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Russell Gilbert

Ian Arnold - Ever Heard Of Him Or Know Him?

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In the very early 80s, I lived in Maidstone, Kent, and as a spotty and post-pubescent teenager (only just), I used to go to a local youth club in the centre of town. Not long after I first discovered Northern Soul and much to the annoyance of other members, a friend and I used to take over the dj decks whenever possible and play what few records we had. That included playing the Grapevine LPs from start to finish, with the two of us being the only ones dancing.

At this stage we, or certainly I, had no real idea of what Northern Soul was about. One week that changed when in walked someone we'd never seen before.

Our youth club had an upper age limit of 18 as I recall, yet this chap, obviously an adult, came in regardless. After a few subsequent visits we became friends. He had the long black leather trench coat that was so popular from the 70s, and a woolly cap rolled tight on his shaven head. He was short, possibly 5'4" and surely aged in his 30s. That didn't bother us as we thought he was cool, really cool.

What set him apart for us, was the fact that he danced to Northern Soul in a way that we'd never seen before (had yet to go to a nighter at that point). Even to this day my memories mark his footwork as being unique: very light footed, very smooth; he moved in a line from left to right with foot and ankle movements that made him look as if his feet were sliding magically across the floor.

At appropriate points he'd do a spin, go into a backdrop or the splits. We were seriously impressed and I have to say that his footwork became the immediate source of my inspiration, and in many respects still is.

Although we were friends, we actually knew little or nothing about him. He was from up north, but I couldn't tell you from where. For reasons never mentioned had spent some time in HMP Maidstone. I knew that because I met him at what was obviously his 'halfway house'.

A couple of months later, as mysteriously as he had arrived, he disappeared never to be seen again.

He was my first real insight into 'Northern Soul' and what I saw opened up a whole new world to me, one that I'm still exploring. Every now and then, like tonight, I wonder who he was and what became of him.

Any one ever come across him at all?

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