The Wigan Casino was Britain’s first superclub. In an age when people rarely went further than the pub for their entertainment, the Casino attracted dancers by the busload from up and down the country. With a closing time of 8 AM it was the end-up spot of choice for the nation’s northern soul fans, including a sizeable contingent who would travel down from Blackpool after the Mecca shut for the night. Billboard voted it the best club in the world in 1978, a year before giving the same accolade to New York’s Paradise Garage.
Given the club’s vast size, steering it was tricky, especially given its amphetamine-fuelled taste for “stompers,” and many of its DJs resorted to crowd-pleasing. So, just like later superclubs, its most famous DJs were not necessarily its best. While there are other Wigan DJs that more people may remember, we think Kev Roberts’ taste and collection puts him up there with the best.
An early collector of northern soul and a dancer at the Torch, the teenage Roberts got his big break when he chanced upon copies of rarer-than-rare “Take Away the Pain Stain” by Patti Austin and “World Without Sunshine” by Sandra Phillips. He was thrust into the Premier League, securing a Casino residency. He was later instrumental in the scene’s stylistic evolution when he brough new disco records from New York for Ian Levine. Roberts has stayed true to northern soul, organising regular events and weekends and issuing many excellent compilations through the Goldmine label.
Frozen drizzle clung to the car as we zoomed toward Worksop where Kev lived. This interview, presented as part of RBMA’s partnership with DJ History, took place in 1999 on one of those throwback days where the echoes of the north’s soul hung damply in the air. – Bill Brewster
Whereabouts do you come from?
When did you start collecting?
In 1968, I was born in ’56.
How did you get into soul in the first place?
The first people I ever bought records from were Brian Selby and John Bratton. Both of them worked for a very good independent record shop in Mansfield called Syd Booth’s. A legendary record store, in fact. One of the biggest indies in the north. Brian and John were obviously soul boys. They’d got access to the tunes of the day: the Direction label, the Stateside label. I wouldn’t say northern at that time, I think, because that was just coming into its own at the Wheel. I was far too young for that. I was certainly buying “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone as a new release. I bought “Sixty Minutes Of Your Love,” Homer Banks on Minit. Standard records in that particular shop. I think the reason is that in ’68 I wasn’t going to clubs, but by ’69 I was sneaking past the bouncer to the local dancehall.
Local as in Nottingham?
Mansfield first, then into Nottingham.
Was Mansfield more happening?
Well Mansfield is a very large town that happened to have a lot of club action going on. It was interesting in the North Midlands, because you found that those kind of scenes there. Yes, they were playing pop music like Love Affair too, but like a lot of other good working class towns, they were also playing Homer Banks and James Carr and they were playing ska and soul mixed in. A very good friend of mine had a brother who used to go to the Wheel, so by 1969 my taste had moved from early Tamla to Stax and Atlantic, then suddenly discovering the Artistics, Billy Stewart, Tony Clark, these kind of people. Natural progression, Brian and John left Syd Booth’s andopened a record store in Nottingham: Selectadisc. Legendary record shop. They had a soul cellar downstairs, so you ended up just discovering things in the cheap boxes. If you’re a collector – and it’s cheap – you buy it regardless of whether you know it.
I got an absolute severe bollocking for staying out all night. Quite right, too, because I was 15.
Especially, if you already recognise a name you like on the label like the producer...
That’s right. And if you get it home and it’s good, it’s even better. That’s pretty much what I was doing. I was buying a lot of records that I didn’t know and, come ’71, I’d amassed quite a few. My entire earnings were spent on records. Not super rarities, but lots of £3 and £4 sounds. Of course, I didn’t become aware of the northern scene until early ’72. Up The Junction in Crewe was my first nighter, again with the Selectadisc crew. One of the guys who worked in Selectadisc was Alan Day, who was a big DJ at the time, from Horsley Woodhouse near Derby. And Alan took me under his wing. It wasn’t that he was a particularly music-led person. Some guys are just characters in clublife. Alan was more of a character than a DJ. I went once there. Absolute severe bollocking from my mum and dad for staying out all night and not telling them. Quite right, too, because I was 15. And then my eyes lit up for the next one because that was to the Torch in Stoke. And I absolutely loved it. I lived for that particular club.
