Sunday, 26 February 2012

Satisfying the Soul

Wednesday 15th February 
Once Upon A Time In Wigan
Hull Truck Theatre

Firstly I’m by no means an authority on Northern Soul, or any kind of soul for that matter. I’m certainly not a veteran of the “Scene” as depicted in the adaptation of Mick Martin’s original 2003 play recounting the legendary Wigan Casino all-nighters.
However, despite this, I like to think that had I been of the right age between 1973 and 1981, I'd have been drawn to the world of Northern Soul.  As a fan of underground music when I first did come of age to buy records and attend gigs - be it rockabilly, blues, ska or indie - I'm sure the relative inaccessibilty of genuine American soul records would have acted as a magnet to me. 
In addition, since my early flirtations with the other musical genres mentioned above, I have grown to love soul music, especially that type which can loosely be termed “Northern”.
Indeed, a move to 6Ts Soul was almost a natural progression from the 40s/50s blues, swing and doo-wop I'd been into as a would-be Hep Cat in the early-Eighties. It was this music that first brought me into contact with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Garnett Mims, Chuck Jackson, Gene Chandler and of course, Jackie Wilson.
Oh, Jackie Wilson. A man probably familiar to most people via the number one ‘novelty’ hit, “Reet Petite”, a song which cruelly misrepresentative the man’s real talents. I would urge anyone who doesn’t believe me to listen to any of the tracks reissued by the London-based Kent Records label in the mid-Eighties. Entitled “Jackie Wilson – The Soul Years”, they are two of the finest albums you could ever wish to hear. “Soul Galore” is one of the tracks featured in “Once Upon A Time In Wigan” and rightly so – it’s a belter. However, for personal choice it has to be “Because Of You”, a track that is up there in my all-time top five.
Along with what I saw as the natural progression of my increasingly eclectic musical tastes, the aforementioned Kent label (along with fellow reissue specialists Charly) was the other big influence in turning me onto the sounds of black America.
This new-found love of soul music wasn’t enough to drag me away from my staple weekly diet of live gigs at the Adelphi and weekend indie nights in the legendary Spiders club.
I did dabble a little – dragging a couple of mates along to see Tommy Hunt perform at the former Jacksons Club on Cottingham Road, as well as a Bank Holiday all-dayer at the now-defunct Romeo & Juliets nightclub in Hull city centre. I think the latter was organised by ‘Voices From The Shadows’ a well-respected soul publication run by a Rovers fan from Burstwick and backed financially by snooker legend Steve Davis.
Neither of the above could come even close to capturing the experience of the “All Nighter” of Wigan fame; perhaps the nearest I came to that was a trip to the equally legendary Manchester Hacienda club in the early Nineties.
Of course by this time, Wigan Casino had gone – ostensibly to become part of the re-developed Civic Centre although by the time of this authoritative piece (2002) this was still to be built. It still hadn't by the time this further article appeared.  In fact it is now the site of the Grand Arcade shopping centre, with its illustrious past being marked by the Casino Cafe, themed on the illustrious Soul Club.
And so as we entered the main theatre at Hull Truck on Wednesday (late thanks to roadworks on Hedon Road grrrh) it was with some trepidation as to what awaited. I had decided that at worst, even if the play was pants, I could enjoy the accompanying soundtrack. In the event I took pleasure from both – although I’m not convinced my companions (Mrs Slush plus brother- and sister-in-law) would agree.
Like most musical genres there’s a certain degree of elitist tosh and snobbishness. This can become quite scathing when projects like “Once Upon A Time In Wigan” are launched and I’ve read some fairly scathing attacks, not only on the play but the men behind it. However, if the attention was to try and bring to a wider audience what it meant to be part of the “Northern Soul scene” between 1973 and 1981, whilst opening up new ears to some of the magical sounds that accompanied it then I’d like to think Mick Martin and Hull Truck have succeeded. Perhaps not with the brother-in-law though?! 

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