Northern Soul – The Movie

Posted on October 21, 2014

When I received a Facebook message from my friend Jenny Syrad asking what the film, ‘Northern Soul’ was like, I didn’t really no know how to respond.

You see if I had responded “not bad” or “pretty good” the assumption would have been that the film was a load of crap. This is because we have got used to saying everything we like is “awesome” or “spectacular” on social networks pages. “Very good” and “not bad” are now pretty much obsolete on Facebook unless the reply you are looking for is “Oh…pretty crap then?”

Of course in Facebook speak everything is binary, so the lack of a yeast extract sandwich spread can be deemed as “Catastrophe, no Marmite” and running out of milk can be “Worst nightmare…No milk.”

There was a time when a catastrophe was saved for something like the sinking of the Titanic rather than the central heating breaking down and your worst nightmares were confined to catching rabies or receiving a childhood invite on to ‘Jim’ll Fix It”

So, back to the movie. Yes it was good, both Harry and I enjoyed it enough to leave the cinema satisfied it was worth the journey and was written and produced in a manner that was realistic.

Harry (my youngest son) was quite correct at the end when he said it was nice to see a film about genuine life rather than being littered with unrealistic romance and the type of obligatory happy endings that big budget American movies have drummed into us since the birth of the big screen.

Calling northern soul gritty is a cheap cliché, but that is what you will hear it described as, because it is essentially about friendships formed by music in tough industrial towns around North West England.

I was expecting to see a movie about the beginnings of Northern Soul, however, it was more about friendships brought together by it and the aspirations of two young men (Sean and Matt)  to become big on the scene by collecting rare soul records and aspiring to be DJ’s at Wigan Casino.


Northern Soul was before my time really but because of its hard working class roots, it has always fascinated me, in particular because it is such an unlikely coming together from either side of the Atlantic.

After viewing various documentaries, it is apparent that Northern Soul probably stemmed, at least in some part, from football fans travelling to London and picking up rare copies of black American soul music that was never deemed catchy enough in the USA to go into the mainstream.

Faster an punchier than a lot of mainstream soul music such as Diana Ross and Martha and the Vandellas, this hit a soft spot in working class northern culture and soon became an unlikely underground craze for those rebelling against the awful State controlled pop of the mid 70’s (think Brotherhood of Man, Abba, Showaddywaddy etc etc).

When it became apparent that there were thousands of unreleased soul singles knocking about in the States, the craze to travel on cheap flights (courtesy of Freddy Laker) to discover  unique ‘Floor Stompers’ took off, and places like Wigan Casino attracted thousands every Saturday night.

Pumped up on prescription amphetamines, young lads danced the night away capturing the attention of the girls (who had not really seen young lads dance before) with moves that combined soul dancing with Bruce Lee type martial arts moves.

What I liked about the film is that it was set in a time before over competitive attitude which I wrote about in a previous blog; aspirations were low but a good time was everything and my friend Stewart and I agreed afterwards that the characters were like a cocktail of many of our friends when we were that age, in particular the out of control pills dealer (Phil) from London.

In my early 20’s I sampled occasional retro Northern Soul nights and the drugs that went with them, but watching this film about the lives of young men who were there as it took off made me feel that I have missed out on something because of geographical reasons and the fact I was born a decade too late.

Had I been 18 and living in Lancashire, I just know that the show off in me would have meant I would have been happily out of my head with my mates on slimming pills doing Karate inspired dance moves all around Wigan Casino. I also know my mate mark Privett would have been King of the dance floor; he loved all that martial arts stuff with nunchucks.

The reason I thought the film was good and not ‘Facebook awesome’ is because I had hoped for a bit more dancing and music but I suppose Northern Soul is a film after all and not a musical. It was a movie not just about the music and the dancing but a cultural reminder of an era when everything was geared towards the weekend as weekdays were generally spent in a a mundane factory job.

If you are a fan of Northern Soul you will really enjoy this movie, if you are not or you have never really understood its culture, you may well begin to see why, even though Wigan Casino died a sad death in 1981, Northern Soul is still has a cult following not just in the UK but across the whole world.

Who would have thought that tough working class white lads from towns in the industrial north, would have such a connection with discarded black American soul singers?

For that, I can be thankful of an unusual genre of music that when I hear it, always fills me with happiness.

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