A subculture was born from mod gangs in late nineteen sixties England: Northern Soul. The music took over, breathing new life into the working man’s social clubs, rundown decaying casinos, and uninhabited, disused, old warehouses and with it came its own style of dance unlike any other.
“Northern Soul appealed to anyone that had a soul and wanted to use it.” As one Northern Soul D.J Keb Darge puts it, “The music was something that got inside you, it was real human music you could feel, it was like you were performing it and your body was the instrument.”
I don’t know what it was about Northern Soul, it just all kicked off and I went along with it you know. It was great at the time like anything new, you just wanted to be part of it, do what your mates were doing. The nights were never planned, but you knew you were gonna end up in one of the clubs, the music would be banging and you were on it with all your mates having a good laugh. The dancing thing wasn’t about competition, or trying to look good, you just felt it and everybody else was feeling it. The atmosphere was spectacular, just unbelievable. The moves came out of doing it. The different shuffles, spins and slides became the fashion of the dance. We would jam and someone would come up with something and then you would all start trying to do your own version. So we did compete a little but all in good jest and taking the piss really. No one gave a shit what anybody looked like – that was the great thing, you could really be yourself. It was all about the music and the dance. Drugs and women helped kept you going, but they were on the side, really. Men or Women, it was all just friendly, everyone was on the same vibe. There was a real sense of community, which was something I didn’t have growing up, I felt part of something for the first time.
I’ll never forget my mum once asked me after a night of Northern Souling, “Why do you do it? I don’t understand why grow men do it?” I’m still not sure of the answer, but the truth might be that if we weren’t doing Northern Soul, we would have been doing far worse. A lot of people around me growing up were in a bad way: some were in prison or involved in petty crime, and those that couldn’t get a job were in an even worse way.
Northern Soul for us was a complete release of anger, of the shame at being poor, of feeling unwanted, useless and generally socially downtrodden. It saved many of us, offered us a way out. It was exciting to be part of something new. I think it’s sad in a way. There must be something wrong with the world that we had to build this alternative society to have fun, but if you had a boring job in the week and didn’t have much to look forward to, the Soul night would be life at the end of the tunnel. It brightened up my life. It gave us a reason to feel good about ourselves for the night, we lived it, the culture became part of us, it made up our identity and it was such a special time in my life. For me though, Northern Soul was very much of that time and that was its appeal. I think back then the world wasn’t ready for people doing anything too extraordinary. You had to fit in. If you went out all night and danced in Wigan Casino, most people thought you were a bit odd and they wouldn’t stop to wonder if you had a good time doing it. Either way though, we did.