Another first for Southport

Back in February, Southport had its first ever Motown Freestyle session. It kicked off the proceedings in the Cyclone Room at 9:00 on the Friday night and was one of my Southport highlights. Chris Uren was on the decks that night, and at the end he was at pains to ask everyone to give positive feedback so that it would take place again in June. When the programme for Scorch came out, the first thing I did was look if we were going to get another Motown treat. Surprised, but delighted, I saw that Friday would kick off with another first – Motown and Northern Soul.

Two dance cultures that are bigger than ever

While songs were released on the Motown label into The ’90s, it is the songs that were recorded in the Detroit studios in The ’60s, that are so fondly remembered, and have created a growing retro dance culture. Northern Soul, with its root’s in the early ’70s, has also been revived, and weekenders, and all-nighter’s are as big an attraction as our own Modern Jive events.

DJ John Baker shows his Soul Boy credentials

This first ever Motown and Northern Soul session was allocated to DJ John Baker. I understand John DJs in the Bristol region, an area I’ve never danced in, so I had no idea as to his musical tastes. Well I know now. John is a mainstream DJ (he had a session in the Thunderball Room on Saturday night), but he also has real Soul Boy credentials and he delivered a fantastic set of dance music.

Motown v Northern Soul

So is there a difference between Motown and Northern Soul? Yes, but its very subtle. I’ll start by using one of the acts from John’s selections to explain. The Temptations were one of Motown’s greatest acts, and modern jivers will have danced many times to Get Ready. John played another well known modern jive track  from The Temptations – Beauty’s only skin deep. This track, like all the Motown tracks from the late ’60s, has a simple beat and is very easy to dance to – it’s the reason why Motown became so popular in the dance halls.

Motown moves on to a funkier groove

Of course music can’t stand still and Motown had to move on. In the early ’70s artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye developed a more funky feel to their music. The Temptations 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 in England.

Most of these tracks had seen little success in America, but once introduced to the Soul Boys and Girls, at Venues like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, they became floor fillers. Here’s one of John’s selections that illustrate the route these tracks took from America to places like Wigan’s Casino and Stoke-on-Trent’s Golden Torch.

What’s wrong with me baby was originally recorded by the Invitations in 1965. It had little success but was rediscovered by a DJ digging around in back catalogues and became a big Northern Soul hit. The version John played was recorded in 1975 when Northern Soul was at its peak by the The Valadiers. Interestingly the Valadiers had been Motown’s earliest all white male group. They had little success at Motown and were rediscovered by Ian Levine who produced this cracking version. I’ll have more on Ian Levine later.

The Northern Soul and Disco Dancers get their fix too

I’ve often described Southport as a dance fest. It’s not just modern jive. You can learn the new SILC syllabus, you can learn to Tango. People will dance West Coast Swing, and every style of modern jive from Slotting, Smooth, and of course Tagging and Double Trouble. So why not Northern Soul and some good old fashioned disco dancing. When I arrived in the Cyclone room there was some quite accomplished Northern Soul dancing going on and a group happily disco dancing. In fact when I got on to the floor, to do some rather full on modern jiving – the music was that good – I felt a bit of an intruder.

DJ John’s mix of Motown and Soul was just great to dance to

Remember this was my first dance session of the weekend, but by the time it was over I had it down as possibly being the best. In the end the dancing in the main Thunderball Room on Sunday night just beat it. Every one of John’s tracks was perfect to modern jive to. He played more Motown tracks that are favourites at modern jive freestyles – Marvin Gaye’s Little Darling (I need you) and The Four Tops I can’t help myselfbut the next Motown track I want to feature is one that I’d never heard before, but loved every second of.

From my earliest days, at The Nottingham Palais, I’ve been a great fan of Junior Walker and The All Stars. I think I knew every word to I’m a Road Runner and every note to Walker’s sax solo. John played a Junior Walker instrumental – Ain’t that the truth – which indulged me in that great saxophone playing again.

No playing it safe with John

The Junior Walker track impressed for another reason – John was not playing it safe. He could have played a lot more of the Motown tracks modern jive dancers love like The Isley’s This Old Heart of mine, Edwin Starrs Stop her on sight and The Temptations Get ready, but instead he picked out some Motown rarities. I love it when DJs dig out fresh tracks, and I’ve often found myself complaining when they play the ‘same old, same old’. John found some rare Motown tracks that were great to dance to, even though I wasn’t familiar with them.

One of the best was Everybody needs love by Jimmy Ruffin. This track has a perfect beat, that like so many Motown tracks, is so easy to connect with. The track itself was only ever released as a B-side and is an example of how Northern Soul DJs dug around the Motown back catalogue to find tracks to keep the dance floor happy.

