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A Northern Love Story

8 Mar


Music, where would we be without it? It weaves its way throughout our lives and transports us back to moments that you can almost touch. I was into rock music when I was one of the young dudes and in the mid 70’s I could be found going to concerts in Manchester & Liverpool and the odd Reading Festival. If I wasn’t trying to catch Barbara’s eye outside of “Puffers” then I would be in the Wigan Casino playing air guitar to the likes of Deep Purple and colliding quite deliberately with “Joni” the beautiful tiny dancer on the sprung wooden dance floor. Denim jacket in summer, Duffel in winter, I would knock back those Newky Browns and try and forget I had a shitty job in a factory, and I did forget for a little while…

Outside the Casino young lads and girls queued patiently, they had the same dreams, the same crap jobs and like me they lived for the weekend.

The soundtrack to their lives couldn’t have been more different though and it was one that was alien to me. When our evening was over we left to a barrage of insults from the “soulies” The feeling was mutual, we were the same ages but belonged to different tribes and as we made our way home I would often turn and wonder what they did at those “Allnighters”

Years later I discovered that I had missed something special, something that happened every week in my home town. While I slept and dreamt of Joni the world was spinning to the sound of Northern Soul…

Thankfully Northern Soul is still with us today and is in fact enjoying a renaissance. Soul nights are popping up everywhere and people are flocking to them. One of the best local events is held at the St James Club in Orrell. Martin Blundell & Andy Garside both DJ and arrange events at the Orrell Soul Club and I asked them about the continuing fascination with the scene and about their football allegiances.

How old were you when you first got into Northern Soul and what influenced you?

Martin: I was 12 and in my 2nd year at Upholland Sec. A couple of lads who I’d got friendly with at school suggested going down to the YMCA which was behind the Rezzies (Orrell Water Park now). We’d only gone down there for a game of snooker and darts to pass the time but they had a DJ on in the next room playing different sorts of music. I remember hearing Edwin Starr’s Back Street wafting in through the gap in the door and thinking how good it sounded, so I went and had a look. There were about 20 people in there dancing, clapping in tune to the music and of course doing spins, kick ups, etc. Their energy just blew me away, together with the fact that they looked so cool in their full-length leathers and shiny cherry red Casino Diamonds. It didn’t really hit me right then, but I was about to be hooked.

Andy: I was 14 years old when I first visited the Wigan Casino but I had been listening to my sister’s records for a few years before that so I did get my early influence from her.


What clubs did you visit and which one was your favourite? Was the drugs scene in the 70’s overstated or was it quite common?

Martin: I’d go pretty regularly to the YMCA and got to know the DJ. We’d call him Stretch Cartwright (after the rubber toy of the time) ‘coz he was just so supple. I often wondered how he avoided knocking his own head off when he did a kick up. Not long after he started a Wednesday night session at St James Club where we now hold Orrell Soul Club and I was a regular there until I was 15. Then I started going to the Wigan Casino. Sadly this was at the expense of the St James’ night because Wigan had an early session on the Wednesday which quite a few us started to go to. Friday was another early session too and that became a regular night for us. I was 16 and just started working when I first went to an allnighter and up to that point I’d never come across any of the drug scene at all, although I’d heard about it from one or two who had been there before me. The only real contact I had with drugs was through a few friends who dabbled, as I never got involved in it myself. One mate in particular though did get pretty embroiled in it and as result went his separate ways. I’d heard a few years ago that he ended up in rehab a few times, but that’s as much as I found out.

Andy: The clubs I went to were quite local to us such as the White Swan in Huddersfield, the Underground Club in Leeds and Samantha’s in Sheffield. There was the Casino of course and numerous others that we visited. The Casino was the obvious Favourite. As for the drugs, well it was just part of the scene in those days; it did get a bit out of hand towards the end of the Casino though.

How much of a role does fashion play in the scene? Was getting up to dance a daunting prospect in the beginning? Did you practise at home first?

