Fancy a dance class in Surrey Paul?
Now that’s a long way from Nottingham just for a class, so let me explain. Because my daughters and Best Mate Neil live that way, I actually do a lot of dancing in Surrey. Through my many visits to Ceroc Surrey’s Byfleet venue I’ve actually got to know DJ Kevin Hill quite well. Kevin knows I’m a bit of a Soul Boy, and so invited me to a Soul night at the Wednesday class in Mytchett with a guest Northern Soul DJ.
A quick call to my daughters confirmed I could meet up with them, and Neil was free too. Neil being free is always a good thing as he lives in a very nice house by The Thames, and I get to treat it like a Four Star Hotel. There is down side of going dancing with Neil though. He always wants to go in his sports car with the roof down.
Do we really have to have the roof down? We won’t get any more dances just because we arrive in an open top sports car, and you know it plays havoc with my hair.
Neil doesn’t have much hair, so the wind blowing through it at 70 mph on The M3 is not a problem. In any case it’s all part of a later mid-life crisis – so get over it Paul!
Reliving our youth
Now I mention Neil’s devotion to driving round the Surrey countryside in an open top car for a reason. You see it’s part of the ‘Reliving your Youth’ thing, that afflicts many of us, particularly once our children take up less of our time. Ceroc and many other formats of dancing, benefit from this desire to revisit a time when we were a lot younger and life was a little more exciting.
When you find yourself dancing to a track from your school days, just close your eyes – in an instant you are sixteen, fit and healthy. After the dance ends you might feel a little strain in your muscles, but you can’t help feeling uplifted. It’s the desire to dance to the music of our youth that has fuelled the growth of Motown and Northern Soul retro dance nights.
A Northern dance cult spreads South
The resurgence of Northern Soul has been something of a revelation. Not only has it given a nostalgic fix to Soul Boys and Gals, it has seemingly been taken up by a new generation of dancers who love its no nonsense beat. But to my surprise Northern Soul’s popularity has spread beyond its birth pace in the bleak northern industrial cities of The ’70s, to envelope areas of Southern Britain including leafy Surrey.
Next weekend I’ll be at Ceroc’s Southport Weekender. One of the most loved specialty slots will be Tim Sant-Turner’s Motown and Northern Soul Hour.
In amongst the people dancing Ceroc in couples, will be a group of dancers who congregate around Tim’s decks, doing their own individual Northern Soul moves.
A few weeks later they will turn up again at the Camber Sands Ceroc Weekender.
Northern Soul created the concept of 24 hour dancing with their all-dayers back in the ’70s, and now non-stop weekenders feed the appetite of a new breed of Soul Boy and Gal who’ve joined the original brigade of dancers. We aren’t the only people dancing until silly o’clock at weekenders- Right on Soul Brothers.
Let’s hear some of this great dance music.
When Kevin and fellow DJ Michaela Kingshott were putting the idea of their Soul Night together, they decided to invite local Northern Soul DJ Sid Marshall to play a guest slot. Here’s one of Sid’s great tracks. Not only does the video give you a flavour of the music itself, but it also shows the distinctive style of Northern Soul Dancing. I think a lot of the video footage is actually from modern day Northern Soul gigs.
I’ll talk more about the origins of the Northern Soul dance music catalogue later, but here’s a little background to Sid’s pick of Jeanette by Wade Flemons. The track was recorded in 1968 by Flemons, who would join up with Maurice White in 1970, and form the Salty Peppers group that would later morph in to Earth Wind and Fire.
I love finding the links, like that of Flemons and White that run through the history of dance music. The joy this music brings on the dance floor was created by associations that we often have no idea of, and it’s nice to think that the contribution of people like Flemons is not forgotten.
This dance scene always needs fresh ideas
I have often spoken of the problems of sustaining this wonderful Ceroc and Modern Jive dance scene. It needs two things above all else. The first is new entrants, the second is fresh ideas how to excite people and keep them interested. The introduction of the Motown and Northern Soul Hours at Ceroc Weekenders is one such idea.
Ceroc Surrey’s joyous Soul and Disco nights at Aldershot is another (see link to review below). The fancy dress themed freestyles and class nights all help sustain the numbers at these events. Inviting a Northern Soul DJ to share the spinning duties was another worthy idea.
