In a first floor flat deep in Hackney Central word had gotten round to LAW HQ that Wigan, the town at the epicentre of the Northern Soul scene in the 1970s, was once again on the move. The North Western destination where people flocked from Scotland’s hat to England’s socks, Devils Dyke to Bowfiddle Rock, once a week for the all nighters at Wigan Casino.
We were invited by Wigan Young Souls to their Highfield Soul Club, which they set up after becoming disheartened by rawcuss nights in high street bars and their slow, shuffling, sticky dance floors. Elliot and I took one look at each other and were on the next Virgin Express to Wigan North Western. Don’t know if you’ve ever been on a Virgin train but they’ve got plug sockets.
Ben, a telesales agent, sound as a pound, a real charmer who must be good at his job, tells us how he lives for playing records and dancing to Northern Soul at the weekends, “I just fell in love with it, it takes hold of ya, know what I mean?”
Ben met his girlfriend Nicole on the dancefloor, a nurse from Blackpool who has soul in her blood; “I started really getting into it when I was 17 and at uni in Liverpool I went to soul nights every single weekend. So it’s nearly 10 years since I’ve properly been on the scene.”
Lauren, a young actress from Warrington got into Northern Soul through her dad Mick, a fully enrolled member of the scene since the 70’s. ‘My ultimate dream was to meet friends my age that are into it. I really wanted that, then I finally met this lot at Rumworth.’
The scene is growing all the time as old Soulies return to the dancefloor to pick up where they left off and a new generation of dancers get hooked on the music and put their own spin on expressing what’s inside. The interest is set to soar further still next year with the release of ‘Northern Soul’ the first feature length film by the acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine. Best known for her colourful imagery of 90s British youth culture, Elaine is from Bury, Lancashire and grew up to a soundtrack of Northern Soul.
Elaine sent scouts to all the Soul dos around the country to find authentic dancers, and began hosting nights at Rumworth Hall in Bolton to work on routines. ‘Keep The Faith’ is a well-known Northern Soul saying and when Ben, Nicole and Lauren went along to Rumworth not only did they land parts in the film, they also found that faith had been kept in safe hands.
“We are all like best friends, we can’t be separated really, none of us. It’s a Soul scene, that’s the word. If we went to a Soul do tonight in Edinburgh then we’d know people we’ve met from Stoke or Bridlington. You can go in a club alone and leave with 50 mates. It’s instant acceptance, it’s such a friendly scene.”
In April 2012, Wigan Young Souls started Highfield, in a small cricket club hall in Wigan. It has been growing ever since and now they’re on the look out for the right venue to get the all nighters going once again.
“The way I look at a Soul night is there’s three key elements, one’s the dancefloor, the others the music and the others the people. Now, nine times out of ten the music and the people are alright, so it’s always the dancefloor. It’s got to be a good smooth dancefloor, ideally sprung.”
Behind the red-bricked blocks, closed down shops, washing lines and wheelie bins, people are rediscovering the ability of Northern Soul to transport Wigan to another place, where their wildest dreams and dance routines are acted out on the floor. Spinning from one side of the room to the other, first 7” to last.
Going to Highfield Soul Club was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to being there back in the day. After fumbling my way through a few routines I mostly stood to the side, watching in amazement as the dancers circled Elliot like sharks, attacking his camera from every angle.
‘Northern Soul’ the first feature film by the wonderful Elaine Constantine, is due for release in the New Year.