Friday, 18 October 2013

This is Northern Soul


Northern Soul, now that’s a difficult one to explain.


The Mods started at some point in the fifties to early 1960’s and petered out in about 1966. A big chunk became hippies and a minority became skinheads. Some just got old and walked away or gave up because the music died.

But not everyone did that and not everywhere. Rather like a tribe hidden in the Amazon rainforest, people who loved the music kept listening to it, mainly up there in Northern England. They just went on dancing.


Except, even when people want to keep things the same forever, subtle changes happen all the same. As time passes the changes get more obvious.

Gradually, they got a bit bored with the same old Motown and Stax stuff and started hunting out the rare grooves, soul records with a hard R ‘n B Beat, records no one had ever heard before, hard to find imports.


In fact it became a mania, a search for the ever more obscure record. Some rare singles were worth thousands.

It became insular and competitive, a world of its own. Very athletic and fanatical. It also, by the late 1970’s had become very popular, if only in a limited area. Retired and long forgotten minor American soul stars were dragged back on the road by their agents and flown off to Northern England, where to their surprise they found themselves mobbed by thousands at concerts in old industrial towns.


Record company executives were puzzled by requests from England for licenses to reissue obscure singles from the 1960’s that no one in the record company had ever heard of.

By the 1980’s it was really big, have a look at ‘Northern Soul’ on Wikipedia or YouTube to get an idea.

By then they were wearing flared trousers and baggy clothes, moving towards sports and casual wear – far from the classic 1960’s MOD clothes I tend to choose. The dancing was hard and athletic rather than what I like to think of as cool. But each to their own and they are dancing to really great sounds.

I remember being in Charity shops in London and the South in the 80’s hunting for 1960’s clothes while the staff were frantically trying to find unwanted flared trousers to send in bulk to their Northern Branches.

In the 1970’s, down in the South, Paul Weller and The Jam had rekindled the old MOD thing, first as a re-creation and then by taking it somewhere new as part of Punk. That’s where I came in. By the end of the 70’s there was a whole revival scene which petered out in the 1980’s. Unlike them, Paul Weller developed and changed – creating The Style Council, which was perhaps the most perfect Mod band ever. There was a definite move from the hard punk of The Jam towards Soul and a tinge of Jazz, which is why The Jam had to come to an end.

But Northern Soul just kept on dancing and ‘Kept The Faith’, which is why it still goes on today on vinyl, at high speed and with its own particular style.

By the late 1990’s, the people into Northern Soul and the Mods had all kind of ended up in the same place although it had taken 30 years and about 300 miles to get there.

And Me? Well I stick out a bit, a Mod amongst the Soulies. I dance differently, dress different. They don’t seem to mind too much and neither do I.
Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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