The Northern Soul Scene - Sarah Raine

The Northern Soul Scene - Sarah Raine

Searching for the Subcultural Heart of Northern Soul: From Pillheads to Shredded Wheat

The Northern Soul Scene - Sarah Raine

Andrew Wilson [+-]
Nottingham Trent University
Andy Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University. His PhD research at the LSE was published as ‘Northern Soul: music, drugs and subcultural identity. He began buying Tamla Motown and soul records in the late 1960s but his introduction to the ‘soul scene’ came in 1972 in the unlikely setting of Borstal. After he was released his journey on the northern scene began at the Torch all-nighter in Stoke-on-Trent. His involvement included attending the many of the soul clubs across England, promoting clubs in his hometown, occasionally DJing. He was perhaps better known for his involvement in the drug trade, specifically burglary of chemist shops in pursuit of amphetamines. He is currently a member of the Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse to the Welsh Government.


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.

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Wilson, Andrew. Searching for the Subcultural Heart of Northern Soul: From Pillheads to Shredded Wheat. The Northern Soul Scene. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 179-196 Feb 2019. ISBN 9781781795583. Date accessed: 03 Dec 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.31281. Feb 2019

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