The Northern Soul:
Stoke on Trent: Creating Success from Failure
‘Sometimes I feel I've got to, run away, I've got to get away’. So, sang Gloria Jones on the original 1965 version of, Tainted Love, a Northern Soul anthem that synth duo, Soft Cell would later turn into an electro-pop classic.
Northern Soul began life sometime in the mid sixties, mostly in northern industrial towns and cities such as Stoke on Trent, Manchester and Wigan. Championed by working class youth, it rapidly became popular, providing an outlet for the pent-up energy and creative spirit of a postwar generation hellbent on waving goodbye to years of austerity. During this period the, Golden Torch in Tunstall became a mecca for dance and music enthusiasts that helped define Northern Soul’s style and attitude. Stoke on Trent thus played an important role in the development of a unique, grass roots art form that is still celebrated across the world.
Article: Gary Hurlstone
After its licence was refused in the early seventies, the Torch fell into decline, eventually being destroyed in a fire. For a while though, it was central to the formation of this burgeoning movement. A plaque in Phoenix Street, close to Tunstall’s Tower Square, is all that remains of this former, home of soul—a reminder of past glories and collective passion for a style of dance and music that has formed the building blocks of lifetime friendship for its devotees. ‘Keeping the Faith,’ became the mantra for a generation of pioneers, young people that eschewed the safe, sanitised corporate approved product pushed at them by big labels. They had dreams and designs of their own.
Northern Soul, initially the antithesis of commercial mainstream, must have been a marketing nightmare. It favoured artists who had failed the commerciality test— in fact the more obscure the recording, the more highly prized a
Above: Stencil on the wall next to the former, Golden Torch.
record became. It drew energy from soul music discarded by major labels and turned failure into success for many disregarded artists. This fact, perhaps more than anything else this movement has achieved, should be a source of great pride, not just for the people that created it, but also for the City that supported it: Stoke on Trent.
As a grass-roots, ‘bottom up’ movement, young people from the factory floor became the new artist and repertoire (AR) department. They decided who would, and who would not be part of the music and dance genre they were creating. Part of Northern Soul’s attraction lay in the power exercised by the consumer of music. The boys in their baggies and the swirly- skirt-girls, listened to what they judged to be good and worthwhile, not what they had been encouraged to like. Thus, the former pot banks, steel mills and coal mines of Stoke on Trent, became vox pop stages for discussion about music, fashion, dance and the next important event on the calendar.
Committed dance enthusiasts continue to ‘keep the faith’ with their dancefloor roots, not just in the UK but as far afield as south-east Asia as well. Soul nights are now regularly held at up market club events in Japan, a thriving hub of Northern Soul activity. Regular events in the UK also still celebrate this unique creation with, ‘all-nighters’ that encourage dancers to show off their athleticism and moves. The former, secret society of soul is now a shared global phenomenon. New generations of devotees still champion its cause. Northern Soul is still very much alive. At the heart of this success are the people of Stoke on Trent. It is they that can proudly claim to have given a home to this unique dance tribe phenomenon and created success from failure.
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