Tell me about the Torch.
This incarnation was only open for a year in 1972; before it had been an R&B club that was very well-known in the mid-’60s if you wanted to go see the Graham Bond Organization or the Beatstalkers. The residents were Alan Day, Colin Curtis, Keith Minshull, Tony Jebb and Martin Ellis. I thought it was terrific, because that was the first place that had an abundance of American 45s. I never went to the Wheel, but I think there was an awful lot of British stuff and R&B and other factions, like Mod music. By the time the Torch came it was U.S. stuff. In 1972 it turned into an all-nighter, much to the dismay of a lot of the locals, I might add.
I think when you’re in a parochial town and they suddenly find out-of-towners coming into their patch, it’s a little hard to swallow. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I think it’s just the way it is. For me though, it was terrific. I’d never come across so many unknown records in my life. And every one of them was a stonker. They were all fast, furious great vocals. Girl groups. Odd labels. Obscurities on the Okeh label. I’d only ever seen that label with Major Lance and suddenly I was hearing Sandi Sheldon “You’re Gonna Make Me Love You” and Larry Williams, Johnny Taylor, Billy Butler. They were great. And I loved the way it was laid out like a ranch.
What did it look like from the outside?
Outside it looked like a social club in the middle of a terraced street. It was on Hove Street in Tunstall. Tunstall is the end of the world for any venue. How can I describe it? It was five miles out of the way. There was no railway station. You had to walk a mile up a great big bank to get to it. But once you were inside it was absolutely terrific.
The Wheel had a lot of credibility because it was playing really black records at the time, stuff like Bobby Bland. By the time it got to the Torch, the DJs had unearthed a series of very obscure American singles that had to be bloomin’ good to sing to, to dance to and to do backflips to. “A World of Trouble” by The Sweet Things, “I Worship You Baby” by the Glories, “Our Love Is in the Pocket” by JJ Barnes. They all had incredible Motown-type choruses. It surprises me even to this day why they couldn’t get major airplay in the States at the time because they all had that knockout punch that every hit record needs. Yet here were 50 or 60 brand new discoveries all being played at a new all-nighter, all of them fantastic.
Did the DJs playing have previous track records?
Well, yes and no. I think they were all collectors who were on the fringe of the nighter scene. They didn’t work at the Wheel, they hadn’t been inherited from other clubs. Keith Minshull was local. Colin Curtis was local. I think these were guys who were plotting their course. Buying records. I’m sure they all went to the Wheel.
One other thing that was surprising at the Torch, and it might seem a bit cheesy now with the credibility factor that hangs around northern soul, is that I actually think they were playing new releases, “Sliced Tomatoes” by Just Brothers, “Scrub-Board,” the instrumental version of “Hold Back the Night” by the Trammps. That was out three years before the Trammps recorded the vocals. They were playing “Stop What You’re Doing” by the Playthings, “A Man Like Me” by Jimmy James, “This Is the House Where Love Died” by First Choice. New singles being played at an all-nighter. Unheard of, really. Again, they worked a treat. The song element was very important at the Torch. The record had to have some substance to it.
Ian Levine didn’t listen to the whys and wherefores of any other DJ.
When did you start DJing?
I started DJing in January of 1973, about a month after I’d first been to the Torch. I’d bought a few records at the Torch. Most of them were £15-£20 and I couldn’t afford those, but there were a few at the cheaper end: The Shalamars’ “Stop and Take a Look At Yourself,” The Tymes’ “What Would I Do?,” which were played constantly and were only about £3 each, so I amassed a few of those – the cheaper end of the Torch playlist – and got a job at the Britannia Boat Club. The Brit, as they called it, in Nottingham, which was a part of a row of boat clubs in West Bridgeford.
