YouTube poster Edge78a from Burton on Trent, England, has generously offered to help me understand the characteristics of Northern Soul. Mark, as he is also known, is allowing me to pass his information on to you, so here is a first installment, to be quickly followed by a list of tracks to use as a study guide to understanding the Northern Soul beat.” My personal interpolations into Mark’s information (below) can be identified by italics enclosed in brackets.
What characterizes Northern Soul music is an “extremely hard to define” beat. [It would be wonderful if those of you reading could contribute here, identifying specific qualities of the Northern Soul beat.]
Most of the music is mid-to-fast tempo music by Black American soul singers of the Sixties and Seventies. Some of the artists, however, are not Black, and not all the music would generally be termed “soul.”
The Northern Soul Movement developed in the north of England in the mid-Sixties among working class youths of all races who were fans of soul music of a mid-to-fast tempo. The original venue was a Manchester, England, club called the Twisted Wheel, which in 1964 featured a mixture of R&B, soul, and Jamaican ska.
The term “Northern Soul” came about because the north and south of England, culturally divided in many ways, also favored different types of soul music. The most famous venues have all been in the north of England: Wigan Casino (1973-1981), Blackpool Mecca, Samantha’s (Sheffield), The Ritz (Leeds), and the Torch (Stoke on Trent), although there is a Northern Soul club in London called the 100 Club.
In order to find the particular beat they craved, adherents of Northern Soul sought out obscure US releases that had not been marketed in the UK. There is now a major collectors’ market for the vinyl copies of these tracks.
Check for Mark’s “study guide” of twenty tracks in Northern Soul (Part Three).