Northern Soul

Northern Soul logo

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Northern soul is not so much a genre of music as a retro fad — one of the very first — which began in the North of England in the late 1960s and involved dancing all night to obscure soul records of the mid-Sixties. It grew and thrived through the next decade, as thousands of young Brits made their way to ballrooms in order to celebrate relatively unknown soul records — mainly from Detroit but also Los Angeles, Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans as well — from the decade before. Though the original phenomenon died in the early Eighties, the movement continues today in the slogans and dance moves it created.

A New Kind of Popularity

Northern soul generally refers to the soul music of the mid-Sixties and always to obscure 45 singles which did not receive much airplay in England or America. The obscure soul classics they loved were often uptempo (though an occasional mid-tempo song would work itself in) and would ape the popular Motown sound. All northern soul songs share a certain glamorous and glossy, even romantic quality. But the beats are always constant: driving and frantic.

In the late 1960s, large swaths of Brits still preferred the smoother dance music sounds of Motown soul to the burgeoning funk music of the time. Because of this, a small record shop in Covent Garden, London called Soul City began sub-classifying the wide soul category by "Northern soul" and funk —with Brits largely preferring the former — in 1958. In Machester, the Twisted Wheel club featured live performances of newly popular northern soul discoveries.

Dance Culture

Like the ravers of later generations, the northern soul dancers rarely drank alcohol on their nights out, preferring the rush of amphetamine pills or "uppers." As a natural outgrowth of the Mod movement of a few years earlier, they were naturally dressed sharp and often wore badges sewn on their vests denoting their favorite clubs or ballrooms as well as favorite northern soul slogans that developed over the years. The badges often depicted a clenched fist logo, typically underlined by the words "Keep the Faith," which was transferred by the Black Power movement that the records of the time often depicted.

Even as recently as 2015, the imagery and the music persist. A lawsuit was filed against one of the original Manchester clubs for attempting to use the logo on its merchandise, blocking the club from completing the production of handbags, wallets, and t-shirt with the trademark clenched fist symbol on them. Due largely to the advent of social media and discussion forums, the northern soul has seen a resurgence in the early 2010s, again in Northern England.