Soul of the North

I remember leaving Central Park after the Wigan v Warrington game in 1973 and as I made my way back to the railway station, a youth handed me a leaflet bearing the words ‘Northern Soul All-Nighter’ an event to be held at Wigan Casino. I remember saying to my dear wife Primrose that this should be a very entertaining evening.

To my mind, the Northern Soul conjured up images of great northern folk such as George Formby the hugely entertaining ukulele maestro from Wigan, the amazingly humorous comedian Al Reed from Manchester, Rochdale’s wonderful songbird Gracie Fields, Liverpool’s Tommy Handley whose funny and witty ITMA radio shows brightened up the dark days of the Blitz. I had hoped there might be performances by some of the colliery brass bands from all over Lancashire and Yorkshire, and old newsreels of some of the great rugby league teams of bygone ages, but none of this was to be.

We arrived at the Wigan Casino to find the place full of gyrating teenagers performing all manner of gymnastics in time with what I was informed is known as ‘soul’ music. The floor was covered in talcum powder which in no time was all over my plus fours and had even found its way into the thermos flask and sandwiches which were in my overcoat pocket.

After some hours of waiting for the entertainment to begin, I headed over to where several gentlemen were placing records onto their record players. “Excuse me!” I said, “This so-called music which you are playing appears to be mainly of American origin. Do you have anything by the Birkenhead and District Brass Band, or the Westhaughton Light Opera Society?”

Now this seemed like a reasonable request and I was genuinely surprised to be told “Sod off granddad!” I brought my walking stick up, and smashed the disc which was spinning away on his turntable. “You stupid old duffer!” said the D.J “Do you realise that was ’Do I Love You’ by Frank Wilson?” “Frank Wilson who once played for St Helens and who coached Runcorn Highfield to their highest ever league place?” I enquired. “No, Frank Wilson the Motown singer. That record was an original copy and worth thousands of pounds.” he growled. With that, I prodded him with my pipe and proceeded to lecture him on the beauty of the game of Rugby League and how privileged he should feel coming from one of the great northern towns.

I must say, the staff at Wigan General Hospital were superb. Within a matter of minutes of having my pipe removed from my nose, I was awake and fully conscious. I was informed by a friendly nurse that the bed I occupied had once been used by the great Billy Boston when he had an ingrown toenail removed during the 1958 off-season. My joy was complete!

The evening had not been a total waste of time, but let me tell you: if ever you are tempted to turn up at a Northern Soul event, be forewarned that there will be little to do with rugby league, nothing about brass bands, no mention at all of the great regiments of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumberland or Westmoreland and if you will take my advice, you will spend the evening at home with your pipe, some rough shag and a Houghton Weavers L.P.

M. Cheshire, Warringtonnn