John plays the most loved Northern Soul track

Go to any Motown or Northern Soul night and you will hear this next track. In fact it’s so popular you’ll probably hear it twice. That’s something that never happens at a modern jive freestyle, but then this track is the most loved Northern Soul track of all time. I’ve put a postscript at the bottom of this posting to tell the story of how this track was, first buried deep in the Motown vaults, and then rediscovered. Here in the meantime is Frank Wilson’s Do I love you (Indeed I do)

Follow that – easy for DJ John

Do I love you (Indeed I do) is about as fast a track can be, before it gets a little too frantic for modern jive, but if you give in to the beat it’s a great full-on dance. I wondered what John would follow it with. The answer was another track with the same hi-energy beat. Reaching for the best by The Exciters wasn’t a rare find, but a brand new track that was produced in 1975 by Ian Levine.

Ian Levine – One of Northern Soul’s founding fathers

Ian Levine is considered one of the founding fathers of Northern Soul, being initially one of the first collectors of rare Motown tracks. In his travels throughout America he discovered many of the Motown sounding tracks, that would become club classics back in Northern England. Ian went on to form his own record company and produced many modern Northern Soul classics like the Exciters tracks.

John played another Ian Levine produced track – There’s nothing else to say Saundra Edwards. This track has an interesting pedigree, that explains the intertwining of Motown and Northern Soul. Saundra Edwards was the lead singer of The Elgins, a legendary Motown group who are best remembered for Heaven must have sent you and Put yourself in my place. In 1968 Saundra left the Elgins and sunk in to obscurity. She was finally tracked down by Levine and in 1975 he recorded her singing a 1967 Northern Soul classic, originally sung by The Incredibles. The result is a track I just loved dancing to on Friday night.

Another great dance music education

Since starting my blog last autumn, I have paid more attention to the great tracks I find myself dancing to. It’s been one hell of an education. I suspected John would broaden my knowledge of Northern Soul classics, but I thought I knew everything there was to know about Motown dance music. I seems that I don’t. One of my Motown heroes is Edwin Starr. I thought I knew all his great dance tracks – wrong again.

So I’m dancing away, and I instantly recognise the opening refrain to Breaking down the walls of heartache, but I know its not the original by The Bandwagon from 1968. A bit like Do I love you (Indeed I do) its a little fast, but I’m dancing with my regular dance partner and we are smashing it. I couldn’t spend too much time thinking who it might be – any thinking energy was being used up by my dance legs. It turns out to be my hero Edwin Starr. Sorry Edwin, please forgive me – I should have known it was you.

A new Modern Jive Classic

All those years ago DJs trawled through boxes of deleted dance tracks, looking for something they hoped would become a Northern Soul classic. I love it that DJs still trawl through the dance music vaults. Sometime ago a Modern Jive DJ found a recording by two Motown groups, that has a Northern Soul pedigree. I first heard this track when Chris Uren played it at Kelham Hall about four years ago, and a smile broke across my face when John gave it a spin.

Back by popular demand is another Ian Levine production from 1991. He brought together The Supremes (as they were then) and The Originals (a once Motown male group). The result is a gentle paced track that is so lovely to dance to, that I hope it will become a modern jive classic. I’d also love to know the modern jive DJ was who played it first.

Let’s hope we can do this again in September

John’s set was due to end at 10:30, but there was a delay in setting up the Tango Milonga so John kept going. No one was complaining. One of the bonus tracks was The Detroit Emeralds Feel the need in me. This is a wonderful piece of ’70s disco music and it rounded off a wonderful session of dancing. While the room wasn’t packed, the people who did come to dance to John’s playlist, were full of appreciation, and he received a warm round of applause.

The first session on a Friday night is never going to be too busy, even the main session in the Thunderball Room doesn’t start until 10:00, so it seems a good slot to put a niche piece of dance music. I’d loved Chris Uren’s Motown set in February, but John’s set was an even better dance experience. I hope that as the programme is prepared for September great consideration will be given to asking John to give us the opportunity to get another Motown and Northern Soul fix, because surely there should always be a space for a bit of Northern Soul dancing.

Postscript: The discovery of Do I love you (Indeed I do)

If you go regularly to Motown and Soul nights you will know that you are going to hear Do I love you (Indeed I do) at least twice. You know the floor will be packed and everyone will be singing the chorus. It’s as if its history demands that we pay homage to it least it disappears again, as it sadly did back in 1965. There are several version of the story why it was never released. Here is the Wikipedia version.

The song was sung by Frank Wilson who was one of Motown’s chief song writers and producers. The story goes that Barry Gordy, the head of Motown, wasn’t particularly impressed with the song, and the fact that Wilson wanted to concentrate on his role as a producer, Gordy took the decision to stop its release.

All of the two hundred and fifty demo were destroyed except for two. Gordy is rumoured to have kept one for himself and the other eventually found its way to the Wigan Casino, where it instantly became a Northern Soul classic. Due to its popularity it was finally released in 1979, and the second original copy eventually fetched a world record price of £25,742 at auction.

Click the links to read my other Southport Scorch Reviews

Tony Riccardi Set: DJ Tony Riccardi’s set from Friday night

Simply Slotted: Caine and Danni’s very helpful class in dancing on The Slot

Double Trouble: Matt & Chloe help Lyndsey Bennett with a fun filled class

Tim Sant Set: DJ Tim Sant’s set from Sunday night

My Southport Diary: Includes the live blog from Sunday night