I never used to “get” Northern Soul. Anytime I heard a Northern Soul record, I would think to myself, “What the **** is so good about that?” To me, they were simply unheard-of, formulaic, sub-Motown dancers – the sorts of tracks that Otis Redding or The Temptations would have discarded first when recording an album, because they weren’t anywhere good enough to make the final cut. I had therefore come to the conclusion that the reason Northern Soul artists, (and the small record labels to which they were signed), had remained so obscure in their own recording lifetimes, was that they were all crap. Simple.
There wasn’t any, one “eureka” moment on my conversion to ardent Northern Soul fan, but I suppose there were two things which began a slow-burn of opinion change. The first was stumbling upon Steve Parker’s wonderful Northern Soul Top 500 List website (http://rocklistmusic.co.uk/steveparker/northern_soul_top_500.htm), and starting tentatively to listen to the tunes listed, whilst off from work on a period of sick leave. This act, initially the result of boredom and musical curiosity, unlocked some kind of musical door for me, and over the period of the week, I must have listened to all 500 songs at least twice. I began taking note of the songs that I really liked, and soon had a list in excess of 200 songs.
The second game-changer for me was seeing Tony Palmer’s short 1976 film, The Wigan Casino on DVD, which supplied video for my fledgling Northern Soul audio adventure. I saw clearly for the first time how exciting the youth movement which formed around Northern Soul was, the film focussing on the all-nighters held at the mecca of Northern Soul, the Wigan Casino. I marvelled at the amphetamine-fuelled dancers’ athletic moves on the crowded dancefloor, their scene-specific clothing, the superb soundtrack to their sweaty gyrating, and the frenetic record buying and swapping that happened at these events. I began to wish that I could have been part of the scene (I was born too young). I “got” it.
This record from 1966, by the Luther Ingram Orchestra, is one of the first Northern Soul songs that I really liked. It is the b-side instrumental version of the a-side single, If It’s All the Same to You Babe, on Hib Records, (I could have selected either version), and bears the hallmarks of the Northern Soul sound – the dance-friendly, typically heavy beat and fast tempo of mid-1960s Motown. It sounds amazing if you blast it out of your stereo at a Spinal Tappy volume 11, feeling the beat pulsating through your floor, and imagining yourself on a crowded 1970s dancefloor somewhere in the North of England. It is a record that ticks the main box for inclusion in the Northern Soul scene of the early 1970s, namely that it had had no significant, mainstream commercial success at the time it was originally released. (Although, because of the song’s subsequent popularity as a Northern Soul classic, it has been re-released a few times, and is easy to track down). In fact, Ingram’s first three releases all failed to chart, although he started to enjoy more success from the late 1960s onwards.