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Northern Soul and Wigan Casino, the worlds best disco
Wigan Casino, the place to go for northern soul
The primary venue for northern soul music back in the mid seventies and early eighties was the Wigan Casino which was a nightclub in Wigan, Lancashire of all places.
At that time I was living as a teenager in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and was just finding out what my real preferences were of the musical variety. To be honest I couldn't make up my mind whether I preferred heavy rock, punk rock or Northern Soul.
But when it came to which music was the best for dancing then there really was no better sound than that coming out under the Northern soul label, you wouldn't believe it now to look at me but back in those days I really liked to dance.
Actually as an aside and for those that remember, I could do a pretty good pogo which was the manic dance of punk rock. Basically you just bounced up and down shaking your head, you had to see it to understand it and to believe it.Thursday night was punk night at Wigan Casino though, so not very convenient when you are 3 hours away.
Dancing to northern soul however was a whole different ball game and you had to have a few moves in your arsenal to not end up looking a complete pillock, the backdrop was probably one of the most popular and was a minimum requirement.
We used to practice our art when hanging out at the local discos, well I call them discos but in the Forest of Dean there was no such animal, it used to be the Miner's welfare hall in Cinderford with a few flashing lights and a record deck on a Monday night or it would be one of the local football or rugby clubs whenever they needed to raise some funds, those were the days, true sophistication.
Anyway as you can imagine the mecca of northern soul was calling and there was nothing for it other than to take ourselves up to Wigan Casino for the famous all night northern soul disco. A Beard's coach was commissioned, a load of us bought tickets and we all met in the middle of Cinderford at about 8.00p.m to get the bus to Wigan. This was pretty much standard practice for the day, coach loads of northern soul fans from all over the country heading for the best disco in the UK to party and dance until 8.00a.m. when the disco finished to the sound of the 3 before 8 tracks, more on that later.
Well I say party, but there was no alcohol allowed in so it wasn't quite the party we were used to, a lot of people took to using alternative medicine that night if you know what I mean, mainly because they had to so they could stay awake all night, of course. Nothing to do with that being the done thing at Wigan if you wanted to be in. Personally I didn't participate because I had been getting my weekly fix of rugby and had drunk a barrel full of beer before I even got on the bus, really didn't feel like I needed anything else.
So off we went and 3 hours later we arrived in Wigan, when we got to the club it was a little bit manic to say the least, the queue was huge and we thought we were going to spend most of the night right there. The guy who had been handing out the amphetamines had passed out in the gutter, which I thought was a little ironic as he reckoned he was only taking them to stay awake, and some other guy who had somehow managed to upset the bouncers came flying past us from the direction of the entrance into the same gutter, totally battered and covered in blood. We decided it was probably not a good idea to upset the bouncers, there were some mean machines around in this working northern town that were best not messed with, beer on board or not.
Once we were in things calmed down for a bit, the music from what I remembered hadn't really started and people were just milling about looking for a corner and getting a drink (orangeade that is). Then the music started and there was no messing about, people were there to dance and dance is exactly what they did, there was dancing on all the floors and a big dancing competition held up on stage, when I saw what those guys could do however I decided it would not be much of an idea to have a go myself, they were a bit good, especially the ones that leapt off the stage back onto the dance floor landing on their knees, there were definitely drugs involved, or some pretty serious masochism going on.
It really was a good night especially compared to what we were used to but if I am honest, and to my shame, I didn't make it all the way though. I fell asleep in a corridor about 6'ish I think, the worse for wear due to my previous imbibing, a game of rugby, 3 hour bus trip and having decided there is only so much dancing you can do. I made a nice pillow for a couple of girls though, who had also fallen asleep, it was a shame to wake them up but I needed a pee and it was nearly all over anyway.
It was really weird staggering back out of the entrance into daylight and wandering around looking for the coach, after the disco. Can't remember if the amphetamine king made it back onto the coach or not, but I am sure someone would have picked him up, he did have some mates with him.
So that was it my one and only trip to the mecca, we had heard some amazing music seen some even more amazing dancing and got in and out without being battered, life couldn't have been any better. It certainly beat the Miner's in Cinderford and I also knew now that northern soul was as much about dancing as it was about the music. Oh yes and I could also claim that I had been to the world's best disco, Studio 54 (New York) eat your heart out.
The way we were in the Seventies, note the platform soled shoes and haircuts, tell me which one is me in the comments
Northern Soul Music on Amazon
What happened to Wigan Casino
It is said that no one remembers the actual final night that Wigan Casino closed, but the night it was announced that it would be closing everyone there refused to leave. The famous 'last before 8' songs were played 3 times each and the DJ of the night, Winstanley, played Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) which is now remembered as the most famous Northen Soul song of all time and did the trick of breaking the hysteria so everyone would leave.
The last 3 before 8 (these 3 songs were played at the end of each all night disco, to close the night out)
- Time Will Pass You By" by Tobi Legend
- Long After Tonight Is Over" by Jimmy Radcliffe
- I'm On My Way" by Dean Parrish
Following it's closure and about a year later the Wigan Casino burned down and was to be no more, truly the end of an era, the dates on the gravestone said 1973 to 1981 and like the 'Cavern' and the 'Hacienda', Wigan Casino was demolished any a little bit of musical and dance history along with it.
Some of the famous artists and soul bands that played Wigan Casino
- Jackie Wilson
- Edwin Starr
- Junior Walker
A couple of the tracks that lifted the profile of Northern Soul, (Gloria Jones) and Footsee (Top of the Poppers version not the 'Chosen Few') you can listen to them here but understand that they helped make Wigan Casino famous but at the same time threatened the whole premise under which it existed. Tainted Love