For a lot of people from the Northern Soul scene, it’s not just a genre of music or a place to reminisce on the weekends, it’s a way of life.
Kev Roberts is a Northern Soul DJ who first played at Wigan Casino in 1973 where he found his passion for the music and the atmosphere that the all-nighters brought to the youth of Wigan.
Since then, he has become an iconic figure on the scene having published a best-selling book, ‘The Northern Soul Top 500’ and is currently an events organiser at GoldSoul, where he promotes Soul and Motown events all throughout the North of England and even abroad in places like Spain and America.
He told us more about how his career started:
“The Wigan Casino was a different level because it held up to two and a half thousand people and it quickly filled and I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to DJ there. I was far too young to grasp hold of it all but suddenly, the phones started ringing and radio stations and television companies are contacting me for quotes.
I was the youngest person who worked there, so it was a little bit tough for me, although very enjoyable I might add and from that moment on, Northern Soul was very much ingrained in my body and I just didn’t think I’d still be in it in 2019.”
It’s well known that the music grasped the hearts of the young Northern club-goers, and Kev told us more about the way in which music that might not have done as well in its native American cities did so well in the UK:
“The music we now know as Northern Soul generally didn’t sell in the USA and then we discovered it and thought you know what there’s a lot more to soul music than Aretha Franklin and the temptations as great as they are. So, we developed an alternative scene that the Americans knew nothing about. We brought in a culture with the dancing, the changing of clothes, the camaraderie and young kids got into it.”
One of the things that made Northern Soul such an underground scene was the extravagant dance moves that made someone stand out from the crowd as they felt the music flow through them. Kev put it best as he mentioned that what made a great Northern Soul record was how well people danced to it:
The dancers made the hits, the DJ’s just put them on the turntables
As the years went on, however, and the venues started to become a thing of the past with the Torch closing in 1972 and the Casino in 1981, anyone would think that the music scene would die with it.
But they would be wrong as they discover that as the fans got older, the love of the music and the scene stayed alive.
Kev told us more about the revival of the Northern Soul scene of the last few decades:
“Of course, by the time the Casino and other places died, a lot of people grew up and had families, but it was still kept going by enthusiasts who discovered some fantastic music and in the 80’s it continued and I’m really glad about that and then, of course, kept going over the past twenty years and I’m really glad about that.
“It’s a real surprise because I don’t think anybody saw people over 50 coming out and dancing to it again. The interest in the vinyl and actual records that have been put on the decks has been staggering. Records that were a fiver about forty years ago are now about £3,000”
You can find a lot of the people from the original scene going to Kev’s events in places like the King’s Hall in Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Tower and are just as passionate about the music now as they were back then.
Kev mentioned how a Soul superfan can be found in many ways:
“I’ve had the fortunate career of being in business with it, so I understand it from all areas. There are people who have regular jobs who just want to go out and dance and other people who collect records and just talk about it all day every day on Facebook.
There are all kinds of people attached but the main consensus of it all is that we’re all being pulled in the right direction and we all have a great passion for the music.”
It’s also no secret that you can find a lot of younger people at these events and Kev says it’s across the board in terms of the age of the people that come to his events:
“Usually at these all-nighters that I’ve been running for about 24 years, you’ll find 500 people there tomorrow and out of 500 I’d say there’d be 50 people under 25 and 50 people under 35 and 400 over 35.”
All-dayers and other Northern Soul events aren’t the only places that fans can listen to some of their favourite Northern Soul anthems. There are also many radio stations also ran by fans and former members of the scene where people can tune in and keep the spirit of Soul alive.
Button Down Radio is an internet-based station that plays Northern Soul and Ska back to back and is really telling of how these two genres go together. It has been on air since 2016.
Martin who is a host on this radio show told us more about why Northern Soul and Ska go together:
“There does seem to be a real cross-over, certainly in the skin-head community and the scooter community where Northern Soul and Ska kind of goes hand-in-hand. If you go to events, there’s always going to be skinheads and scooterboys around and they just seem to like the same thing.
“Scooter boys were a big part of the scooter community and this stems from the mods from the 60’s so when this community developed, people either went down the Ska route or Northern Soul route”
Skinheads and Scooterboys were each different branches of Mod that developed their own sense of mod style. It’s fascinating to see that some of these subcultures are still being carried on through these kinds of platforms.
A well-known face in the Manchester record shop industry and an avid Northern Soul fan is Les Hare.
As well as being a member of the scene himself, he carries on the tradition of selling rare records in his record shop, King Bee Records, located on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton.
Click on the video below to see inside the record store yourself and hear more from Les about his days as a Northern Soul fan and how he’s made it a part of his business: