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Can Soul Singles be of historical value

Northern Soul Is Dead

Northern Soul & Milk

Llandudno & Prestatyn Weekenders

The Dudley Chronicle

The Green At Darlaston


"I went to a great allnighter last night !"

It all started in London, at clubs like The Flamingo and The Scene, then it moved North to The Twisted Wheel, Vs Va's, The Torch, Wigan, and Stafford. We've all seen the long lists of legendary allnighters before, and I'm not going to repeat the list again. My question is, why were these legendary allnighters ? What makes an allnighter successful ? In fact why do we have allnighters at all, why can't we get some sleep on a Saturday night like normal people ?

In trying to answer my own questions I'm going to examine the different aspects of allnighters, from all the different perspectives, because it's clear that people attend allnighters for different reasons.

The Dancers: These days I don't dance, partly because I'm too unfit, but mostly because I have a dodgy knee, but in the past I was a dancer, and I had only one concern really. That the music was fast enough, and with a good enough beat to dance to. All I needed for this was a good wooden dance floor, and believe me, I've been to places where the dancefloor (If you could call it that !) has been concrete, or sheets of hardboard nailed down, or vinyl floor tiles covered in spilt beer and sticky. It all affects how much the dancer enjoys his, or her, night out.

One other thing which has become more of an issue these days is that the dance floor is big enough for the venue. Back in the Seventies this wasn't a problem, the old ball rooms and clubs had big dancefloors, but by the Eighties clubs had realised that if people were dancing, they weren't drinking, and that's where the money was made. So a lot of clubs reduced the size of the dancefloor, and a lot of the old ball rooms became Bingo Halls. Think about how often you have been in a venue with a small dancefloor that is absolutely packed. It spoils the night doesn't it.

The dancer though is probably the most pure form of Northern Soul person that attends venues, they arrive, they drop their bag and dance until they need a change of clothes, they're not bothered what label the record is on, and generally just come to have a good time.

The Promoter: The hero or the villain, who can't get it right for everyone, no matter what he does. There are two distinctly different types of promoter these days, the first type promote to make money and reputation, and tend to be businessmen. The second type promote because they love the music, and can frequently be heard saying "We're not in it for the money.". Surprisingly, I think both types of promoter are vital for the continued future of the scene. The businessmen put on large promotions using big venues, and sometimes live acts, the promotion is large scale and professional. They might have an interest in the music on a personal basis, but in reality it is a way of earning their living, it's business. There is nothing wrong with that. What you end up with is a good venue, run professionally, promoted well, and usually very well attended.

The second type of promoter tends to run a smaller, locally based allnighter, and they do so because that's what they want to do. As already noted, the favourite phrase is "We're not in it for the money.". In part this is true, I co-promoted the Pigeon Club allnighters last year with John Mills, our aim was to play something different in the North West. We deliberately picked a small venue though, because we knew that we could fill a small venue, but would struggle with a large one. So even though we planned the allnighter for musical reasons and principles, we also used realism to ensure that we didn't lose money. That's what the second type of promoter means, they don't want to lose money, but are happy breaking even. There are very, very few venues that run allnighters at loss for any length of time, no matter what the avowed aims of the promoters are. Again this type of promoter is vital to the future of the scene because they are prepared to take a risk, and often when one venue fails they are prepared to put time and money into finding a new one, thus ensuring the continued future of the scene.

But as I said, they can be hero or villain. How many times have you heard people say "the music was crap/great, it was too dark/light, the dance floor was too busy, there weren't enough there, the sound system was crap, etc etc etc." All the criticism is aimed at the promoter, rightly so, but he is in an impossible situation, trying to please everyone, so remember that when you have a criticism, by all means make your point, but accept that others have a view.

From any promoter's point of view though it's easy to say what makes a good allnighter: Plenty of people through the door, a full dancefloor, no hassles about the equipment or venue, and all the DJ's turning up on time. Simple isn't it

The Record Dealer: Another essential part of an allnighter, but again, divided into probably three different groups. The first clear grouping is that of the professional record dealer. They make their living from selling records, and are usually quite successful at it. Their needs for a good allnighter are simple, a good 'pitch', enough light to see by, and enough customers, who have money in their pockets to spend on records. That's not asking for much is it ?

The second type of record dealer is much like myself, I have a normal 9 - 5 job, and sell records at allnighters to fund my own record buying. These days the price of records has escalated beyond belief and as a married man I cannot justify spending huge amounts of money on records out of my normal wages, so I fund my record buying by buying and selling records. As such, my requirements are the same as the professional dealers, and because there always seems to be another record to buy, another CD to buy, and these days, another book to buy, I need people to spend money just as much as the next man.

The Record Collector: Aha, I mentioned three types of record collector, and then only described two. That's because the third type is the guy who walks round with a small box of records. Sometimes it's someone selling off the remnants of a collection, but more usually it's a record collector ! A very unusual species, and there have been lots of articles written about the different types of record collector so I\'m not going to reproduce those here. Suffice to say, the record collector needs other people there selling records. Without them he has nowhere to spend his night, he will move from one sales box to the next, bent over, trawling through box after box of records. Sometimes he will find something he wants, and will immediately offer "trades, mate". Sometime he will be lucky, others he has to put his hand in his pocket. A good allnighter to the record collector means leaving in the morning with as many records as possible for the least possible outlay.

The DJ: So, how do people become allnighter DJ's ? Why do people become allnighter DJ's ? and how do they contribute to a good allnighter ? In many respects the DJ is the one person who can make or break an allnighter, if he gets it right everyone is happy, if he gets it wrong, everyone complains. In reality a DJ can never satisfy everyone at an allnighter, he can just attempt to satisfy most of the people, most of the time and that in itself is a very difficult job. So why do people do it ? For some it's a desire to share discoveries they have made with as many people as possible, for others it's a desire to see people dancing to the records they have chosen, for some it\'s a big ego trip, "Look what records I've got" type of thing. Certainly back in the Seventies it was a way of making money, it wasn't unknown for some DJs to make a record big, and then all of a sudden the pressings would appear.

In terms of making money these days the vast majority of allnighter DJs actually spend far more on the records they play than they ever get in wages, although stories of big names from 20 years ago getting 500 a spot now keep surfacing. Are they worth it ? Of course not, but good luck to them if they can command that sort of payment.

As to how people become successful allnighter DJs, that\rquote s a whole article on it's own. In the ideal world people would become allnighter DJs after serving an apprenticeship as such in smaller Soul nights. Then based on their reputation from what other people say about them they should be given a chance at an allnighter. In the majority of cases this happens. Sometimes, just sometimes, people come along and have a wonderful record collection, and get spots based on the records they own. It doesn't work though unless they are actually good DJs as well. If they aren't word will eventually get round and people will stop booking them.

The fans : Everyone of the above fit into this category. Or at least they would all claim to, but there are people as well who don't fall into any of the above categories. They are the people who don' t dance all night, don' t collect records, don't promote venues, but just go for a night out. Their social life revolves around the scene, and the people they meet there, it\'s just as important that they have a good night out as any of the above categories.

The atmosphere: An intangible thing, some venues have it all the time, some never have it, and even more confusingly some venues have it some of the time, but not at others. Of all the things that contribute to a great allnighter, the one thing that is always mentioned is a great atmosphere. You can't define it, you can't use a set formula for it (otherwise you could bottle it and sell it !), and you can't know until you arrive at a venue what the atmosphere will be like. But I'm sure, like me, sometimes you have walked into a venue and an absolutely electric feeling has hit you as you've walked in, that' s atmosphere ! I'm also sure you've walked into a venue where all the signs are right, all the DJs are right, and all the other variable factors are right, and yet it's still a very flat and dull night. Why ? That is in the hands of the God's.

So far I've avoided mentioning venues and names, because what I've written above can be applied across the board, to any venue, whether it be Togetherness, The Ritz, The Wilton, The 100 Club, or Albrighton. It's even more difficult to apply what I've said to specific DJs, because everyone who has DJ'ed at allnighters on a regular basis will know that sometimes everything goes right and people dance to whatever you play, and other times whatever you play leads to the DJ'd nightmare: vast areas of visible wood !

In fact, I've had good nights at all the current allnighters, for different reasons sometimes, but still good nights at allnighters. I've also had bad ones at allnighters that are usually good, and I can't tell you why ! So perhaps I 've failed to answer the questions I set myself at the beginning of this article. By the same token, perhaps what I've written will encourage you to form your own opinions as to what makes a good allnighter. In reality that's all anyone can hope for from a written piece of work, that it informs, and makes people think.

The one question I can answer is why allnighters ? Why not Soul nights ? Where we can all go home to get some sleep. The answer......because that's boring ! Long may the concept and reality of a good allnighter continue, thats where the Northern Rare Soul scene was born, and the end of allnighters will, to me, signify the end of the Rare Soul scene.

(Published in Togetherness Magazine. March 2000)