Martin: Back in the days of our youth, the fashion was a pretty important part of the scene. I can remember getting the train to Manchester to buy a full length leather coat simply because I just had to have one to feel a part of it. Same goes for the shoes, I had two pairs of Diamonds which I’d always have polished up for whenever I went out. Some of the girls in particular always looked the business and I imagine they spent hours getting themselves looking like that. There’s still a lot of it around on today’s scene too, there’s a couple of specialist manufacturers who produce the bags, pegs and skirts of the day. You’ll see quite a few people in the fashion whenever you’re at a soul event.

I started learning the dancing pretty early on when I went to the youth club and St James and through watching the lads there and picking up a lot of their moves. I soon found out though that it was about having your own style, a way in which you could feel the music and move to it. And then of course, knowing when the right time was to clap, kick or spin, etc. Having got friendly with most people there, it was quite acceptable for me to be making a complete idiot of myself while I learned. A few of us were always round each others houses dancing around the living room and commenting on each others moves. By the time I got to the Casino I’d had a few positive comments about my dancing so it wasn’t quite as daunting as it could have been. The thing that got my nerves going the most was the fear of bumping into other people on the dance floor as I’d never experienced such a packed hall before. (I still regularly have a little soul night in my living room at home nowadays, after a few beers you understand)

Andy: I personally don’t think Fashion is as important as it used to be. As for the dancing well it took me five visits to the Casino before I plucked up enough courage to get out on the dance floor. I think most people practised their moves at home to some degree.


Is the scene still popular? Does it attract any youngsters? What kind of atmosphere can a newcomer to the scene expect? How long has the Orrell club been going?

Martin: I’d say the scene is more popular now than it was at anytime back then mainly due to the fact that it’s not as much of an underground scene anymore so it’s more accessible to the general public as well as people reliving what they class as the best years of their lives. Some weekends you can choose between 50 and 60 events that are on throughout the country and there are always at least 2 or 3 within 25 miles of Wigan. It causes problems for events, as the punters are spread out so the event can be a little down in numbers. However, atmosphere at any event is always friendly and enjoyable. As a result there are quite a few younger people on the scene, mainly relatives of older soulies but the numbers are increasing slowly.

As Orrell Soul Club run by Andy, in its current form, it’s just over 18 months old. However, the club itself was run prior to this as “For Dancers Only” club and was pretty lively for 5 years. It comes as quite a surprise to a lot of the punters now that, historically, it opened its doors to Northern Soul for the first time in 1975. This was held on a Wednesday evening but started to suffer as a result of the Casino’s early session that night. As a result, in 1977, the event ended. Due to a bit of pressure from a number of people I took over the DJ spot and switched the night to a Sunday once a month. The last night I recall during that era was in 1980; I’d moved out of the area and couldn’t keep it going and as far as I know that was that until 7 years ago.

Andy: I think the scene is more popular today than it’s ever been and we are getting youngsters through the doors. Newcomers can expect to get a warm friendly welcome and have peace of mind that they will never get any trouble at soul venues.

Orrell has been running about 7 years now, I have been the promoter for the last 2 of those years and we are still growing.


What are your views on “Modern Soul”? Do you like other kinds of music? Are your children into the scene?

Martin: Modern Soul has a massive following, so its appeal is obvious. Personally, I wouldn’t chase after it but I’ve been to many places where it is played and the dance floor reaction tells its own story. I’m oldies mon so I’ll keep my mouth shut on this subject! I like doo-wop music, which is probably not a shock as it’s inherently linked to early soul but I don’t really get much chance to listen to other genres. The kids have their music, which occasionally appeals in passing but nothing really that grabs me like Soul does. I have three daughters who have been brought up in a house where Northern Soul has always been played during their lives. When they were younger they’d sing along and dance to it in their own way. Now they’re older, they have their own tastes in music but they still occasionally attend the odd event and will get up on the dance floor to certain tunes they like and remember.

Andy: I’m of the old school and don’t think there’s a place for Modern Soul on the Northern Scene. I like all types of music but love my Northern and rare soul. My children? They think Northern is for old people!

Are you still discovering tracks that excite you today? Can you remember the first record you bought? What’s the most you have paid for a record? How many records have you?

