Saturday, 25 October 2014

For The Love of Northern Soul

The recent splurge in the popularity of Northern Soul has led to some interesting interaction on my part with some online hardliners.

I am a fan of Northern Soul, for those not familiar with it, is a peculiar offshoot of the soul music genre. There have been several UK based movies made about the Northern Soul music scene, particularly around Wigan Casino, a venue that operated an "all-nighter" event from 1973 to 1981.

Because of it's proclivity in the Wigan area, it was hard to get away from fans of the Northern Soul movement growing up. I was 11 when the song "Footsee" broke in to the top 20 in 1974. Like most 11 year olds I didn't know anything about music, I just liked dancing to the song, regardless of where it came from and who made it happen. However, for whatever reason, I moved away from Northern Soul and got in to Status Quo who had their number one hit "Down Down" also in 1974; so it was long hair and headbanging for me for a number of years. From Status Quo I moved to the whole rock genre and it wasn't until 2002, when Northern Soul re-appeared on my musical map.

In 2002 I helped organise a school reunion and the DJ hired for the event was none other than legendary Russ Winstanley. I was surprised to learn that Northern Soul was alive and well in the 21st century. On meeting with Russ he informed me about his book "Soul Survivors" and the companion compilation CD's. On my return back to Vancouver I started to explore the genre more, turns out I was not alone.

not a religious fanatic
In 2005 I started my band "Mr M & The All Nighters" as a sort of tribute to the Northern Soul thing, within a short time I realised I had to expand past such a narrow focus and include more well known hits; not just to keep the audience involved but also to keep musicians happy. Today, I have a podcast dedicated to soul and funk and my band Van City Soul Quartet creates original music with a heavy dose of Northern Soul as an influence.

Last week I managed to snag a copy of the new "Northern Soul" movie. Since I was not directly part of the whole Northern Soul scene I had no expectations, I just wanted to see and hear the music and how the scene would be interpreted forty or so years after the fact. I found the movie on the dark side, great music of course, overall a bit of a downer. However, somewhat artistically inspired I set about playing around with Lou Pride's "Comn' Home" [In the Mornin'] re-editing in Logic, just for a bit of fun. My mistake was to post it to several Northern Soul Facebook groups and suffer the backlash and a few choice words.

The subsequent response went like this - "how dare you have the audacity to alter our music". [paraphrasing] Now, I hate to point out the obvious [and the term "our music" was actually used in a sentence in response] IT IS NOT YOUR MUSIC ! Yes it is music that you have listened to for many years, music that you have gotten old to, probably conceived your children to but it does NOT belong to you in any way shape or form.

Over the last week I have mulled over the concept of "moral-ownership" of a musical art form. What I have so far concluded is the ardent Northern Soul "fanatic" is as fanatical about his or her music as any football supporter or political extremist. I have met many Northern Soul fans over the years most are reasonable, fair minded working folks. However, there is a level of fanaticism within the fan base that bares much similarity to the extremes of football club supporters, much of which has also been documented in books and film. It certainly felt like I ran in to this level of intolerance this week via Facebook.

As a 52 year old I often look back at the choices I have made over the years. Experiencing this level of intolerance about a sub-sub musical genre, made me realise why I stayed away from Northern Soul in the first place. As a teenager I recall the ardent Northern Soul fan, often it would be Northern Soul vs Heavy Rock at the local disco, then it was Northern Soul vs Punk vs Heavy Rock vs Bowie/Ferry - in hindsight it was ridiculous, but at the time it was very important. I think the people who I ran in to online earlier this week have NOT moved on from this mentality, in fact they have become even more conservative in their adult view. So much so that even a movie such as "Northern Soul" that pays tribute to their golden years is an insult to the memory of the period. God forbid anyone who did not attend Wigan Casino All Nighters on a regular basis and has spent the last 35 years living thousands of miles away - how could I have a true appreciation of this most venerable music ?

I have to say that this extreme view has tarnished my own appreciation of the music. It is like moving away from the loud obnoxious drunk that rants on and on and dammit someone locked the door to the room ! For now I can't even hear some of my fave Northern tunes without the images of my youth coming back to me, to this today I find it abhorrent that such an extreme view would evolve from listening to music. It will hopefully, like all nasty stains, wear off in time.

No comments:

Post a Comment