“I’ve nev­er seen so many weak blad­ders,” said my part­ner, as yet anoth­er sil­hou­ette shuf­fled out, block­ing the screen dur­ing North­ern Soul, the film by Elaine Con­stan­tine. “It’s because every­one here is ‘of a cer­tain age’ ”, I replied. Indeed, about 90 per cent of the audi­ence did look as if they could remem­ber North­ern Soul, the dance, first time round.

Since North­ern Soul’s hey­day in the 1970s, the move­ment has been a con­tin­u­ous pres­ence on the music scene, some­times it bub­bles under, then resur­faces again. At its heart are the devo­tees, the all-nighters and all-day­ers, and any num­bers of North­ern Soul nights up and down the coun­try. This sum­mer at Fes­ti­val No 6 I took myself off to a North­ern Soul dance class, imag­in­ing I’d be with a few oth­ers set on mas­ter­ing those twisty-foot­ed steps. Instead, I found myself join­ing a queue of hun­dreds, far too many to fit in the room; even­tu­al­ly many of us were turned away. A good sign for North­ern Soul, though.

Elaine Con­stan­tine’s film North­ern Soul has been brew­ing for a long time (it was orig­i­nal­ly to be a doc­u­men­tary) and she has obvi­ous­ly gone the extra mile to get all the ele­ments right. The film is set in an arche­typ­i­cal ‘grim up north’ town with its back to back ter­raced hous­ing look­ing as if it’s on the point of being bull­dozed, the rooms filled with a cacoph­o­ny of ’70s wall­pa­pers. The film is shot by Con­stan­tine with a soft, murky light for an authen­tic peri­od feel.

The sto­ry fol­lows John (Elliot James Lan­gridge), a teenag­er with home and school prob­lems. At the end of a first vis­it to his local youth club, where a few teens dance in desul­to­ry fash­ion to Cliff Richard’s The Young Ones, he encoun­ters Matt (Josh White­house), a lover of black Amer­i­can soul. It is as if a light goes on in John’s brain, and this inci­dent marks the begin­ning of his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the North­ern Soul scene. So begins a life of danc­ing, buy­ing the right clothes, a bur­geon­ing love inter­est, Angela (played superbly by Anto­nia Thomas), and an intro­duc­tion to amphetamines.

Fair­ly ear­ly on in the film, John is invit­ed along in a plan to go to the US, to Detroit, where ware­hous­es filled with long-for­got­ten soul vinyl await, ready for the boys to spir­it back to Eng­land where it will be appre­ci­at­ed, played on the dance floors of Wigan Casi­no and all the oth­er mec­cas of the move­ment. Their dream – Amer­i­ca. The boys get their pass­ports, if only they can save enough mon­ey they’ll be on that plane. They need to keep their focus and not let life and the increas­ing use of drugs get in the way.

The drug down­ward-spi­ral ele­ment of the film did dom­i­nate a lit­tle too much as the sto­ry­line devel­oped but North­ern Soul is an engross­ing, beau­ti­ful­ly filmed work, made by some­one with such pas­sion for the time and – most impor­tant­ly – authen­tic­i­ty. What shines through most of all is where Con­stan­ti­ne’s heart lies: in the music. The exten­sive sound­track of Amer­i­can soul is a labour of love, and she nails the euphor­ic, any­thing-could-hap­pen dance-floor atmos­phere, along with the ’70s fash­ions and hair­styles. Dur­ing those dance-floor moments, I want­ed to freeze the frame, and take in every lov­ing­ly put-togeth­er out­fit, every bomber jack­et and pair of bag­gies, every back-combed cut. And then I just want­ed to walk right into the screen and join in with the danc­ing. That’s what the film does to you.

North­ern Soul is show­ing now around the country.

Read: An inter­view with North­ern Soul devo­tee and DJ Nigel Flood

One thought on “Northern Soul – the film

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