We all know Northern Soul, right? You know ’60s soul music, blokes from the old industrial corners of England dancing all night long. Right? Well sort of. As with all popular depictions—and there’s been a lot of this recently—things get twisted for a litany of reasons. From DJs satisfying their egos, those who were there misremembering, to those who weren’t romanticizing and wishing they were.
Yet somewhere in there, there is more than a kernel of truth. In the latter half of the ’60s mods and their descendants decided they loved the music that had been making them move —uptown Motown styled soul— and instead of moving forward in years they progressed their love of music by digging deeper. Others may have been doing this previously, but none tied it so centrally to a club culture. If you’ve ever been present on a club scene that demanded old music, you owe a debt to Northern Soul.
From that point on rarer and rarer sounds were required. Originally difficult to find UK pressings, then warehouse finds from the United States, then acetates, and finally unreleased masters from tapes were added to the playlists. There was a continued desire was to have something good, something that made your dance unique. It is for this reason that reissues were frowned upon, ubiquity rather than snobbishness. A point somewhat lost on those paying thousands so they can play an original of “Tainted Love” or other much reissued tunes at a club or dance.
Our compilation is a tribute to the diversity of Northern Soul and access to the Numero vaults allows us to play everything from records that have filled floors for over 40 years to others that have only recently been uncovered. Our opener by the Sensations falls into the latter category. “Demanding Man” has recently been a big sound for DJ Butch. A marvelous slice of pounding vocal group soul, it was recorded for Cleveland, Ohio, label Way Out and was the group’s last record for Lester Johnson and Bill Branch’s imprint. Currently it would set you back nearly £2000 for a copy. Also on Way Out was the excellent Jesse Fisher, whose “You’re Not Loving A Beginner” is a slightly funky stomper which was originally destined for the Sensations. His later “Honey” on Sojam is also a big money favourite.
Chicago as a centre for recording threw out dozens, maybe hundreds of records that have filled Northern floors. Ernest Mosley’s “Stubborn Heart” was released on the local La Cindy label. It was written by Eddie LaShea, who produced the version by the Shepherds on Mirwood. Otis Brown’s wonderful “I’m Ready For Love” is another single with two versions —a group called the Soulettes released a cover on the Dud Sound label. Brown’s own version was released on his own Lujuna label, and is a wonderful uplifting symphony of soul and strings.
Syl Johnson would go on to be one of the most celebrated soul and funk singers of his era with his recordings on Twinight and Hi. “Do You Know What Love Is?” appeared on the Special Agent label in 1965. The Notations also went onto bigger things recording for Curtis Mayfield’s Gemigo label, but “Trying My Best To Find Her” was their debut for the Tad label and is almost impossible to find these days. The Mystiques were another Chicago based vocal group who appeared on Twinight. Unlike The Notations they only made the one 45 there, and the wonderful “Put Out The Fire” has a rough edge that indicates its roots as an independently recorded effort bought up by label owners Howard Bedno and Peter Wright.
Our other Chicago based recordings emanate from WVON DJ Richard Pegue’s Nickel and Penny operation. “Matta Baby” was the product of collaboration between Pegue and Homer Talbert, a local songwriter and producer who was a part of Jerry Butler’s Songwriter’s Workshop alongside the likes of Terry Callier and Larry Wade. It’s a cracking instrumental with a very danceable beat. Jerry Townes has left very few ripples in the history’s pond, but his pounding version of “You Are My Sunshine” was one of Pegue’s best efforts.
Detroit—as the home of Motown—is often considered to be the home of Northern Soul. We have two tracks included here that emphasise that connection. Two Plus Two were a four piece vocal group that included the songwriting team of Wilburt Jackson and Cyril Clarke—they wrote “Number One In Your Heart” for the Monitors. They were joined by Lawrence Matchett and Terry Davis and made this one 45 which was issued on Velgo. The Soul Partners went on to success with Al Hudson in the late ’70s, “Just Fun” was their first appearance on vinyl. Another instrumental groove, it was hidden away on the B-side of a single by The Brown Bombers on the tiny Amazing label.
Jesse Jones’ group of labels in Atlanta included Tragar and Note, but for one release his great hope, singer Eula Cooper, appeared on Super Sound. That single was the outrageously good “Let Our Love Grow Higher.” Like virtually all of Jones’ releases, limited distribution makes it a hard one to track down. Richard Cook’s single is a little easier to find. An uptempo groove in an Otis Redding style, it is notable for the arranging debut of Tommy Stewart, who became one of the names on the Atlanta music scene throughout the 1970s.
Eddie Ray’s “Wait A Minute” was an example of the fine music found on the Harmonic Sound studio’s tapes when they were discovered at a yard sale in the mid 2000s. Ray was the very definition of a journeyman singer, whose talented voice was best captured on this fast paced and slightly messy number. The biggest northern smash on Clem Price and George Beter’s Columbus, Ohio, based Prix label was the Royal Esquires “Ain’t Gonna Run.” A talented four-piece vocal group they played the local circuit alongside the Soul Partners, who shouldn’t be confused with the Detroit based band of the same name. The Soul Partners became the Vondors for one record, “Look In The Mirror” for Bill Moss’ Holiday label. Our final Columbus-based group are the Chandlers whose defining moment came with “Your Love Makes Me Lonely,” released on Jeff Smith’s Col-Soul label. Its slinky distinctive sound has made the record a bona-fide Northern floor filler for years now.
Baltimore-based The Chapells had a long history, stretching back to a 1964 single which asked the question “Are You Ready?” This was the inspiration for Barbara Mason’s “I’m Ready” hit on Artic Records out of Philadelphia the following year. By 1969 they were recording for R.B. Patterson who issued “Help Me Somebody” on his Brooklyn-based Bedford label.
Our final two recordings were made for Abe Epstein’s Dynamic label from San Antonio, Texas. The rudimentary recording, shimmering organ and on the beat tambourine on “I Gotta Know” makes for a compelling listen. The Tonettes were a local group who sounded a lot like the Shirelles on their one shot at fame. Hailing from Galveston, the Webs had a great harmony sound, and made a handful of records of which “Little Girl Blue” is probably the best.
All in all, 20 tracks that shine a spotlight on the myriad styles that fall under the banner of Northern Soul.
2xLP2 140g LPs
1 wide spine LP direct to board jacket
- Jesse Fisher You're Not Loving A Beginner
- Earnest Mosley Stubborn Heart
- Syl Johnson Do You Know What Love Is
- Notations Trying My Best To Find Her
- Royal Esquires Ain't Gonna Run
- Eula Cooper Let Our Love Grow Higher
- Eddie Ray Wait A Minute
- Jerry Townes You Are My Sunshine
- Richard Cook Somebody Got'A Help Me
- Chandlers Your Love Makes Me Lonely
- Otis Brown I'm Ready For Love
- Two Plus Two Look Around
- Brown Bombers & Soul Partners Just Fun
- The Matta Baby Do The Pearl, Girl (Part 2)
- Mystiques Put Out The Fire
- Vondors Look In The Mirror
- Tonettes I Gotta Know
- The Chapells Help Me Somebody
- Webs Little Girl Blue
- The Sensations Demanding Man