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Dudley Chronicle - February, 2004

With the close of Wigan Casino in 1981, a chapter ended in the life of a whole generation of young men and women all over the country. Northern Soul had died.

Well if it did die in 1981, it's the healthiest corpse I've ever seen ! Northern Soul is alive and well, all over the Black Country.

In fact the Midlands played a crucial part in keeping the Northern Soul flame burning because as Wigan Casino was closing, the now legendary allnighters at The Top Of The World club in Stafford were opening. Only running for five years, the allnighters set a standard of playing 'Sixties Newies' (Sixties records that had not been played on the scene before, so as opposed to Oldies, they were Newies) that has continues right through until today.

To find the beginning of the story though you have to go right back to the late 1960s, when Soul clubs were beginning to be set up all over the country. The Twisted Wheel in Manchester is probably the most famous of the early clubs, simply because that's the venue that Soul music journalist Dave Godin wrote his famous 'Soul Of The North' article about.
 

Due to the popularity of the Merseybeat sound in America, the Musicians Union had negotiated a deal whereby for every British group that toured the States, an American group could tour the UK. This meant that venues like The Twisted Wheel played host to a huge number of live acts, it seemed like there was a US Soul group touring every week back then. It was by no means the only club though, and virtually each town had it's own club by the early Seventies.

By 1971, the Twisted Wheel was closed at the insistence of Manchester Council, the focus then moved to the North Midlands and The Golden Torch Club in Tunstall, Stoke On Trent. It was at The Torch that Northern Soul allnighters really took off with numbers far exceeding those seen at The Twisted Wheel. Live acts were still featured, and there was even a live album recorded by Major Lance at The Torch.

The first club in the Black Country to gain a reputation was The Catacombs in Temple Street, Wolverhampton, and by 1974 that reputation was such that records first played at 'The Cats' as it was known locally, were being taken up to Wigan Casino to be played at the bigger venue. By the mid Seventies The Queen Mary Ballroom on Dudley Zoo was also beginning to become popular for it's alldayers.

Of course from 1973 through to 1981, Wigan Casino dominated. It took Northern Soul from an underground cult into the full glare of publicity, with Television cameras, their own record label, and countless inches of column space in local and national newspapers. Numbers at the allnighters reached the 2000 mark on occasion, and Friday Oldies allnighters were introduced as well as the regular Saturday allnighters.

Looking back now, and remember it's over twenty years since the Casino closed, it was a fantastic achievement to run at least one allnighter every week for eight years, and so much of the music discovered in that period has stood the test of time and is still regarded as classic examples of uptempo Sixties Soul music.

But of course, it had to end. Wigan Council initially placed a compulsory purchase order on the Casino in 1980, and leased the building back to owner Gerry Marshall until their plans to build a new Civic Centre were complete. Sadly this meant that the building itself deteriorated, and to be honest by 1981 when it finally closed it was probably a health risk anyway. A fire completed the job of demolishing the building in late 1981. Controversially, Wigan Council never did build that new Civic Centre, and the site became a car park for a while and then some Social Services offices were erected on the site, which I believe are still there.

Returning to the Midlands though, as previously mentioned, Stafford, and to a lesser degree Leicester's Odd Fellows  Club, moved things on. The emphasis was to stay away from the same tunes that Wigan had played and find new discoveries, a tradition that has remained in the Midlands ever since. By 1986 though, Stafford had gone as well, and the Northern Soul scene was at it's lowest ebb, and had truly returned to being an underground scene.

Hundreds of supporters stopped attending venues during the Eighties, it was the time when most people were busy getting married, having children, and advancing their careers. If you looked hard enough though you could still find the odd Soul night or allnighter in the Midlands. Wolverhampton played a crucial role at this time, with Wolverhampton's own DJ Pep seemingly running venues all over the Midlands. By the early 1990's The Black Horse pub in Thompson Avenue was hosting a monthly Northern Soul night which really prompted the resurgence of interest in Northern Soul in the Black Country.

It was at The Black Horse that a small group of people came together for the first time as friends, and over the next ten years would prove to be influential throughout the Midlands, and Dudley in particular.

Dave Rimmer, from Dudley, John Weston, Mick Nold, Bill Randle, Ted Massey, and Dave Allen, from Birmingham, and Brian Fradgeley from Wolverhampton, formed the core of the group at the time and started running Soul Nights at Bentley's Night Club on Constitution Hill. This led to the live appearance of J J Barnes in 1994, and as far as can be ascertained is the only live appearance of a US based Detroit recording artist in Dudley. Perhaps more importantly, all were prepared to travel for their fix of Soul music, in search of new sounds and Soul nights. Trips all over the Midlands led to new venues and new friendships.

By 1992, the most popular night in the Midlands was Bretby Country Club, near Burton On Trent. Virtually all of the key players and DJs in the Midlands attended on a monthly basis. The music policy was to seek out new (Sixties and Seventies) records rather than relying on the tried and tested. This was understandable, because the promoter of the Bretby soul nights was a mere 21 years old at the time. Chris Anderton, from Burton was far too young to remember Wigan Casino, so didn't have the memories associated with it.