Kevin and Michaela give Mytchett a boost
Speaking to people I get the impression that the Mytchett class has a reasonable turnout but Kevin and Michaela wanted to give it a boost. Their idea certainly did that, and they gained an almost additional fifty extra people through the door. To get such extra numbers to a mid-week class is some achievement.
Of course a lot of hard work went in to promoting the Soul Night and getting the word out. If there’s one thing that helps spread the word it is enthusiasm, and Kevin seems to have plenty of the stuff. The Soul night was promoted on the Ceroc Surrey Facebook Page, but Kevin went the extra mile pushing it on his own page. His posting shows his enthusiasm.
I know that many venues promote their venues with equal enthusiasm, but that’s not to take anything away from Kevin’s effort in promoting the event. I suspect that Kevin ensured that news of the Soul Night was spread at the surrounding Ceroc classes and the whole Ceroc Surrey organisation got on board. Such enthusiasm can be infectious and a more than doubling of the regular numbers was a just reward.
An impressively delivered Beginners Lesson
Before I go any further I want to recognise the contribution of teacher Julie Manning. With themed evenings it’s important to try and squeeze the lessons down to give a bit more freestyle time – they certainly don’t want to over run.
What really impressed me was the way Julie delivered the Beginners Class. Julie must have knocked about ten minutes off, but the lesson was still as well taught as the best I’ve seen during my time as a reviewer.
So impressed was I with the lesson that I found Julia for a chat during the later freestyle session. Julie told me that she was herself a guest teacher, and normally teaches at neighbouring franchise Ceroc Plus at their Fleet and Alton Classes. Oh, and before I forget, thanks Julia for the wonderful dance.
Perhaps a Northern Soul dance class might work
For the Intermediate Class Julia had come up with a fun routine that tried to capture the spirit of Northern Soul dancing. Not an easy ask. I couldn’t help thinking whether the answer might have been to teach the rudiments of Northern Soul dancing. I remember going to a Northern Soul class at a Ceroc Southport Weekender. It was packed.
Now I know that Northern Soul, like its cousin Disco Dancing, is done without a partner, but for one night I don’t think that matters. The class was a whole lot of fun and went down extremely well. If a Northern Soul lesson is thought a good idea, it does need some care. Many Northern Soul dancers would struggle to explain just how they do what they do. The Southport lesson was very structured and got as far explaining the typical Northern Soul spinning technique.
Michaela gets the party started
I should say here that the music in the freestyle session wasn’t just Northern Soul. The night was advertised as a mixture of Motown, Soul and Northern Soul, and included some disco gems from the ’70s, and ’80s. As Kevin was on Taxi duties Michaela took on the main DJing role.
Michaela kicked the party off with one of my all time favourite ’80s disco tracks – The Four Tops Going loco in Acapulco. This joyous track was co-written by Phil Collins, and was featured in the soundtrack for the film Collins starred in – Buster, about the Great Train Robber.
By the time the Four Tops recorded this song they had been left Motown for some time, but Levi Stubbs still delivers an immaculate performance on lead vocals, and as ever the track was a joy to dance to. The video has clips of the recording of the song and from the film.
Michaela show her Soul Girl roots
Michaela is a bit of a Soul Gal herself and will always slip a Motown or Northern Soul track in to her playlist. On Wednesday night she had a bit more freedom and served up some great dance tracks from the past including Stevie Wonder’s break out Motown track Uptight (Everything is alright) and The Communards ’80s reworking of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes Don’t leave me this way.
Both these tracks got stars against them, in my note book, depicting great dances, but I want to feature a funk filled track from the ’70s that gave me one of the best dances of the night. Now I loved the simple four-four time Motown dance tracks from The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and The Temptations, but come the ’70s I was ready for something else. That something else was James Brown, who almost single handed invented funk dance music.
In 1970 Brown, now dubbed The Godfather of Funk, released his anthem Get up I feel like being a Sex Machine, but in 1976 he released a track that I think surpasses it for sheer funk enjoyment. So Michaela, for playing Get up offa that thing you get this month’s Funk Master Award.
James Brown sparks a Northern Soul revolution
Now I mention James Brown for another reason. In many ways he, along with artists such as Stevie Wonder and record producers like Norman Whitfield, are indirectly responsible for Northern Soul. Back in the early ’70s the dance halls of Northern Britain rocked to the Motown Sound with its simple four-four beat. Of course music can’t stand still and Motown had to move on.
In the early ’70s artists like James Brown, along with Motown artists Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye developed a more funky feel to their music. The Temptations, Motown’s super group had to move on too. With Producer Norman Whitfield they followed this funkier trend with hits like ‘Cloud Nine’, and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’.
These tracks needed a different style of dancing, but the guys and gals in some Northern towns weren’t ready to move on, so DJs went over to The USA and discovered tracks that had the same classic Motown feel – indeed some of them were Motown tracks that never got a release. DJs returned from these trips with the records that would become the backbone of the Northern Soul Sound.
The discovery of the greatest Northern Soul track of all time
On one of these trips a DJ discovered a track that had never been released. The song was recorded in The Hitsville studio of Motown with The Funk Brothers adding their special magic. The singer Frank Wilson was one of Motown’s top writer/producers. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, was worried that he might lose Wilson if he became famous as a singer. The legend goes that Gordy had all the copies, but two, destroyed.
One of these copies was found by a Northern Soul DJ searching through filed away demo tapes at Motown, and the rest is history. Part of the emotion of dancing to this song, to some of us at least, is the realisation that without that discovery our dance journeys wouldn’t be complete. It fell to Guest DJ Sid Marshall to play this iconic Northern Soul track – Frank Wilson’s Do I love you (Indeed I do).
Guest DJ Sid serves up a Motown Favourite
Guest DJ Sid Marshal played some less known Northern Soul tracks – well at least to me – but in the midst of them was a personal Motown favourite. Hearing Barbara Randolph’s I got a feeling made me realise just how important themed nights like this are, for without them we would never get to dance to some great tracks that rarely see the light of day.
Many DJs will throw in the odd Motown track, but they tend to be the safe ones – The Four Tops I can’t help myself, The Temptations Get ready, and Martha Reeves’ Dancing in the street or Jimmy Mack (had a great dance to Jimmy Mack when Michaela played it by the way).
I’m amazed that more DJs don’t dig out this Barbara Randolph track. It has a true Motown pedigree being written by top writing team Holland-Dozier-Holland and a beat that’s so easy to connect with.
Sid enlightens me about Southern Soul
A special thanks then to Sid for I got a feeling. While Michaela took her turn on the decks, I got to speak to Sid about my surprise that a strong Northern Soul scene had took hold in the south of the country. Sid told me about some of the Northern Soul hot spots in the south:
I live in Bognor Regis and we have a really strong scene on the south coast. You can dance in Worthing and Brighton too.
Sid went on to tell me about a local venue that had an association with Northern Soul dating back to The ’70s:
One of the biggest Northern Soul venues in this area was Bisley Pavillion near Woking. It can trace its roots back to Northern Souls ’70s heyday.
By the ’80s Bisley had built quite a following, and it remained a well loved Northern Soul venue right up to its closure in 2016, when the site was redeveloped as a high class conference and wedding venue.
I’ll mention Bisley again a little later, but now I want to talk about the Northern Soul dancing on show.
Afterall Ceroc is a fusion of dance styles
It wasn’t long until people started to dance to Sid’s Northern Soul anthems in the very fashion that was developed all that time ago in northern clubs like The Twisted Wheel and Wigan Casino. I see no problem with this. After all Ceroc was developed out of a fusion of many dance genres, so why not mix in a little Northern Soul.
Back home in Nottingham, a town with its own Northern Soul history, several Modern Jive DJs play a 1976 track that was picked up by the Northern Soul jocks.
Don Covay’s ‘It’s better to have, and don’t need’ has a perfect beat for Ceroc and Modern Jive. When it comes on, after a short while, I’ll do a Man Spin and spin away from my partner. We will both start Northern Soul dancing.
We’ll then come together, and after a few more Modern Jive moves, I’ll once again break away, until we come back together for the remainder of the track.
I know which ladies to do this with, and its the greatest fun. There are quite a few other guys that mix in their Northern Soul dancing in amongst the Ceroc moves to this track. It’s as if the music demands it of us. That’s the power of Northern Soul sometimes. You’ll see it at the aforementioned Tim Sant-Turner Soul Hour at Southport next weekend.
