In 1978, during the era of the super clubs with venues like Studio 54 in New York, Billboard Magazine awarded the title of Disco of the Year to a dancehall in Northern England that opened at 12.30 and didn’t serve alcohol. The Wigan Casino spearheaded a musical movement that took place in the late 60 s and 70s that celebrated a genre of soul music that was being made in the US but not rarely listened to there.
While mainstream America turned their attention to rock in the 70s – including a liking of British acts including Led Zeppelin – a large number of British youths were spending their weekend traveling on buses across the UK and attending Northern Soul club-nights. There they would dance energetically to tunes released by labels like Okeh Records, Ric Tic, Cameo-Parkway and Roulette – and in this era before YouTube, cable and even multi-channel TV, dance styles were originated based a little on watching traveling American soul bands and mainly on the imagination of how these kids thought people were dancing to these tunes back where they originated.If you get past the awkward way the film makers tried to juxtapose the industrial decline of the region with the energy on the dancefloor (skip the first 5 mins), this documentary video gives a rare insight into the movement and we recommend any body interested in youth and popular culture to spend time watching it.
The “all-nighters” at the Wigan Casino would be traditionally ended with three three songs that became known as the 3 before 8: “Time Will Pass You By” by Tobi Legend, “Long After Tonight Is Over” by Jimmy Radcliffe, and “I’m On My Way” by Dean Parrish. Some say that without the celebration and archiving by this movement, much of the music by Tamla Mowtown and other small US soul labels would have been forgotten by now.
There’s some mention of the dance style that was developed in an article for Mojo by Chris Hunt on the Wigan Casino:
Wigan is best remembered for its dancers – those spinning youths throwing themselves around the dancefloor in 32-inch wide Spencers and vests adorned with the badges of their favourite ‘nighters’, slogans like ‘keep the faith’, ‘the heart of soul’ and ‘the night owl’. Among the dancers on the mighty floor of the Casino there was a pecking order. “We didn’t realise it at first,” says Winstanley. “We’d see them dancing at the front and we’d think blooming heck we’ve got some of the best dancers in the world here, but what we hadn’t realised was that the better they got, the further they moved towards the stage where the DJs were.”
…The dancing had a code of its own that was impenetrable to outsiders. “People would clap in time with the music at certain points,” explains Russ. “When you had a couple of thousand people who clap at a key moment, it sounded like a pistol cracking. And if they particularly liked a track or a session, they’d applaud the DJ at the end. These were the peculiarities of the Northern Soul scene.”
There’s also some nice insight into the fashion worn by Northern Soul clubbers on Wikipedia:
Early northern soul fashion included strong elements of the classic mod style such as button-down Ben Sherman shirts, blazers with centre vents and unusual numbers of buttons, Trickers and brogue shoes and shrink-to-fit Levi’s jeans. Some non-mod items such as bowling shirts were also popular. Later on, northern soul dancers started to wear light and loose-fitting clothing for reasons of practicality. This included high-waisted, baggy Oxford trousers and sports vests. These were often covered with badges representing soul club memberships.
If you want to get a better taste of the era, try the photographic book by John Barrett called ‘Keeping The Faith’ or David Nowell’ ‘Too Darn Soulful, The Story Of Northern Soul’.