“I’m Where It’s At”

  • Sarah RaineEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music book series (PSHSPM)


Having followed Nina and her instructions to the “proper nighter” in a narrative section that opens this chapter, we enter into a discussion of northern soul place and the transformation of venues through the organisation of space, specific sensory experiences, and historicising. Taking two different events, the ways in which venues and cities/towns have become central or removed from the narratives that dominate the scene become apparent. Finally, we find our way to the “proper nighter”, a place within which young men and women find increased freedom to experiment with the practices and musical boundaries of the scene. Emerging out of conversations about place, the issue of class sows the seed for the second half of the chapter.

Finding the “proper nighter”. 1

“Nina, we are lost.”

Blunt but to the point. We really were very lost, having circled the cement beige of seemingly unending suburbia. No time for niceties as my boyfriend rants and raves in the driving seat next to me.

“What?! Give me a minute…”, Nina shouts, making what I imagine are movements towards the door, away from the pounding speakers and heat of pressing humanity, out into the open and the cool.

“Say it again…”.

“I said, we are lost. We’ve been driving around for what seems like hours. I put the postcode in that you sent, but it appears to be taking us to the middle of a field!” I try to keep it light, keep my voice enthusiastic; a bridge of humour between the sour feeling in the car and the night ahead of us.

“Oh yeah, it’s a bugger that. Quite tricky the first time”.

Not that she mentioned it before…

“Where-abouts are you?”

Voice calm, cheerful almost, “Well, it’s pretty hard to describe. It’s all rather non-descript, but I guess we passed a boarded-up pub a while back, painted white. Now we’re heading down a side-road. Oh! We’re passing some sort of playing field to the left.” I say, ignoring the exasperated snorting from the driver’s seat.


Is she thinking? I bloody hope she is. We are a wrong turning away from an argument, here.

“I think I know where you mean. You’ve got to turn back. Head back to the main road and turn right onto it, then you need to keep an eye out for a KFC on the right, again. Sounds weird, but it’s got a massive carpark behind it, and if you keep on going, you’ll find a track down to the club.”

I wonder how cheerful she will sound when she has to listen to Charlie dissecting the whole journey later on. I will save her for the sake of my research, putting him on the end of the table or too close to the speakers to be heard.

“Thanks, Nina. We will give it a go.” I quickly relay the information and see the blood drain from his face. If I keep talking to Nina, maybe he’ll just seethe quietly. “How have the DJs been so far? We were hoping to get there quite a lot earlier than this…” Another snort from Charlie – don’t push him. “Did they choose this venue to put off the unsure?” I laugh.

“Probably! To be honest, they couldn’t fit that many people in. It’s not like the King’s Hall, thank God!”, she mirrors my laugh. “Just the usual suspects tonight. Rob couldn’t make it, but he’s not really into the funky-edged stuff.”

Neither is Charlie, so I’m pleased that she’s not on speaker phone. Hopefully he’ll be so pathetically grateful to be out of the car that he’ll dance to anything, although that hasn’t worked in the past.

“Ask her if there’s parking nearby,” Charlie squints out through the windscreen at the frost-bitten world, desolate in its barren blue. A sales-rep question, but a good one.

“Sounds good! Is there any parking? I was nearly on my arse at Rugby last week. Leather soles and ice do not mix!” She laughs; we’ve all been there. The dangers of winter soul-ing.

“Yep, loads of it. That’s one of the benefits of hiring a football club, I guess. And even though it’s rammed inside, there’s plenty of spaces. I can’t imagine anyone walked, so I guess there are loads of designated drivers – poor bastards!”

Poor bastards indeed, I wince, chancing a glance at Charlie, white-knuckled fingers gripping the wheel, nose an inch from the glass.


“You’ll love it! It’s a proper nighter, none of the warped records, Top 500 shite that you get at the Kings Hall.”

“If we make it!” I laugh.

“Don’t worry, you’re practically here. The word-of-mouth thing is brilliant. You only get people who are really serious. Deadly serious to set out on a night like this, but always serious, mind. Anyway, I’m off. It’s fookin’ freezing out here! I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Round the back of KFC…” I interject before she disappears.

“Yep, just round the back of KFC. Don’t be put off. Keep on going and you’ll find it. Keep the faith!”

I sign off and put the phone back in my pocket. “It’s just around the corner, apparently.”


“Look out for a KFC and follow the carpark right to the back. Typical that there are no signs, but I guess it’s the perfect venue for discouraging the masses.” A quick change of tact, “The music sounded pretty good!” I’m speaking too much, but the frost on Charlie’s face melts momentarily. I put on some music via bluetooth, the “Northern Soul 2” playlist – bringing out the big guns!

“You can say what you like about the Kings Hall,” he mutters, “but at least it’s fifteen minutes away from our door.”

God, please let this be a good night or I’ll be kissing long trips to soul nights goodbye.

“Here’s the turning. I think you have to drive behind the KFC and the road should just carry on.”

Wheels audibly move from smooth concrete to gravely path. Shuddering and crunching across deep patches of grit and small potholes, the tenacious weeds of winter ditches claiming more of the sides as we head into the darkness, leaving the yellow lights of fast food and pavements behind. At odds with pulling into a town-centre carpark, this arrival awakens the hidden explorer within: new sounds to be heard, danced, dissected on the way home; new pathways made between known records and the unknown. The white knuckles on the steering wheel a little pinker now, a rise of adrenaline perhaps? The playlist doing its job.

We’re here.

Searching for the “Proper” Place2

In the previous chapter, Nina and Rob were missing from the King’s Hall, the biggest northern soul event of the year. It should now be clear where they were. This raises a really interesting question with regards to finding “proper” northern soul places. For some of the older generation, this “proper” place is the Kings Hall, with its architectural and musical echoes of Wigan Casino. But for the young men and women that I spoke to, a “proper nighter” can be found in places like the football club.3

In many academic studies of northern soul, place is seen as an unproblematic concept. The place of “The North” remains central to scholarly understandings of the scene, whether it be its geographical location and the regional identity of its participants, or indicative of the cultural activity of The North that drew participants from across the UK to particular clubs.4 Aligned with the dominant history of northern soul as discussed in Chap.  5, The North of England is extended by David Sanjek amongst others to include The Golden Torch venue in Tunstall (in Stoke on Trent, a city in the Midlands) as northern “places on the margin.”5 Scholarly engagement with northern soul place has been primarily focused on this mapping of The North and its venues. Several studies expand their focus to include the contemporary scene, yet only Wall briefly plots out the general characteristics of current venues as a means to understand northern soul place.6 What is common to all these approaches is a tendency to place northern soul in venues in predominantly working-class, post-industrial northern towns and cities, primarily in Lancashire and labelled as The North. As I will show, this linear geographical narrative of northern soul is soon complicated when the focus is turned to what people say and do in their claims to belong.

The northern-ness of northern soul is also drawn into debates of regional politics and questions of identity. Drawing on Bourdieu’s notions of cultural capital, Hollows and Milestone view northern soul as “a refusal of the South’s claim to legitimacy and distinction.”7 This conscious “rebellion” of the English North against the cultural influence of London builds upon Milestone’s earlier article, and is further etched into the scholarly record through the work of Doyle, Robinson, and Sanjek.8 Nicholson goes a step further, and suggests that northern soul offered The North a new identify, following the decline of industry and the gap left by the loss of a job-based sense of self.9 Furthermore, this division between The North and London is commonly understood through the frame of class and, we will see, an associated masculinity.10

Northern soul has also been linked (most strikingly in the work of Hollows and Milestone, Sanjek, and Nicholson) to industrial places in North America, particularly Detroit.11 The popularity of 1960s records by African American soul artists amongst young, white, working-class northerners in the 1970s is understood by these researchers as an empathetic process. Mutual expressions of disenfranchisement – one of class and the other of race – creating this transatlantic link between the two. Building on the work of Wall and Wilson, the second half of this chapter questions this and reconsiders the importance of the US to the scene in the 1970s.12 However, I want to begin by focusing on the scene’s younger generation and the generational differences that are evident within these engagements. Place and class have become part of the discursive boundaries of the scene, and so offer potential ways to claim membership or to exclude the engagements of others. Equally, some dominant narratives about place have been questioned by the younger generation and used as a means to distance their own engagement with exclusionary practices that have become associated with an older, male element, demonstrated here in Nina’s use of the term “Detroit” to mock over-zealous emcees:13

When you get DJs that talk on the mic, you just feel like going, shut up. [W]e all take the piss and we always go “Detroit!” You know? We always pretend to have a mic and we’ll say like, “Yeah, [it’s a] monster! Detroit! It’s on!”

The Place of Place in Northern Soul

Northern soul events have the power to gather people.14 On that cold, December Saturday evening we were just one of numerous cars heading off across the UK, along familiar routes or in new directions, in carefully chosen clothes and shoes saved for dancing, the mind eased from weekday to weekend by a soul playlist; a taste of things to come. The fact that I had to travel significant distances for the majority of the events over the past three years added to the adrenaline-fuelled anticipation—the ninety minutes or so of expectant conversation and of skipping tracks on the car stereo a warm-up to entering a northern soul place. The role of travel in the historic scene has been discussed by Hollows and Milestone as a form of “pilgrimage”.15 Building upon this, it is clear that the getting to a place is as much a part of the construction of northern soul place as movement through and within it.

Having finally arrived at a venue, nerves jangle not out of fear of being refused entry, but rather the experience of walking into a busy room of ardent listeners, of music critics and “serious” dancers; of finding one’s place within an event that has already found its rhythm, of finding a space when certain seats and parts of the dance floors have already been claimed.16 The venues, hired by event organisers, are occupied only momentarily, providing the physical boundaries of the happenings inside, the chairs and tables to be returned to their former place by the next morning. But until then the recognisable layout of the northern soul place is replicated in all sizes and types of venue. All the things that one does at an event require a particular organisation of space. As the repetition of the northern soul places we have visited so far suggests, tables and chairs are pushed against the side to provide a central dance floor and a means to watch on, vinyl decks are set up ideally on a raised platform or stage at the front of the room, and the bar seats are taken over by record boxes and flyers. For passers-by, many of these venues blend in to their city centre or suburban surroundings, yet for a couple of nights a year they host a cacophony of sound, their doors welcoming a queuing throng of the eager, and their walls straining to contain the music therein, which seeps through thin interior walls into bathrooms and corridors, and spills out of open windows. And in these venues available to rent for a night, a particular type of place is created. These places and evenings, I was to discover, find their own position within a longer history of northern soul nights.