Martin: It’s probably more a case of re-discovering tunes really. Something that I’ve not heard for 30+ years. Particularly with regard to the mid or slower tempo tunes. When I was younger, it was 100mph stuff that got me up on the dance floor with a complete ignorance towards any of the slower stuff. Now that I’ve mellowed (a bit) I’m finding myself appreciating those tunes that I would have quickly sat down to in the past. The first record I bought was Edwin Starr’s Back Street on the US Ric-Tic label, way back in those Orrell YMCA days. I’ve still got it and it still remains my favourite record as does Edwin Starr my favourite singer. I paid £240 for a copy of The Isonics, Sugar on the Kammy label about 6 months ago. Going back ten or so years I had well over 1500 records but personal circumstances meant selling quite a few and my list currently ends at 572.

Andy: I’m still finding tracks I’ve never heard or can’t remember hearing. I think the first record I ever bought was the Tempos – Countdown Here I Come on the Canterbury label. I try to limit myself to around the 100 to 200 pounds mark but have gone as high as £400 in the past. I work towards limiting my collection to around 600 records if it goes over that figure I start to move them on.


Do DJ’s always use vinyl? Have you a favourite track? Any particular DJ that you admired?

Martin: The answer to that is ‘NO’. I visited a venue a number of years ago where our world renowned Mister Wigan Casino (Russ) was Special Guest and he turned up with a large case of CD’s to play out. Orrell has an OVO (Original Vinyl Only) theme which can make it a little more difficult to find the right DJ’s but as a result we’ve had some brilliant guests over the last 18 months. All time favourite track as mentioned before is Back Street by Edwin Starr. One that currently gets me flying to the dance floor is Baby Can’t You See by Little Tommy. (Anyone got one on the US Sound Of Soul label that they’d like to sell me for, errm, let’s say a tenner?)I’d never really given much thought to particular DJ’s back then and therefore don’t really have any particular favourites. However, I can’t let this opportunity go without a mention for Nige Brown, one of the top guys on the current scene today. He has a great taste in music, a collection of records to die for and an attitude that is so infectious you can’t fail to enjoy his work.

Andy:. Favourite track has to be Eugene Jefferson – Pretty Girl Dressed In Brown on the Open label. Butch has to be the DJ I admire most he is one of the few still moving the scene forward.

Have you been to the “Soul in the Sun” events and what are they like? How often do you DJ/attend events?

Martin: I’ve been to the three November SITS events that have been held in Lanzarote. It’s based around the idea that a Soulie on a general holiday abroad has nowhere to go in the evening to satisfy their Soul fix. During the day, it’s do as you please, laze around in the sun, whatever and then every night you’ve got your soul satisfaction instead of your evening with Elvis karaoke. I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve been too and it is exactly what it says on the tin… “A Holiday With Soul”.

I’m out every weekend visiting an event, usually Saturday but sometimes on a Friday too. Mainly local events within a 25/30 mile radius but also other ‘big’ events, Stoke Allnighter, Skegness Weekender, etc. I’ve always loved Orrell so the 2nd Saturday of every month I’m always there, even more so now I’ve got a bit of a regular DJ spot (Thanks Andy!). As a result of DJ’ing at Orrell plus the fact that I’m relatively new back behind the decks, I’ve had a few bookings at other events as a guest and have been asked to go back again.

Andy: I went to soul in the sun in the early days and it’s very good as a social event but not my cup of tea. I am either DJ’ing or visiting other venues every week; it’s what I work all week for.

Favourite venues apart from Orrell?

Martin: No doubt that my second fave is Burscough Legion which runs on the 4th Saturday of every month. It’s a really friendly atmosphere and there’s always a good line-up of DJ’s that play something a little different, tunes you don’t hear often, a bit of R&B, etc. I’ve also enjoyed the Stoke Allnighter at Kings Hall as it’s probably the closest replica of the Casino that’s been found. A few others worthy of mention would be Southport St Theresa’s, Bury Masonic and The Monaco Ballroom for its atmosphere.

Andy: Has to be Keele best all-nighter in the country in my opinion.

How long have you supported your team? How did you first get into watching them?

