Jump to content
  • Sign Up

Soul Or Nothing - A Paper Given At Manchester Universty

Soul Or Nothing - A Paper Given At Manchester Universty cover

You may have read a recent news article on here about the availability of "Soul Or Nothing" a eBook by Kimasi L. Browne via Amazon

Thanks to Stevie Cato, Kimasi (read post here) kindly gave permission for Soul Source to publish the paper he gave recently at Manchester Metro Universty which was based on the "Soul Or Nothing" eBook (531 pages) available via Amazon

Please include the following disclaimer with the paper.:

This paper is still a work-in-progress and will most likely be further edited as a result of feedback received follwing its presentation to the Manchester: Music and Place Conference. It was initially intended to be "heard" rather than "read" so It has not been carefully edited for grammar, spelling or other typographical errors. Please read it with this in mind. I just couldn't pass on this opportunity to simultaneously present it to the Northern Soul community.




I'm in the UK carrying out follow-up research to convert the dissertation into a "hard copy" book manuscript.

The study looks at the scene in 1998 and traces its roots from the early 1960s. At the time I began the study in 1996 there were only two books on Northern Soul ("Nightshift" and "Soul Survivor"). In "Soul or Nothing" I review all of the books on the subject that I could reasonably locate up to 2005. As a dissertation my writing s deliberately academic, however I purposefully wrote everything with the Northern Soul community an intended audience..

..you may post it on the site for the fans to read and comment if they want to. The paper is being presented at an academic conference called "Manchester: Music and Place" to a group of cultural studies scholars from all over the world, most of whom have never heard of Northern Soul.

A paper presented to the "Manchester: Music and Place" Conference. Manchester Institute for Popular Culture. Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England. Thursday, June 08, 2006



Kimasi L. Browne, Ph.D. (Azusa Pacific University), USA


In the post-industrial North West of England, the Northern Soul scene has been a cross-generational, working class "youth subculture" that has adopted African American material culture from 1967 to the present. The collective cultural expression of the participants on this scene has been articulated through collecting, dancing to, venerating, and attending dos centered on 1960s' African American rare soul music on 45 RPM 7-inch vinyl records. Although Northern Soul grew out of the Mod scene in the 1960s in the South of England, since the early 1970s, it has been and continues to be concentrated in the Greater Manchester region but has also existed throughout the UK.

In this paper, I will address issues pertinent to the formation of these fans's cultural identity. Using the terms fan, devotee, enthusiast, adherent, scene, community, music culture, and phenomenon, interchangeably, I will argue that in their prior and current everyday lives, this music has not only mediated ideological issues on the Northern Soul scene, but that these issues have resulted in the affective rendering of the scene into an asexual music culture.

This essay is based on my own field research conducted in Greater Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Greater London, and Bedfordshire in 1998; and in Los Angeles in 2004. My field research involved collecting views held by Northern Soul fans about their past and present points of view about their local world, and their affinity for African American culture. I will make use of perspectives from the works of Mark Slobin (1993), Stuart Hall (1989; 1996); Joanne Hollows and Katie Milestone (1998); Russ Winstanley and David Nowell (1996); Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton (2000); Anthony Giddens (1991); and Kimasi Browne (1999: 2005).

The Northern Soul subculture is a collective group that belongs to what Mark Slobin calls an "affinity interculture," even though its members are not part of a kinship heritage they are part of a commodified, disembodied network "and particularly their transmission is "of the old-fashioned variety," according to Slobin, "face to face, [and] mouth to ear" (Slobin 1993:68). The emergence and longevity of this type of transcultural phenomenon, is, as Stuart Hall expressed it in 1996, a part of the "decline of the West" and what he further calls "that immense process of historical gelatinization which is just beginning to make the British, at least, feel just marginally "marginal" (Hall 1996:119).



A brief history and geography of Northern Soul in the Greater Manchester area has already been addressed in the literature by Joanne Hollows and Katie Milestone (1998). As they have placed it, the scene's presence in Manchester can be traced directly to the Twisted Wheel club that opened on Brazenose St. in 1963. "The Wheel's" pioneering DJs Rob Bellars and Roger Eagle introduced an eclectic mix of American rhythm and blues, jazz, and early soul artists and records. This venue was the first to "hold 'all nighters' in the North West of England and [did] so until it closed at the beginning of the seventies" (Browne 2005: 84).