In February 2012, I walked into my first event. The Winter Gardens at Blackpool on a Saturday night and after a long car journey. I remember little of the outside of the venue, blurred in my mind with the many grand facades and crumbling community buildings I have since attended, but walking into the main hall for the first time is a memory less fragile. It was loud, it was busy, it was imposing—from the ornate balcony to the busy dance floor. I associate loud noise with most music events, but the sound of a northern soul place is particular. Unlike house events, an over-powering bass doesn’t pulse in your throat, or vibrate the very hairs on your arm. Unlike live performances, the amassed listeners, dancers, drinkers don’t add an additional layer to the music, the mutter of conversations never quite piercing the record itself which remains whole in its slightly distorted primacy. Until a break between one record and the next. A collective taking of breath on the dance floor. And then the room and its occupants are once again submerged in sound. The music finds its only muted accompaniment in the focused actions of the dancers: the muffled sound of feet on polished wood, voices raised in lyrical chorus.

Heat, also, has become a central sensory marker in my movement from the everyday outside into a northern soul in. Pushing open doors and stepping into humid rooms, the hot breath and hot bodies of the enthused slowly permeating the adrenaline-filled limbs of the newly arrived. Equally, I associate disappointing nights with a suspiciously cool room: an uninspiring setlist translating into cold, inactive bodies. Lighting, however, is more complex, bestowing upon the dancers varying levels of anonymity and prominence at different venues as they move in and out of the spotlights, or closer to the halogen-lit bar. For a newcomer, the well-lit and spacious floors of town- and (remaining) dance-halls offer a means to watch others dance and affords a bit of extra space for those just finding their feet. For the dancers around whom others dance, good lighting illuminates their performance. But for others who wish to experiment, darkness brings liberation from expectations and critique, imagined or clearly voiced. Darkness therefore becomes a means to escape what Edward Casey identifies as the cultural and social structures that organise not only individual engagements, but also create layers of insider experience which not all can equally claim.17

The northern soul place is also created by the movements within it, through it, around it, and getting to it.18 The action of dancing in part creates the dance floor; by playing a record, conversation is subdued; by setting up record stalls a hubbub of discussion and discovery fills the bar; by stepping into the cool outside in order to catch your breath or catch-up with acquaintances, small huddles converge on the pavement. Through a collective and knowledgeable engagement, those signifiers of northern soul are spatially and experientially realised in an embodiment of expectations: the “performative practices” of northern soul.19

The northern soul place is too created through the stories that people tell during and after the event. Like the stories I tell of my own experiences here, important details—the heat, the music played, the people on the dance floor and behind the decks, the price of the beer, the feeling of shared experience or internal divisions—are all brought forth through tales of nights out. Such places are known and made sense of through not only physical and experiential engagements, but also through the act of storytelling. Talking about an event makes sense of and, importantly, inscribes a place with physical and cultural features that are identifiably specific to northern soul.20 In the conversations about events that I have shared with people, emphasis is placed less on the physical attributes on offer (smooth and clean dance floors and cheap bars aside) and instead on, what Steven Feld has described as, the “heightened emotional and aesthetic dimensions of sensual inspiration”.21 These stories put into narrative form and indeed emplace what northern soul is considered to represent, who and what should be there, and therefore who and what are out of place. In talking about an event, people on the northern soul scene create a meaningful place and reaffirm the boundaries of the scene.22

These stories are told during the week between friends mapping out their next event, or through short but regular social media posts, providing heartfelt summaries of a new night or a regular haunt. In this process of identifying the northern soul place and communicating its value, these stories also emplace the speaker within the scene, demonstrating their active participation and locating the speaker within insider hierarchies of taste and knowledge. Claims to be a “true soulie” are narrated through the search for events that offer access to “the underground”, a “real” northern soul experience. In a multigenerational and international scene, different claims to belong are made through different narratives about place, each connected back into the shared northern soul history. Such stories play an essential part in individual and collective historicising, linking up the experience of now to memories of nights passed. At their core, such narratives debate what northern soul place is and, by extension, who should be there.

Similar to the tales told by older men in Chap.  3, and the stories of self and scene set out by Nancy, Levi, Emma, and Joe in Chap.  4, these stories of place work to locate the speaker, not only within the places and events of the current scene, but more importantly within the historic scene that has come to define northern soul. These narratives fold together numerous events and places into one another, into a northern soul experience that transcends place and time. They link the storyteller into a shared frame of insider knowledge and understanding. Dance floors in Manchester or Rugby, Birmingham or Barcelona are each part of an ongoing engagement in the northern soul scene, linked together as part of a longer history of place and practice, music and movement. The feeling of being in a northern soul place is created not only through a particular sensory experience or engaging in particular practices, but rather through the ways in which men and women root these within a continuing history of the scene in their claims to belong.

The northern soul place therefore acts as the locus of northern soul scene experience and is in turn created through these experiences. It is brought into being through individual and shared engagements with the physical space, through the practices of the scene, the senses that are evoked, the sounds that are heard. It is created through a feeling of communality, of being with other people who shout out the same lyrics, abide by the rules of the dance floor, reach for the same record, who tell stories of the same places, past and present. The busy calendar of the scene may offer many different venues, but a similar feeling of northern soul place is experienced at each. History runs through them all. And, as ever, demonstrating membership through these processes of historicising is easier for those who can personally remember and recount evocative details of a valorised past.

A Tale of Two Events: The Value of Northern Soul History in Contemporary Places

Travis Jackson states that music scenes are “inherently spatial and historical. [Place] is a product not only of the interactions of its participants with one another in space and time but also of their interactions through space and time.”23 Like the shifting jazz geography of New York in Jacksons’ research, the northern soul place has changed to the tune of increased police pressure on drug use (the closing down of The Torch in Tunstall), council development plans (in Wigan in the early 1980s), and the decline of large commercial ballrooms nationwide. On top of these geographies of policy and economics, layers of individual and shared histories are brought together. And these histories are brought to life through the physical acts of being in a northern soul place. Through dancing, for example, to a record that you have heard before that triggers memories and feelings of past nights which, as Steven Feld so eloquently and affective puts it, “echo, vibrate, and linger”, bringing all those other nights and dance floors into perfect emotional alignment, if only for a moment.24

Northern soul events therefore not only gather people. They gather histories, memories, and feelings. Through the processes of historicising that lie at the centre of the shared northern soul identity, venues, cities, towns, and geographical regions are linked together: from Rugby last week to the filthy toilets and dangerous corridors of Wigan Casino in 1974. Each event that manages to establish itself within the bustling calendar of northern soul shifts the history of place, and in turn the history of the scene and the venue. New events that introduce variations on the genre of music played—a bit more funk, an increased crossover with mod, some soulful house—different types of venues, areas that push at the regional boundaries of the scene, each having the potential to slightly shift the definitions of northern soul. Expanding upon the work and words of Tim Cresswell, the history of northern soul and the places that are included in this “are never complete, finished or bounded but always becoming – in process”.25 However, the essence of the northern soul scene is viewed by its members as intricately bound up in particular times and places.

The power of these times and places on contemporary northern soul events can be found in the different experiences of three young event organisers—Bobby (19), Jacquie (22) and Tommy (25)—who ran events in the second year of my research.26 One event was organised in Wigan with DJs only and the other in the Black Country with both a live band and DJ sets. Each organiser hoped to use these events to build their emerging reputation on the scene, and each chose their venue carefully, balancing out cost, access to main motorways, capacity and ease for themselves when the day came to lug equipment to the venue. However, these practical considerations were less important for the people who attended the events. Organising a northern soul event requires both the creation of a space for the central practices of the scene and an emplacement of key ideas and definitions. Events can therefore be seen as a physical and symbolic construction of knowledge on the part of the organiser.27 It is through these physical and symbolic expectations that the efforts and knowledge of the organisers were evaluated by those who attended, and indeed those who chose not to.

Tommy’s event, hosted in a function room of what he described as a “nice” restaurant, was deemed to be too cramped, too bright, the tables organised cabaret style around the edge, and the dance floor not only lit by spotlights but by exit signs, too. Such evaluations were shared through harsh reviews posted on Facebook during and after the event, and in conversation at other events. Equally, the flyers and Facebook posts showcasing the venue drew few in, with limited tickets sold before the event. Even though Tommy was well connected in the Midlands soul scene, he made a loss and did not manage to establish his reputation as an event organiser. To begin with, the nature of the venue was at odds with the previous experience of the attendees. The choice to hold it in the Black Country, while in easy driving distance of many towns in the Midlands and the North, also transgressed the geographical associations with the scene, placing the event increasingly on the periphery of northern soul expectations.

The meaning of both places—of Wigan and the Black Country—for members of the scene are determined by particular contexts and the processes of historicising that are central to the construction of northern soul history. In terms of individual understanding of the history of the scene, the meaning of certain places and their associated clubs depend upon the position of the speaker. In the previous chapter, Mike argues for the importance of the Catacombs (an early rare soul club in the Black Country) in the northern soul history. Mike emphasises its place in the scene history in order to make a claim to belong that pre-dates many other participants within the scene. However, the dominant and shared history of the scene places Wigan Casino at the centre, with three important clubs—The Twisted Wheel, The Golden Torch, and the Blackpool Mecca—on either side (and at points overlapping with each other). Northern soul has therefore come to be associated with particular towns—Wigan, Manchester, Stoke on Trent and Blackpool—and significantly within “The North”. The Catacombs, and by extension the Black Country, is not part of the dominant discursive constructions that map out the historic scene. Quite simply, Tommy’s event was out of place in relation to the dominant long-history of northern soul places. In the ways in which his event was talked about—even by Tommy himself—it was clear that the essential ingredients of a northern soul place were sorely missing, not redeemed by the original vinyl on the decks or presence of a “northern soul legend”. Tommy was left planning his next event at a working men’s club, a type of venue that boasts a long association with the scene.

