Features

Northern Soul is Not a Type of Music

By Ady Croasdell

Back in the day no black American ever said, “Let’s make a record for all those upcoming teens in the north of England who in a few years will like dancing to uptempo soul while bombed on speed”. Admittedly a few “tailor-mades” did happen but these were a mere footnote to a scene that spent its life scouring record lists, oldies shops, auctions, warehouses and lofts for the next big sound.

Northern Soul is any record that has been played at a Northern Soul dance. That is a ridiculously large number of recordings that stretch from the late 50s to the present day and can vary between Charles Sheffield’s 1961 R&B mover ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’ to some recent housey thing by Bob Sinclair called ‘Tribute’. The epitome of Northern Soul is 1965-66 uptempo Motown such as ‘It’s The Same Old Song’ by the Four Tops. It has the tempo, the production and Levi Stubbs’ emotion-drenched voice telling us how his girl has legged it; misery often features in the happiest sounding songs. Motown was the benchmark of this music but it was the following crowd that aped their sound and came up with myriad variations that are the essence of Northern.

Take ‘That Beatin’ Rhythm’ by Richard Temple on Mirwood, for many the first Northern label. It wasn’t released in theUKin the 60s and did not reach these shores until the early 70s. Some keen English youth would have found a copy on a US sales list, or in a UK junk shop that a few imports had sidled into, played it at his local club and created a stir. When the big-time DJs got to hear about it, the sharpest and richest charmed it into his own DJ box and regaled the eager dancers at the biggest club of the day, thereby creating a monster sound. It got bootlegged and even legally reissued, sold in the tens of thousands and can still be heard at venues every weekend around the now global Northern Soul world. The sound later embraced 70s shufflers, big-beat ballads, some Latin boogaloo and R&B stompers but it’s that mid-60s sophisticated soul with the on-the-fours beat that is the bedrock. 

Selected releases

© Ace records 2012