Club goers outside a dance venue in1970s clothing.
A brief introduction to

A Beginner’s Guide to Original Northern Soul Venues

‘Northern Soul’ is shorthand for a once ‘underground’ subculture that originally developed among young, mostly working-class people in the north of England in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

To celebrate the dance culture of Wigan and Blackpool, we’re looking at five places that formed the roots of the global music and dance phenomenon known as Northern Soul.

Maybe after reading this, you’ll want to ‘Keep the Faith’ too.

What is Northern Soul?

‘Northern Soul’ is shorthand for a once ‘underground’ subculture that originally developed among young, mostly working-class people in the north of England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Followers danced to, and collected, rare soul records from America. The name was coined by music journalist Dave Godin in ‘Blues and Soul’ magazine.

Dancer's in a club in late 1970s or early 1980s clothing.
Dancer’s from the last years at the Wigan Casino © Frank Orrell

The birth of Northern Soul

In the early and mid-1960s, London had been the R&B and soul capital of England, fuelled by the Mods who craved authentic Black music sounds to dance the night away to.

But by the late ’60s, ‘down south’ times had changed. Mod had gone too mainstream and then fragmented. For many, soul gave way to psychedelia, progressive rock and a tendency to sit cross-legged looking inward for enlightenment—not to glide immaculately dressed across a polished dance floor.

This wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Maybe meditating at The Middle Earth just wasn’t working-class Manchester’s, or Wigan’s, or Blackpool’s, or Stoke’s cup of tea. Maybe ‘cool in a kaftan, love and peace man’ just about worked on the King’s Road, SW3, but not so well on Whitworth Street, M1?

A group of  young male clubbers inside a club decorated with wheel motifs.
Clubbers at the Twisted Wheel in about 1970. © Norman Rogers

Here, many kids, perhaps coming later to the soul party, still wanted to get dressed up to the nines and go out and dance all night to the gritty, heartfelt soul that spoke to them so well of love, loss and joy and frustration.

‘Tainted Love’ by Gloria Jones. A quintessential Northern Soul track, covered in the 1980s by Soft Cell with a much different feel.

The Twisted Wheel, Manchester

Sited on Whitworth Street, near Manchester Piccadilly Station, having moved from Brazennose Street in 1965, this former club had a good claim to be the birthplace of Northern Soul.

A man standing outside a club with a sign that reads 'The Twisted Wheel', the panel above the entrance is decorated with wheel motifs.
The exterior of the Twisted Wheel on Whitworth Street, Manchester © Manchester Gazette

The building fabric of the Twisted Wheel was very basic and run down. It consisted of a number of rooms, the floor was concrete, and the black painted walls ran with condensation. In keeping with the name of the club, Roger Eagle deejayed from a cage constructed of twisted bicycle wheels. In addition to records, there were sometimes live performances by soul artists. The artists who played at the Whitworth Street club included names such as Billy Stewart, Lou Johnson and Ben E King. 

Eagle left ‘The Wheel’ after becoming disenchanted with many fans craving only faster up-tempo dance records or ‘stompers’. Other key DJs in the 65-71 era were Brian ’45’ Phillips, Paul Davis and Les Cokell.

‘Sock it to’ em JB’ by Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers. An early up-tempo ‘stomper’ that might have echoed around the Twisted Wheel. Later covered by Coventry’s The Specials.

To begin with, photographs show that the clubbers dressed in a smart style that was recognisably descended from the Mods, including ‘tonic’ or Trevira suits for the girls and lots of roll-collar button-down Ben Sherman and (cheaper) Brutus shirts all-round.

Two young couples in smart and smart casual clothing worn around 1969-70, one young man wears a driving glove on one hand.
Early clubbers in about 1969-70 at an ‘all-nighter’ somewhere between Manchester and the Midlands. © Norman Rogers

A sign that the dancing was becoming looser however maybe that many dancers wore a driving glove, on one hand, to stop them from slipping when performing gymnastic ‘tricks’.

This classic version of the club closed in early 1971. The building has gone but is commemorated by plaques including one set into the pavement. Since 2000, the spirit of the club has continued with twice-monthy revival sessions at it’s new location on Princess Street in the city. 

A plaque set into the pavement at Oldham Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter, commemorating The Twisted Wheel Club
A plaque set into the pavement at Oldham Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, commemorating The Twisted Wheel Club © David Crausby / Alamy Stock Photo

The Golden Torch, Stoke on Trent

This club was based at the former Regent Cinema. It was taken over by Chris Burton in about 1964-65 and converted for use as a club, initially hosting mainly pop music performances until starting to host soul music in about 1967. Many say that the club’s high point was 1972-1973.

