To the connoisseur, Northern Soul has been around since the late sixties, but to the majority of civilians it was one of the things that happened in pop music between the Beatles and punk rock. For either position to deny the other is somewhat disingenuous; certainly there was more to it than mere chart music, not least because it led to bigger and better things for many who stuck around, but it is difficult to deny that something extraordinary happened in its Golden Age.
It is easy now to laugh at the fashions, the pop records, dodgyy instrumentals and novelty records and I agree that many of the records haven't aged well. If I were listening to Steve Wright in the afternoon non stop oldies and they were playing records from the last 10 years, I would protest that they are not oldies. In the mid seventies the records played in the name of Northern Soul had been recorded over the previous ten years and many were new releases. Now they are between 35 and 45 years old and, while some have matured magnificently - Mel Britt and Tobi Legend spring to mind, I am certain that if people listened to them beyond pure nostalgia, more would agree that many of them sound at best passe and at worst ridiculous.
However, I also think that, with not nearly enough exceptions, the discoveries of the last 35 years represent obscurity for the sake of it and/ or a celebration of the ordinary just to ensure that nobody else knows or cares about them. If I were to line up my favourite Northern Soul records very few were not ' out ' by 78 and I think flipping over Jack Montgomery is the best thing that has happened since.
The relationship between Northen and Modern is one which no 2 Soul Fans seem to agree on. Popular myth would have it that everything changed with the Carstairs, but as we know from the Beatles, Wigan and punk rock, myths seldom reconcile with events on the ground. I recall reading an interview with Ian Levine when Russ Winstanley banned Bobby Franklin and Snoopy Dean from the decks at Wigan and he was not saying this was the biggest change since the Carstairs. Indeed, in the excellent book the In Crowd, he claims Crown Heights Affair Dreaming a Dream is the ' definitive late Mecca record. ' Perhaps Ladies Choice and Shake and Bump have fallen through the middle because they are not terribly good records and, in their own ways, the Carstairs and CHA are. And of course you can always rely on Levine, like myself, for a bit of audacity. The conclusion therefore is that the Carstairs did not lead to Modern Soul but to Disco, Funk and Jazz Funk.
My own view is that, while there are obvious similarities and parallels, they are essentially separate scenes. The aforementioned Mecca records tended to be let out, mostly by Curtis, as part of his greatest hits set, and there were the 70s records which emerged during the 80s, but the Modern scene probably achieved its apogee at the early weekenders, just before the northern revival took hold, and was dominated by people, often with a background in Northern Soul, who had dug deeper than Marvin, Curtis, Teddy and Womack and discovered Sam Dees, Lamont Dozier, Leroy Hutson, Donny Hathaway and Leon Ware and then dug deeper still. The problem was that, like the northern scene, it quickly developed a same 200 records syndrome, with everybody following Searling and/ or Sam.
Natch this is all discursive and dialectical which is what makes it, and us, so rich.