Northern Soul I’m currently reading two related books at the same time:

  • “Turn the beat around – the secret history of disco” by Peter Shapiro
  • “Last night a DJ saved my life – the history of the disc jockey” by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

Both speak about a phenomenon of the 60’s-70’s: Northern Soul. It is the unlikely emergence of a subculture of English white working-class youths that only danced to American upbeat soul music. It started in Manchester, the Twisted Wheel club and spread from there.

The original northern soul scene lasted from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and is considered a retrogressive or revivalist movement based on a style of music created years earlier. At the height of its popularity in the 1970s, African American artists had moved on to newer genres such as funk, jazz funk and disco, so the northern soul scene relied on a finite supply of 1960s recordings.

This happened around the time I was born, and I was back here in Belgium so the whole movement kind of escaped my attention. Now why is this important? Because the northern soul was an essential part of the birth of the DJ culture, and contributed to genres like acid jazz, and after that deep house, all of which are near to my heart. Some more influences:

  • DJ Fatboy Slim from Brighton, England has used a number of samples from northern soul recordings in his music e.g. the use of the guitar riff from “Sliced Tomatoes” by The Just Brothers for his “Rockefeller Skank” single
  • The British pop and rock artist Paul Weller is an aficionado of black-American music and a keen collector of northern soul 45s. Many of his songs have been musically influenced by northern soul, such as “Beat Surrender”, “Town Called Malice”, “Trans-Global Express” and “The Gift” (by The Jam) and “Solid Bond In Your Heart” (by The Style Council).
  • Sharleen Spiteri, singer/songwriter and member of the British act Texas is a fan of northern soul music. The Texas song “Black-Eyed Boy” uses a classic driving northern soul backbeat and brass sound.
  • For the promotional video accompanying their single “Familiar Feeling”, British band Moloko featured a highly authentic recreation of Wigan Casino complete with dancers in period fashion. Lead singer Roisin Murphy is also shown attempting northern soul dancing manouvres.
  • Edwyn Collins (“A Girl Like You”), Simply Red and Scottish group Belle And Sebastian are amongst many other recording artists who have utilised elements of the northern soul sound in their recordings
  • Duffy’s single Mercy features dancers performing the spins and flips that are commonly associated with northern soul in the video. The song also has a very northern soul sounding feel to it.
  •  To hear some Northern Soul music, check the jukebox at www.northernsoul.net.