Northern Soul, the edgier brother

Northern Soul night at The Muni, Colne. (s)
Northern Soul night at The Muni, Colne. (s)

The youth of Burnley and Pendle in the 1960s and 70s were key-holders to an underground music scene offering a trove of rare vinyl.

Northern Soul is the spin-off of its American brother, a subculture created in the UK by DJs and record collectors sifting through discarded tracks in warehouses in Detroit and Philadelphia.

A Northern Soul Night is being hosted at RollsRoyce Leisure tomorrow. (s)

A Northern Soul Night is being hosted at RollsRoyce Leisure tomorrow. (s)

The songs - retaining the raw emotion of 1960s American soul - are still being discovered today, some selling for hundreds, even thousands of pounds.

But in the 20th year since its return, the Burnley and Pendle scene must weather an uncertain future. Roman Korol, a DJ in the area, is on a mission to raise a new wave of fans.

Of the two charts in the USA in the 1960s, one black, one white, Motown founder Berry Gordy’s record label in Detroit squeezed itself into the second by polishing soul records for a smoother, more commercial sound.

Not every artist in town could afford the cost of production and distribution - many cut a few records to sell while working the clubs - and inevitably, their songs, even those made in Berry’s studios, bombed or were dropped by labels.

Dancers at a Northern Soul night. (s)

Dancers at a Northern Soul night. (s)

But for music-lovers like Roman, these obscure tracks were the stuff of dreams: rougher, faster and edgier than their refined brethren.

“They’re very soulful,” he said, “and come from the heart: each has a story to tell.”

DJs took them back to the North of England and span them out, to the delight of club-goers.

Funk and disco were popular in the 70s. But for many, who rebelled against the charts, disco’s commercial breath tasted stale. Northern Soul therefore offered something different: something exclusive, subversive, authentic.

DJ Ginger and organiser Wendy Korol at Rolls-Royce Leisure, Barnoldswick. (s)

DJ Ginger and organiser Wendy Korol at Rolls-Royce Leisure, Barnoldswick. (s)

“The music is stunning. Everything gelled: the sound; the dancing,” Roman said. “The underground wasn’t ruled by the big labels and it was the edgier kids who went [to the all-nighters].”

And then there was the sharp clothing with Italian nuances.

“The fashion got a bit outrageous,” Roman added. “The vents in our suits were getting longer and longer and you had to have a certain number of buttons on the cuffs.”

Perhaps Northern Soul felt rebellious and powerful because young fans could be a part of it as it was made, having more influence over the sound.

Club-goers at one of DJ Romans Northern Soul night. (s)

Club-goers at one of DJ Romans Northern Soul night. (s)

Since it didn’t enjoy radio play – back in a time without easy access to music via Youtube or Spotify - fans had to wait until each club night to hear the tracks. Record labels could pour money into marketing musicians and dictating the charts; but DJs react to the vibe of the crowd.

“At the time, kids were madly excited. It was awesome,” Roman said. “We had to travel to Manchester or Sheffield to hear the tracks DJs had brought over from the States. We’d just naturally want to know more about them and get involved in the scene. It was the excitement of something new. You’d hear about it all through word of mouth and it was exciting to hear the next record.”

Without radio play, the subculture emerged paradoxically. Born in Wigan Casino in September 1973, then pulsing through the North to Blackpool’s Mecca and Manchester’s Ritz, all-nighters exploded throughout the region. Yet club-goers lost themselves not only in a wash of new, authentic music but slipped, escaped even, within the wave of a secret tribe, of something bigger than themselves.

But even music scenes face division: die-hard fans would criticise DJs favouring the more produced soul of the 70s, brandishing Northern Soul’s slogan,“Keep the faith”.

In Lancashire, Roman explained, Blackpool leaned more towards the smoother songs of the 70s; Pendle club-goers preferred the high-speed “oldies”.

Roman helped to revive the Pendle scene 20 years ago, beginning at the Ouzledale Social Club, Barnoldswick, with his Soul of the Ooze events. He then ventured to Earby’s Albion Club, later moving on to the Rolls-Royce Leisure Club, Barnoldswick, home to Northern Soul for the last 17 years.

Christies doctors and fundraisers, with soul night organiser Wendy Korol on the far right. A large donation came from the then owners of the Circulation Club, Burnley. (s)

Christies doctors and fundraisers, with soul night organiser Wendy Korol on the far right. A large donation came from the then owners of the Circulation Club, Burnley. (s)

There is a fascinating paradox about a genre that is evergreen yet premised on nostalgia. It’s not surprising it’s awash with new generations of fans: thanks to the continual discovery of new material, what youngster wouldn’t get excited about a genre whose boundaries are still unknown? And where better to hear it than in Burnley and Pendle, towns throbbing with the “heart of Northern Soul”.

Like Roman said: “Once you’re hooked, there’s no going back.”

Roman will be joined by DJs Shaun F and Mike Kemp tomorrow night at Rolls-Royce Leisure, Skipton Road, Barnoldswick, from 8pm to 1am. The price is £5 on the door.

Alternatively, Soul at The Lamb, Barrowford, featuring Northern Soul, Motown and other music from the 60s and 70s will take place on Saturday, March 4th, from 8pm. Entry is free.

Soul nights also regularly take place at The Muni, Colne.

Inquiries on 01282 613020.

Wendy Korol in her mod days. (s)

Wendy Korol in her mod days. (s)

DJ Romans set-up for one of his soul nights. (s)

DJ Romans set-up for one of his soul nights. (s)