that soul tunes with a dance beat were popular - and I wanted to discover more.
Wigan Casino All-Nighter had opened in September 1973 and I knew about it and I wanted to go to the first anniversary in September 1974 but couldn't get tickets - and so ended up going there for the first time around October or November 1974. I went with my mates Al and Ackers on the train from Leeds City station to Manchester, and then on to Wigan.
I first went to The Central around the same time - either just before I went to Wigan, or just after. For the next two or three years, I became a regular visitor to The Central - as well as making infrequent trips to other soul venues in the region. I remember (for example) going to The Cat's Whiskers at Meanwood in Leeds, to Raquel's in Wakefield city centre, to Samantha's in Sheffield city centre, to The Cow & Calf Hotel at Ilkley, to Yeadon Town Hall, and to the 'Buffs' Club at Keighley.
I remember The Central as a Friday night out 'in town' and it being a really popular place, open from (I think) 8pm to midnight or 1.00am. You have to remember that at that time the pubs closed at 10.30pm, and going to a 'night club' until 2.00am such as 'The Mecca' (real name Locarno Ballroom in the Merrion Centre) meant you had to dress up to get in, and could only listen to pop soul (and chart pop records) whilst the young women danced around their handbags and the young men stood around the edge of the dancefloor watching. Also, I think you were supposed to be at least 21 years old.
The Central played proper Soul and proper Northern Soul - and the blokes danced on their own, and there were as many men dancers as there were women. The DJ I remember most was Paul Rowan, who played stuff like 'Ever Again' by Bernie Williams, 'What Kind of Lady' by Dee Dee Sharp, and the instrumental 'Thumb A Ride' by the Earl Wright Orchestra. The DJ most people will know is Steve Luigi - because he's a legend, but I'm sure there were others whose names I can't remember. I know that Frank (real name Ian Dewhirst) DJed there sometimes - and I remember him playing more modern tracks (which were popular at Cleethorpes Pier All-Nighter also) such as 'Ton of Dynamite' by Frankie 'Love Man' Crocker, and (I think) 'Summer in the Parks' by The East Coast Connection.
I remember walking down the steps into The Central, and getting a buzz from the atmosphere almost immediately. The club is oblong-shaped, and on descending the stairs you are entering at one corner - and so can see across the whole of the club. There would be lots of people you knew, and we all had our own type of greeting - I don't know if it has a name, but it's where you hold your hand out, palm-up - and the other person slaps down onto it, and then turns his hand palm-up - and you slap his hand.
We all used to occupy the same bit of the club each week - me and my mates used to be at the right hand side, in the middle. We were all from North Leeds - suburbs such as West Park, Horsforth, Cookridge, and Tinshill. Next to us, in the back right hand corner was usually Steve from (I think) Moortown area who rode a Vespa scooter. The group in the middle of the club were from (I think) East Leeds and were thought of (by me, at least) as the top soulies there. There was a guy called Gary who had long hair (when we had all had ours cut short) who wore a brown leather bomber jacket and he was the best dancer there, and a guy called Steve who wore an authentic American bowling shirt with an embroidered picture on the back. I remember going to the first Cleethorpes Pier All-Nighter with those guys - that would have been February 1976, I think - we all went on a minibus from Leeds city centre, and collected some others at the Manifesto Soul Club at Knottingley on the way. I remember standing on the pier in the cold, wet, dark night waiting for the Nighter to start. It was worth it , though - I remember it was one of the best nights I had. The big tunes there were 'So Is The Sun' by The World Column, 'Cut Your Motor Off' by Black Nasty, and 'Lend a Hand' by Bobby Hutton.
My mate Ian was probably the second best dancer there (or at least I think so). He was slim, and had black curly hair and wore glasses, and always wore a mod suit - made by a tailors called Trews on The Headrow in Leeds. A lot of us at The Central had our trousers made at Trews, and I had two suits made there. I can't ever recall going to Wigan with Ian, but I remember going with him to Blackpool Mecca and to Cleethorpes Winter Gardens - both times getting a lift from other people.
The group in the front right-hand corner were not known to me, but I remember them coming from nearby towns to the South-West of Leeds - such as Birstall, Cleckheaton, and Mirfield.
At the left-hand side (far end) of the club was the seating area and the bar - where the older soulies were. They were like the 'Elder Statesmen' of the soul scene, and they knew all the records being played, but they didn't normally get up and dance. There's pictures of them in The Gallery here on Soul Source and I can remember them from the pictures - but I never really spoke to them, or knew them. The main thing I remember about them is that they all seemed to have a beard!
There were loads of others whom I can't remember - but, if pressed, I bet I could bring some of them to mind. I've got a really good memory (for an old bloke) and could go into much more detail about names and places - but I'm not sure whether it is appropriate to do so on a public forum. I'm not used to this 'posting' lark!
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