The Golden Era of Northern Soul dates from 1971 to 1981. This period coincides with the years in which the most famous Northern Soul clubs--the Blackpool Mecca and the Wigan Casino-- flourished. The Wigan Casino was a legendary venue and also an Era in the history of Northern Soul. It opened, according to Winstanley and Nowell, when its owner Gerry Marshal, allowed DJ Russ Winstanley to "open its doors to the soul fraternity at 2 a.m. on the 23[rd of] September 1973" (Winstanley and Nowell 1996:1). Although all-nighters have taken place in England since 1964 in London on the Mod Scene and later at Manchester's Twisted Wheel, the Casino's all-nighters quickly became legendary. Due to Dave Godin's urgings to soul lovers to go North and "see for themselves" (although he was referring specifically to the Twisted Wheel), they followed his advice and in the wake, discovered the Casino Club in droves.

The records played at the Casino were fast tempo, based on the Motown sound, and obscure. The primary draw to the club was the sense of camaraderie. Starting in 1971 and since, young and old soul lovers drove from all over the country to dance in Northern Soul venues, some from over 200 miles. Today, DJs and fans come from all over Europe. In 1998, in the North of England, the paramount Northern Soul venue was Manchester's Ritz on Whitworth Street and Oxford Road. In large part, this was due to the Bank Holiday events promoted by Richard Searling. Today, the fastest growing soul music do is called "Soul or Nothing" and is currently held in Manchester's Aqua Bar. This contemporary mini-all-nighter plays an eclectic mix of African American dance music from the 60s and 70s. It was started in 2005 by DJ Steve Cato, and is still promoted by him.


"Northern Soul music" has a variety of stylistic categories called "classics," "oldies," "newies, "R&B, mid-tempo floaters," "crossovers," and "beat ballads," but the music style that is most common in Northern Soul is stompers. Historically, stompers have been linked to the Wigan Casino Era, and those to whom the Northern Soul community refer to as purists.

Stompers and Rare Motown

Today, the "Northern Soul Stomp" is a dance that is omnipresent on the scene and is the spontaneous response when stompers are played. Various types of acrobatic dancing, spins, backdrops, splits, and so forth have been danced primarily to stomper, since the early 1970s.

"I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops is a perfect example of a stomper. It is a "Classic Motown" tune and one of the few aboveground hit records that are still widely accepted on the play lists of most Northern Soul DJs. According to Brewster and Broughton (2000:91), this 1965 Holland-Dozier-Holland song, provided the blueprint for Northern Soul itself, because it had, "exactly the kind of sound liked by rare soul fans at the Twisted Wheel."

"Think It Over (Before You Break My Heart)" aka "Reconsider" by Brenda Holloway is an example of underground "rare Motown". This 1965 stomper is completely obscure (even to Holloway's aboveground fans) because it has yet to ever be released. It came to Northern Soul as accidentally discovered studio acetate. Even so, today, the song is an extremely popular "standard" on the Northern Soul scene.

Above all else, the one enthusiastic phrase that continually greeted me when I first arrived on the Northern Soul scene was this one: "The quintessential Northern Soul song is 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do),' Frank Wilson (sic)." This phrase was uttered with the same excitement always, no matter who uttered it, as though it was in reference to a dearly loved relative. Also a 1965 stomper, "Do I Love You" has a lore that is both epochal and apocryphal. Since there are only two extant copies, it is the rarest of all vinyl 45s in the Northern Soul catalog. Its market value in 2005 was £15,000 or $27,548.


The primary function of this music in the everyday lives of members of the Northern Soul music culture has been to mediate ideological issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and the aesthetics of social equality, all of these are formative factors in one's individual and collective cultural identity

Cultural Identity

My concept of cultural identity is based on references by Stuart Hall's and Anthony Giddens' to the "juxtaposition of 'self' and 'other'" (Giddens 1991, Hall 1989). In my Ph.D. dissertation, "Soul or Nothing: The Formation of Cultural Identity on the British Northern Soul Scene" (Browne 2005:195), I use the term "cultural identity" as an encompassing both "self identity"-as-the-individual in relation to society at large; and the "group identity"-as-a-collective of individuals who ascribe "to" and participate "in" agreed upon patterns of behavior and ways of understanding. In the case of the formation of a collective Northern Soul cultural identity, it is the music that supplies the presence of the "other;" an "other," which is necessary in order to understand "the self." The cultural identity of the Northern Soul community is realized through its interaction with the culture, which is soul music and its artifacts, of the "other," the "others" being African Americans.