A plaque on a building at the site of a famous Northern Soul Club, the Golden Torch; the plaque includes the club's 'torch' badge.
A plaque commemorating the site of the Golden Torch club, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire © John Keates / Alamy Stock Photo

The club consisted of one main dance area and a stage, overlooked by a balcony equipped with a bar. The main DJs were the ‘King-Spinners’, Keith Minshull and Colin Curtis, ably supported by Martyn Ellis, Alan Day and Tony Jebb. Identification with the club was so strong that some Torch regulars sported tailor-made Torch logos on their blazers when attending other clubs.

It closed in 1973 after complaints from local residents, despite an appeal by singer Edwin Starr. The building was later demolished.

Cleethorpes Winter Gardens

The Winter Gardens at Cleethorpes were constructed in the mid 20th century. This had been used as a popular entertainment venue over the years, with music ranging from the Cleethorpe Festivals of Music to a discotheque for Northern Soul events in the 1970s.

The Winter Garden Cleethorpes © North East Lincolnshire Council
The Winter Garden Cleethorpes © North East Lincolnshire Council

It continued to be a venue for musical entertainment, and other events such as boxing until 2007 when it closed and was subsequently demolished.

The Blackpool Mecca

Blackpool Mecca opened in 1965 as a dancehall, with a capacity of roughly 3,500 people. It incorporated a large ballroom and also a smaller dance floor above called ‘The Highland Room’. In the 1970s this smaller dance area became famous as a daytime venue for the Northern Soul scene. Free coaches took fans to Blackpool from towns all across the North of England.

The Northern Soul sessions were initially established in 1970 by local DJ, Tony Jebb along with Les Cokell, followed by Ian Levine and Colin Curtis.

People outside the Blackpool Mecca/Highland Room in the early 1970s. If this is your photograph, please let us know so we can credit you.
People outside the Blackpool Mecca/Highland Room in the early 1970s. © Tim Dodson

The Mecca became a rival to the more famous Wigan Casino. However, the music policy also encompassed then ‘modern’ funk records, as opposed to the 1960s soul preferred by the early Wigan casino audience. Also, the Mecca did not have an all-night licence and so concentrated on running ‘all-dayers’ as opposed to Wigan’s all-nighters. The venue closed in 1981 after falling into disrepair.

Blackpool retains a strong connection to Northern Soul Today: major Northern Soul weekender events still take place in the town at both the Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens. 

The Wigan Casino

The Casino is perhaps the most famous Northern Soul venue. The building had a huge ballroom, with balconies at the sides.

It had been a club since the mid-1960s, but it was not until 1973 that the venue’s first ‘all-nighter’ dance event was held, and it quickly became legendary.

Clubbers in 1970s clothing outside a dance venue, the club signbears the name the name 'Wigan Casino'.
Clubbers outside the Wigan Casino in the 1970s. The long leather coat was a trademark ‘Soulie’ item © Ron Hunt

The Casino was famous for its ‘record bar’, where rare records were traded. The organiser of the All-Nighter was manager Mike Walker, working closely with owner, Gerry Marshall. Russ Winstanley was the resident DJ and selected the wider team of DJs, including Richard Searling, who worked there from November 1973 to early September 1981.  Live artists that appeared there included Jackie Wilson and Betty Wright.

There were attempts to popularise this once elitist music direction, with features about the club appearing on national television, and Northern Soul style records entering the pop charts.

Many later sources feature a claim which adds to the legends surrounding the Casino- that in 1978 Billboard Magazine Casino voted it the best discotheque in the world; however Casino DJ Richard Searling, a contemporary of those times strongly refutes that this actually happened.

By the ‘Wigan era’, dancers wore more relaxed clothing like looser ‘oxford bags’ trousers and often sleeveless tops that were comfortable to dance in. The dancing had also become freer, featuring improvised sequences of spins, high kicks and backdrops.

A group of young dancers in a club wearing 1970s clothing typical of the Northern Soul scene such as a sleeveless tops and wide legged Oxford bags trousers.
Dancers at Wigan Casino © Frank Orrell

The Casino closed in 1981 and was demolished in 1984. The nostalgia that the club evoked was strong enough to have a stage play ‘Once Upon a Time in Wigan’ about it, and the scene has been the inspiration for Elaine Constantine’s ‘Northern Soul’ film released in 2014.

