The story of Northern Soul is one of practically total immersion, dedication and devotion, where the plain concept of the ‘night out’ was elevated to sacramental dimensions. Where devotees pushed their bodies, their finances and sometimes their minds to brutal and unforgiving extremes. For those who went through that involvement every test of faith or endurance was worth bearing.
- From Northern Soul: An Illustrated History.
‘It was a drugs scene, it was a clothes scene. It was about dancing. It came out of this thing. It was about pills that made you go fast. To go fast to make the scene happen.’ - Chris Brick
In the late 1960s, a form of dance music took a feverish hold on the UK, finding its heart in the north of England. The music of 1960s-70s black American soul singers combined with distinctive dance styles and plenty of amphetamines to create what became known as Northern Soul – a scene based around all night, alcohol-free club nights, arranged by the fans themselves – setting the blueprint for future club culture. Northern Soul tapped into a yearning for individual expression in northern teenagers, and exploded into a cultural phenomenon that influenced a generation of DJs, songwriters and designers for decades to come.
Acclaimed photographer and director Elaine Constantine has brought the movement to life in her film Northern Soul – and that film was the starting point for this book, Northern Soul: An Illustrated History.
However, what started out as a project largely comprising of Constantine’s stunning on-set photography, featuring her young, talented cast and highly authentic production, has turned into a unique illustrated history of Northern Soul. In its final form, the beautiful new photography holds the book together thematically, but its real depth lies in the material from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that Elaine and Gareth have researched and pulled together.
Of course, no book can claim to represent everything about a culture. But Northern Soul: An Illustrated History concentrates on individuals’ personal stories from that heady era, as well as being crammed full of truly atmospheric contemporaneous photography – not from press photographers, but from the kids themselves. Be it snaps of soul fans in car parks, hitching a lift or mucking around in photo booths, the combination of real people plus real (and often very dramatic) stories – not to mention the complete absence of label scans and DJ’s top tens – means that the book stands out as a very different proposition from anything yet published on Northern Soul.
We would like to think that above all, this book attempts to give you a feel for what it was really like to be there at the time.
Northern Soul makes fascinating reading – tracing the development and explaining the appeal of the music with incredible in-depth input from a carefully chosen array of DJs, collectors and aficionados, all of whom were either there at the time or who were personally involved in making things happen, taking the scene forward to what it is today.
From the great unknowns, discovered and popularised by DJs such as Ian Levine in the early 1970s, to the insightful thoughts of today's movers and shakers. From the DJs, the record dealers and collectors, and those who are still out there each and every weekend, the ones who keep the Northern Soul torch burning so brightly today.
For myself, this book brings back so many memories of venues, events and characters I'd forgotten about. And I know this book will be well received as a true reflection of how it was back then by all those who experienced its formative years, and also by those who are fascinated by the scene and want to understand more about the music, the people, the venues and the associated way of life.
Most books about Northern Soul – of which there are groaning shelves worth – convey the scene's purism, obsessiveness and trainspotter-ish detail, but nothing of the passion this glorious sound evokes. This one does.
A gritty social history, a beautiful artefact; it’s a labour of love that reflects the music’s joy, significance and its cultural place, with the people who love it at its heart. You will not find here the usual canonical lists, the catalogue numbers or the minutiae of dates and labels, but you will get a real sweaty, pungent feel for the music's thrill and power, and how it has always sat within a historical and cultural context; music made by young, black, working-class Americans elevated to a near religion by young, white, working-class Northern kids who embraced the songs’ ecstasy, energy and despair as their own.
Great photography totally sets the scene.