Russ Winstanley had only missed one of the Saturday all-nighters in the club’s eight year run, but still he didn’t feel like turning up when the farewell night finally arrived. “It was the only night I never wanted to go,” he says.
As the end approached, he played the three records that traditionally closed every all-nighter at the Wigan Casino, the ‘three before eight’: Jimmy Radcliffe’s ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’, Tobi Legend’s ‘Time Will Pass You By’ and Dean Parrish’s ‘I’m On My Way’. “I played them, and then I played them again, because people were just handclapping to the beat when the records had finished,” says Russ, “I don’t know why, but I then played what has since become recognised as the best and most valuable Northern track ever, Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You’. After that, people just sat down and cried their eyes out. It was absolutely awful.
“It’s funny isn’t it,” he adds, “the Cavern Club was demolished, the Hacienda was demolished, and the Wigan Casino was demolished. It seems to be like the most famous places aren’t there any more – and they never even built the new Civic Centre.”Chris Hunt | Wigan Casino
Confronted by the biggest of Northern dancefloors, the DJs of Wigan needed to find the biggest of tunes to fill it. As a building the Casino was well past its heyday, but with the best-kept dancefloor that the circuit had seen – and with superb acoustics to match – it could have been tailor-made for Northern Soul. Its huge ballroom easily held 1200, the dancefloor flanked on three sides by ornate balconies where the acrobatic dancers, illuminated by just two fluorescent lights suspended from the domed ceiling, could be watched from on high.
….Wigan’s dancers were demanding and the music had to be just right or they would walk. There could be few experiences worse for a DJ than standing behind the turntables on the stage of the Casino’s main ballroom when the mighty, heaving, Wigan dancefloor cleared in a show of spontaneous musical disapproval, revealing that vast expanse of sprung wooden flooring to the watchers on the balcony. .
In a world long before re-release culture became the norm, these records were often so rare that even other DJs did not know the true identities of the artists behind some of the scene’s biggest hits. In the constantly evolving battles of one-upmanship between the DJs – and to fend off the bootleggers, ever eager to identify and press up a ‘breaking’ track – ownership of a rare sound was safeguarded by ‘covering it up’, replacing the label with a bogus name and title. By the time a record was finally identified by collectors or ‘uncovered’ by the DJ, a spinner could have gained several months of exclusive play. If a record was genuinely hot and you were the only DJ with a copy, no-one could compete with that.
Cover-up culture had existed on the Northern scene before Wigan, but never to the same extent, and it goes some way to explaining the lengths that soul fans would go to get to their favourite all-nighter each week. “It really got under your skin,” says Russ Winstanley “It was so different because you had to go to this place to listen to the music – there were very few other places and nowhere else was playing the same music. Okay, they were playing a similar type of Northern Soul, but we had our own records that were exclusive to Wigan Casino.”
….“Watching the dancers at Wigan was awe-inspiring, it gave you a great boost as a DJ,” recalls Richard Searling, perhaps the most popular and progressive of Wigan’s disc spinners. “Conversely, if you played a bad track you’d know about that just as quickly and clearing the floor was also awe-inspiring in a different way and could shatter people. It wasn’t an easy gig to play because there was a certain sound they wanted and if you wanted to experiment you had to think about what you were doing or they’d let you know about it – 1200 people would be in that room and when the dancefloor cleared the light shone off the wood and by god it looked awful.”
The dancing had a code of its own that was impenetrable to outsiders. “People would clap in time with the music at certain points,” explains Russ. “When you had a couple of thousand people who clap at a key moment, it sounded like a pistol cracking. And if they particularly liked a track or a session, they’d applaud the DJ at the end.”
sometimes the only thing that keeps me alive on this planet is YouTube
A friend of mine showed me the trailer for the new Northern Soul movie (had NEVER heard of this subculture, ever; I have not crushed so hard on a British scene since I found out what the Mods were from the Jam in about 1987) and that was fucking it. I found this article and this one too, both with playlists, and more videos, and that was my fucking day: I listened to Northern Soul and watched Alan Rickman edits of old movies on YouTube.
AND YOU KNOW WHAT
IT WAS PRETTY FUCKING GREAT
BECAUSE IT MADE ME HAPPY INSTEAD OF FEELING SUICIDALLY DEPRESSED.
THANKS YOUTUBE. I WISH I COULD GIVE YOU A KIDNEY.