Member of the TAMG community, Steven Jones, shares his account of making the pilgrimage from Llanraheadr-ym-Mochnant to Wigan in a quest to Keep The Faith…
As a teenager, I lived a world away from the industrial heartlands of northern England and the Midlands. I grew up in a small village in deepest rural Mid Wales – a predominantly Welsh-speaking farming community, 20 miles away from the nearest railway station.
Many of my contemporaries were active members of the local Young Farmers’ Club. By the time I reach my mid-to-late teens, I was attending a very different kind of club – one that involved 80-mile pilgrimages to the then heart of Lancashire and the ‘Heart of Soul’.
My love of soul music started when I was a young boy, listening for most of the time (in those pre-24/7, multi-channel telly days) to my mother’s kitchen radio. The soundtrack to my childhood was delivered mainly courtesy of pirate stations and Radio Luxembourg.
I distinctly recall her love (as a young woman herself) of Motown in particular. The sounds of Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and Four Tops filled the house and undoubtedly triggered within me, a love for soul music that has stayed with me to this day.
As I grew older, I imbibed different musical genres but the constant has always been soul.
For a teenager in pre-internet days, music newspapers and magazines were the only way to discover about what was happening in the music world. Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Blues and Soul and Black Music were the ‘stables’ if you wanted to know what was going on. These were the main vehicles to find out what was ‘in’ and what was ‘out’.
It was through the latter two publications that I first heard of something called ‘Northern Soul’ and it was through their advertisement pages where I was first able to get my hands on imported vinyl singles from the USA – ‘Northern’ sounds that I could actually play at home in Wales.
Specialist record shops operated a mail-order system – the principal of these being Selectadisc of Nottingham. You would send off your postal order and wait. Then a week or so later, the padded cardboard package would arrive through the post. I can’t remember my first Northern Soul record purchase but over the months and years that followed, I built up a fair collection – many of which I still own.
It was at this time – through reading and listening (and yes, honing some dance moves in my bedroom) – that I discovered that none of what I was relishing, was actually new. The generation immediately preceding my own had enjoyed their own scene – a ‘niche’ sub-culture that had developed exclusively in the industrial towns of the north of England and Midlands.
I read with fascination about the legendary clubs such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent and The Catacombs in Wolverhampton.
Fortunately for me in the mid-seventies, a second wave of Northern Soul was burgeoning – a scene that was focused mainly on the Casino Club in Wigan. A scene for my generation.
At that point, my journey there seemed inevitable. By now, I was drawn like a moth to a light.
I first began going to all-nighters Wigan in 1976. Although my visits weren’t many in number, each time I went, it was always something very special indeed.
For a start, physically getting to Wigan (on a Saturday night) from where I lived in Mid Wales was quite a task in itself. The journey involved catching three trains (Gobowen to Chester / Chester to Warrington / Warrington to Wigan) and the same in reverse on the Sunday morning.
I’ll never forget arriving outside the Casino for the first time and seeing the queue waiting to go in. On a good night, (legend has it) there would be 2,000 people there. I have no idea if that was true but what I do know is, people came from all over the UK – sometimes by the busload – all attracted by the same ‘light’. There was also superb camaraderie about it. We all knew we were a part of something very different and very special at that precise moment in time.
The DJs who played a Wigan were not household names or celebrity DJs like today. However, to those who went to Wigan the likes of Russ Winstanley, Richard Searling, Keith Minshull, Dave Evison and Pep will never be forgotten.
Wigan Casino had a certain cachet that would be unrecognisable for young people today. For a start, it would be inconceivable to attend a club on a Saturday night that sold no alcohol. However at the Casino, there was no alcohol license!
None of that was important. Going to Wigan was all about the music and the dancing – nothing else mattered. When I emerged exhausted at 8.00 am – blinded and blinking by the Sunday morning sunlight, all I could think about was the “next time”.
I’m now a man in my early 60s but the memories of those days and the genuine feeling of part of something unique and special, has stayed with me all my life.
Thank you Wigan. This Welshman will never forget.
Diolch yn fawr.