In Britain, race and ethnicity present subtle and obvious markers of difference. Race relations in the U.K. may be more understated than in other parts of the world, but they exist nonetheless. Re-negotiation of what it means to be male and white in the U.K occurs as social interaction on a variety of levels. One characteristic of being young is being reconciled to the challenge and journey of self-discovery and choices in regards to outward appearances. This includes choices as to which friends to follow and which friends to lead, what clothes represent one's personal statement, and the negotiation of race and class, and other signifiers of difference. The Northern Soul scene provides space for such negotiation through and around a multitude of cultural obstacles.

Steve Cato of Manchester is a social anomaly in the Northern Soul community. He is white and he is black. He was born to an interracial couple; his English-born mother is white and his father is a black immigrant from the Caribbean island of Grenada. Cato was raised by his mother and her parents in Huddersfield in Yorkshire and has had to negotiate his "otherness" all of his life. He believes that he has always asserted his individuality and that the Northern Soul scene affords him the perfect platform to express his difference as well as his empathy for black American culture and for his place within the Northern Soul phenomenon. When asked about the longevity and cross-cultural appeal of Northern Soul, Cato replies, "I don't think anyone's quite explained yet why the Northern Soul scene has been kept going in this country, [or] why '60s black American soul music has been kept going by a predominantly white audience "a 99.9% white audience!" (Cato 1998). Cato feels that others who are outside of the Northern Soul scene view it with suspicion and often marginalize its adherents. Cato is not dissuaded:

People think I'm crazy, but there are a lot of people out there who have got an obsession, for whatever. You've just got to accept someone's obsession and let them go with it. In this world, you need crazy people. That's what makes it a beautiful place. If everyone was sensible, into nine-to-five jobs, into mundane things, into just rearing children, and just doing all the things you believe you've got to do "it would be a sad, sorry place. Leave us eccentrics! Just let us get on with it. (Cato 1998)

Gender as a Marker of Social Difference

London fashion photographer and media producer, Elaine Constantine is an avid Northern Soul fan. She is unique on the Northern scene in that, as a woman, she has attained a place of distinction in mainstream youth culture resulting from her prominence as an emblematic fashion photographer. Her two passions, photography (beginning with the scooter scene) and Northern Soul have been intertwined since her early teen years (Constantine 1998). Constantine expressed to me her perspective of men on the Northern Soul scene with respect to gender as a marker of social difference:

Where I come from in the North, the way that boys [and] men are brought up is to be ultra-macho, never to show emotion, never to show weakness. But it is definitely one of the things that people make fun of in other parts of the country because it's so extreme there. And going to an all-nighter, I'm listening to what's a really "softy" emotional tune? "You're Gonna Love My Baby" [a 1965 obscure Motown record by Barbara McNair that is hugely popular on the Northern scene] "[and] seeing guys who are muscle bound, tattooed, [and] dead hard, get up in the middle of the dance floor, going [sings while mimicking] "You're gonna love my baby." I think that is the only time that these guys get to some kind of emotional release, that is, that driving euphoria that is on the dance floor. I think even for people who aren't as tough or as strongly brought up as that, there's still an element of that coming through. And when you see someone you know has that extreme upbringing, that's that bonding you get in, that empathy, because you know, that this is their release of a lifetime. (Constantine 1998)

Asexual Culture

Rare soul music reinforces the Northern Soul aesthetic of social equality. This affectively renders the scene an asexual culture. In 1998, many men on the Northern Soul scene viewed it as asexual. They saw it as an environment in which they were liberated from the social obligation of pursuing women. The overwhelming majority of men interviewed for this study referred to women on the scene as "equals." They also stated that the primary purpose of going to Northern dos was to interact with "the music." The British Northern Soul scene incorporates a diversity of expression with regard to the identities of individuals and how they currently see themselves. While camaraderie ranked high among reasons stated for participating on the scene, the gender of fellow participants was not stressed even though, among both male and female informants, the gender referred to most frequently was male. Although homosexuals are welcome on the Northern Scene, a particular sexual orientation is not a criterion for acceptance. The concept of gender equality is evident on the dance floor at any given Northern do. Dave O'Connell, of Uxbridge told me,

"At a Northern Soul do, [women] can go there and be what they want to be in their own rights. And there's no hassle off anybody. They're there as friends of ours, not as somebody you're going to try and get off with" (O'Connell 1998).