Bobby and Jacquie co-organised an event in Wigan. The final number of tickets sold was a mystery to the organisers and the venue staff on the night as people were allowed in and out of the event and the pre-ordered wristbands ran out. In any case, the cavernous venue was busy and the event made a small profit. The allnighter and (significantly in relation to the gender politics of the scene, see endnote) Bobby were deemed online and in conversation (during the event and following it) to have been a success by attendees.28 The next annual event was quickly advertised on Facebook and eagerly shared. Talking with Jacquie outside towards the end of the night, she emphasised the history of the venue, asking whether I had seen the sign across the building that alluded to its previous incarnation: a canteen for female workers at the adjacent factory. Both Jacquie and Bobby stressed this working-class heritage of the scene and the role that this had played in their search for an “ideal” venue. Beyond Bobby and Jacquie’s search for a venue, the interconnected histories of working-class Britain and the northern soul scene in 1970s ran as a central thread through the stories told about this event. In these, the history of the building was emphasised and pictures of the sign posted on Facebook and Instagram by attendees, acting as signifiers of this interconnected history.

The history of the venue itself was also woven into a longer history of particular and venerated northern soul places, stories that pulled together strands of imagined or experienced working-class life. Much of these built on a familiar story of Wigan in the 1970s: a life spent working manual or low-skilled jobs and waiting for the weekend. But not all these threads pulled Bobby and Jacquie towards success, with some people expressing “disappointment” at the lack of records from the Casino era of the musical canon played. The event was organised in Wigan but it did not overtly memorialise Wigan Casino in its promotional material. Even so, in following Facebook activity relating to the event in the weeks before the allnighter, I noticed that some people viewed it as an opportunity to “experience” what they had missed out on in the 1970s or, for those who had attended the club, to “relive” Wigan. In playing records that did not have any association with Wigan, the knowledge of organisers (and by association the DJs, of which Bobby was one) was questioned by the attendees that expected a “Wigan experience”.

The power of Wigan in the history of northern soul place had subsumed the event by its geographical association alone, tying Bobby and Jacquie into a strict web of expectations. The place of this event in the history of northern soul places was evidenced by the range of cultural signifiers it assembled, from architecture to town, all in reference to shared definitions and associated histories of the scene and of its members. Yet this acceptance of a new venue as appropriate for the hosting of a northern soul place made the decision of the organisers to focus on “rare soul” rather than records played at the Casino problematic. Through their knowledge of the scene and an invocation of its history in the venue chosen, Bobby and Jacquie’s event was ultimately accepted by attendees. But their attempt to create their own space through a “rare soul” music policy was restricted by the very history they invoked. As we will see, other young people share in this desire to participate fully within scene practices, to find their own place, and to escape the restrictions of the cultural and social structures that may limit this.

Heading “Home” and Being “Out of Place”

Places, practices, times, and things are strongly bound together in what people say and do on the northern soul scene. Through the act of emceeing, DJs place their records in a history of other events at which they were played, the other hands through which they have passed. Through a knowledge of and competency in the distinctive dance styles that developed at different historic venues, dancers embody the physical and musical specificities of those places—of a small dance floor or a circular room—in a new place and a new time. And, through the stories that people tell at and about the event, the place of now acts as a spark, illuminating memories of other nights. History runs through them all and it is told through discussions of place as men and women claim to belong: a means of linking single nights to something larger, shared, and more meaningful.29

The gatekeepers of the inside are not “on the door” in the form of bouncers, but can be found in the comments of others, the critical glances (imagined or real), and the confidence of the individual that they have a right to be there. Once you step into a northern soul event, your membership is tested by those who defend its boundaries. As Cresswell notes, when places, people, practices and things are strongly linked, the breaking of these links can lead to the transgressing element being considered to be “out of place”.30 Like a successful mainstream record, or Tommy’s wedding-style venue, spilling your drink on the dance floor or fighting at the bar is a quick way to demonstrate that you are “out of place”. Equally, the inability to situate what you do or say within a longer history of events, people, practices, and things may jeopardise your claim to be part of the scene, and by extension your place (and space) at an event.

Demonstrating that you belong at a northern soul event is a complex process, displayed not only through expected means of physically engaging with a place and its happenings (a skill to be learnt by keen observation early on in one’s attendance), but also through an understanding that this night is just one strand in the complex tapestry of the people, venues, things, sounds, happenings, movements, beliefs, and experiences, brought together in the northern soul place—those things that have come to signify northern soul, without which the scene would not be as distinctive or as valuable to its members. The ability to demonstrate that you understand all this is made easier by longevity on the scene—through stories of past nights on all the remembered floors, knowledge amassed during hundreds of events, social networks forged through decades of cigarette breaks and shared tables. Physical engagement within, around, and through place offers one level of engaging with and inscribing one’s own place. And stories of place offer another. Each process acts to create not only the northern soul place itself, but also provides a means through which individuals can lay claim and compete with others for their space. An ability to navigate and actively engage with these signifiers of a shared northern soul identity provides a person with the ability to be “at home”, to be “in” place rather than “out” of it, and to claim membership of an exclusive community. As Nancy said in Chap.  4, “I feel more like myself now than I ever have.” This is echoed in the narratives of the other young people that I spoke to:

I always get butterflies before I walk in on a nighter, but I get more butterflies before I walk into a pub. Yeah, at a nighter I feel at home. (Rob, 21)

And it just felt, yeah, just really refreshing and I felt…I always feel like myself, but I felt freer, [is] that weird? Like nothing matters, so if I’m spinning, things that are wrong with me or things are wrong with the world, doesn’t matter. You’re spinning. (John, 27)

[N]orthern soul reminds me of being human, it’s the most human thing probably in my life at the moment, ‘cause it feels so real, it’s so grounded and it’s so earthy. I think it’s just the realness of it, the soul, hearing the soul and I’m a soulful girl, I think. [Laughs]. I’m quite a soulful person and I think I connect to that kind of realness and soulfulness, yeah. (Esther, 31)

In explaining their attachment to the scene, many young people spoke of “feeling/coming home”, of finding not only like-minded people but a safe and stimulating place within which to be themselves. For a young person in both an ageing, retrospective, and a performance-focused dance scene, demonstrating one’s passion and reverence for northern soul involves balancing a tightrope of participation. To summarise this section discussed in detail in Chap.  4, they must development an individual, and therefore meaningful, adaptation of practices, whilst successfully demonstrating their knowledge of doing northern soul “properly”.31 To be “true” fans they must both “fit in” and “stand out”.

As we saw in the previous chapter, fitting one’s own history into a shared history of the scene is central to demonstrating membership. This valuing of the scene past goes beyond the music—created at a specific point in time and considered as a product of particular cultural circumstance—placing the 1970s scene at the heart of definitions of northern soul. Faced with a central valuing of this past and of personal experience of this time, the younger generation of the scene must claim their place through more vicarious means: through a reading of cultural signifiers and a narrating of this through stories of emplacement; a knowledgeable and well-judged application of shared stories of “being there”; and by establishing alternative means of valuing northern soul places. The potentially limiting nature of historicising processes are negotiated as young women and men attempt to escape restrictive places and feel comfortable (“at home”), to be able to engage fully and with meaning.

The “Proper Nighter”: Finding a Place of One’s Own

If you are to be taken seriously by an audience of northern soulies, your discussion of preferred events should not be based upon how close it is to where you live or the recommendations of others, but rather the extent to which they embody shared values, expectations, and definitions, all of which contribute to a particular feeling of northern soul place. When I asked young soulies to talk about their favourite event, I set into motion a complex and meaningful process of storytelling, of assigning and explaining value, an inscribing of place. It was clear that these young people searched for particular events, and that the value of these places remain underpinned by reference to the historic scene. Like the older fans who inscribe themselves upon the established map of venues and transport links of the 1970s, through stories of places past and online posts of photographs and memories, younger soulies claim their own northern soul places through their search for the “proper nighter”.

The rules of public engagement within the northern soul venue are initially bewildering to the newcomer: a frenetic event of flailing limbs and pounding speakers. Yet, through evenings of interested observation (by researchers and newcomers alike), rules for insiders become apparent. The flailing becomes a specific style and repertoire of movements; the dance floor, a space prohibited to those slopping drinks and cutting through to the bathroom; the DJ a respected communicator of scene history, rather than one to take requests. A knowledgeable engagement with these places and the people within them indicates insider experience and knowledge, but the younger members of the scene consider the rigidity of these rules and others to be venue-dependent.

When I was in Blackpool [at the Tower Weekender], I didn’t shuffle at all ‘cause I was so conscious that I couldn’t quite get it right in front of people who’d grown up with northern soul. I think that’s when I get the most frustrated is when I’m trying to be true to northern soul, ‘cause I love expressing myself but I want to, like, look a bit more northern sometimes, to have that, yeah, that quality. It’s like, right. Pure northern soul, now. (Esther, 31)

I think again it’s ‘cause [Black Bee is at] a smaller venue and if you’re kind of used to doing like bigger halls and stuff. That’s how it feels at first. You feel like everyone’s kind. Those people are the people who’ll give less of a shit than the people at like bigger venues. (Des, 25)

Due to a perceived traditionalist element within the regular attendees, reflected in the playing of “northern soul anthems” (well-known records with a long scene history), young people felt uncomfortable experimenting with the scene dance style at the scene’s larger and more established allnighters. And this was not merely a feeling. Many of the young people that I spoke to told stories of being critiqued by older attendees for experimenting with the scene style at larger events. Although these allnighters remained an opportunity to be seen, they were also associated with internal “mainstream” music and lazy, stagnant and “snobby” DJ practices, and a lack of freedom for those wishing to experiment with the dance form. Two venues were repeatedly referred to as underground and authentic alternatives to the larger events. Black Bee in Manchester and Soul Funktion, organised (when I attended) at “The Football Club”. At these nights, the rules were seen to be less rigorously enforced and experimentation encouraged. In addition to a soundscape of unknown records that deviated from the traditional musical canon of the scene and increasingly explored back catalogues of funk, the role of the critical onlooker was subverted by the darkness of the venues, the small dance floor, and a shared attitude of “giving less of a shit”.32 At these events, younger members of the scene felt more comfortable and therefore more able to push the boundaries (of the northern soul dancer, the northern soul DJ), and to “have fun”.

Darkness, particularly on the dance floor, is essential for a “proper nighter”. Not only does a dark dance floor further separate this experience from the well-lit floors of mainstream clubs, darkness also privileges individual experience over public performance, experimentation over the polished. These dark places offer an escape from the rules and regulations of larger nights and subvert the scene practice of watching and openly critiquing dancers. Unlike the larger events, the venues described as “underground” typically defy traditional geographical associations within the scene, yet many are valued for their association with working-class culture and industrial history.

