What Is Soul? Part 2

What Is Soul? Part 2

To understand Soul, I believe you have to 'cut it up' into decades.

60's Soul is unlike 70's, which is unlike 80's etc. There's no way that you are going to understand Soul coming in in the 90's and then expecting to know Northern Soul. Ain't No Way!!!

To understand Northern Soul is a whole different animal!

'Mainstream' folk that like say 60's Soul, will be referring to James Brown, Stevie Wonder, some Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding and so on. In other words, the Soul that they heard through the likes of Ready, Steady Go or Radio Caroline (the long running pirate radio station of which there is a film about), and the likes of Soul Train in America.

They're talking about 'Baby Love', 'Dancing In The Street', 'My Guy', 'Wherever I Lay My Hat' or 'Heard It Through The Grapevine', 'Reet Petite', 'Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay' and so on. Those 'all-time' classic Soul sounds that we all know and love.

Such songs are not bad songs, they are 'timeless' classics that, in comparison to other classics such as Frank Sinatra or early Elvis, continue to be reissued year after year for each new generation to rediscover.

With 70's Soul, they'll be talking about James Brown, Stevie Wonder, some Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, The Jackson 5, Earth, Wind and Fire and so on.

80's Soul had Luther Vandross, Shalamar, Alexander O'Neal, Herbie Hancock and the likes.

Where Northern Soul differs is, it looks at these ledgends before they were even heard of. It tracks down their humble beginnings that can be found in any of the 'genre's' as shown in Part 1, and hunts down the rare, unissued and alternative takes and then filters anything that it finds, that can allow and make a person, an individual on a dancefloor become so lost in the essence of what the band or artist managed to relay in a few minutes of recorded sheer brilliance that became set, not in stone, but in a small circular piece of plastic wax, and allow that individual to soar, to fly by being in tune with that captured moment from so long ago, and recreate that essence, that sense, that feeling, that passion through the art of dance. Northern soul quite simply, is the essence of paying homage to the rarest artform of the greatest music ever recorded. Everytime, to every song that I ever got on the dancefloor to dance to, I said the most grateful thanks you could ever imagine! Everytime! And I saw and felt that same essence and thanks in each and every dancer that I shared a dancefloor with!

If you listen to Tommy Hunt's "live" at Wigan Casino version of 'Ain't No Soul', regardless of whether you were there that night or not, and you don't get it, keep searching!

Northern Soul became complicated in the 70's and even more so in the 80's. Divisions appeared in the ranks with regards to how the music should progress. Despite the dancer on the dancefloor, event organisers and DJ's began a 'war' such as between Wigan Casino with its main hall of oldies and new discoveries along with the stalwart 'Mr. M's' that built its reputation on hardcore 'stompers', Vs Blackpool Mecca's 'Highlander Rooms' lighter New York Disco style of Soul.

To pull in the crowd you had to have the "names" whereby people recognised the style of music you'd here through the DJ's. The DJ's between each other competed to find the latest undiscovered 'gem' that they would 'cover up' so no one else would be able to unearth and so be able to play the same record.

As far as the 'soulies' went, they wanted just to be able to walk in, throw down their holdall and hit the dancefloor. Politics was something they left behind on a Friday night until Monday morning. And yet here, amongst their only escape from the drivel of normal and everyday life, it was creeping in.

If you asked today the likes of Ian Levine and Richard Searling, they'd say the whole thing was exaggerated out of all proportion, that there was never any animosity between the two clubs, just healthy competitivness. Those of us involved at the time know full well, this is absolute bullshit!

This period was the first test of Northern Soul as a genre, as a scene. Sure, the difference in the nights the different clubs were on meant the punters could get the best of both worlds. But each and every Northern Souler was being asked to choose 'which side are you on?'

For anyone that lived through these times, it was an incredible test of belief as the variance from 'Terrible Tom - We Were Made For Each Other' to Wigans Ovations and 'Ski'ing In The Snow' to 'D.C. Larue's Cathedrals' created an otherwise uncomparable divide and split within what was called Northern Soul. You were simply a "Wiganite" or a "Mecca Boy/Girl".

At the time, this caused a lot of unrest and upheaval and separation between die-hard enthusiats, and yet in hindsight, this paved the way for the ongoing growth of Northern Soul.

That's why it's difficult to define the features of a song or intrumental track that makes it Northern Soul.

Let me try and confuse you by trying to explain the labels we gave to the different types of music. To begin you had 'oldies' referring to the 60's Rare Soul that Northern Soul was built upon. These were the 45's that had been spun for years at the Twisted Wheel etc. Then you had 'newie oldies', which still referred to 60's Rare Soul, but these were the records that had just been dug up, found and aired for the first time (and so new). Then we had 'newies' which were showcasing the newer 70's sound as was played in The Highland Room, sounds that were being played at the same time in famous New York disco's (hence the term New York Disco) and yet still hard to find Soul at the time. Before long, we also had to include oldie newies and likewise newie newies.

A typical conversation explaining just where a 45 single stood in this ranking, in hindsight, must have sounded like a sketch straight out of 'Monty Python's 5 Minute Argument Sketch'.

"Is that a newie oldie or a newie newie?" "This? Nah, this is now an oldie newie that could become a newie oldie in a while."

I know, crazy. The friendly arguments that used to take place in the record bars of events around the country, drove us crazy trying to work out which 45 fitted into which category, as this had a bearing on price, as well as the Venue and the DJ who would play it! Not forgetting also, the different styles of Northern that grew reputations based on whether they were 'floaters' or 'stompers', and just to add some more into the mix - last but not least - venues that had and have 'speciality' dancing rooms; Mr M's of Wigan Casino being a great example.

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