Legendary northern soul DJ, scenester, and writer has been gracious enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to come talk with us about his new book, and his experience as a DJ and soul enthusiast.
Let’s start off what got interested in soul music at first?
In 1966 I was 12 and my Dad had somehow got tickets for the World Cup Final. On a coach in London I heard on the radio “Reach Out I’ll Be There” – The Four Tops, and liked soul music from then, by the time I was 15/16 I was obsessed with it.
What were some of the first soul artists that you got into?
I think it was records more than specific artists I liked. When the whole Rare Soul thing got going I went out to collect all the Major Lance records I could, as it was like hearing Curtis Mayfield but with knobs on. When he appeared at The Torch all-nighter, I was an 18 years old soul fanatic and gave him a big pile of his records to sign. Some were French and Spanish releases and he said he hadn’t remembered recording them in a foreign language. He kind of missed the point.
What got you into DJing?
If you loved the music then you had to be a DJ. It helped pay for buying the records but main thing was that you had the chance to play this wonderful music.
What was the soul scene like at the time?
At school you were either into blues and rock or soul. As a 15 years old I was into football but hearing about Soul clubs like the Twisted Wheel seemed even more exciting than following Birmingham City around the country There was a whole pile of soul music that had been released but not discovered, so it was incredibly exciting to be a teenager and discover the scene.
What were some of the biggest tracks and discovered gems?
As a teenager:
You’re Ready Now – Frankie Valli
Six By Six -Earl Van Dyke
Goin’ To A Happening – Tommy Neal
I Got A Feeling – Barbara Randolph
Breakout – Mitch Ryder
Darkest Days – Jackie Lee
My Weakness Is You – Edwin Starr
It seems like you were quite a connoisseur of northern soul and the clubs. What have been some of the best clubs or all nighters over the years?
As an 18 year old I loved The Catacombs in Wolverhampton and The Torch in Stoke. Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca was amazing. Never rated Wigan Casino that much. I promoted the Manchester Ritz All-Dayers from 1975 to 1980 and that has lots of great memories for me. Since getting back into Northern in 1996 my favourite venues have been the Bretby All-Nighter, Soulvation at Lea Hall, Rugeley, Blackburn Tony Empress Ballroom, Trentham Gardens all-nighter,…the list goes on and on.
I read that you bought the rights to Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love.” How did that happen and how were you involved with the release of the cover version by Soft Cell?
In seventies I owned the Inferno label and one of records the label licenced was “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones. When the northern scene imploded I was left with thousands of records I could not give away and the events I had promoted were no longer happening. I was left in the shit with an 11 grand overdraft amd no way of paying it back, but Soft Cell success gave me the excuse (I still had rights) to re-issue the Gloria Jones original on seven inch and twelve inch. The sales meant I could pay the bank back. I was so grateful to Soft Cell but nothing to do with me.
Can you tell me about the resurgence of northern soul/mod music and its
style in the 80s? I’ve read you had a lot of influence with the bands coming out at the time including Dream Factory. Tell me about that.
No influence with bands. I was still messing about with the Inferno label putting out Northern stuff like the Popcorn Wylie compilation and I came across Dream Factory, got to know Mark Mortimer from the group (we were both working as newspaper reporters), and did a few releases on them. I was enthusiastic but didn’t particularly know what I was doing.
At the end of the 80′s I got into house music, both the music itself and the anti-establishment side of it (Northern Soul part 2) and ended up managing various producers and artists including Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Inner City. From that myself and partner set up (and still own) the Network label which had a lot of success. By then I did know what I was doing.
How is the northern soul scene now? Are there new young punters getting into northern soul now? Or is it more of the same people from previous northern soul scenes?
More gigs than ever, in fact too many for the audience so many not as well attended as could be which means they lack that all vital thing – atmosphere.
In the Midlands mainly veterans returning to their roots.
Are new northern soul records still being discovered today or have we found them all. If so what new rare gems have you discovered recently? Are there any rare records you are still looking for? Can you give us your list of top 10 all time favorite soul records?
Still tapes being found containing unreleased gems, but that’s not what I do.
Have never had and have always yearned for a copy of
Let Me Make You Happy – Billy Woods (USA Sussex)
During my techno years in Detroit I held in my hand the copy of
“Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – Frank Wilson on the Soul label which recently sold for 25k. In fact Kevin Saunderson of Inner City offered to buy it me as a present. He stopped when price got up to 5,000 dollars. I should have asked him to carry on upping his offer until he got it me!
Top 10 – changes everyday but today’s offering
1 – If That’s What You Wanted – Frank Beverly & The Butlers
2 – Love Is Alright – Jesse James
3 – It Really Hurts Me Girl – The Carstairs
4 - She’s Wanted – Larry Clinton
5 – I Love You Baby – Eddie Parker
6 – That’s How Much I Love You – The Professionals
7 – I Really Love You – Jimmy Burns
8 - I’ll Pay The Price – Moses Dillard
9 – Let Me Make You Happy – Billy Woods
10 -No One To Love – Pat Lewis
Tell me more about your new book Northern Soul Stories. How long did it take you to compile? Can you tell us one or two interesting of your favorite anecdotes or stories from the book? Who are some of the key players or story tellers in the book?
I started writing for Soul fanzines when I was teenager and was Black Echoes first staff writer when it launched in 1976. So always liked writing about the music and interviewing the music makers. The Northern soul renaissance has seen various books put out and I kept thinking I wish I had done that. Anyway last year I stopped working as consultant for the suSU label, I had been commuting to London and being a bit of workaholic on the label. That stopped when my Dad died around same time, so I decided to calm down and take some time out.
I thought I would take opportunity to write the book which I am publishing myself. I think the idea for book really works. I have interviewed people (and compiled quotes from elsewhere) going back to events from early sixties up until now and Glenn Gunton of Joe Boy records has supplied stunning graphics. I love maveriks so it was great to get quotes from people who knew Guy Stevens, a complete legend and nutcase.
I have always been fascinated by producer/songwriter/character Dan Penn, and am very pleased with the interview I got from him. When he told me how they made sure they got into the studio to observe Otis Redding producing “Sweet Soul Music” on Arthur Conley it was a bit special isn’t it? And the story of Brian Phillips, 16 years old and introducing USA imports into The Twisted Wheel, its fascinating.