During the 1970s and early '80s, the Northern Soul scene was much more stratified along gender lines than is apparent in the 1990s or today. A statement by Mike Bull of Manchester, further clarifies the place of gender and the transcendence of the dance experience on the Northern Soul scene. For Bull, the dancing was a spiritual connection with the music, not trying to establish a relationship with a woman:

It can be a personal experience that's just between you and the music and it has nothing to do with anybody else. And I think that [being told] "I'm sorry, but I can't speak to you because I've got to go and dance" "is because it's the personal thing. I want to dance. And I want to dance to the sound of that music. And that music has got me dancing and I just want to be alone with that music, with that record, with that dance. And I don't want to share it with anybody else. I want to share my dance with the music....There's just such a strong bond, there's such a strong feeling, there's such intensity" (Bull 1998b)

As Bull so clearly illustrates, these obscure African American soul recordings serve as a kind of conductive looking glass through which members of the Northern Soul community mediate individual and collective ideology issues.


In closing, the fields of cultural studies, popular music studies, cultural anthropology, and ethnomusicology are rife with case studies of British working class white males who are strongly attracted to African-derived music cultures (i.e. Rye and Green 1995; Hebdige 1987), I believe that my research elucidates two issues that warrant further serious investigation: The first of these is the scene's radically disproportionate presence between members of the originator culture and those of the receptor culture; the second issue is the under-researched dynamic of asexuality within subcultural scenes. I stress that it is the music "embedded in the grooves" of the vinyl 45 record that is the "real" Northern Soul artifact. Therefore, it is the music that galvanizes, connects, and bonds the dancer to the DJ, the collector to the dealer, and the promoter to the Northern Soul venue. The Northern Soul community has formed an inimitable subcultural world which is grounded in African American obscure, uncommon, and in many ways exotic soul music. As a result, they have created a portal through which the United States has had a positive influence on the formative spheres of identity, scene, and material culture in the United Kingdom. On the throne of the social and political hierarchy of the British Northern Soul scene, the "place" of the African American rare soul vinyl record is sovereign, for it is the glue that bonds this entire community together.

Please note the paper above is based on the eBook (531 pages) available via Amazon


Brewster, Bill, and Frank Broughton.2000. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. London: Headline Press.

Browne, Kimasi L.2005. 'Soul or Nothing': The Formation of Cultural Identity on the British Northern Soul Scene. Ph.D. Dissertation. The University of California, Los Angeles. Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, Committee Chair.. 1999. "The Introduction as Signature: An Analysis of Western Musical Instruments in Chimurenga, Mbaqanga and Motown," in Turn Up the Volume!: A Celebration of African Music, edited by Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, 220-229. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.

Bull, Michael F. (Mike).1998. Personal interview with author. Northenden, Manchester, England. 10 May 1998.

Cato, Stephen M. (Steve). 1998. Personal interview with author. Hulme, Manchester, England. 12 May 1998.

Constantine, Elaine. 1998. Personal interview with author. London, England. 21 May 1998.

Eagle, Roger. 1998. Personal interview with author. Bangor, North Wales. 6 May 1998.

Giddens, Anthony.1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Godin, Dave.1998. Personal Interview with author. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. 7 May 1998.

Hall, Stuart.1996a. "Minimal Selves" in Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr., Manthia Diawara, and Ruth H. Llindeborg, 114-119. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

1989. "Ethnicity: Identity and Difference," Radical America 23(4):9-20.

Hebdige, Dick. 1987. Cut 'n' Mix. New York: Metheun.

Hollows, Joanne, and Katie Milestone.1998. "Welcome to Dreamsville: a History and Geography of Northern Soul" in The Place of Music, edited by Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill, 83-103. New York: The Guilford Press.

Middleditch, JoAnne.1998. Personal interview with author. Bedford, Bedfordshire, England. 4 April 1998.