‘Cause [at the beginning] you think Kings Hall’s like the be all and end all. [But] that’s not a proper nighter, you don’t know what you’re on about… And then you kind of follow the older ones and they say, that’s a proper nighter and then you think, you look round and you, you start to see the difference… That side is the commercial side and it’s the, it’s the dross side, it’s sort of the watered-down version. And then you go [to] places like Rugby and you go [to] Burnley; Burnley’s the best nighter. And it’s completely how it should be. Everything, everything. It looks like a cave inside; stone wall, stone ceiling, beams across, and pitch black dark. The darker the better at a nighter ‘cause you can relax more. (Rob, 21)

Back in the day northern soul came from disco dancing, you know, breakdancing; from the streets. Yeah and I think ‘cause it’s in a dark room and it’s… So, ‘cause everybody’s sweating, which is great… But then it has that atmosphere, doesn’t it, I suppose it’s like, more like a pub. (Esther, 31)

Ideal venues are often described as “seedy”, an element of danger suggested by their back-alley nature, if not the threat of physical violence associated with mythologised historic scene, reconstructed in Des’ second-hand memories of Wigan Casino. The “proper nighter” is associated with darkness, experimentation, marginality, and a violent “edge”. Through these “alternative” memories of the grit and grime of the Casino and other original venues, “edgy” events are placed within a longer history of northern soul place, and their attendees within a continued experience on the margins of society.

[And y]ou need [an element of violence] to keep like the dicks out. I don’t want it to be like a friendly holiday, it takes away like the seedy kind of back-street [feeling]. Like, speak to my Dad and he’ll tell you [about] Wigan. All the massive black guys outside in cars with car boots open with a sawn-off shotgun next to a drugs cabinet, asking if you wanted gear. (Des, 25)

These stories place both the event within an ongoing, active, and continually distinctive scene, and the narrator as someone who speaks from inside the boundaries of northern soul. Their search for the “proper nighter” was narrated through stories of independent discovery, of questioning the assumptions and labels of others, of finding something that offered “true” northern soul, rather than a “watered down version”. Relating to the discussions of the musical and cultural origins of northern soul that follow in Chap.  6, these places are said to offer access to rare, un- or under-played records, described as a “ghetto” or “raw” sounds, and a “relaxed” atmosphere within which young men and women felt they had increased freedom to experiment with the practices and musical boundaries of the scene. For the younger generation, finding the “proper nighter” is about finding a place of one’s own.

In these “proper nighters”, the younger members of the scene find events that disrupt the power of the older members to define what northern soul is and who belongs. In the darkness of “underground” events, new ways of doing northern soul can be muddled together and practised. The dance floor, still the physical heart of the space, is no longer an arena of critique, but a place where music can be the central focus, the body free to follow a new rhythm. The “proper nighter” is not a “place to be seen”, but rather a hidden place, found only by the truly passionate, a place of bodily experimentation and access to “new” sounds, places described as “industrial”, “proper”, “seedy”, and “alternative”.33 The venues of the “proper nighter” are linked into a longer history of northern soul place through an alternative grit-and-grime re-remembering of venues such as Wigan Casino, the Torch, and the Twisted Wheel. As the following section will further demonstrate, these stories of drug use, threat, darkness, violent masculinity and dirt build on histories set out in fan-published books, films, documentaries, and in conversations. Working-class experience has become a central discursive thread used to define and unite the different people, places and times of northern soul.

The Place of Class in Northern Soul

Until my introduction to northern soul events in 2012, I had never once stepped inside a working men’s club. My experience of community buildings had been limited to village and church halls in Derbyshire, bedecked in bunting for fetes and fundraising events; a domain of women, of the PTA and the Women’s Institute, of vegetable animals and competitive cakes. My father was a member of the local Rotary club and a classic car collective. He was disinterested in watching (never mind engaging in) any sort of sport beyond the Grand Prix on odd weekends and a game of boules on holiday, a tea in his hand and never a pint: if a working men’s club had existed in our village, he would not have been a regular. My upbringing was decidedly middle-class. From the Labrador hair on all our furniture to a determined aversion to particular words deemed emphatically common or nouveau-riche, a village childhood topped off with four years at Oxford University and another at Cambridge.

Similar to identifying these (and other) linguistic and domestic idiosyncrasies in Katie Fox’s insightful account of class in Britain, Watching the English, my very particular and rather stereotypical class background was brought into vivid relief when I started attending northern soul events around Stoke on Trent, where I lived during the four years of this research. Most clearly my class identity was communicated to others through how I spoke. Decidedly “northern” in my previous adult homes of Oxford, London and Cambridge, my lack of a particular regional accent, a built-in determination to form complete sentences even when answering a question (a trait embedded in me as a teacher), and a couple of adopted southern vowels cast me out quite quickly as a regional outsider. Following numerous conversations about where I was from (“Down the road, actually, I grew up in Derbyshire”) I became increasingly conscious of the significant work that my accent did in signalling my middle-class experiences. Once I did step inside my first working men’s club for a northern soul event, this sonic indicator was amplified by my refusal to drink anything but gin and tonic, and by my stubborn disregard for the stylistic expectations of the scene, turning instead to familiar fitted shirts, red lipstick a nod to the conventions. Since my first event, I have increasingly felt “at home” on the dance floor or at the bar, a feeling produced through layer-upon-layer of positive experiences, of familiar faces and expanding social circles, increasingly fluid movements on the dance floor, and a developing musical repertoire to be danced or sung. But I continue to feel that northern soul is intertwined with an experience and a history to which I have no claim. While this has not been particularly excluding or limiting, the continued questions about where I am from, and the cultural differences that are brought to light in conversation, contribute to a continued feeling that I am, in some way, out of place because of it.

Class has been used by academics as a means to understand the adoption of African American music by teenagers in the North of England in the 1970s, and the ties that bound these young enthusiasts together. In terms of the latter, Wilson notes the close relationships forged between young men of similar socio-economic backgrounds and historic links to criminalised activities through their love of soul music and drug-use, and Doyle claims that the dance floor brought together dancers in a performance of working-class masculinity.34 Milestone and Hollows, Sanjek, and Browne each attempt to argue for an empathetic relationship between the working-class youths of 1970s northern England and the African American producers of the scene’s record canon.35 As the only detailed and immersive study amongst these publications, Wilson makes it clear that his conclusions emerge from research on a particular (and deviant) group within the scene during the 1970s. Each of the other scholars provide no evidence that the majority of participants were of working-class backgrounds, and indeed that they viewed this as central to their engagement in the northern soul scene. These studies build upon and clearly refer to subcultural (and Marxist) frames of understanding music scenes that view “youth cultures” as modes of resistance, of claiming back-space for those that have been marginalised. Equally, these studies are limited by a lack of reflexive engagements with primary interview material that takes into consideration issues of memory, nostalgia, and the role of reflexive authenticating discourses of the insider.

My own approach to understanding class in relation to the northern soul scene emerges out of what young people do and say. I suggest the importance of working-class experience in the contemporary scene lies in its central role within the dominant narrative of northern soul, rather than using observations to make any claim to understand the original class context through which the scene emerged. I contrast the usual story of northern soul and class with the experiences of a young men and women. If you begin with the myths of northern soul, you start with a story that places northern soul in a particular part of the UK and as emerging out of a particular class experience. However, if you begin with what people do and say on the contemporary scene, it becomes apparent that class is not an inactive given but rather a discursive tool in claiming to belong.

The importance of class for the younger generation of the scene first emerged during conversations about place. From searching for the “proper nighter” to deciding upon a pub to meet in before heading off to an event, the working-class history of venues or towns and cities was regarded as important in relation to northern soul experience. In exploring the significance of class, it became apparent that notions of both class and place are encoded in the dominant narratives of the scene. Similar to the discussion of the two venues in the Black Country and Wigan above, certain class-based experiences of northern soul have become part of the dominant narrative of the scene. Equally, others have been stripped out. The nuances and diversity of experience have become subsumed into a linear narrative and a singular identity. Working-class experience has become encoded within this narrative and this history, and younger men and women use class as another discursive strategy through which to demonstrate membership. Each young person that I spoke to directly linked the northern soul scene to both working-class experiences in the past and in relation to their own claims to be working-class. This encoding of the scene began early in its development, articulated by a cultural and generational outsider from London.

Dave Godin’s Autoethnography of the North in Northern Soul

One of Dave Godin’s first encounters with the scene is captured in a 1970 account:

“Never heard of it” said the cab driver. As I was in a highly optimistic mood I merely smiled and said “I’m sure you’ll be able to find it” and jumped in before he had time to take an easier fare from the waiting queue behind me! After a brief consultation over his inter-com we were swinging round endless corners to my destination.

Somewhere out in that black dim night gloom—in this city of what looked like perpetual night—there was an oasis known as The Wheel. It was as if all the life energy of the great city was channelled into this spot and hidden away under the ground for fear of disturbing the ‘respectable’ citizenry, because looking out of the cab windows on this dank and murky night, Manchester looked like a ghost town. How wrong first impressions can be was to be shown by later events and happenings. Soon the cab drove up a side street and I saw a young man running down a garden path in the miserable night air stripped to the waist and waving! Being a simple-lifer I much admired such Spartan fortitude, and I thought such exuberant behaviour could only come from a raving lunatic or a Soul brother! (Dave Godin36).

Godin’s report in Blues & Soul tracks not only his journey from London to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, but also the first published tale of northern soul emplacement. Far from his routine lists of records and reviews on the “Up North Soul Groove”, Godin’s first personal experience of the scene is relayed to an imagined audience of the unaware in ethnographic detail. The wonders and differences evident in this northern soul “fraternity” valourised through the eyes of a cultural, generational, and geographical outsider: a middle-class, middle-aged, southern music journalist, “swinging” and “grooving” to soul music with “cats” and “irresistible chicks”.37 In finally knowing these places, his narration changes from interested observer to a critical yet slightly aloof insider. Rather than brief introductions and languorous lists of “Regional Hits”, Godin’s account takes on an emotional and symbolic depth, communicating to the reader not only what happens at these events and how to find them, but more importantly the meaning and value of these people, places and practices.