Northern goes global

Today, Northern Soul has followers from Toronto to Tokyo and all points in between. But why is it so popular? Perhaps it’s simply that the northern down-to-earth spirit of welcoming camaraderie translates so well.

Despite now being a global movement, Northern Soul is still a part of the identity of northern England and continues to be referenced when special local character is under the spotlight. In 2021 artist Louise Fazackerley created ‘Street Dreams’, a film inspired by the communities of Wigan and Blackpool, as part of our High Streets Cultural programme to celebrate heritage-led regeneration.

Get a feel for the music

Acknowledgement

Thanks to original Wigan Casino DJ Richard Searling for sharing his knowledge of the Northern Soul Scene and enabling some corrections and fascinating extra details to be added. If you enjoyed my taster tracks, try Richard’s Northern Soul Oldies radio shows on mixcloud

In the comments below, please share your favourite Northern Soul tracks—or tell us why you associate them with a particular venue. KTF!

I work in Historic England’s Content Team. My previous background was as an archaeologist, having worked around England, Central Europe and the Near East.

39 comments on “A Beginner’s Guide to Original Northern Soul Venues

  1. My favourite Northern Soul track is “Tainted Love’ which was a huge hit in the late 1980’s for Marc Almond and Soft Cell in the mainstream pop charts but had been a minor hit in the US in the 1960’s…..Brill record IMHO!!!

    • Michael John Tobin

      I ran an independent PR/Promo company ( MAP) in the late 70’s . We did a lot of work for a label that re-released Northern Soul tracks although I can’t remember the name of it ( it’s an old age thing!). We worked hard on getting airplay for “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones , but when Soft Cell covered it we lost the battle.

      • Would that have been Inferno Records?

      • I have heard both versions but in my opinion Marc Almond’s vocals, that whiney almost pleading quality does it for me every time…,BTW to any Brummie Northern Soul fans was The Tower Ballroom at Edgbaston Reservoir ever a Northern Soul venue?

  2. David Lee

    Growing up near London I didn’t really know about Northern Soul but I did listen to and enjoy the music. For me it has to be The Hamilton Movement -She’s Gone.

  3. Christine Ball

    What about Sheffield? Pete Stringfellow’s “Mojo Club” & the fantastic “Esquire Club”. Saw some truly great R&B artists there in the late 1960’s.

    • Christine Ball

      Actually it was mid-’60’s!

      • Robin Page

        Thanks Christine, fascinating to hear you went to the Mojo! Yes you are right: ‘The King Mojo’, based at Burngreave Road Sheffield, ran from about 1965-67 before the main Northern Soul phenomenon took off and was a great R&B venue which we sadly didn’t have room to feature in this post.

      • Christine Ball

        OMG longer ago that I thought. LOL! Robin Page is quite correct. Mid ’60’s. We used to catch a bus from Hathersage to Sheffield then the last bus back. Sometimes had to run to make it on time!

    • Tim Renwick

      Was Samantha’s in Sheffield. I think monthly all nighters. We used to go to the Central Soul Club in Leeds then a quick drive down the M1. Was a bit less hectic than Wigan.

      • Dave Hill

        Samantha’s were weekly all nighters on a Friday night…then we had coaches going to the Mecca and Wigan as well as Cleethorpes. Quite a few of us went to the Central as well.

  4. Phil Reader

    I always liked Crackin’ up over you Roy Hamilton. Baby a go go by Barbara McNair and Ordinary Joe by Terry Callier – there are so many greats

  5. Philip Levick

    Before the Winter Gardens at Cleethorpes there was the famous Cleethorpes Pier .
    When the pier closed that’s when it was moved to the Winter Gardens.

  6. Brian Hodgson

    Much preferred the Yvonne Baker version of You Didn’t say a word. A real stomping Northern track.

  7. Martin Cooper

    There were quite a few other “nighters”, one being Up the Junction in my home town of Crewe, had some cracking nights there and some quality live artists

    • Robin Page

      Thanks Martin, before Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul Film there was a short film called ‘Function at the Junction’, with John Henshaw as the doorman.

      which may have loosely been based on the club?

    • Martin I went to the Junction many time. Last train from Manchester to Crewe danced all night, went for a brekky round the corner on the train home for 8 30. IMO the Junction was better than the Torch. And yes we saw some great bands there.

  8. Tristam Meyrick

    Hopefully other cities and towns will follow suit. Music and in particular iconic venues associated with it, is so often intrinsic to the fashion, soul and cultural make up of areas.

