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Northern Soul Month #1: Q&A With Sue Higgins

Sue relives some of her memories from the Casino, the era, and the feel of the Northern Soul scene.

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Northern Soul Month #1: Q&A With Sue Higgins
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Catherine: Mrs Higgins, Sue, Mum, Lifetime lover of Northern Soul, what does Northern Soul mean to you?
Sue: It’ s a very very special sort of music I think, I know some people say that heavy metal or punk is very special to them and I get that, I feel that Northern Soul has something that everybody can relate to in someway or another, a real great way to dance your emotions away. It was and is a big part of people’s persona.

C: Yes, it’s definitely part of who you are, the lyrics in the tunes as well, thinking about it, they’re almost mantras that you have brought us up with.
S: Time Will Pass You By, and it’s “this whole world is spinning like a top, come and help me make it stop”, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and you just want time to stop, “Time Will Pass You By” and it’s saying, time will just go, it will pass, and you’re not going to be in that situation again, enjoy it! “Long After Tonight Is All Over” - “For ever and a day and Yours, come anything that may You'll always be just everything to me”. Always the 3 before 8.

C: The 3 before 8! I can’t imagine the energy at a Wigan Casino all nighter.
S: It was a theatre, at first I thought it was a picture house but it was a theatre, you’d pay your money, walk through, there was a big set of stairs, a separate room on the right with a dance floor called ‘Mr M’s’ - that played a different variant of Northern Soul, that would shut at 3am, then everyone would come down to the main hall.

C: Sounds huge and packed!
S: In the summer when it was busy and really hot they’d open up the exit doors in the main hall, it got so hot in there, and you were allowed to smoke inside at that point, that the tar would drip from the ceiling, so if you wore white you’d be walking out with a tar stained top. Another thing I remember which I find quite funny, when the lads would do a soul spin and their sweat would come off and flick on you!

C: Oh wow!
S: It was a dirty, run down theatre, Edwin Star must of thought ‘Bloody hell’ when he came down, but it was the energy! I don’t remember seeing any fights, but I’m sure there were some, I don’t remember any drug taking but it definitely happened, the first time I went, a group of the lads from the Tufty in Barrow said to me, “Right Sue, if anyone comes up to you and offers you anything, you just say no” quite protective haha!

C: Aw haha! So who would you go down to Wigan with?
S: I’d finish work on a Friday at 7pm and then meet my friend, Lorraine, on the half 7pm train, I only went about 6 times overall but it was special; it was overwhelming that all the people turning up liked what you did. The dancing is very much individual, you go off in your own little world. If you watch people their faces they’ll be so into it, smiling because they’re remembering something...

C: Yeah, it’s like a real solo experience but in a crowded room.
S: Yeah, it’s surprising how many times you didn’t bump into anyone, everybody was very aware of each other’s space, imagine it one of the lads went to do a high kick and kicked you in the face, you’d be knocked out.

C: You absolutely would! Haha. Were the famous soul skirts and flare pants about?
S: There were definitely people wearing the baggy pants and earlier on the girls would wear the skirts, but a lot of people would be wearing just jeans and t-shirt, I’ve really been thinking about this recently actually, people saying that Northern Soul is a working mans music, that necessarily wasn’t true, because at Wigan you had doctors and people coming over from all over Europe & America just to go there, obviously at the time they must of had money to get there, but maybe because of the area, Wigan, Manchester, the title came from that.

C: Were there loads of people who would go to Wigan from Barrow?
S: A lot of people who when to the Tufty, Barrow Catholic Youth Centre, Nelson St would go to Wigan. You would get off the train, head to the pub nearby, which was usually really packed so there would be loads of people stood outside, I could never go in because I wasn’t 18 yet. But then, I didn’t drink alcohol at Wigan anyway, it wasn’t the point of it. Then you would queue up at midnight outside the theatre, get your £4 ticket, which paid for your entry and a raffle ticket, that was really funny actually because the prizes were things like TVs, the music centre, so if people won they would be carting back a TV on the train home at 8am in the morning.

C: Nice! £4 ticket for entry midnight-8am dancing and a raffle! Wow! I’m very jealous!
S: It was a very special time!

C: How did you know about new songs?
S: So I’d hear them at Wigan, somebody would play a something and you’d go “Ooh what’s that?” and you would ask about it or the DJ would announce what song it was. I went on holiday to Pontins in Rhyll, we used to go every year, and they had an amazing, amazing record shop. It just looked like a Woolworths, but you would go downstairs into a cellar, and it was covered in records. Northern Soul was huge in North Wales. Steve Strange from Visage, massive Northern Soul fan was from Wales. In the record shop they would have the top 20 records from Wigan. And that’s when I went right, I want the number one. I don’t think I had even heard it yet! I just wanted number one. They had a room at Wigan where people were selling singles.

C: I bet people went crazy for that!
S: It got quite commercial. People would print single after single off, whereas in the beginning the records were so rare, the DJ would actually cover the label so nobody else could nick it! For me it’s more about the dancing over the record collecting.

C: I’ve caught you a few times now having a little day time dance in the conservatory, real medicine. There is such an art to it.
S: It’s loads of things really, there is an element of gymnastics, ballet. It could be aggressive if you listen to some of the lyrics, some a really fast. That’s what I thought the difference was between Southeners and Northerns when we went to the Hole in the wall. The music was so fast, it was quite discotheque. Northern for me, is more controlled dancing, a bit slower and graceful, you can get more footwork in.

C: With the films that have been released, do you find they’re accurate?
S: They’re fairly same old, same old really. Boy can’t dance, gets taught by girl, one of them gets into drugs, but it wasn’t always like that. I’m waiting for the movie where the factory girl works all day and then dances at night, and she’s the lead.

C: Love that idea! When Wigan closed down in 81’ where did you go?
S: Local places in Barrow, I’ve been to Morecambe for a soul do, Blackburn was brilliant because it was so big! The 100 club in London was great too. Seeing young people now get into Northern Soul and fall in love with it, is incredible, if it didn’t happen the music would just end. It so good to see the music I loved, younger people love it as well. It makes me think “Yeah, I was right, they like it too!” Haha. It’s got to evolve. It can’t stay still. Because if it does it will never get anywhere.

C: Amen. Thank you mum. Love you

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Northern Soul sparked an exciting, energised movement. Making its way into working class theatres and clubs, such as the Wigan Casino and Twisted Wheel - the packed all-nighters were northern hedonism. Black thumping American soul and r 'n' b music blew open the doors to a world of eclectic dance; evocative fashion; passionate DJs, and a plethora of likeminded people.