It was also around this time that people started coming back onto the Northern Soul scene. It was a situation of the kids had grown up, the career was settled, or the divorce had come through ! Soul music gets to you like that. Although people might have stopped attending venues for anything up to almost twenty years, the love of the music never goes away, and the pull of the scene has gradually attracted more and more people back.

Further associations, certainly between the East and West Midlands, were created at Bretby, and when it finally closed in 1995 there was a very strong loosely knit group of people who didn't want to stop going out. So Albrighton's Lea Manor became the next venue.

Promoted by Martyn Bradley from Cannock, and Tate and Lin Taylor, from Wombourne, the Lea Manor concentrated on using local Midland DJs mixed in with the best of the rest from around the country. By the mid '90s, the venue was recognised as being the best Soul night in the country for hearing new discoveries and also as a social scene. It also meant that not only could you hear the rarest of records, but also cheap unknown things that were fairly easy to find. The emphasis was always though, on quality rather than value.

The East / West Midlands friendships were cemented at Albrighton, and a new element was added with regular travellers from the North West. Regular DJ's at The Manor were Martyn Bradley, Chris Anderton, Dave Rimmer, Ted Massey, John Pugh from Wolverhampton, John Weston, John Wilkinson from Nottingham, John Mills from Bolton, (That's a lot of guys called John), Chic, Kiddo , and Neil from Shrewsbury, Steve and Lee Jeffries from Leicester, and Len Cook. By the time the allnighters started in 1998 there was a waiting list of people wanting to DJ at the Club.

The allnighters put the Club into a different league, and for a few years it was without doubt, the top Soul venue in the country with people travelling from all over the country to listen to the music that was being played by Midland DJs. A two room venue, it meant that not only could Sixties beplayed, but also the new Modern tracks could be played as well in the smaller room.

This brings us back to Dudley. In 1996, the promoters of Albrighton teamed up with Dave Rimmer and Mark Wills from Kingswinford to start a Soul night at The Station Hotel. The emphasis at The Station Hotel was to be quality Sixties Soul, from a core group of local Midland's DJs, two guests every month, at least one of whom was to be a top allnighter DJ from out of the area. Over the three years that the Soul nights ran at the Station Hotel there were 52 guest DJs from as far afield as Scotland. London, Norfolk, North Wales, Bolton, Stoke, Nottingham and Derby. The Station Hotelcertainly put Dudley back onto the Soul map, and through a combination of his DJ spots at Albrighton and Dudley, Dave Rimmer has become one of the country's top Northern Soul DJs, playing all over England and Wales, and venturing into Europe to DJ in Italy and Germany on a fairly regular basis.

The Station Hotel Soul nights closed in 1999, and although other venues have been tried on an irregular basis, none have achieved the success of the Station Hotel. That is until September last year when Col and Gaye Kidson, with Phil Richards, all Dudley residents, decided to start a new local Soul night. Where, you might ask ? At the Station Hotel of course.

Phil Richards had already promoted successful Soul nights at The Queen Mary Ballroom on the Zoo, unfortunately though, the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in 2002 meant that the Zoo closed, and with it the Soul nights, for several months. Col and Gaye Kidson, more recent returnee's to the Northern Soul scene, have a long history of attending clubs throughout the Seventies, and came back with renewed enthusiasm about five years ago. The music policy of the Club is again quality Sixties Soul, from the rarest of the rare, mixed in with the best Oldies of the past thirty years. Col and Phil are the resident DJs, and again the policy is to use one local DJ, and one top allnighter DJ as guests every month. From a moderately successful start in September, 2003, the first two nights of this year have been a resounding success, with well in excess of 120 people at each one. Especially encouraging is the number of people who had travelled a fair distance to be there. DJs are told they can play what they like, with a eye on the dancefloor. It must work because a full dancefloor each time also generates an atmosphere all of it's own. It looks like The Station Hotel Soul nights will be around for a long time.

Surprisingly enough, there are probably more people who attend a Northern Soul venue on any given weekend now, than there were back in the heyday of the Seventies. Soul nights and Allnighters run all over the country every weekend, and whilst none attract the huge regular attendances that Wigan Casino did all on it's own, collectively it probably does add up to more. Certainly the forthcoming Northern Soul Weekender in March at Prestatyn, has more than 2700 people booked in for a whole weekend of Soul music.

Northern Soul dead ? I don't think so !!
 

The Soul nights at The Station Hotel run every month (With the exception ofDecember) and the next few dates are March 12th, April 16th, and  May 14th, 2004. Further information can be obtained by ringing 01384 859529 or 07887
886804.

Further information about Northern Soul, both nationally and in the WestMidlands can be obtained from Dave Rimmer's excellent website at www.soulfulkindamusic.net


A Station Hotel Top Ten Records

Dee Dee Sharp - Deep Dark Secret Cameo
The Five Royales - Catch That Teardrop - Home Of The Blues
The Oxford Knights - I'm Such A Lonely One Delphi
The O'Jays - I'll Never Forget You Imperial
Ann Heywood - Crook His Little Finger Hondo
The Brooks Brothers - Looking For A Woman Tay
Gerri Hall - Who Can I Run Too Hotline
Carol & Gerri - On You Heartache Looks Good MGM
Matadors - Say Yes Baby Chavis
Joe Douglas Crazy Things - Playhouse

Dave Rimmer.