Milestone, Katie L.1995. The Production and Consumption of Pop Culture in the Contemporary City. Ph.D. Dissertation. Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, Manchester Metropolitan University. [Katharine Lucy Milestone]. 1997. "The Love Factory: The Sites, Practices and Media Relationships of Northern Soul," in The Club Cultures Reader: Readings in Popular Cultural Studies, edited by Steve Redhead, 152-167. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

O'Connell, David.1998. Personal interview with author. Uxbridge, Middlesex, England. 15 May 1998.

Rye, Howard, and Jeffrey Green. 1995. "Black Musical Internationalism in England in the 1920s." Black Music Research Journal 15(1):93-107.

Searling, Richard.1998. Personal interview with author. Manchester, England. 10 May 1998. 2004. Personal interview with author. Los Angeles, California. 13 March, 2004.

Slobin, Mark.1992. "Micromusics of the West: A Comparative Approach." Ethnomusicology 36(1):1-87.

Winstanley, Russ, and David Nowell. 1996. Soul Survivors: The Wigan Casino Story. London: Robson Books.


As of May 24, 2006

Kimasi L. Browne is assistant professor and director of gospel choir and ethnomusicology at Azusa Pacific University. He joined that faculty in fall 2001 and directed the Gospel Choir from 2001 to 2006. In addition to his work with the Gospel Choir, he developed a series called World Music at APU and brought traditional master-musicians to campus from Bulgaria, India, China, Hong Kong, Nigeria, South Africa, and Italy. He teaches ethnomusicology courses (Introduction to World Music, Music of Africa, Soul Music) and the graduate Seminar in Music History II (1800 to the present).

He has conducted field research in Los Angeles, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Tampa, Toronto, and in England, Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Granada, Spain, and in Beijing, People's Republic of China, supported by grants from the Institute of American Culture, the UCLA Center for African American Studies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Professor Browne is a respected international scholar who regularly presents lectures at international conferences on British underground youth culture, African American soul music, and gospel music. His work has been published by the University of California Press, MRI Press, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, and peer-reviewed journals: Intercultural Music Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology, and the Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology. He holds a B.A. degree in Music Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Ethnomusicology from UCLA.

His dissertation, Soul or Nothing: the Formation of Cultural Identity on the British Northern Soul Scene (2005), was supervised by Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje. He has studied ethnomusicology with Timothy Rice, Ali Jihad Racy, Cheryl Keyes, Danilo Lozano, James Porter, Roger Savage, and William Grandville Carter. He studied composition with Philip Browne and Elaine Barkin; jazz studies with Gerald Wilson; choral conducting with Iris Levine, piano with Althea Waites and Frank Magliocco, musicology with Robert Walser, and popular songwriting with Brenda Lee Eager, Annette Tucker and Arthur Hamilton..

Browne has taught at University of California, Riverside, Whittier College California State Univerisity, Long Beach, Pomona College and UCLA--where he founded and directed the African American Choral Ensemble. He has directed choirs and ensembles in the African American choral traditions at UCLA and in many churches. He is a composer, arranger, vocalist, vocal coach, pianist,. He records for WEIS Records with the National Mass Choir of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), where he is also developing a biographical archive on contemporary gospel songwriters.. He has been a contracted cultural consultant to the Henry Ford Museum, the Motown Historical Music, and the Edison Company.

He has worked in various capacities with soul music artists Brenda Holloway, Jerry Butler, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, Brenda Lee Eager, Randy Crawford, Greg Perry, Edna Wright and Kim Weston, and with gospel artists, Carlton Pearson, Darryl Coley, Professor James Robeson, Donald Lawrence, Steven Roberts, Billy Preston, Rodena Preston, and V. Michael McKay. In October 2005, Browne conducted a 100-member choir of Chinese students in a workshop on gospel choral music at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China. In April, 2006 he presented a seminar with Scott Kai Liu on the Beijing Workshop to the 9th Biennial Symposium and Festival of the Center for Intercultural Music (CIMA) in Spain at the University of Granada.

He will become a member of the distinguished Oxford Round Table in Oxford, England in July 2006.

Browne was born in 1952 in Los Angeles to a large musical family and grew up in South Central LA. He lives in the Southern California's East San Gabriel Valley with Romona, his wife of 25 years.

  1. Article Comments

Forum Activity

Members Comments

Recommended Comments

Comment now!

Comments are members only

Sign Up

Join Soul Source - Free & easy!

Sign up now!

Sign in

Sign in here.

Sign in now!

Related Soul Music Links


Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.