Martin: I was about 6 when I started watching Latics. My Dad worked in the Car Parts shop on the corner of Gidlow Lane opposite the Pagefield Hotel and on Saturdays my Mam would help him out. I’d go with them until my Grandfather turned up to take me shopping. He’d be shopping for my auntie as well and we’d take it back to her house, which was at the top of Woodhouse Lane. She’d cook us a bit of dinner and along with my Uncle Alf we’d go the match.

Andy: I was 11 years old when I first went to Leeds Road to watch town. My older Brother Tony used to take me with his friends, that was the beginning of my life long love affair with Huddersfield Town


Favourite player?

Martin: I’d have to give a mention to Colin Methven for his reliability and solidity in the centre of defence. Although I didn’t get to many games during that era, he always stood out as a huge influence on the team and when you think of Mister Wigan Athletics, he would have to be up there. However, we always prefer excitement don’t we, so I’ll go for Nathan Ellington, while also giving credit for that to Jason Roberts. As an individual, ‘Duke’ had the ability to get me on the edge of my seat like no other has, before or since. No matter where he was on the pitch when he received the ball, the anticipation rose. He scored some fantastic goals during his time at the club, culminating, probably fittingly, with his header that confirmed promotion to the Premier League. Of course, what came to pass after that has been documented many times but let’s just remember the good times.

Andy: That would be Frank Worthington.

Best memory?

Martin: It’s difficult to pick one from the distant past as I was only young and although I enjoyed being there, I’d to some degree been given little option, either  Latics or getting whacked round the ear for causing mischief at the back of a car accessory shop. And a lot of the highs in between were experienced second hand to some degree. So, I’d have to say the two promotion seasons in 2002/3 and 2004/5, probably the latter being the greater high but only because it’s the last one.

Andy: Going to the old Wembley stadium with Town for the first time. 

Worst memory?

Martin: Finding out that Dave Whelan broke his leg in a Cup Final! No, seriously, I’d have to say the last game I went to with my Grandfather. He’d been ill for quite a while but the realisation after seeing him struggling and admitting he couldn’t cope, was a sad one. He still supported the club afterwards by sending some money with my uncle to buy lottery tickets on match days.

Andy: Missing out on promotion to the Premier league thanks to our then chairman Barry Rubery selling Marcus Stewart to one of our biggest rivals.


Did you take your children to games and do they still go now?

Martin: It was the Division Two promotion season and out of the blue my youngest daughter, Maddie, asked to get involved with the Junior Latics Girls. As a result of her interest, I started to take her regularly to a few games. The following season Fran, the 2nd daughter, started to come as well. During that year, Maddie won an award as “Most Improved Player” and at the presentation I found out that one of the other girls parents attended Soul events. They invited me with them and I’ve been out almost every weekend since. They only came to about half of last years games as the teenage female hormones took over a bit but they still have interest.

Andy: No never, they both support Man Utd!


What Northern Soul song do you think the team should run out to?

Martin: I like the thought of Bunny Sigler’s Follow Your Heart. Although the song itself refers to relationship difficulties, it pleads for heartfelt decision making in doing the right thing. Which of course we’d all like to think our players do for the club. Don’t they?

Andy: Otis Clay – The Only Way Is Up


Do you prefer your old ground to your new one?

Martin: The DW is reasonably impressive but unfortunately no matter what little intricate designs you put into the stadia, they all feel the same. I’d have preferred it if Springfield Park had been developed thoughtfully as there was so much history there.

Andy: Always, never liked the new ground.


Thank you to Martin and Andy for taking time out to do the interview. This interview was originally published in the Mudhutter in 2010 but the northern soul nights continue to be held at Orrell for more info check out Soul@StJames Orrell on Facebook.



Tony Topping

Ever Changing Moods

18 Apr

Ever changing Moods first published in the Mudhutter  fanzine 2007

There’s a picture in my living room that for me captures perfectly the mood of Wigan Athletics former home Springfield Park. It’s titled “First Avenue” and shows fans making their way to an evening game in the fading light. It’s a route that was well known to me and to the man who skilfully painted the scene, local artist David Barrow.

I managed to get in touch with David over the summer and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for the fanzine. David lives a couple of goal kicks away from Wigan’s former home and the interview took place in his fledgling personal art gallery. An exciting project featuring some of his latest work and some of his iconic Northern Soul images.