Northern Soul dancers make great Ceroc dancers
Watching the dancing from the side, my eye caught sight of one lady dancing with great enthusiasm in the Northern Soul style. When I’m on my dance travels I often don’t know anyone in the room, as was the case on Wednesday night. One of the drawbacks of this is that I don’t know the ladies who will enjoy one of my full on dances.
As I suspected, the lady, who I now know as Linda, was a very accomplished Ceroc dancer, and we enjoyed a fabulous dance. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise how well Linda danced, because Northern Soul dancing is quite a challenging dance floor craft.
Northern Soul is not just the disco dancing you see at weddings or Christmas office parties. It’s a style of dancing that requires not just hours of practice but a passion for dance music.
Passion is what unites us
The very best Ceroc dancers also have the same passion for dancing. This passion is not something that’s easy to teach. I don’t think you are necessarily born with it, but it has to grow inside you. The first stage is to get the Dancing Bug, but it’s only the first step – you have to get a passion for dance music too.
It’s this passion that sent wave after wave of Northern Soul DJs to The States to find the tracks they could play in their night clubs. It’s this passion that recognised that Do I love you (Indeed I do) would turn in to be the biggest Northern Soul dance track of all time. Go to any retro Motown night and you’ll feel this passion every time this track is played.
I chatted with Linda about her own passion for Soul Music. We are of a similar age, and Linda like myself, gained her love of Soul Music on the dance floor:
I grew up in Brighton and a lot of Motown was played in the dance clubs.
Just as when I spoke with Sid, I had to admit to being a little surprised that the South Coast had a thriving Soul scene back in the day. Seems I learn something about dance music every day. Linda went on to tell me about one of the Northern Soul clubs she visited locally.
One of the best Northern Soul clubs around here was Bisley Pavillion.
This was the second time I’d heard about Bisley, so I decided to do a little research on line. I eventually came across this video that tells its own story of dance floor passion. Is the Ceroc and Modern Jive scene as passionate? I think so.
A little bit of Motown trivia
The song playing behind the Bisley Pavillion video is You’re my peace of mind by David Ruffin from 1977. Interestingly David Ruffin was the original lead singer of Motown super group The Temptations – it’s his voice on one of their greatest hits, My girl.
Ruffin was actually sacked from The Temptations for getting too big for his boots before Norman Whitfield took them down the funk route. His solo career soon faded, but it seems that The Northern Soul Boys still loved him. As I said above, I love finding these links that lie behind the music we so enjoy dancing to.
Michaela finishes off with a Motown Classic
Towards the end of the night Michaela played one of the greatest Motown songs of all time – The Temptations Papa was a rolling stone. In many ways it was tracks like this funkified creation of producer Norman Whitfield, that drove some people away from Motown in to the arms of Northern Soul.
I love this track and wanting the best possible dance to it, I again asked Linda if she would join me on the dance floor. It proved to be one of the best dancers of the night. It seems that some Northern Soul dances can do funk equally well!
Papa was a rolling stone actually has a very long intro that would kill it as a dance floor track. Michaela tells me she sensibly cut it off, leaving us all to enjoy the best bits. The video I’ve embedded is actually a modern remix by Dr Heinz Funkenpumpe (what a great name). It’s my favourite version of this iconic Motown track, and the remix brings out more of its funky DNA.
The round of applause was well deserved
The Soul night had proved a great pull, and Kevin and Michaela must have been so pleased with the response. What must have pleased them even more, was the fact that many people stayed right up to the last track. So many times I see class nights fizzle out before 10:30. They should also be proud that the dancers gave a warm round of applause as the last track faded out. Well done you guys.
As I said at the beginning, this dance scene needs to try out new ideas for it to sustain the attendances it currently enjoys. Here was an idea that is worthy of being tried buy other venues.
In fact so much value do I see in an alliance between Ceroc and Northern Soul I’m tempted to write about how the idea could be developed further in a future post.
In the meantime my congratulations to Kevin and Michaela, and the rest of The Ceroc Surrey Mytchett Crew including teacher Julie Manning for creating a night with a difference. My thanks also to DJ Sid Marshall, and to him and Linda for giving me the background to what is obviously a vibrant Northern Soul scene in Southern England.
POSTSCRIPT: Kevin has just posted a photo album from the night. The album also includes two clips of video showing everyone dancing to the fabulous music.