November 26, 2021
From winning dance competitions to confronting Nazis, black veterans of the 70s soul all-nighters share their stories – and counter the idea that the movement was exclusively white
‘Dancing kept me sane’: how black British youth found a home in northern soul
In the run-up to Christmas in 1977, viewers of Granada TV were offered a glimpse inside a little-understood world. The documentary maker Tony Palmer had ventured inside the Wigan Casino, the centre of the northern soul scene, to shoot a 30-minute film called This England.
Palmer didn’t know anything about the club, the scene or the music when he arrived in Wigan – but over the course of a couple of nights he captured famous footage of a northern soul all-nighter in full swing. There’s the crush at the front door as a lone doorman tries in vain to instil some sense of order; the gravity-defying spins and splits that lit up the dancefloor; the interviews with the fans who articulate their obsession with obscure soul records in thick Lancastrian accents. It’s all punctuated by thousand-yard stares from amphetamine-fuelled punters – you can almost smell the Brut aftershave and sweat.
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