He was born in Parbold but moved to Wigan at an early age, I asked him which schools he had attended “I moved to Springfield when I was about 8 and I went to the Bluecoats school then onto Gidlow Middle and finally Whitley High School and they’ve all been pulled down since!” Did you do well at art at school? “Yes I was always good at art and teachers would always praise my work and ask my opinion on other paintings, some kids were good at football, I was good at painting and drawing”casino

I read that you started painting seriously at 19 “Yes, I left school and went to work at the Civic Centre in Wigan. When I was about 18 or 19 they put me on shifts and I had plenty of time on my hands so I took up water colouring with a lot of very good results. In 1984 or 85 I published my first painting, it was the Market Hall and it won a local competition. I had it turned into prints and it was very successful so I did some more of Wigan Pier and Central Park. The Central Park ones sold out three times over and I even had people knocking on my door at 10 o clock at night asking for them”

David’s efforts were warmly received and encouraged he set up his first exhibition “One of the paintings in the exhibition was of the Wigan Casino. When I was about sixteen my older brother came home with a new short haircut and replaced all his rock records with Northern Soul. You couldn’t help but hear it around the house and I thought yeah I like that. So one Friday night me and a mate went to the Casino and we were just blown away by it. We also went to soul nights at Blackpool Mecca, the Ritz in Manchester, all over the place really, we even went to an all-nighter in Burscough once”

The Northern Soul picture led to a new direction for David and he was quick to act upon it, all the pictures in the exhibition sold but none as quick as the Wigan Casino one “A guy from Ormskirk bought it within hours and I thought I would do some more pictures drawing from my own Casino experiences. To be honest I was looking to spread my wings having exhausted all my Wigan scenes”

David has some of the evocative Casino scenes in his gallery and I was delighted to see the original artwork for the first time, each one is influenced by the title of a classic song as he explained “This one is called Afternoon of the Rhino, this one is I’m on my Way and so on. It was a hard subject matter to paint because the inside of the Casino was so dark so that’s why I painted the silhouettes, the girl dancer etc”

David eventually compiled a booklet with his Casino scenes “I made this little book and approached Russ Winstanley asking him what he thought of it. He was impressed and said I should do more, so I asked him if perhaps he could get some of the soul artists to sign them. He agreed and we got The Flirtations, The Velvelettes and Martha Reeves to sign 100 each. We managed to get Dean Parrish to sign just two”MTI5NDc5ODc2MjkyOTEzNzk1

Suddenly David’s profile shot through the roof and he was soon being interviewed by the likes of Radio 4 and G.M.R.  The Casino pictures were a huge success and indeed they still are today as David explains “An exhibition of my Northern Soul paintings has just been shown in the Salford Art Gallery and the curator of the gallery rang me to say they had a fantastic response, their best ever. They had a lot of mods visiting time and time again. In fact the curator wants to take it on a tour of the country and hopefully the Arts Council will get involved with sponsorship” David is trying to hang onto his remaining Casino pictures with the exhibition in mind. He admits to doing “around 30 or 40” but adds that a few have already been sold “One day a millionaire called at the house and bought 16 of them in one go”

I ask him if there is any chance that the tour will take in his home town but sadly it appears not “I have approached the council about various venues but to no avail, I only recently asked the Drumcroon Centre would they be prepared to host it but they said they can’t because it wasn’t seen as being educational”

The demand for the pictures shows little sign of waning and a new venture in America could open up a whole new audience “There’s a chance that the play Once upon a time in Wigan could be made into a film. They are kicking round the idea in America and apparently $20 million has been set aside for it. They have already been in touch with me to ask my permission to use one of my girl dancers as a logo”

Someone was already using a similar logo without his knowledge as David explains “One of my mates rang up one day to say “Do you know they are using one of your images on a beer pump?” I had no idea so I rang the brewery involved and introduced myself, the line went quiet and then the lad apologised and told me he was a keen northern soulie who had used the picture as a tribute. We got chatting about the old days and I told him to carry on using it, after all he had been using it for about 2 years! He came down to see me and I went to his small brewery to sample some of his beers. I intend doing a northern soul calendar soon and the brewery are seeking to sponsor it” The beer in question Northern Dancer can be seen and sampled in the Moon under the Water amongst others.PicMonkey-Collage