I used to take my records down there, just hoping that one day I might get that opportunity to put records on. The manager was going to start a Saturday night and the other guys already had other gigs. So he said, “Do you fancy it?” It went fairly well. And then I think because the Friday night was costing him a fair bit in DJs, he lost a couple of DJs and so I ended up there on a Friday and Saturday. I went from having a day job earning 20 quid a week, to doing two nights and earning 40 quid, much to my mother and father’s dismay. So I invested my entire salary on better records. I was suddenly being able to afford at least one £10 single a week. By the time summer arrived in ’73, the Torch had closed. I decided to go to Blackpool Mecca for a nine-till-two session.
Was that when Tony Jebb was still there?
No. He’d gone. It was Colin Curtis and Keith Minshull originally. Keith left and Ian Levine came back into play. He was originally at the Mecca and came back. Playing strictly ’60s northern there. They hadn’t quite moved on to the modern thing yet. Even what I call the Northern modern sounds, like “Seven Day Lover” [by James Fountain]. The Brit was only on till 11 and I got someone to cover for me the last hour. I’d get to Blackpool at 11:30, quarter to twelve, just for the last two hours. Then come back. Just for two hours in Blackpool. But it was just the place.
At this stage who was the key DJ?
Ian Levine. Definitely. He was the most innovative. Because he didn’t listen to the whys and wherefores of any other DJ. He found records and if he liked them he’d play them. And he’d play them ten times a night till people danced to them. And if they didn’t dance to them – NEXT! – and he was on to the next one. That, for me, was a creative DJ. I didn’t particularly rate him as a DJ in terms of ability. But he had an ability to break records. Anyhow, through Selectadisc circles I met Simon Soussan.
It’s alleged he stole the Frank Wilson record.
Debatable whether he stole it, but I’ll tell you what I know. He was a French-Moroccan character who came to England in the ’60s, went to Wheel, loved northern soul. He was a tailor for Burton’s at their head office in Leeds. Incredibly intelligent guy. But slippery. The first guy really to go to the States, find records and put lists out. Some people got the records. Some people didn’t. So he developed an “unreliable” tag. However, he found absolutely fantastic records. A lot of the Torch stuff came from him.
He then moved on to becoming a record company type guy. He wanted to reissue these in-demand records. So he got in bed with Selectadisc, who were definitely the biggest retailer of northern soul in Britain. One night they brought him to the Brit and he had a look in my box, probably laughed at some of the five pound sounds there. But one thing he liked: he had a deep passion for British labels. Out of my box, I had a good few British records: Kenny Bernard’s “What Love Brings,” which was an emerging sound and it was only on English Pye. And he wanted all of them.
He showed me a box of absolutely top notch winners. Some I’d heard of. Some for the first time, like “World Without Sunshine” by Sandra Phillips and “Take Away the Pain Stain” by Patti Austin. I was the first person ever. I mean, Ian Levine didn’t even have them. We did a trade and I started to play them. My reputation went, like, “WOW!” Suddenly I was getting gigs from all over the place. Really, my reputation grew over the course of four weeks, from August 1973 onwards. That was it for me. I was suddenly getting calls. We went to the Mecca, I showed Ian Levine some records. He was going out of his mind at some of the stuff I’d got. So of course I was a giant ego. On September 30th, 1973, we’d been at the Mecca and the mini-bus – I’d taken my records with me, as I did everywhere...
On the off chance?
Well...Yes and no. I would never have taken my records to Blackpool Mecca because I would never have been worthy. It was more for credibility. In those days it was a macho thing. You’d got your box, people have a look and you got the seal of approval. “Bloody hell, have you seen what he’s got in there?”
