My eyes open on a cloudy windswept British Autumn morning, there is a second of ‘Oh no it’s Monday’ followed by a rush of memories kicking in like a shot of caffeine from one of those never forget weekends.
The feeling of reality of another week hitting are kept at bay, when you you’ve had it large, it makes it easier to get through any kind of week, knowing you’ve got spare serotonin to drive you forward at least till the next one drops.
For now my mind reverses like a police car from a an TV drama to where it started.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon at one of the most amazing stately homes in the UK called Thoresby Hall in Nottingham now a luxury hotel where the Northern Soul Midfield Legend that is Russ Winstanley has pulled a master stroke and booked a full ball Soul Weekender.
It feels like a pilgrimage for a Southern boy schooled by the Mod culture that exploded again in the 80’s when listening to what we call ‘Northern Soul’ which then seemed like some untouchable dream, driven my myths and legends that you heard when people where trying to be flash. By saying things like Wigan Casino, Twisted Wheel and how they had been there, hanging out with some of the voices that graced some of the best R N B records ever made. So to actually hear that names such as Russ Winstanley and Ian Lavine Dj trail blazers of the scene are on the bill, I’m thinking maybe we have some legend tales to tell of our own to tell.
There is a bar with a glass wall which blocks the sound until someone comes out and you hear a blast of that infectious four to the floor back beat with a vocal that is saying come and forget your worries and dance with some friendly faces.
Were standing waiting for a drink in a queue thinking come on we got to get in, like where gaging for the groove, sure enough drinks in, door opens and the sound of joy hits you straight in the heart, boom this is it, we are in.
On the decks is Ian Lavine, playing some rare track he found in an old crate somewhere in Detroit, and people dance those classic northern soul steps covered in a blue light that shines across the dance floor and onto the stage where a band kit is set up. I can tell from the Leslie speaker and Hammond organ and the way they got their sound set up its going be hot. I check the kick drum it says The Signatures.
The tracks build and build, some I know, some I don’t, but I’m rushing on the feeling of happiness each track brings. Each story takes you back to a time when music was designed to lift your soul to epic highs.
The story-lines are not complicated but they take you through a full spectrum of life’s ups n downs or love and loss. It’s not just Detroit artists and flip sides of hard to find Motown classics, Frankie Valley And The Four Seasons singing ‘The Night’ a dance floor symphony, that kicks in with one of the most killer baselines of all time, and harmonies that Queen would of been proud to have recorded.
Helen Shepero ‘Tell Me What He Said’, The Flirtations ‘Nothing But A Heartache’
Chris Clark ‘Loves Gone Bad’, Nolan Porter, If I Could Only Be Sure, The Capitals ‘Cool Jerk’ I could go on with the set list, but to get the picture you would need to be on the floor feeling the pure joy these tracks give when there flying out of the bass bins.
Looking across the floor at the dancers there is no let up to the energy, faces of all ages seeing no boundaries or division is a rare sight in the world we now live in.
The scene reminds me of the House Music movement of the late 80’s to the Mid 90’s where love and the music was the order of the night, people came together from all sections of society, there was peace on the terraces for a moment. The Northern Soul scene has survived 40 years in tact, unlike the House scene which sadly evaporated after the 90’s.
There is movement on the stage and the band start to pick their instruments up and the focus of the crowd moves, while they limber up waiting for their moment to take the night to the next level.
Another amazing part of the scene is the mixture of Djs and Live Band combinations. Sometimes a live act can kill a night if they don’t get how to build a set like the Dj’s know so well how to pull off. Gladly there no such issues here as UK s finest Funk Soul band punch hard their first number which is a version of Frankie Vally ‘The Night’ we just heard on a 45 vinyl cut.
This is a band that gets the groove and know their trade, like soldiers going into battle. They are led by a young blue eye soul boy Stefan Taylor who has the range of an angel fearing nothing in his delivery of countless classics.
The Signatures build and build their set filling the dance floor from the onset and not letting them go. Every player does their bit to put on a world class show.
They hand the ball back to Russ Winstanley who lifts the crowd with more rare finds from the past 40 years of DJ service, shortly the band return with Lorriane Silver who graced the charts at 13 years old back in 1965 With ‘Lost Summer Love’.
She became the Northern Soul Legend after Russ started playing it at Wigan Casino in the 70’s and became a big hit again when he released it on the Casino label. She’s been on the road ever since playing to millions of people over the years, tonight she does the scene proud as she did back in the day.
It’s round one done on night one, we got a whole day till round two, tonight is going to be special as Bobby Wilson is on the bill. I wasn’t sure what to expect once we found out it was actually Jackie Wilsons son doing a set of his fathers hits.
Russ and Ian build the sets again and the same energy fills the room, this is unlike anything in the world, the love is rising in the room.
Once again the band come on and boom, we are about to see the a glimpse of what Jackie was like in his prime.
All resplendent in that 60’s Do Woop, uber cool look, set back hair with short sides, slick suits and killer dancing shoes.
Bobby comes in with ‘Reet Petite’ and doesn’t let up till ‘Higher And Higher’ which has the floor dancing with their jaws on the floor. The guy is a ball of energy and just oozes cool just like Jackie.
Another night goes by and the energy is buzzing off the walls. The beautiful thing about the scene is how people talk to you and want to know where your from. ‘I hear the words Northern People are more friendly’, this is no lie.
Southerners do not know how to party like they do up North. Thing about Southerners is they are too busy trying to be cool and all Ray Winston to actually have a good time.
Northern people are real and theres no act going on here they are witty, friendly and know their music more than anywhere else on the planet. In truth all the big scenes in the UK have come from up North.
Sunday day three of an already killer weekend and Russ has organised a Q N A with the artists, Bobby Wilson, Lorraine Silver and the absolute legend Tommy Hunt who is touching his mid 80s, dropping more names than a bookie selling horses from Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye the list is endless. I ask a couple of Qs about how Bobby found out he was related to Jackie as he was adopted and only found out after he was in the US navy that his blood line was R N B gold.
The night follows and more killer grooves which have just built from the Friday night to the last night not one bad tune. We are treated to a set from Tommy Hunt who at his age is a miracle he can hold a note, but he is still punching. He is a beautiful soul, at his core just emits love and he tells us to do that classic look around and ‘tell somebody you love them’ routine, which English people normally find hard to do unless they are a few drinks down the road.
The set builds into a final finale where all the acts from the weekend come out and sing the Frank Wilson classic ‘Do I Love You’ which is such an emotional sight, seeing Tommy Hunt doing this and for how much longer who knows.
Jackie Wilson’s son bringing a ghost to life and the new young cats The Signatures holding the baton for the future of the Northern Soul scene, was a moment you held a tear for what has been and what might be to follow in these uncertain times.
I’m not one for too much nostalgia but in the world we now live in I would be happy to rewind and go back to a time where music and art where the great escape.
As I write this I can still picture the scene and feel the magic of the weekend.
I still have the song playing in my head as I write this little thank you to Russ and the crew for making so many people happy over the years.
‘Do I Love You Indeed I Do’
Northern Soul Weekender
Nottingham Thoresby Hall
Starring Russ Winstanley, Ian Lavine,Alan King,Bobby Willson,Lorraine Silver, Tommy Hunt and The Signatures