Paul Weller also visited the Casino in his youth and his interest in everything northern soul led to David designing an album cover as David recalls “Paul used to go to the Casino and he would climb on to the stage and ask Russ Winstanley to play “Determination” by Dean Parrish, it was his favourite record. Years later Paul hired Russ to warm up the audience before he appeared in concert. Russ rang me up one night to ask me if I could send up some of my countersigned prints especially the Determination one. So I sent the prints up and I didn’t hear anything again for about 3 months, then out the blue I got a phone call from Steve Craddock who was also on the same Paul Weller tour with the group Ocean Colour Scheme. Steve who has also appeared with Weller, wanted me to design their next album cover”

“He told me he wanted a painting of the “Jam House” in Birmingham. He sent me some photographs and I did the painting for them. Steve was pleased with it and it was used on their “Live at the Jam House” album. He is also a soul fan and he and his wife have gone on to buy some more of my paintings, he’s a really nice bloke”Live_Acoustic_at_the_Jam_House

David later met up with Paul Weller “Russ rang me up and asked me did I fancy meeting him, so I said yeah of course. He was in Manchester watching Ian Brown in concert. So off we went and we had V.I.P. tickets to go backstage, the first person I saw was Peter Kay. Then Steve Craddock came up to me and said come on I will introduce you to Paul. We went down these corridors and arrived at the back of the stage, Paul Weller was sat on a stool listening to the group and you could see the entire crowd massed in front of the stage. While we were waiting for the song to finish Paul Weller’s drummer gave me a box of Stella and I just stood thinking I shouldn’t be here! It was surreal, but when the song was over Paul came bouncing over shaking my hand and saying how much he loved my stuff. It’s amazing where painting can take you”

Amongst all the soul pictures in David’s gallery are some of his newer works, some of the paintings are work in progress whilst some have only just been finished. David tells me that I am one of the first people to see these new images. These are modern works, one series is called “Industrial” and the other set “Joy” The Joy paintings are bright and colourful, one of the images shows children playing, the painting captures the exuberance of youth, the vitality and movement is clearly felt. The Industrial pictures are all together different, black and solid they seem to have been fashioned from the very coal that was mined from these parts.

A new set of Springfield Park scenes will form part of this series; they will be like nothing you have seen before as David explains “This new set of pictures is really a new art form. I have created them from cut outs using hardboard and have glued them together to form the picture. It has created a gritty scene which is quite effective”

The new industrial paintings are certainly very haunting especially the street scenes. One in particular stuck in my mind, a single white streetlight illuminating a desolate street where perhaps once a community lived in terraced houses. The light still shone but no one entered its comforting glow anymore. As if it was patiently waiting for a new housing estate to grow and prosper around it again. At least that was my interpretation of the artwork, yours could be totally different, it could be anywhere in the North of England, to me it was Wigan.

Terraced houses in Wigan - 1961

A street of terraced houses in Wigan – the archetypal view of a North Western English Industrial townscape of the early 1960s. Photograph by Shirley Baker

These certainly are exciting times for David Barrow; he recently received a Gibson Les Paul guitar through the post courtesy of Steve Craddock. An exhibition is taking place in London where 100 rock artists have donated a guitar that has been painted by an artist of their choice. Ocean Colour Scene chose David and the guitar is now adorned with images of the Casino. All the guitars will be auctioned off at the end of the exhibition.

The Northern Soul exhibition will soon travel around the country, apart from Wigan unless the powers that be in this town get their act together, I won’t hold my breath. New northern soul pictures are in the pipeline which will delight a whole army of soulies and a series of Mod pictures are a distinct possibility which I for one can’t wait to see. Alongside these will be the countersigned prints by some of the most famous soul artists in the world.

The Northern Soul calendar is taking shape and hopefully with sponsorship will be out very soon.

David Barrow is constantly evolving as an artist and within his work there’s something for everyone, he is passionate about his art and when he says “I will always paint, I will die with a paintbrush in my hand” I for one don’t doubt that he will.