The mini-bus crew said: “Change of direction. We’re not going home. We’re going to the new all-nighter in Wigan.” All right. Okay. Went down. Paid our money to get in. There I was with my box. We walked in and I distinctly remember it. The first thing: there weren’t many DJs on. And secondly: the music was crap. No, it wasn’t crap, but the records were easily available. You could buy them from Selectadisc. And there wasn’t much I didn’t know. So to me the night was an anti-climax after the Mecca because they did have records that I didn’t have. Lots of them. So my mates were really uptight about it. One of them went up to the resident disc jockey Russ Winstanley. “Have you got Sandra Phillips? Have you got ‘Pain Stain’?” “Er no. What are these?” “You want to get ‘im on! Kev Roberts from Nottingham.” “Who’s he? I’ve never heard of him.”
It was a strange all-nighter in that it was the only one where nobody knew the DJ names. Ordinarily, if you’d got a big room and a big all-nighter the first thing you’d do was book Ian Levine, Colin Curtis or Keith Minshull. But for some unknown reason Russ Winstanley didn’t go down that road. Himself and a guy called Ian Fishwick, just a local pop DJ from Wigan, had decided to play northern soul with nobody else on. So I became the next man in line.
I went on. I played an hours worth of my top tunes and they went down a storm. They loved them. I was up there absolutely petrified. It was a massive room. And Russ came up to me and said, “Great. Do you wanna work here every week? Ten pounds.” There I went. Really from that moment on, northern soul took over. I got bookings everywhere, the phone never stopped ringing.
Chris Burton in Stoke in particular had recognised that northern soul was very popular. He phoned local Mecca dancehalls and on a Monday to Thursday night he’d make sure there was a northern soul night and I’d be sent there to do a job. There’d be a pop DJ playing hits of the day: the Sweet, Gary Glitter. Then I’d come on and play [R. Dean Taylor’s] “There’s a Ghost in My House.” The Sweet crowd would sit down and the baggy trouser brigade would get up. It was bizarre. But it taught me a lot about being a DJ. That’s when I really had to started thinking seriously about being a disc jockey.
The first time I realised what other DJs were about was at Tiffany’s in Coventry. I suddenly had become a big DJ, but that’s only because I had the songs from this new underground culture. I wasn’t a DJ DJ. A DJ DJ was Pete Waterman, who was the resident DJ at Tiffany’s Coventry. Pete really showed me the way later on in life, how to do it properly.
Could we talk more about the rivalries that developed between Wigan and Blackpool?
I think as Russ grew in stature with Wigan Casino, the Casino developed its own crowd. Very different to the Mecca. So Ian Levine was king of his castle and Russ Winstanley was king of his. The two didn’t mix. Ian Levine was playing his own sounds. He wasn’t interested in Wigan. He wasn’t interested or influenced by what they were playing. But neither was Russ Winstanley. He might have thought he needed Ian at some stage, but he had a bigger venue. By Christmas of 1973 – no disrespect to Blackpool Mecca – but they were running second. There were 2,000 people at Wigan. Why would Russ even have to listen to what Ian had to say? Even though Ian Levine was the most creative, he was the most innovative, he had the best records, it didn’t make any difference. With Russ, myself and, by January ’74, Richard Searling, whatever we played we had an even bigger dancefloor.
Was Russ more of a crowd-pleaser than Ian?
Well, Russ was nowhere near as intelligent or innovative as Ian Levine. I think Russ would be the first to agree with that. But I wouldn’t say that he played only to the crowd. The problem was that Wigan had an awfully big dancefloor and I remember very much playing a record that I love to this day called “Do You Love Me Baby” by the Masqueraders. I had the first copy in the country. When I first got it I thought this is going to be a monster and I played it about six time over three weeks, but it was a disaster. It cleared the floor. It probably wouldn’t have cleared the floor at Blackpool, but on that massive dancefloor, unless the tempo was really kicking immediately, the record was a no-no.
