Northern Soul may have been an underground cult in the 1970s but it was still able to get songs in the charts. Tami Lynn originally recorded this in 1965 but it wasn’t a hit until 1971 when it’s popularity in the Northern clubs crossed over into the mainstream and eventually to #4 in the UK charts. This happened again a couple of years later with Robert Knight’s “Love On A Mountain Top”. Can anyone think of any more?
Caroline Polachek was the lead singer of synthpop group Chairlift until they split up in 2017. She has previously put out solo music using different names but just released her first album under her own name. Titled Pang, it’s a lush collection of dreamy electronic pop like sinking into a warm digital bath.
I saw this lot at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978 which was the second concert I ever went to and still the only metal gig I’ve seen. I remember it was so loud it made my jaw hurt, and when I remarked on the volume to the metal-head school friends I had gone with, they laughed and said “This is nothing! You should have been here for Ted Nugent and Motörhead!”
It was 7:15 in the evening on Friday the 3rd of December, 1982. I know because I still have the ticket.
Originally published January 2010
I was at one the The Jam’s farewell shows at Wembley Arena and even though I was only 20 myself at the time I felt like one of the oldest people there as the hall seemed to be full of 14-year-old boys wearing cheap Parkas that looked like their Mum had bought them in Millets. It was like being in the audience for Crackerjack or an England Schoolboys football game, and for the first time in my life the words “bloody kids” came into my head and I had that awful feeling of smug superiority that I had been a Jam fan from way, way, way back, long before they were stadium-playing superstars – four years at least! Where were all these spotty little bandwagon-jumpers then, huh? Mucking about with their Tonka Toys probably. I had to fight the urge to grab one of them by the Parka and say “Of course, they were so much better at The Rainbow in ’78. I was there, you know” as if I was some grizzled old hippie droning on about Woodstock.
Several massive hit singles and a Mod revival had happened since that last gig and my mate and I both came to the the rather snotty conclusion that we understood why Weller was breaking up the group if this was their audience now which is exactly the sort of condescending attitude you’d expect from a 20-year-old who thinks he knows it all (don’t they all?) — and selling out Wembley five nights in a row wasn’t very “punk” was it?
But looking back now I feel bad for those kids. They were at the age when they were starting to get into music seriously and I can imagine how important The Jam were to them because I remember that feeling well myself. Paul Weller was your hero and you would hang on his every word for tips on what to wear, what to read, what old records to buy, even how to vote. And then — maybe in the same week you bought a George Orwell novel because Paul mentioned him in an NME interview — the bastard went and broke the band up. Who did that leave you with? Secret Affair??? That’s like losing a pound and finding a penny — well, 50p maybe.
I don’t remember much about the actual gig itself apart from Weller angrily smashing up his guitar Pete Townsend-style after he tripped over his guitar lead, and Bruce hanging around on the stage waving to the crowd at the end long after Paul had buggered off. But I do have a bootleg of the concert from the night before at Wembley which is about as close as I’ll ever get to recreating that magical night when I became an old git.
Was there ever a social situation more stressful and ripe for humiliation and embarrassment than asking a girl to slow dance? Walking across that dancefloor to approach some young lady with the question often felt like climbing out of a trench in WWI and crossing No Man’s Land to face the enemy guns and certain death.
The “slowie” was a fixture at every club and disco (or “meat market” if you’d prefer) I went to in my teens and early 20s where the music was secondary to getting off with the opposite sex. They always played a few at the end of the evening so you knew it was coming and had time to scout around for potential candidates and maybe try to impress her in advance with your dancefloor moves to the faster songs. You’d need a few pints of Dutch Courage before you could work up the nerve (but not too many, you didn’t want to fall all over the poor girl) and when the moment came you’d go up to her trying to act all nonchalant and pretend it was no skin off your nose if she did or not — one thing my more sexually-successful friends always told me was that girls hate a bloke who seems too keen. But of course I did care, and if she turned me down I might ask someone else, but more often than not I’d slink back to the bar for a lonely pint where I stood and enviously watched all the jammy bastards who’d managed to score.
But occasionally you got lucky and she’d say “yes” so you’d have the few minutes the record lasted (and maybe another one) to make the most of the opportunity. If things were going well and you were feeling brave (or just drunk) you’d let your hands slowly and gingerly make their way down her back until — if she raised no objection — they rested happily on her bottom. Most of the time it never went any further than that, and when the record ended she’d say “thanks” and go back to her mates never to be seen again, but occasionally you’d get a phone number or even a snog out of it and go home with a satisfied smile on your face. No matter how depressingly unsuccessful you usually were, it was that possibility which kept you coming back weekend after weekend, ready to go through the same painful ritual all over again.
If I had to pick one slow record that was the definitive soundtrack to the British high street disco experience, and that end-of-the-evening feeling when air was thick with the scent of Paco Rabanne, sweat, lager, and Silk Cut, it would be this one.
Just hearing that clipped guitar intro I can see myself standing at the bar in some chrome-and-carpet disco pub, everyone around me is busy coupling up and hitting the dancefloor while I’m still trying to summon up the nerve to make a move on some lucky girl.
But if Spandau aren’t your cup of tea these were always good for a slow dance too. Lots of memories here, mostly frustrating ones.
What is it with the British and soul music? Why did we fall so truly, madly, deeply in love with it, worship even its most obscure artists and form so many cults and lifestyles around its every permutation? I doubt if there’s another country in world with such an obsession.
The most obvious expression of this love affair was the huge popularity of Tamla Motown which seemed to be adored by everyone in England from sharp-dressed Mods to mums and dads. Growing up, Motown songs always seemed to be coming out of a transistor radio somewhere — usually introduced by the chirpy voice of Tony Blackburn — and I don’t think I entered a house that didn’t have a copy of Motown Chartbusters on the shelf, Volume 6 with it’s bizarre Roger Dean cover was especially popular.
So it was only natural that next to her Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett albums my mother should have a copy of the 1968 compilation “The Motown Sound: A Collection Of 16 Original Big Hits Vol.6”. I’ve no idea what was on the other albums in this series (I can’t find any of them online and the American version has a completely different track listing) but the thing I love about it (especially now) is that only about three tracks on it were big hits while the rest is made up of more obscure numbers which gives it the feel of a from-the-vaults rarities collection rather than a package of chart smashes.
Little did I know when I was a little kid jumping around our living room to the fabulous, rousing “I Got A Feeling” by Barbara Randolph that I was enjoying a cult tune that was filling the floors of Northern Soul clubs. It wasn’t until the Mod revival in the late 70s when I “rediscovered” the album, dusty and half-forgotten in our sideboard, that I realized it was probably the hippest record my mother owned.
My other favourite track was the ballad “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” by Rita Wright which even as a kid I thought was heartbreaking (I was a softy even then). Though I didn’t know then that “Rita Wright” was later better known by her real name Syreeta (and for a while as Mrs. Stevie Wonder), how this was never a hit either is beyond me as it’s utterly gorgeous.