Thursday, October 22, 2015

Northern Soul

Finally saw that movie Northern Soul.

Thought it was quite well done. Fast moving, restless, kinetic. Moderately involving. Superfluous romantic subplot, inevitably. Spurious action/crime subplot. But captured something of the monomania, the sexless zeal of the subculture.


I did think there was couple of things awry with the project, the historical rendering.

Felt that there was such extreme fidelity to an idea of the past -  or an idea of not prettifying the past, being true to how grey and grubby the early Seventies was...  presumably coming ultimately from the director but implemented by the set design, costuming, make-up etc etc

with the net result that they really really overdid the grot

Everyone was so dirty - well perhaps not everybody, but the main male protagonists..... they looked like they'd been rolled in bacon fat immediately before each day's shoot

Long lank greasy hair, bumfluff, spots....

And my suspicion was that Northern Soul - being an extension of mod - and in that sense being an estranged cousin of skinheads ...  surely would have been totally obsessed with being clean and sharp looking?  (I seem to remember reading about how the Northern Soul men all used Brut aftershave...)

And sure enough, if you look at the footage immediately below.... the kids are spotless. Literally spotless - there's barely a zit to be seen anywhere. (Which is perhaps even more surprising given how poor the diet would have been in those days.... and how much  in the way of amphetamines consumed and nights without sleep, for these teenagers).

But the clothes are clean and ironed. The hair is well washed and combed.

There are one or two blum-fluffy, unfortunate attempts at mustaches... but overall, this was a totally kempt, groomed, and mostly cleancut bunch of young people taking a lot of pride in their appearance

(there's certainly nobody as beardy and wild-looking as that character in Northern Soul who's a minor pill-peddling gangsta - and who seemed more like someone you'd see at a Budgie gig or an outdoor festival like Bickershaw in '72 - which funnily enough was actually held near Wigan)

The smartness is all the more surprising given the amount of sweating these Northern Soul kids were doing in their dancing all night sessions - but then that's why they brought those hold-alls, it was to carry several changes of clothing, so they could look sharp and refreshed all through the night....

Another odd little thing that troubled me was the actual fidelity to how shit sound systems were at that time

They wouldn't have sounded shit to the kid at the time because that's all they knew

But especially in the early youth club scenes, the shitness of the sound system - while totally authentic, i'm sure - has the unfortunate side effect of making it very hard for the viewer to understand the incredible potent effect that these Northern Soul songs had on the kids hearing them for the first time ...  what with Northern Soul being a rather rickety sounding sound at the best of times....  it becomes quite hard to see why conversion experiences would be occurring on exposure to music that tinny and weedy sounding

so here i feel there was a case for using modern sound quality to recreate how it must have felt to those kids then, pre-bassbins etc -  grounds for a degree of anachronistic licence, simply to convey the majesty and might of the records as they impacted the early 70s teenage ear.... especially an ear heightened by amphetamines and other drugs...

(mind you the soundtrack seemed quite lacking in anything that sounded like a Killer Tune ... not that i'm an expert or afficianodo, at all. there was one great song but it was only played for about 10 seconds! i could imagine a viewer who knew nothing about Northern Soul being a little puzzled by the scene, about how such fanaticism be mobilized for such non-overwhelming music)

one thing i did like was the amphetamined obsessive focus on lyrics....  feeling of gnosis/eureka/revelation that the main lad John felt when listening to Northern tunes while pilled out of his box all night, on headphones, from a crappy tape....  scribbling them down them in his notebook, finding profundity in the lyrics

the lyrics that seem to touch a chord most were the ones to do with time flying - youth's ephemerality - burn now while you can - very much reminding me of "no heavenly reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn", or M.E.S. "now I found a reason not to die / the spark inside"

the idea of time flies, and flying high connected to me with the incredible -  almost unbelievable to look at, sometimes - buoyancy of the Northern Soul dance, the way the dancers bob and bounce, the strange levitated perpendicularity of the the posture (with nothing much going on around the hips and groin - no funk action), all the movements in the feet, and with the twirling of the whole torso, like a spinning top ... and then those backflips and down-drops, followed by springing up instantly, as though body-weight was nothing.... and the high-kicks....   all about the defiance of gravity, a refusal of being earth bound. weighted down by mundanity...  the dancefloor almost like a trampoline

the main lad John Clark, played by Elliot James Langridge, looked to me a bit like (and perhaps even deliberately styled like that) the boy in Kes four or five years on.... who's found a new way to fly.... a new transcendence

(although really he looks like Mark E. Smith as runty 14 year old)


  1. I haven't seen the film but I've read the book (ie the official tie-in) and it's excellent - and I say that being not much of a Northern fan . . .

  2. i grew up in Wigan in the 70's and you are right, the Northern Soul lads and lasses were immaculate, really stood out from the shadow of the Bleach Works et al.