A Grand night of soul

SOUL BROTHERS: Stevie (left), Kevan and Gary sift through a box of Northern Soul records.
SOUL BROTHERS: Stevie (left), Kevan and Gary sift through a box of Northern Soul records.

WHEN Kevan Turner puts the needle in the groove of the first record at A Night Of Soul at Hartlepool’s Grand Hotel on Saturday, the Northern Soul fanatic will be keeping alive a scene that has been played out across the country for more than 50 years.

Kevan, 47, and his fellow organisers, Gary McCarte, also 47, and 49-year old Stevie Layton, are busy putting the finishing touches to what will be the third annual night at The Grand.

They attracted 400 people to the first one back in 2010 and running a successful follow-up last year, despite a last-minute change of date when the hotel’s ballroom was double booked for a wedding.

Kevan started the Night Of Soul after Grand manager – and Northern Soul fan – Jonathan Graham suggested the hotel ballroom, with its polished wooden dance floor, would make an ideal venue. And so the night was born on February 6, 2010, and has since become an annual event.

Taking time out from his schedule to speak to the Mail, Kevan said: “I’m hoping this year will be massive. The Grand is a fantastic venue that really lends itself to Northern Soul and allows us to have two rooms operating.

“The ballroom will be the main room and will feature Northern Soul from a line-up of well known North-East DJs including Evo, Kev Richardson and Jinxy. We’ve also invited Kev Roberts, who was one of the first DJs to play at the legendary Wigan Casino. The second room, the Pipers Room, will play modern soul and Motown.”

People be treated to a night of the best of a genre of black American music that found its roots in the R&B sounds of the early 1960s and proved popular with the scooter-riding Mods of the day.

Northern Soul evolved with the arrival of the more melodic, up-tempo sound coming out of small American record labels which strived – and often failed – to compete with the music factory that was the Tamla Motown label but became popular with young, working class British music fans, who preferred its harder edge to the more poppy Motown sound.

The music became the heart of an entire scene, which sparked its own fashions and dance style among its followers, who would travel the country to hear the rare records being played by the handful of superstar DJs who owned copies of them.

And although the Northern Soul movement spread far and wide around the whole of Britain, its spiritual home remained the north of England, where soul fans filled the dance floors of clubs like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, Blackpool Mecca and the legendary Wigan Casino.

While all this was going on, back home in Hartlepool Kevan, Gary and Stevie were each getting into Northern Soul and seeking out records to buy and venues to hear them played in.

Luckily for them, they bumped into just the right people.

Gary added: “The people who brought Northern Soul to Hartlepool were the late Ian Waite and his brother, Marty, along with Bunny Hewitt, Wilf Swift and Sue Murray, who is now Sue Horton, and others. Ian, Marty and Bunny had DJ’d alongside the well-known Wally Randall, while Bunny and Marty were at the first ever Wigan Casino all-nighter.”

The pair had been among the first of the travelling Northern Soul pioneers, shaking a leg at the Holy Trinity of Northern Soul clubs, the Torch, in Stoke, Blackpool Mecca and Wigan Casino. This was the in-crowd of Hartlepool Northern Soul fans and they took Kevan, Gary and Stevie under their wing as the three pals took their first tentative steps on the Northern Soul dance floors of England.

Gary recalls: “The scene then was very active and, like me, those guys would get to Northern Soul venues around the country by hook or by crook. We would get buses or trains or hitch-hike, anything to get there. If I knew I was going to a Northern Soul night, a buzz would come over me in the morning as I was getting ready for work and stay with me all day, knowing what was on the menu for the night.

“If it was a Friday night, the latest train we could get to go to most places was 4pm from Hartlepool. But I didn’t finish work until 4.30pm on a Friday, so I would sneak off early, climb the fence at work, leg it to the train station and get changed on the train on the way there. I was never bothered about getting back as long as I got there.”

Although music was the driving force behind their passion for Northern Soul, there was a whole lifestyle associated with the scene from the fashions to the friendliness and it is this, says Kevan, that made it so special.

Stevie added: “It really is a friendly scene. You’re just accepted by everyone. There’s never any trouble, people just go there to dance and enjoy listening to their favourite records.”

Kevan, Gary and Stevie have never forgotten the kindness shown to them by the previous generation of Hartlepool soul boys and girls and hope to go some way to repay it at the Night of Soul as they spin the sounds that will get the original Hartlepool Northern Soul crowd onto the floor.

Among them will be Sue Horton, now 53, who still regularly pulls on her dancing shoes and heads out to soul nights around the country. Remembering her own early days on the Hartlepool Northern Soul scene, Sue said: “It was really lively back then. We had the Windsor on Monday nights and the Engineers Club opposite the Town Hall on Thursdays. That was run by Ian Waite and you had to queue up to get in because it was so popular.

“The music was, and still is, so exciting. It’s like a drug. Once you experience it and you like it, that’s it, you’re hooked for life.”

Tickets for the night, which gets underway at 7pm and goes on until midnight, are just £3 and can be bought in advance from the reception at The Grand, or soul fans can simply turn up on the night and pay £5 on the door.