In March this year, Natalie Simm caught up with 22 year old Tom Dacey, a Northern Soul enthusiast and dancer, hailing from Burnley, Lancashire.
Now in 2014, with the release of a new film called Northern Soul, the dancing is as popular as ever, both among the older generations who were the originals and the young of today.
Walking into a working men’s club that’s been around since the dawn of time in Burnley was like walking into another world. Almost as if it was a well kept secret. A man and a woman covered the dance floor like they owned it, it was only 6.30pm and not many people were there. They danced like nobody was watching, and it was gripping. To tear your eyes away gave you a feeling that you were missing something special.
Northern Soul is a freestyle dance, there are certain moves, but you can’t tell for certain what’s going to happen next. A dance and music movement that has its roots in the 1960’s and once a huge trend, you’d find women put their handbags down, men hang their jackets up and side step, spin and skid until the early hours.
With clubs and regular chart music the norm for most young people, Northern Soul offers something different to the younger generation, as well as it being something old and traditional to the North.
A little while later, with the floor filling up, there was one person who caught the eye. All the dancers had exceedingly good talent and obvious experience dancing the steps of Northern Soul, but this particular dancer stood out because he was a good 20 years younger than the rest. Taking him off the dance floor seemed like sacrilege, for him and those watching, but I needed to know how he knew those moves.
He tells of how he first got into Northern soul at the age of 13: “it started off with just the music, my mum was originally into it back when it was first around in the 70s, and then when my dad and she met she lost it ‘cause he wasn’t into it.
“Then about 9 years ago my mum met who was my step dad called Graham Brownbill, he was a scooter lad, he used to go to Wigan Casino.”
Wigan Casino is a renowned Northern Soul venue in the North, in 1973 it hosted its first ever all-nighter event where dancers queued for hours and danced all night. All-nighters are events that still happen and Northern Soul dancers travel in their droves to them. There are dancers who turn up to almost every Northern Soul event around the North, no matter how big or small.
“ I think my first one [event] was about five years ago but it was just like an odd thing that I did. About two or three years ago I started going to a few local do’s. I had a few tracks that my mum liked and I thought yeah, yeah, they’re quite good those, and then as soon as I started going to do’s all the time, it just started getting better and better and better. I started collecting records then. I do a bit of dj’ing now.”
In 2013, pop artist and fellow Notherner John Newman encouraged the dance to become popular again when it featured in his video for Love me again.
Similarly, Newman also got into Northern Soul through his mother, at just 23, Newman is a young soulie himself. He used to go to Wigan Pier, where it then became famous amongst the younger generation for Hard House music, but where his mother in her younger years had danced to Northern Soul.
John said: “Everything I heard there just got me into house music and through that I started listening to my mum’s records…”
With Northern Soul coming back into popular culture, it’s no surprise Tom enjoys it. The dancing can also be seen in Pharrell’s performance at this year’s Brit Awards.
Barely skimming over the floor, the dancers at Fulledge Conservative Club kept their smooth moves up all night, only letting up for five minutes at a time to grab a quick drink. The dance is exciting and brilliant all at the same time, but it’s not a case of ‘dance and do what you want’, there are certain rules when it comes to Northern Soul.
“I suppose there’s etiquette about soul dos.” says Tom.
“You don’t take drinks onto the floor, you don’t cut across the dance floor to get to the other side you walk around it, you just give each other space and if you step on someone’s foot by accident, just say sorry, so it’s all friendly, but then you’ll get a few knob heads.”
There are of course people who like the music, but don’t live for the movement, it isnt’ a part of their everyday life and they aren’t completely consumed by the music. Tom explains how to spot the true soulies from those who just happen to be around at the time.
“…some people who aren’t really soulies and, it’s a bit of a derogatory term but we call them handbaggers. A lot of people just come up on a whim and say ‘oh let’s go for a soul night’.
They’re nicknamed handbaggers ‘cause they put their hangbang in the middle of the floor and dance round ‘em, and it just gets a bit stupid, cause they bring drinks onto the floor.”
Now we know why there’s a dance floor etiquette, because the handbaggers get in the way of the soulies and Northern Soul dancing gets messy, when it’s got the smoothest 4/4 up tempo motown moves you could ever imagine.
In the Love me again video, there’s a lot of dust clouds and Tom was one of the only people at the Conservative Club to create a dust cloud. Talcum powder was the reason for it, but what was the need for it?
The talc is for people who don’t wear leather soled shoes as “they’re slippy anyway, and most of the floors are polished wood, but some people like to slide a lot more than stepping and the talc helps to move.”
“It makes it a smoother surface and you can shift more, so it doesn’t break your ankles.”
Tom is part of a group called the Wigan Young Souls which are taking the scene by storm. They have been featured on BBC One’s The One Show and are getting dj spots all around the country. They’ve got their own club in Wigan and dj all around the country.
“It’s good that more young people are into it because eventually, everyone who was original on the scene will die out, and it needs to be passed on to younger people so it can still fill a room.
“If I didn’t like fancing as much I could sit there and just watch people all night.”