Northern Soul And It’s Relation To The Mod Scene

northern soulWhen trying to define a youth culture or look for a starting point, it can be very difficult. This is down to the fact that there is often a fluid movement from one group to another. While some groups or cultural movements may start in opposition or as a reaction to something, providing a clearer distance between the issues that started the movement, in other cases it can be more difficult. The mod culture is a great example of this with many people citing the modernist jazz culture in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s as being the starting point of mod culture.

Clearly what is regarded as mod culture today is removed from that scene but the initial trends and themes of what would become mod culture can be linked to that era. The same can be said for the trends and cultures that grew from mod culture.

While the fashion and attitude element of mod culture was an overlying link for most members, there was quickly a divergence in the musical trends. The musical landscape in the mid to late 1960s was a very exciting one with many different paths being taken. With even the top mod groups of the time like The Small Faces and The Who taking different paths, it is no surprise to find that many mods went in different directions when the major wave of the mod movement faded away.

Youth culture movements flow from one to another

There are many different youth movements that can be traced back to mod culture and one of the most popular and enduring is the Northern Soul scene. Today, Northern Soul culture is viewed as being as vibrant and as individual as youth cultures like the mod scene or even the punk movement but looking at the emergence of this group, it is easy to see the line of development from the mod movement.

It would be fair to say that the main Northern Soul scene emerged in the late 1960s, most commonly associated with Northern England and that there was a distinct line taken from music that was popular with the mods. The quick tempo and strong bass of many of the Tamla Motown records of this time provided the impetus for Northern Soul dancers, cementing the link between the two groups.

One of the strongest links between mod culture and Northern culture lies in the Twisted Wheel venue in Manchester. Although first used as a beatnik populated coffee bar called the Left Wing, the venue was reinvented as a music venue called The Twisted Wheel in 1963. With all night parties playing American R&B, the venue became known as the place to be for mods in Manchester.

Amphetamine use was common in both groups

As the musical policy changed, the drug use remained the same and again, the link of amphetamine use between mods and Northern Soul culture was apparent too. The known use of substance abuse in the club would eventually saw the club closed down in 1971, but the link between mod culture and Northern Soul was already cemented by this point.

northern soul logoAs the movement gathered speed and popularity, there was a shift away from the popular Motown sound, differentiating from the music that was loved by mods and from a similar scene that was taking place in the south of England. The Northern Soul scene placed a greater emphasis on music that was outside of the mainstream and which originated in the mid-1960s. Even as the Northern Soul clubs in the late 60s and early 70s became more popular, the playlists of the clubs were firmly rooted in this era. This led to many formerly underground hits becoming standard songs of this movement and there was an increasing need to uncover additional underground hits from this period.

This eventually led to a split in the Northern Soul movement with some clubs and many followers deciding to allow more contemporary songs with the same spirit and feels to be included in Northern Soul sets. This was opposed by some that were of the opinion that true Northern Soul music only came from the earlier era. In many ways, this can be compared to the way that many mods feel about the mod revival movements. There are many that appreciate the fact that the scene remains alive and the range of music on offer can be added to, whereas there are some who are only interested in the first offerings of the genre.

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2 thoughts on “Northern Soul And It’s Relation To The Mod Scene

  1. Pingback: Northern Soul And It’s Relation To The Mod Scene | The Mod Generation

  2. Great article. There must be plenty of people who don’t really understand the connection! My take on it is this: If you look at the pictures and read many of the interviews in the “CENtral 1179” book (the definitive book on the history of the club), the Twisted Wheel was very definitely a mod club in it’s late ’60s and early ’70s incarnation (when it had dropped R&B and beat groups in favour of purely amphetamine-paced soul music, the more rare and obscure the better). This was at a time when ‘mod’ was still a big movement in the north of England and quite a while before the term ‘northern soul’ came into use. When the Wheel closed, pretty much the same people and fashions carried on through to The Torch in Stoke on Trent. However, as the decade progressed, the northern soul cult spread farther afield and the fashions became less and less associated with ‘mod’ as newer people came on to the scene and it gained it’s own distinct identity – hence the pictures we see of baggy-trousered club goers at the likes of Wigan Casino which opened later in 1973. Having said that, scooters and mod-like fashions continued to be associated with ‘northern soul’ to a certain degree well into the ’70s as some eyewitness reports from the mid-70s Cleethorpes all-nighters confirm (see chapters from “Too Darn Souful” or “The Story of Northern Soul: A Definitive History of the Dance Scene That Refuses to Die” by David Nowell). Later on, after the 1979 mod revival, mod fashions steadily became re-adopted by the northern soul scene and continue to play a major part to this day (although, as we know, it can’t exactly be called a youth movement anymore!) So, the roots of northern soul lie deep within the original ’60s mod movement – there was a brief ‘parting of ways’ in the 1970s but they are now re-united!

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