It was heartbreaking when early white label copies of “Goodbye Nothing To Say” by Javells were being touted and Russ first played it, as did I, I might add. I didn’t like it, but, wearing my DJ hat, I found myself with a new pop record that had just been recorded for the Pye label filling the dancefloor and my great soul record from 1967, the Masqueraders, a disaster. That was the difference between Wigan Casino and the Mecca. The tempo was absolutely critical because of the size of the venue.
Was there a difference in the drug consumption of Wigan and Blackpool?
Oh yes. Absolutely. Wigan was 95% drugs. Blackpool was more like 30%. If a person is swallowing by 12 and speeding by three, you’d best be ready with something fast, because anything slower is not going to happen. Wigan Casino had the fastest tempo of any all-nighter.
Your love of northern soul eventually took you to the States. How did that happen?
I first went to New York in 1975. I found some northern soul records scouring through the yellow pages, as per usual for someone who’d never been before. I was oblivious to bad areas. If someone said, “Hey, I know a soul shop in Spanish Harlem,” there could be gunfire passing my nose, but I didn’t care less. All I knew was that shop on 122nd Street and 8th Avenue had got soul and I was going. This opened my eyes to a different sound, because the Mecca was now playing what I call modern soul. They weren’t playing disco, though. They were playing “Cashing In” [by The Voices of East Harlem], “Seven Day Lover” and a few other modern ones.
I always remember going to a store called Downstairs Records in New York. Run by Nick – I was Nick’s first supplier of 12-inch British singles – and a guy called Roy. They’d originally worked at Greenline in Queens, both ’50s doo-wop collectors. They’d recognised the disco scene was developing. So they opened a shop selling oldies and new stuff. I saw piles and piles of guys wandering in and they’d just go in and listen at the counter. Stuff on Scepter, Roulette and Wand. They were piling 12-inch singles up and walking out with them. So I started to take a few back.
Didn’t you take him South Shore Commission?
Yeah, but the one record that really changed it for me was the O’Jays “I Love Music” because I had the first copy. I met this guy Tony Gioe, who was the DJ at Peppermint Lounge and also the A&R man for Midland International. He was the guy that licensed Silver Convention and he had the only copy of “I Love Music” because Kenny Gamble had given it to him. I came back off this trip and told Ian Levine I’d heard this fantastic record by the O’Jays. He said, “Great,” thinking it’d be there shortly. A month later it started to get to him. He said, “I’ve tried everywhere and no one knows anything about it.” Next time I went Tony was still playing it and I persuaded him to give me the record.
I think the Ritz all-dayers had just started in Manchester, so a slightly different crowd was developing. The Ritz had a northern soul crowd, but it also had a bit of a dance crowd. “I Love Music” really opened the doors, I think, to new singles. It made dance records acceptable to the northern crowd. It paved the way for things like “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel,” which was a northern soul monster. “Young Hearts Run Free,” another perfect one for a northern crowd.
Was this when the “split” was happening?
Yeah. Some records escalated the split. I can picture the face of someone hearing “I Love Music.” They’d be saying, “It’s a bit of a new one, this, in’t it? But it’s a good ’un.” In the middle of those three I’ve mentioned that were acceptable was another one: “Turn the Beat Around” by Vickie Sue Robinson. A record hated by the hardcore. But a monster to everybody else.
Who started playing it?
Undoubtedly, Ian Levine. From the moment “I Love Music” had been accepted, Ian made a pact with himself to say northern is unofficially dead. And he went completely into the disco thing. In some quarters it worked a treat, and he captured a different audience. But some of the hustle-type records he was playing were not well received in northern soul terms.
Did he alienate his traditional crowd? Did he attract a new crowd?
Both. The alienated went down to Wigan and stayed there. He brought a new crowd in. Manchester people.
What was the difference in crowd composition?
It was a slicker, more smartly dressed, trendier crowd. More club oriented. City people. Undoubtedly the group that broke the mould for the Mecca was Brass Construction. When they started playing “Movin’” by Brass Construction, that brought in a different level of person altogether. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was a natural progression. But it was a funkier groove. It was a new tempo for people north of Watford to get into. It was the time when the Chris Hill, Robbie Vincent thing moved up north. Around 1979 was when the north and south were coming together for the first time. That was the progressive movement of Blackpool Mecca, Levine and Curtis. More so, Colin Curtis for the funkier kind of groove.