Throughout his regular columns, Godin had positioned the scene within a specific region: The North of England. Through his growing personal experience of the places of northern soul, he attempted to make sense of what he saw, his own knowledge to that point, and the places within which he found himself. These attempts referenced working-class signifiers that Godin associated with The North, building on long-held national associations that sociologist Rob Shields describes as “the myth of the Land of the Working-Class”.38 Through these long-established national “social spatialisation and cultural discourses which locate the British industrial working class both spatially and hierarchically”, northern soul, for Godin, equates to both The North and (connected to this) the working-class.39

In his narration of this and later northern soul places, Godin establishes the innate Northern-ness and related working-class-ness of the scene. Godin’s later symbolic and sensory understandings of place continued to be influenced by his expectations of both The North and what constituted a scene event.40 Godin frames his experiences of the northern soul scene through working-class signifiers, emplacing the scene through persuasive tropes of climatic inclinations, the vestiges of traditional working-class community re-imagined through a fraternity, a hardy and energetic “northern” masculinity, and a specific northern and truthful expression of soul music enjoyment. Northern soul is therefore emplaced through these shared stories within the cities and places of The North, the friendly and passionate nature of northerners providing a crucible within which a “special and unique vibration”— a strong and pure enjoyment of soul—is possible.41 In a later column detailing his trip to the Mecca Ballroom in Blackpool, the attributes traditionally associated with the British working-class—community, respect, fraternity, honesty, stoicism, strength and loyalty—were for Godin the prerequisites for the emergence and the central spirit of the northern soul scene.42 The same actions elsewhere would not automatically create the same musical community:

Maybe there are some who read this in the southern part of Britain who find it hard to understand just why I rave so much about the northern soul scene and perhaps this because they’ve never been there and seen it first hand for themselves, because believe me there is no equivalent in the South, and until you’ve been there I don’t think any mere written word can fully convey to you that special and unique vibration that generates amongst the brother and sisters there. I only wish it was easier for people to get there so that they could experience it themselves. (Dave Godin43)

The Working-Class “Northern Soul Story”44

In addition to Godin, certain individuals have contributed significantly to the dominant definitions of northern soul within the contemporary scene through shared historicising narratives. Building upon the discussion in Chap.  5, these have been formalised through the published histories of older men active on the scene. The columns of Dave Godin have become a source of information about the historic scene for both these insider historians and keen members alike. For example, in his book David Nowell quotes Godin throughout, using long sections from Blues & Soul as historical evidence, and Mike Ritson and Stuart Russell begin their book with a foreword by the journalist.45 By building on shared stories through this personal experience, such as the importance of particular clubs or the mythologised coining of “northern soul” by Godin, authors claim the right to speak of and for the scene. These individuals consider the scene through their own experiences, all but one (Constantine and Sweeney 2016) are narrated through a working-class, masculine experience of the 1970s.46 As I also noted in Chap.  5, the provision of “expert” first accounts from well-known men on the scene are also used by insider authors to add evidence for their personal recounting of the shared history, reiterating a masculine and working-class frame to a history that comes to represent the “northern soul story”.

In ‘65 I started work (only smarties stayed on at school in those days) as an apprentice gas fitter. About this time, the Mod thing was coming up from London, spread by Ready, Steady, Go. The whole idea appealed to me and the mates I hung out with. All the best chicks were Mods, all the best clothes (pinstripes, trying to look affluent, like John Steed). All this had great appeal to kids who were surrounded by slag heaps and a hundred years of coal dust and constantly skint. (Mick Taylor on his introduction to soul in Doncaster47)

Documentaries on and films that provide newcomers with easily accessible information on northern soul have also represented the scene through working-class tropes.48 Tony Palmer’s Wigan Casino (1977) documentary for Granada TV was critiqued by Katie Milestone in an early academic study on northern soul for the “unusual camera angles [that] distort and objectify the dancers and (the lights being on) focus[ing] on ‘working class signifiers’ such as muscles, sweat and tattoos”.49 In his biographical account of northern soul in the 1970s, Stuart Cosgrove suggests that “fans…watched cringing through their fingers”, summarising what he thinks to be the shared experience of scene insiders as Palmer demonstrated his lack of knowledge.50 The film engages not only with the lives of two working-class attendees, but also with the working-class history of Wigan through a juxtaposition of archival material and the northern soul dance floor.51 In an interview with Tim Wall, Tony Palmer revealed that the documentary was intended to highlight both the contemporary level of unemployment in Wigan and the associated loss of heritage as the mills closed.52 Palmer did make the explicit link between northern soul and working-class experience, but through his own politicized frame of class-based politics, with the main male interviewee an advocate for the Socialist Worker. Equally, Constantine’s Northern Soul focused on the experiences of two working-class boys, with a backdrop of terraced “northern” houses and a job at a local factory.53 They were “working for the weekend” with grand aspirations to go crate digging in America. This working-class narrative is further perpetuated in the narrative framing of BBC documentaries, Northern Soul: Living for the Weekend (2014) and Northern Soul: Keeping the Faith (2013), the latter narrated through the personal experience of Paul Mason.54

These documents are used by men and women to develop their knowledge of northern soul, particularly those who cannot draw on personal experiences of the scene past. Palmer’s documentary, while not regarded as the product of an insider, is one of very few video recordings of Wigan Casino and features in a large number of fan-produced YouTube videos. These audio and visual montages bring together film, photographs, and images with an accompanying northern soul soundtrack. They are created, posted, and reposted on social media sites (predominantly Facebook) as public demonstrations of scene engagement and knowledge. By engaging with these documents and using them as sources for their own practices, young men and women immerse themselves in narratives that consciously engage with working-class experience and history as representative of the northern soul experience. Through my ethnographic experience, it became clear that three discursive engagements with class in particular have become central to the claims of younger men and women to be of the inside. Firstly, histories of working-class experience in Britain in the 1970s and America in the 1960s have been used to defend membership through a claim to an ongoing empathetic understanding. Secondly, a central and pervasive ethic of “hard knocks and hard work” is used by younger women and men to determine success within the scene. And finally, the ability to identify working-class cultural signifiers in the places, things, music and people of the scene is used to demonstrate membership.

Empathetic Histories of Working-Class Experience

An understanding of the scene in the 1970s is essential for engaging in the central scene process of historicising, of aligning one’s personal history with a shared history as a claim to belong. For those unable to claim to have “been there”, this knowledge must be patched up other sources. As we have seen, this use of the scene past is essential in the creation of, individual engagement with, or evaluation of northern soul place as individuals attempt to emplace themselves within the borders of northern soul as a true insider. This understanding of the past is used by younger men and women as a new discursive tool in claims to belong. By linking their own experiences into these histories of 1970s Britain and 1960s America, younger members attempt to make a claim as the next generation through a continued empathetic experience. Each generation of imagined 1960s American producers, the ‘gritty’ reality of the scene in the 1970s, and the peripheral experience of the contemporary working-class are bound together through a shared music and forms of listening.

It’s like they’re making you, in a way, feel like what they’re feeling on that record. It’s real life stuff that happens and you can sort of imagine it and relate to it. (Nina, 23)

You’ve got, you’ve got two classes, you’ve got them and us. Yeah, because we can relate to these records… I think ‘cause… [pauses]… it’s like they come from people that are oppressed and we’re not oppressed but… [pauses]… we’re not as, not as oppressed like that… But, I mean, we can relate to them, ‘cause I mean, well, they’re, they’re singing about love and whatever, but they have terrible things happening to the black people in America… Um, but there still are now. (Rob, 21)

To be able to really “feel” the music, as Nina explained to me, you must listen, must dance, to music that speaks to your own experience. Expressed through lyrics forged through poverty, of peripheral experience, and the pain and frustration that this causes, the “true” northern soulie sees their own life reflected back, if in an exaggerated form.55 Their claim to be of the inside is not merely demonstrated by their choice of music, but through all aspects of their life. They are bound together with those “on the scene” (now and in the past) through a “way of life”, a claim to a gritty reality expressed through the music and the dancing of northern soul.

It’s like with disco, when they made these songs which try to sound like disco, it’s not quite there, it’s not quite, the people who make it haven’t lived through that seventies era of all that kind of worry and strife about the mining strikes or whatever, like, that was part of the scene and what people were feeling always comes through in the music and the dancing, you know… And I think, especially with northern soul, with what was going on, people had those rubbish jobs and they went and expressed themselves and they were always looking forward to the weekend. (Esther, 31)

As we saw in the previous chapter, young people patch together a history of the scene, through music, stories, singers and bands, newspaper clippings and insider anecdotes, in order to (vicariously) demonstrate their passion and dedication. In doing so, they construct stories about the scene and histories of its musical and cultural development to order, make sense, and make meaningful the history of northern soul within the particular cultural crucibles of 1960s African America and 1970s Britain. Importantly within this chapter on place and class, they forge their own place in the next chapter of an ongoing and undiluted scene through an empathetic experience of the disenfranchised, building on the working-class narratives through which the northern soul past is remembered and recalled.

Scene Success: “Hard Work and Hard Knocks”

To become a well-known name “on the scene”, the most immediately visible means is through dancing. This scene practice requires only some leather-soled shoes, time and a suitable space for practicing, and takes place on the centre stage of the dance floor. More complex are the roles of event organiser, record collector, and DJ. In order to develop a reputation as a discerning record collector and a DJ that introduces previously unknown vinyl to the scene, an encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of northern soul music is required. This is complicated further by the fact that northern soul is not a genre within which music is associated by form or influence, but rather a musical canon which is created through practice. Hazy descriptions of what links records from different genres and decades together forms the definition of the “northern soul sound” – is it the beat? A feeling? A speed? A music to dance to? To inspire a particular feeling? All of which were offered up to me as definitions by established scene DJs. And so, newcomers are expected to have deep pockets, expansive knowledge, and the support of event organisers and other DJs to offer them sets and to back up their new inclusions within the northern soul canon. In dealing with these obstacles to full participation, success in these roles, and within the scene more generally, were considered to be achieved through “hard work and hard knocks”, a DIY attitude and perseverance.

