A Northern Soul

I blame the appalling BBC Radio One DJ Tony Blackburn, or as John Peel called him, Timmy Bannockburn.  In 1978 he released a ‘northern soul’ record under the name of Lenny Gamble called ‘I’ll Do Anything’ written by the great Gamble and Huff.  The record was bad.  To the core.  From that moment on I dismissed the whole ‘Northern Soul’ genre as some sort of misguided concoction brewed by northern Brits who were hell bent on covering cheap versions of rare soul songs.  I was a Deep Purple, Mahavishnu, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Yes, PFM, Camel, Zappa kinda guy so I had no time for that crap.

So when a friend from Southampton told me he was coming up to a Northern Soul Night at The Ritz Ballroom in Brighouse and would I like to join him my initial reaction was, ‘Are you on drugs?’  Mick brought me some CDs and he went through all the classics, ‘What More Do You Want’ by Gene Toones, ‘What Shall I Do’ by Frankie and the Classics, Garnet Mimms’ ‘Looking For You ‘, ‘That´s What I Want To Know’ by James Carr and so many more.  This stuff was gold!  Great playing, interesting modal grooves, strings, Fender Rhodes, Steve Cropper guitar motifs, stunning over-compressed drums… excellent!

The phrase ‘Northern Soul’ did not exist until around 1970 when Blues and Soul hack Dave Goddin went North from London to try the all-nighter scene and coined the phrase Northern Soul.  He was referring to the type of soul played up North (of Watford) which was usually more up tempo than than the tunes played in the South. The music played was obscure soul (not the soul we Brits heard on mainstream radio) from 1964 onwards and the movement was popular until about 1982.  DJs, collectors and dealers from the UK started to visit the States and scour record shops for the records that had the ‘Northern sound’.  These obscure and rare records were played by Northern DJs, starting a frenzy of teenagers wanting to own the sounds they had heard and danced to on Saturday nights. House music virtually killed the Northern Soul sound off completely.  In the late 1990s a few dedicated hardliners were bringing the sounds back and a cult underground movement was reborn.

So off we went and pulled up at 8:30pm at an intriguing 1930s facade and a long queue.  I was quite taken aback by how popular it was and remember,  this was Brighouse which, and I’m being kind, is the arse-end of a decaying Industrial Revolution West Yorkshire where people have no jobs and no money.  In front of us were four Geordies who regularly travel the 90 miles and were dressed in the de rigueur Ben Sherman and Fred Perry shirts, huge boogaloo Oxford Bags trousers and brogue shoes.  In fact many people travel all over the country to special Northern soul nights.. there’s even a Mediterranean cruise!

Ritz Ballroom

The Ritz opened as a cinema in 1937, closed in 1961 and after a disastrous Bingo attempt it became The Stardust Casino and Theatre Club.  The Casino bit closed in 1970 but the club continued as a live event venue and morphed into Sammy’s Disco.  The building was bought in 1979 by the late Mr Joe Narey, who fitted the beautiful Canadian maple sprung dance floor and opened The Ritz as a Ballroom in 1981.  Since then, with a change of owner too, the venue has continued to thrive with Motown, Country, Ballroom Dance, Tribute Nights and many more specialist evenings and today there are more and more people wanting to see these shows.

Once inside, we queued for a beer.  Queued!!  There were several tables at the back selling vinyl from the 60s and 70s and the DJ on the stage was already spinning some tunes.  The sound system was good and had to be; the music was all vinyl from over 40 years ago and some copies were well worn!

By 8:40pm the serious dancers were already on that beautiful floor; the nearer stage front, the better the dancers.. so I was assured… although some folk were at their usual tables and you could tell they had been coming to The Ritz for years.  Virtually all the dancers were men.  I was used to nightclubs where men stood around the periphery of the dancefloor eyeing up girls half their age and putting up with obnoxious hard house garage mashups before getting drunk and crawling onto the dancefloor to throw some shapes in the vain hope of making contact, usually with hand signals as conversation is completely out of the question due the volume.  Hmmmm.. I didn’t mean to sound as if I know a great deal about that.  I have been told.

Anyway it was just glorious to see blokes, mostly over the age of 55 dancing their hearts out and singing along to all the songs wearing their favourite clothes from a treasured era.  And they dance well!  Cartwheels, splits and back flips are still performed but with much more due care and attention these days.  The the majority of men were in good shape too; what a great way to keep fit.

The vibe was everyone is there to have a maximum good time.  As the music is all uptempo there is no respite all night and bottles of water are carried to the floor.  It is said that in the 1970s uppers, speed and water were first seen at Northern Soul venues such as Wigan Pier and Blackpool Mecca way before the 1980s Rave E scene.


I have since returned to The Ritz as I wanted to show some of my friends how wonderful the venue is and the positive energy the night embodies.  Unfortunately few youngsters seem interested in the scene and many of its original fans are now into their  50s and some in their late 60s.  I now have a very small collection of Northern Soul standards and enjoy the eclectic mix of styles within the genre.

Here’s some footage from the evening..


I’ll no doubt go again and even check out some of the Motown, Atlantic and Stax nights!

4 thoughts on “A Northern Soul

  1. ok…well…when you and I were tossing around possible blog topics and you found yourself moving toward one with musical overtones, who knew where this would lead?
    This latest one was a real education for me. The best part of having a trans-Atlantic friend ( and a Brit one at that) is learning the lifestyle and local vocabulary of a native. We all look for something we can remotely relate to, and I was having a hell of a time figuring out what terms like Northern Soul and Southern Soul meant in reference to England.
    Thank God for U-Tube! There are entire subscribers with names like ” Northern Soul Yorkshire” with tons of representative songs on their site! ( I sent you a pic of one I found).
    Anyway, I found it fascinating that these same record artists were also the ones popular over here during that time period, but…with different songs! Big names like Doris Troy, The Showmen, Maurice Williams, Archie Bell, Carla Thomas, etc. appear on the Northern Soul sites, but with song titles unheard of over here. I wonder why?
    And last, I’m sending you two U-tube videos which I think, may be somewhat similar to your Northern Soul type genre. It started in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the ’60’s & spread down the Southeast coast and is still popular. The music is called Carolina Beach Shag music, and the dance is called the beach shag. (Not your kind of shagging!)..an incredibly sexy old-school slow bop. Like yours, the man does most of the work…
    well…I guess that’s enough bloggin’ about shaggin’…heehee. A fascinating post, Paul and loved the video & pic!!…..Marty the girl…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marty.. a great comment and I got your pics! The Carolina Shag music is interesting and a local phenomena that obviously never travelled here; the footwork is outstanding… I’m sure we might have called it something else too!
      YouTube certainly has been a revelation to our generation who were restricted by technology, unfortunately I spend way too much time on there! I’m so pleased you like the piece and I’m enjoying the blog’s musical slant as per your suggestion! x


  2. “Out on the floor each night, I’m really movin’
    The band’s is wailin’ right i feel like groovin’
    The chicks are out of sight and i am grooving
    The crowd is in tonight beggin’ for more”

    Told you that soul boy music was good Herr Songmeister

    Liked by 1 person

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