  9. Patricia Boulton

    My favourite was Darrow Fletcher “The pain gets a little deeper” but also Soulful Dress by Sugar Pie Desanto and Helpless by Kim Weston
    So many…

  10. Robin Lowbridge

    I think “The Catacombs”, Wolverhampton is worth a mention. I associate ” Blowing my mind my mind to pieces” by Bob Relf with this venue.

    • Robin Page

      Thanks Robin- That’s right, the scene extended into the Midlands too- also The Lantern club at Market Harborough.

      • Jeff whetton

        The Grand ballroom Coalville early 70s went on to be Tiffs and it’s all dayers

      • Robin to your knowledge was The Tower Ballroom at Edgbaston Reservoir near 5 Ways in Birmingham ever a Northern Soul venue?

      • Robin Page

        Hi Keith I haven’t personally found anything to confirm that, perhaps one for readers to help with. There is also a website dedicated to memories of that venue https://www.bertzassociates.net/towerballroom/memories It certainly served a lot of musical genres – the Who and John Holt apparently played there for example.

      • Hi Robin, I am working with Iris Bertz on The Tower Ballroom Project to keep it as a Multicultural HUB for the whole of diverse Birmingham…. sadly Birmingham City Council who I worked for in their Inward Investment Agency and investment promotion company for international business and foreign Municipal and Political Delegations from countries as diverse as China, India, The be USA and Israel for 16 years want to demolish the Tower Ballroom and build sustainable and low cost housing for the local community. So short sighted in my opinion…. look what my Alma Mater The University of Birmingham are doing with the former Birmingham Municipal Bank (TSB BANK) building at 301 Broad Street….,which they are turning into ” ,The Exchange”: a meeting place and space to showcase the work and wonderful world beating research going on at The University of Birmingham in Edgbaston….why can’t the same type of meeting space be created at The Tower Ballroom in Edgbaston? Short sighted to just demolish a fine old dance hall with so many memories!!

    • and ‘cry your eyes out’by dottie cambridge

  11. Norman Rogers

    Two of the pictures are mine

    • Robin Page

      Thanks Norman, image captions updated as agreed. Interested readers can find more of Norman’s images like those of the early scene in in the book ‘Bletsoe to the Wheel and Back’

  12. Not to mention
    St Ives rec probably the best dance floor ever
    Central hall kettering and the list goes on and on

  13. glyn martin

    no mention of the catacombs it wasnt all up north

    • Yes I did the wheel the top twenty the torch and catacombs in Wolverhampton

  14. Paul Davies

    Got to be Frankie Beverly if that’s what you wanted. Always gets me on the floor.

  15. Mason J.

    Oh what a time, really a toss up for me when it comes to favorite songs even choosing these three for a simple comment, took me hours of listening lol That said 1. Tommy Good “Ive gotta get away” 2. Christine Cooper’s “SOS Heart in Distress/Heartaches Away” [which is still on repeat for me] and lastly Sugar Pie DeSanto “I want to know” [although I may be biased because her brother is my dad’s Golfing partner]

  16. Alan Senior

    South Yorkshire was a hotbed for Rare Soul with Stingfellows Sheffield King Mojo leading the charge for what later became known as Northern Soul. Many top acts inc Little Stevie Wonder graced the Mojo and infact Colin Duffield poster writer who did The King Mojo posters carried on doing my Mainstream Club posters late into the 90s! That’s how I ended up with original posters inc Little Stevie Wonder and the Beatles (who?) Infamous Azena Ballroom Sheffield gig that Stringy put on the week before they broke big with Please Please me. My contributions inc Clifton Hall Rotherham gave the scene a needed new direction and contributed to the demise of the fading Casino.

  17. D. Evans

    I don’t think the black glove theory is correct, I think it’s in recognition of Tommy smith and John carlos’s podium protest at the olympics.

  18. Dave stevenson

    The photo taken outside the Blackpool Mecca was taken by Tim Dodson from stoke on trent.i am the guy in the white blazer.happy days

    • Robin Page

      Thanks for getting in touch Dave, I have credited Tim Dodson on the image now. And what a smart crew the photograph shows!

  19. How on earth has The Catacombs been omitted ? Beggars belief !
    .

  20. charles arnold

    I’m from Southampton, we had a club, called the Birds Nest. Great soul music. I love the track, titled, Can’t stop looking for my baby, by the Fantastic 4. Lead singer James Epps, had an amazing voice.

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