[W]hen I did my event I was doing a pub and I thought, right, this is time to start something around Manchester, ‘cause I could see a bit of interest, and within a year, we went from 80 to 600…To me, that was like amazing, you know, got the Great club. But it was just due to hard work and people were wanting to listen to something new… (Joe, 31)

This shared system of valuing of experience both provides younger members of the scene a means through which to be recognised for their passion and dedication, and builds upon what Sayer views as a “working-class rationale”, that “its members occupy the moral high ground… [with success] gained through hard work” rather than inherited advantages.56 Such success is also therefore earnt in ways similar to the experiences of northern soulies in the 1970s, and the artists whose experience of hard work and hard knocks created the records of northern soul. Those who cannot claim such self-reliance, necessitated through a working-class experience, were dismissed as lazy beneficiaries of inherited privilege and an associated lack of hard work and resourcefulness. In terms of record collecting, value is removed from the ability to amass a competitive record collection based upon the scene canon (and available only through economic or familial advantage) and placed instead upon “how you play your records” and offering up new sounds for the appreciation of the room, considered to be the original role of the northern soul event “back-in-the-day.” The ability to buy a record at a bargain price and to make it well-known in the scene was commonly viewed as a central skill in successful DJing and record collecting, with a continued emphasis on rarity key in the maintaining of a monopoly on unique sets and establishing one’s “own sound.” Buying rare “Top 500” records through unlimited access to cash was belittled as an activity that anyone could undertake – the ability to make a “monster record” out of a ten-pound vinyl was viewed as something that only someone with a real ear for the music could achieve.

I haven’t spent more than ninety pounds on a record. That’s the most that I’ve spent, yeah, because I can’t afford it, you know and if I can’t afford it, there’s nothing wrong with it, I won’t buy it, that’s how life is. When I’ve got money, I’ll do it, but sometimes people just buy these records and they just go, like, because they are expensive they think, oh, “I’m going to be a great DJ because of my expensive records”, it’s not about buying expensive records. (Maria, 25)

You think how much did you pay for that? Oh yeah, it was only a tenner… It’s just they’re hard to get hold of, they’re not easy but they’re cheap, that’s what I like… Hard to get hold of, but cheap. I mean, there’s one by, err, Cody Black, five quid record or five to 25 quid. You’ll never see it because no-one will want to get rid of it, ‘cause it’s that good. Do you know what I mean? I like records like that, [more] than records that are 1,000 pounds, that you could get really, ‘cause… You waft the money in their face and they’ll be like, yeah. I like records that are hard to get hold of. (Nina, 23)

And the top 500, no-one sells them, ‘cause they’re the top 500 and the DJs have got them, don’t sell them unless obviously they come into financial difficulty, that’s when they start selling off the record collection, but Bobby’s got a vast amount, probably more [Top 500 records] up north probably… Yeah, I think Harry’s got 4,000 records at his house. But like I said, a lot of it’s inherited through the families, so it’s not like they’ve gone out and spent £4,000 on a record. It’s because it was already there. (Tommy, 25)

In the uncensored version of Wigan Casino detailed earlier in this chapter, Des considered the success of the scene to be dependent upon the role of the scene community in ‘schooling’ members, a role that he took on vicariously and exercised online rather than at events (knowing that violence is a quick way to be forcibly removed from an allnighter). In his voiced desires to “school” “the dicks” and in his frustration in not being allowed to, Des aligns himself with a scene history of “scary fuckers”, and a distinctly masculine, working-class rationale of hard work and hard knocks, both of which position the economic and cultural underdog within an ageing scene as morally superior. This shared way of talking about success remains strongly tied to the key beliefs and histories of the scene, continuing an often-told and historic reason for attendance (a means to discovering “rare” and underplayed records from 1960s ‘Black America’) and the gritty “reality” of Wigan Casino. “Hard work” and determination in times of adversity runs as empathetic threads through the history of the scene, leaving behind those such as Bobby and Harry, whose perceived privilege by some separated them both from a true northern soul “way of life.”

Cultural Signifiers of the “Inside”

Through these narratives, the scene and its members are emplaced in an insider history; an empathetic working-class history which aims to binds its members together across time. This discursive work is also undertaken by what people do in addition to what they say. A desire to be considered a member of the northern soul scene already encourages young men and women to engagement with cultural signifiers, through style, shared words or phrases, gestures and movements, and collections of objects that include and go beyond records. But as Bobby and Jacquie’s event and the stories of northern soulies demonstrate, the cultural signifiers of northern soul are intricately interwoven into working-class experiences and history. Attributes that have become associated with working-class culture in Britain – stoicism and hard work, community and fraternity, respect, honesty and loyalty, physical strength and masculinity – have also become central to the dominant narratives of northern soul. Through this overlap of key values and histories, cultural signifiers are also shared, coming to represent both working-class and northern soul membership. In relation to the empathetic link that younger members use as a discursive tool in claiming to belong, these signifiers are also indicative of the culturally specific crucibles of its musical production and scene formation, and the continued empathetic link that binds together its members.

Probably the, the reason why [northern soul] is important to me is because I don’t think there’s such thing nowadays as being proud of being working class. I think that’s been sucked out of society, I think the working class are demonised as the benefit class. And to me, I’m just saying, fuck you, this is what I am. This is what I’m into, this is how I dress and I like to show it. I wear donkey jackets and stuff, you know… I’m not going down the pit but I wear them… … [The] more years we have under Tory Government, the more the working class will be eroded, yeah. Yeah, the values are still there but we’re not allowed to be proud of it anymore, we have to aspire to be something else and it’s like, no, just be proud of what you are. But still aspire, still want to do well for yourself. (Rob, 21)

All but two of the young people that contributed their experiences to this book regarded themselves to be working-class. This cultural identity was demonstrated through stories of family backgrounds or attitudes rather than their own occupations or experiences – of a “white-van man” father or a general “DIY attitude”, necessitated through a lack of money.57 Only Rob used his job as an indicator of his working-class identity, his ‘rough hands’ representative of his working-class heritage and shared with his father. Nina in particular expressed her working-class identity online. She often reposted historic photographs of her home town from a Facebook group entitled “Working Class History” alongside weblinks to northern soul or funk records (via YouTube). She also posted images of idealised African American historic “ghetto” and inner-city photographs on Instagram, hashtagged as #hardtimes #1970s #1960s and #soulwithgrit. Through these online claims to scene membership, Nina weaved together images of British working-class history, her passion for particular music, and an imagined and empathetic African American experience. For Nina, Rob, and other young people that I spoke to, social struggle continued in contemporary British society in terms of class and (for Nina, gender—see Chap.  6, 87–88), empathetically connecting them to northern soul stories of hardship in 1970s northern England and the oppression of African American musicians in the 1960s.

Like changes in the venues of northern soul, the internet has brought new public stages for scene-related practices. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram offer young men and women like Nina additional spaces for demonstrating their passion for the scene, but they also blur the divisions between public and private. This public access into private matters pushed Tommy, one of only two self-identified middle-class young people that I spoke to, to engage in self-censorship. He consciously removed what he viewed as middle-class signifiers from his Facebook profile, namely his support of the Conservative party, based upon what he imagined was the “working-class” political identity of the average soulie.

‘Cause I had it on my Facebook for a while… ‘Cause obviously my, when I first started my Facebook, it obviously asked your political views… So I said, no problem, Conservative, yeah, that’s, yeah… That’s absolutely fine, but then, um, about three years ago, I took it off. [Laughs]. (Tommy, 25)

It still is, I notice most, most people who are into northern soul they kind of support Jeremy Corbyn… We are Labour people and might have finally got somebody that’s ready to stick up for us. (Rob, 21).

In talking to other young members of the scene around the 2016 General Election, it seemed that this association between working-class people and the Labour party continued to play a part in their political choices, but also in the way that they drew links between northern soul and working-class experience. Rob framed his own and his percieved scene insider political affiliation with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party through his engagement in the northern soul scene. Rob’s northern soul “us” are seen as bound together by scene membership, their working-class identity and, by extension, political support of the Labour party as an essential the part of a working-class music culture. For Rob, Nina, and others, posting pro-Labour items on their Facebook Wall was a declaration of personal and familial working-class identity, interwoven into their engagement with what they viewed as an essentially working-class and for some, like Nina, politicised music scene.

This politicising of northern soul is evident within what some younger people say and do in their engagement with the scene, and (as will be discussed in more detail in the following chapter) relates to a developing interest amongst young DJs and record collectors in buying and playing “funky-edged” records (early and “rare” funk). The role of politics within the historic scene has been discussed in other studies, with Hollows & Milestone proposing that northern soul music was valued by northern British youth as it related to a black, urban, America and lyrics of shared “suffering and redemption… [and] a critique of industrial exploitation”.58 In another attempt to understand the shared iconography and slogans of northern soul and the Civil Rights Movement, Nicholson views this as a collective rejection of the cultural influence of London by young northerners in the 1970s.59 Again, this research does not provide any evidence of a widespread awareness of, or indeed interest in, the political or social struggles of African Americans. Indeed, Wall argues that the Black Panther iconography of the clenched fist was reconceptualised by northern soulies as representative of their community, rather than any support for, or indeed general awareness of, the Civil Rights movement in America.60 Wall also notes that the central canon of the scene includes very few records with political lyrics or associations, and no records that could be associated with “‘funkier’ music which followed in the 1970s, and through which African Americans developed an Afro-centric identity”.61

Blues & Soul journalists Dave Godin and (to a lesser extent) Frank Elson advocated political awareness and empathy for the producers of northern soul music, but later pieces in the magazine demonstrate Godin’s frustration at the lack of scene interest in African American politics in the pursuit of “rare” records.62 The politicised proclamations of Godin, while surely read avidly by those with an interest in politics, were for people like Dave (below) an unnecessary distraction from the music and the happenings of the 1970s scene:63

We just listened to the music and accepted it for what it was, nothing more. We knew very little about the USA… We had no interest whatsoever in the politics either. We didn’t know anything about it and couldn’t really care less. I don’t know anyone from the time who would tell you any different…Very few people went to university and you’d struggle to live independently. Politics can fuck off.

Dave’s remembered experience of his interest (or lack therein) in African American politics supports Wilson’s argument that:

It would be wrong to try and link consumption of soul within the northern scene with a wider political awareness of the black struggle in the USA. Dave Godin may have occasionally prodded the collective conscience of Blues & Soul readers by placing soul in the bigger picture, but the influence of these comments were restricted to a small subsection of the scene.64

A history of political, transatlantic empathy is (for the most part) a retrospective thread to these claims to working-class experience, intensified by the extension of the historic and much mythologised northern soul scene to include both the producers and those who currently dance, DJ, and collect. Even in the current scene, overtly political funk records are primarily played at small, “rare”, and hard to find events, and favoured by younger DJs, for reasons I have already touched upon in Chap.  6 and will develop in relation to gender in the following chapter.

