Soul Boy: All Night Long

The amphetamine fuelled Northern Soul all-nighters at Wigan Casino have rightly gone down in legend, and this tremendous movie shows them off in all their freaky dancing finery.
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The amphetamine fuelled Northern Soul all-nighters at Wigan Casino have rightly gone down in legend, and this tremendous movie shows them off in all their freaky dancing finery.

The UK does a good line in idiosyncratic youth cults and one of the most barking was the Northern Soul Scene that, (rigorously recreated in the forthcoming picture, Soul Boy, starring Martin Compston),still attracts thousands of fanatics and is as British as wearing pyjamas in bed.

Basically the discipline comprised travelling from all corners of the country to all night clubs such as The Wigan Casino (the setting for the film) consuming enough amphetamines to kill a horse - mainly pharmaceutical products such as Spansules or Black Bombers burgled from one’s local chemist - and dancing to Black American soul seven inch stompers with an insistent and certainly hypnotic four-four beat. Classic Wigan movers included Al Wilson’s -The Snake and Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I do). A copy of the latter, released on the Soul record label, was sold for £25,000 last year.

I first encountered The Casino in 1975 after bumping into some friends while on a shoplifting expedition to Blackwood, South Wales, who offered me a free seat on a specially commissioned coach - full of former Mod and skinhead speed freak ne’er do wells - to take us first to Blackpool Mecca and then onto to Wigan. Having just ‘acquired’ a brand new pair of 32 inch wide baggy trousers, a singlet and a lovely polyester bowling shirt I saw no reason why not and, a mere 12 hours later, was off me tits dancing along with the crowd in said club that opened at midnight, closed at 8am and sold no alcohol whatsoever.

Only the best dancers might penetrate the front of the floor, and even though vast stocks of speed had been consumed no one said a word.

Nothing odd about that, you might say, until you consider the crowd. All danced solo facing the DJ (Russ Winstanley) their head staring off into the distance, their feet shuffling from side to side almost nonchalantly before suddenly breaking into double time, dropping the splits, a spin, a backdrop and even a somersault. Only the best dancers might penetrate the front of the floor, and even though vast stocks of speed had been consumed no one said a word.

And, in truth, the film renders the club and its patrons rather admirably. It mixes archive footage with staged scenes, has the clothes spot on and reproduces lacklustre mid seventies Lancashire with unerring precision. All this is due mainly to the work of the films creative consultant, legendary DJ and original Wigan patron Keb Darge. “Initially I was called in to do the music and then they saw I could do the dancing,” recalls Darge. “ So I trained Martin Compston the lead to dance, helped them with the clothes and pointed out what was right or wrong. I moved from Dundee to Wigan in 1974 just so I could go to The Casino every week so, I know a bit about it.”

And others agree.

"Soul Boy shows Wigan Casino and the Northern Soul Scene in a very accurate light,” testifies the founder of the Wigan Casino All Nighter, DJ Russ Winstanley. “It is the most authentic portrayal I've ever seen! The only thing that was out of place was the violence in the film as, in all the years I did it we attracted over 3 million people and we didn’t have one fight. But if you want to see what it was like go watch the film.”

Soul Boy is released on DVD in January 2011

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