Searching for the Subcultural Heart of Northern Soul: From Pillheads to Shredded Wheat
Andrew Wilson [+]
Nottingham Trent University
Casual observation of the northern soul scene may give the impression of continuity. The ever present sound of the old favourite records, some played by the same DJ that ‘broke’ the record in the early 1970s, and the recycling of long closed clubs as a marketing name for an event support the notion of continuity. It is a deceptive image that masks the tensions and changes that reveal the dynamic process that the mod inspired dance culture went through on its journey to a soul scene to northern to the rare soul scene. This chapter is informed by my personal involvement in the scene from 1972 to 1981 and the research I carried out with 55 former participants of the scene. While I can claim to have built a record collection, DJ’d, and promoted a soul club I did not have a reputation for doing any of those activities well. I did, however, have a well-earned reputation for burgling chemist shops. It is the consequences of that activity that I draw on for this chapter. Not, I should add, to celebrate in any way the criminal activity but to consider its role in the shaping the ‘underground’ status of the soul scene. I previously argued (Wilson 2007) that commercial exploitation and growth in popularity led to the dilution of culture of the scene. This essay takes a closer look at the significance of amphetamine use, though more significantly, the authorities response to drug use, in shaping the underground attributes of the scene. This is used to ask whether the erosion of the drug culture has shredded the underground image by making its practices, whether dancing or collecting records, acceptable middle-of-the road hobbies.