From leftist politics to donkey jackets, working-class heritage, identity, and experience are demonstrated through affiliated signifiers on and offline. By engaging with class-based experiences and values that have become part of the dominant narrative of the scene, younger women and men use class as another discursive strategy through which to claim their place. This relationship between working-class identity and northern soul is also evident in the venues of scene events—the working men’s clubs, the community centres, the football clubs and pubs. In these places familiar to working-class men and women, and in the mythologised places of Wigan, Stoke on Trent and Blackpool which continue to be associated with industrial labour and working-class occupants, working-class histories are equated with northern soul histories and used in the central historicising processes of the scene.

However, the northern soul scene for some of the young people that I spoke to is no longer bound by the borders of the UK, but an increasingly international affair with opportunities to DJ or dance at a range of events in mainland Europea. The northern soul community has developed from a trans-Atlantic flow of music to a worldwide community, connecting people from different countries through shared sounds, shared movements, and shared style. A short and affordable flight away, mainland Europe has entered into the imagined community of the northern soul scene for the younger generation of British soulies; from Spain to France, Germany to the Netherlands all offer new northern soul places to explore and to critique.65

A Bar in Barcelona: Making Sense of New Northern Soul Places66

A speedy and soft eighties rock-fuelled taxi drive helps us to avoid the potentially long and chilly walk from our hotel to the venue. Whisking us past familiar parts of Barcelona, we begin to regret our earlier survey of the city: legs aching before the allnighter has even begun. Down a curved side-street and into the bright streetlights of a main road near the seafront, the taxi pulls up outside an unimposing doorway, purple steps reaching up into the height of the building, a couple of men chatting outside. It looks very quiet, the event five minutes young, so to kill some time, and hoping for some food, we head next door to a glass fronted restaurant and gin bar, full with Spanish diners, emerging (as they are want to do) for food at eleven in the evening. We clutter up the bar and ordered gin and tonics, delivered painstakingly slowly but in large goblets, the gin free-poured and served with herbs and citrus fruit. A couple of familiar faces from an event that I attend every year in Mojácar (there flanked by my British immigrant parents) come into view. Fresh faced and glassy eyed, happy to chat to four British soul fans. They remember the long conversations with me, perched on their table in Mojácar, their words frantically scribbled onto the back of consent forms as others danced around me.

Conversations of broken English and Spanish, and introductions are made on both sides, the last couple of months were caught up (of band tours and the working week for them, British soul events and research for me) and the varied home towns of each Spanish soulie around the table set out. From Gran Canaria to Alicante, Malaga to Madrid, they have all travelled to Barcelona for one of the biggest events in the Spanish soul calendar, ready for three nights of DJs and after-parties. Us too, Tommy and Alice from Birmingham, me and Charlie from Stoke, all with itchy feet and expectant ears. We eventually make our move next door in time for Raul’s set, a popular Spanish DJ and record collector from Barcelona and the driving force behind this particular event.

We squeeze past the doorman robustly positioned in the black doorway, push crumpled euro notes into the hands of the waiting venue worker and have our hands stamped. Up the sticky stairs into a red-lit room. Straight to the bar as usual which is better stocked but surprisingly more expensive than our local soul haunts in the UK, and with another goblet of gin clutched between our fingers we find a spot at the back of the small room. A useful alcove in the wall provides a perch for handbags and coats, both necessary in the December chill. Finally settled, we look across the dance floor.

Spanish men and women trickle in through the door as the night edges into the early hours of Saturday, but still early in Spanish terms. Many of them are at least a decade older than Tommy, the youngest of us at twenty-five. Several Spanish attendees sport suedehead feather-cuts and turned up jeans, and a couple of men in mod-style suits, cut short at the leg and closely tailored, stride into the room now warmed by dozens of bodies. They mill about the small dance floor, itself a patchy and sticky affair, in stark contrast to than the sprung and pristine wooden floors typical (indeed required) for events in the UK. They chat loudly, drink bottles of beer and glasses of red wine, or slip off surreptitiously to the bathrooms in pairs for other stimulants. Some face the DJ on the opposite side of the room, but most stand across the floor in huddled groups, catching up with friends not seen since the last big allnighter.

Such a set up seems to us, four young people “on” the British scene, out of step with the music. Familiar beats if not lyrics pound out through two large speakers, yet the rules of the dance floor lay disregarded, cast aside like the beer bottles that soon began to gather at our feet. And when we come to step onto the floor (moving like good soulies from our positions on the edges of the room, drinks safely left on ledges), we claim our space intentionally through the normal process of movement, of shuffling, stepping and spinning. Yet this space is continually assaulted by people on their way to the bar or the toilets, and the empty bottles that roll to and fro across the floor. Looking around in growing frustration, it was telling that few of the Spanish attendees were attempting any consistent or energetic dancing, many demonstrating understated but competent interpretations of the northern soul dance style, but with arms hanging to their side. Our spins and high kicks abnormal perforations to the subtle rhythm of the other dancers.

As the night draws on, I regularly look up at the DJ decks to check for unfamiliar Spanish faces, disappointed to find that those listed on the flyers have been replaced by extended sets of older British DJs. Having flown in from the Midlands for this annual occasion, they were asked to take over, I was later told, from Raul and other Spanish DJs, a little worse for wear on alcohol and cocaine. “Modern” sets dominate, crossover records grace the decks rather than the rare R&B, funk, and indeed Latin soul I was expecting, with very few familiar sounds onto which four British outsiders could cling as the night progresses.67 Following five years of weekends at northern soul nights up and down the UK, the event seems more like a themed night at an up-and-coming bar in Shoreditch, the Spanish drinkers around us primarily in their mid to late thirties and focused on having a good time and being seen.68 The glitz and cosmopolitan sheen is a far cry from the slightly faded venues and familiar rules of our northern soul places.

Class in New Places

The bar in Barcelona was at odds with our previous experience, and while the fresh novelty of it all brought excitement, it jarred with our claims to space on the dance floor, the variety of records played at most nights, and the feeling of community not extended to us here, linguistic and cultural outsiders with our flamboyant dancing and serious faces. Each of us critiqued the night to ourselves and to each other, closeted in our alcove at the event and later in the taxi back to our hotel, comparing our individual experiences through a shared conversation about northern soul as a scene and as a musical canon. We attempted to make sense of it all, to make sense of this new place, and to question (as scene insiders) whether what we had just attended was indeed to be considered part of a wider northern soul community, or whether it was just too different after all.

My weekend in Barcelona with Tommy and Alice was an experience that I shared with a surprising number of young people that I spoke to, Spain becoming one of the “go to” places for young soulies hoping to combine a weekend away and northern soul-ing. As a Spanish national living in England, Maria was also keen to invite her British friends to DJ at her events in her home town. Maria formed a bridge between the two countries both in terms of being a gatekeeper for Spanish events and my understanding of the Spanish scene. In our conversations, Maria also noted the importance of class in the British scene, particularly in comparison to her thoughts on Spain, a country (for her) less structured by class and instead stratified by generational differences, and with political affiliation representative of individual choice rather than class background.

I’ve got friends who come from, well, not rich families, but they’re not working-class. But they are into [left wing politics] because they just believe [that] they are not like their parents. My friends, for example, they are left wing and they’ve got, I mean, some of them have got money, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t know how to explain it because I know what you mean [in the UK), when you’re working class and you can tell.

I think here, [northern soul is] not about the look. But I think people who are into soul, because of the black culture thing and all that, they want to read more, do more research and again. They come from a working-class family and all that, so they want to be… I don’t know if authentic would be the word, but they want to be like, “I’m working class, I’m going to some research, I want to support”, you know? (Maria, 25)

In an ongoing process of patching together the history of northern soul, or “doing some research” as Maria put it, her friends on the British scene emphasised their own working-class identity so that others “could tell” where they came from and, importantly, that their experience offers them an empathetic route into the music and the scene. In fact, confronted with a new place and a new community of northern soulies, many young people that I spoke to about attending events in Spain considered the passion of Spanish soul fans and their music choices through a frame of class. This hierarchy of empathetic experience of “hardship” was viewed as indicative of “true” soul fans who really “feel” the music.

It was quite interesting because I was talking to the Spanish lad and he was saying… You know, because in one aspect they can’t actually understand the music, like the lyrics, and I must admit a lot of Maria’s records are very much a strong beat. You know like how some records have got like a nice smooth groove or a typical northern four sort of beat? Hers have got that, [claps], a really strong sort of funky, hard hitting beat. And [a Spanish man] was saying the same to me after I DJ’d [at a Spanish event], “I like the beat, if it’s danceable.” So it was interesting ‘cause maybe we take that for granted. Because obviously I’m English and I must admit, I listen to the lyrics more. But then they’re not listening to the lyrics. It’s a different [take] on it, isn’t it? They’re probably not as political on it. They probably see it kind of for what it is, you know? Just stripped-down dance music. As in people like myself, we’ve probably had situations with it, you know? Like political stuff and social and historical and all the rest. No. It was the beat. (Nina, 23)

I think [that the Spanish soulies are] passionate. I do, but it doesn’t rain enough in Spain. I think, like, people are a bit more passionate over here. You know what I mean? ‘Cause I notice at the weekend it’s like raining all the time… And over there, you’re living in the sun all, you know what I mean? Having siestas and stuff. [Laughs]. We don’t get a siesta over here, do we, you know what I mean? Yeah, ‘cause it, it’s like… It’s, it’s about hardship, isn’t it? (Rob, 21)

Not included within the national curriculum requirements of schools in the UK, the oppression and hardship of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent years of Francoist Spain is absent from Rob and Nina’s patching together of scene-related history, and therefore absent from their evaluation of the claim of this comparatively more recent community of soul fans to membership. Through this frame of empathetic communion and class-based struggles, the easy life of sunshine and siestas is seen to estrange the Spanish soulies from the deeper meaning of northern soul and a more passionate engagement with the scene. Northern soul is equated by young men and women on the British scene with an empathetic experience, with members joined together through “hardship” and the “true” message and value of the music in encapsulating these struggles and giving them expression. Although Spanish and British men and women may share the same dance floor and bid on the same records online, this empathetic relationship has not been extended unconditionally by the young people of the British soul scene to include international fans.


  1. 1.

    The Football Club, December 2015.

  2. 2.

    Parts of this chapter have been published in S. Raine, “In the Pitch Black Dark: Searching for a ‘proper allnighter’ in the current northern soul scene”. In Nocturnes: Popular music and the night, ed. Geoff Stahl & Giacommo Botta. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) 21–34.

  3. 3.

    Unlike the other events that are featured within this ethnographic study, this one will be only referred to as “The Football Club”. The organisers go to great lengths to promote the event through word-of-mouth, and as such it is one of the more hidden northern soul events. And so it shall remain.

  4. 4.

    See Doyle, “More than a dance hall, more a way of life”; Susan Nicholson, “From Detroit To Wigan- Style as a Refusal” in Fashion Capital: Style Economies, Sites and Cultures (Critical Issues), ed. Jess Berry (London: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2012).

  5. 5.

    David Sanjek, “Groove Me: Dancing to the Discs of Northern Soul,” in Transatlantic Roots Music: Folk, Blues and National Identities, ed. by Jill Terry and Neil Wynn, (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2012), 229.

  6. 6.

    Wall, Out on the floor, 439.

  7. 7.

    Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984; Hollows and Milestone, “Welcome To Dreamsville,” 88.

  8. 8.

    Milestone, “Love Factory,”; Doyle, “More than a dance hall, more a way of life,” 323; Sanjek, “Groove Me,” 236; Laura Robinson, “Keeping The Faith: Issues of Identity, Spectacle and Embodiment in Northern Soul,” in Bodies of Sound: Studies across Popular Music and Dance, ed. Susan C. Cook, and Sherril Dodds, 179–192. (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013), 184.

  9. 9.

    Nicholson, “The Wigan Dandy,” 97.

  10. 10.

    This link between working-class identity in northern soul and masculinity has been most clearly made by Doyle, “More than a dance hall, more a way of life.”

  11. 11.

    Hollows and Milestone, “Welcome To Dreamsville”; Sanjek, “Groove Me”; Nicholson, “The Wigan Dandy”.

  12. 12.

    Wall, “‘Out on the floor’”; Andrew Wilson, Northern Soul.

  13. 13.

    This generational valuing of northern soul practices in relation to gender is the key focus of Chap.  8.

  14. 14.

    Edward Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time,” in Senses of Place, eds. Steven Feld and Keith Basso (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1996), 13–52.

  15. 15.

    Hollows and Milestone, “Welcome To Dreamsville.”

  16. 16.

    Contrast this with Malbon 1999, who emphasises that in a night’s clubbing successful entrance into the club is the first and essential indication of gaining entry and demonstrating membership through style, attitude, and/or connections, see Clubbing.

  17. 17.

    Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time.”

  18. 18.


  19. 19.

    Steven Feld, “Waterfalls of Song: An Acoustemology of Place Resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea,” in Senses of Place, ed. Steven Feld and Keith Basso (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1996), 91–135.

  20. 20.


  21. 21.

    Ibid, 134.

  22. 22.

    Carter, The Road to Botany Bay, 174–5.

  23. 23.

    Jackson, Blowin’ the Blues Away, 68 (italics in original).

  24. 24.

    Feld, “Waterfalls of Song,” 93.

  25. 25.

    Tim Creswell, Place: A Short Introduction (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004), 37.

  26. 26.

    Tommy’s event was in July 2016; Bobby and Jacquie’s event in September 2016.

  27. 27.

    Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time,” 45.

  28. 28.

    Although this event was organised by Bobby and Jacquie, the vast majority of those who offered a review to others off- or online assigned the event organiser role solely to Bobby. This gendering of northern soul roles, although rejected by Jacquie, is common within the scene and is considered in detail in Chap.  8.

  29. 29.

    This making meaning through the “connection of events, contexts, and procedures – musical and otherwise – to each other” is also been identified by Travis Jackson as central to how jazz performances are made meaningful, see Blowin’ the Blues Away, 211.

  30. 30.

    Creswell, Place: A short introduction, 27.

  31. 31.

    This is not isolated to northern soul participation. Sue Widdcombe and Rob Wooffitt identify this balance as central to participation in the British punk scene in “Being’ Versus ‘Doing’ Punk.”

  32. 32.

    Taken from an interview with Des, 25.

  33. 33.

    These are all words used by young men and women to describe the “proper nighter” to me.

  34. 34.

    Wilson, Northern Soul.; Doyle, “More than a dance hall, more a way of life.”

  35. 35.

    Milestone, “Love Factory,” especially 139; Sanjeck, “Groove Me,” 242.; and Kimansi Browne, “Soul Music: The ‘Interculturalarity’ of a Repository for the African Diaspora and Beyond” in Música. Arte. Diálogo. Civilización, edited by Maria Angustina Ortiz Molinos (Coimbra (Portugal): Center for Intercultural Music Arts, 2008), 143–165.

  36. 36.

    Dave Godin, “Land of a Thousand Dances,” Blues & Soul, Issue 50 (1971).

  37. 37.

    Godin, “Land of a Thousand Dances.” I explore this in greater length in Raine and Wall, ‘Participation and role in the northern soul scene’ and Raine and Wall, ‘Myths On/Of the Northern Soul Scene’.

  38. 38.

    Rob Shields, Places on the Margin (London: Routledge, 1991), 245.

  39. 39.

    Ibid, 245.

  40. 40.

    Dave Godin also described his later trip to the Blackpool Mecca in similar terms, once again emplacing the scene and its members within a specific geographical place and class-specific culture, see “The Dave Godin Column,” Blues & Soul, Issue 67 (1971).

  41. 41.

    Godin, “The Dave Godin Column.”

  42. 42.

    These attributes associated with working-class identity in Britain have also been set out by Nathan Wiseman-Trowse in his seminal book on class and music scenes, Performing Class in British Popular Music (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

  43. 43.

    Godin, “The Dave Godin Column.”

  44. 44.

    This discussion of books, films, and documentaries on northern soul and the scene use of these is distilled from a book chapter: Raine and Wall, “Myths On/Of the Northern Soul Scene.”

  45. 45.

    Nowell, Too darn soulful, especially 41–47; Mike Ritson and Stuart Russell, The In Crowd: The Story of the Northern & Rare Soul Scene (London: Bee Cool Publishing, 1999).

  46. 46.

    Examples of this working-class narrative can be found in fan publications including Cosgrove, Young Soul Rebel.; Nowell, Too Darn Soulful; Reg Stickings, Searching For Soul (London: SAF, 2008); Russ Winstanley and David Nowell, Soul Survivors: The Wigan Casino Story (London: Robson Books Ltd., 1996).

  47. 47.

    This an interview was undertaken and used by David Nowell to set the scene for a history of the Twisted Wheel in Manchester in Too Darn Soulful.

  48. 48.

    Such as Northern Soul and Soul Boy, and documentaries such as Northern Soul: Keeping the Faith a BBC Two (The Culture Show) documentary presented by Paul Mason (as argued in Raine and Wall 2017; and Raine and Wall, “Myths On/Of the Northern Soul Scene”).

  49. 49.

    Milestone, Love Factory, 143.

  50. 50.

    Cosgrove, Young Soul Rebel, 96.

  51. 51.

    Palmer, Tony. Wigan Casino. London: Granada TV, 1977.

  52. 52.

    Tim Wall “Interviews with Tony Palmer, Elaine Constantine, and Liam Quinn,” in The Northern Soul Scene, ed. Sarah Raine, Tim Wall and Nicola Watchman Smith (Sheffield: Equinox, 2019).

  53. 53.

    Constantine, Northern Soul. (Film).

  54. 54.

    Paul Mason is a northern, class-conscious journalist. It should also be noted that this documentary adds yet another male voice to the narrative of northern soul accessible to newcomers as they develop their understanding.

  55. 55.

    Matthew Worley also argues that these everyday experiences in Oi! lyrics also contribute to the creation of a shared working-class identity amongst scene members, see “Oi! Oi! Oi!: Class, Locality, and British Punk,” Twentieth Century British History 24, no. 4 (2013): 606–636. doi:

  56. 56.

    R. Andrew Sayer, The Moral Significance of Class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 181.

  57. 57.

    This definition of class as culturally situated is also evident in a recent public poll undertaken by The Independent on Sunday (March 2011), within which people defined their social class in mostly cultural terms, the majority (70%) describing themselves as middle-class.

  58. 58.

    Hollows and Milestone, “Welcome To Dreamsville,” 93.

  59. 59.

    Nicholson, “The Wigan Dandy,” 95–99.

  60. 60.

    Wall, “‘Out on the floor,’” 445.

  61. 61.

    Wall, “‘Out on the floor,’” 443. This central canon of northern soul records is discussed in Chap.  8 in relation to northern soul record collecting and DJ practices.

  62. 62.

    As argued by Joe Street, “Dave Godin and the Politics of the British Soul Community,” in The Northern Soul Scene, ed. Sarah Raine, Tim Wall, Nicola Watchman Smith (Sheffield: Equinox, 2019).

  63. 63.

    In their study of a northern soul community in Perth, Australia, Mercieca, Chapman, and O’Neill include the story of a highly politically-active individual who framed his experience of northern soul directly through his politics, see Paul Mercieca, Anne Chapman and Marnie H O’Neill, To the Ends of the Earth.

  64. 64.

    Wilson, Northern Soul, 44–45.

  65. 65.

    As with all movements of people and their engagement with transnational cultural activity, the impact of Brexit and, indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic on this part of northern soul experience for British soulies is yet to be seen.

  66. 66.

    “A bar in Barcelona” is based upon observations and experiences at an event in Barcelona in December 2016. The discussion within this section is supported by ethnographic research that I undertook in Barcelona, Almeria Province, and Benidorm, and nine questionnaires from Spanish members of the soul community.

  67. 67.

    The scene usage of these terms is discussed on page 14.

  68. 68.

    The Spanish scene primarily attracts men and women in their thirties and early forties, many of whom found the scene in their teens during the 90s through widely circulated zines. Like the scene in the UK, much of the Spanish soul community use Facebook to share scene-related information or news, but most of these forums are “closed”, frequented by a comparatively small number of regular attendees. The scarcity of younger members was attributed by Spanish soul fans to a lack of general awareness of music history amongst the Spanish youth, the “private” nature of scene-related Facebook activity, and the limited release of both Soul Boy and Northern Soul, with both films released on DVD only rather than being available at the cinemas. As I have discussed, the well-publicised release of the films in the UK offered young newcomers a means to discover and explore the northern soul scene.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Edinburgh Napier UniversityEdinburghUK

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