Yeah, I see Levine being more of a South Shore Commission guy.
Yeah. Colin liked the look of the James Brown thing and got into that.
Why do you think the scene died? I know Wigan lost its license, but was it on its way out anyway?
No doubt about it. People were growing up, getting married. End of an era.
I was a radio anorak. And KISS FM came like a breath of fresh air.
How long did you continue to go to New York?
I lived there in 1978. Mainly record dealing. By ’78 I was fully aware of the dance scene in New York, obviously. A lot of these DJs were turning me on to record stores and knew I was into an older sound.
When I think back to the characters I met... I used to supply a store with the great name of Disco Disc in Forest Hills. There was a guy named Bob Miller. He used to supply all the DJs who worked in the Queens area. John Benitez was one of the DJs I saw at Disco Disc. After that, I wished I kept in touch with him! Larry Levan was a great DJ. I remember the Paradise Garage. He used to play a lot of soulful stuff. I remember him turning me on to a brilliant record called “Padlock” by Gwen Guthrie. That was the record at the Garage. Didn’t get into the Studio 54 thing.
I saw Larry Levan at a KISS-FM launch party in 1980 when that brand was launched. There was only WBLS in New York at that time playing black music. Everybody listened to Frankie Crocker, who had a northern hit with “Ton of Dynamite.” He played the black hits of the day, on a funkier, harder edge. KISS came on and they were very hot at taking records and breaking them well up front.
I was a radio anorak. And they came like a breath of fresh air. For KISS FM’s first week campaign, they developed a jingle: “107.5 has been disconnected. Retune to 98.7 KISS-FM.” I thought, “Fucking hell, that’s fantastic. They discredited BLS. They won a new audience by being young and happening.” I don’t think [BLS] were ready for the competition around the corner. Then WKTU came and gave KISS a run for their money.
KTU had a totally different style: DJs with no personality. And it was a winner. They used to say so little. They used to come on: “This is ten past two. KTU.” And that was it! They never said anything. But they were playing “You’re the One for Me” by D-Train and “Can You Handle It?” by Sharon Redd. I could see what they were doing. Because of the tempo of the market, they’d got a relationship with the promo men at these record companies and they were getting the records so far upfront.
But you’d go down the coast towards Philadelphia in the same period (1980-81) and you’d find DJs pulling 1,500 to 2,000 people with odd records that were not from any particular musical genre. They’d be playing Don Covay’s “Better to Have and Don’t Need” from ’74; they’d be playing “I Do” by the Mighty Marvellos from 1965, which is on the fringe of northern soul. Get to Philadelphia and ask about people like Gerry Blavert, playing brilliant records. It doesn’t sound very happening, but from then on I was really just into the oldies thing. I used to go down to Philadelphia a lot. And the beach music scene down in North Carolina.
Tell me about the beach music scene.
Beach music started in the ’50s with boozy R&B songs. If you lived in Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham or Greensboro, North Carolina, you’d go to Myrtle Beach and have a few beers and there’d be a local club playing ’50s R&B. So that became the basis of the beach music scene. Not only do they call it beach music, but the style of dancing is called shagging.
This is where the Tams came from then.
Yeah. I first cottoned on to this when I became friendly with a very influential DJ down there called John Hook. He’s the man who really broke beach music down there. I couldn’t believe how big it was till I went there. I was at a Holiday Inn and someone’s playing a beach music tape and I’m listening to [the Tams’] “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.”
Was that a Torch song?
Yeah. Musically, I’m not saying that it’s great, by the way. You know what their big anthem is? [The Drifters’] “More Than a Number in My Little Red Book!” Again, another strange scene. Again, anoraking on the radio, I got just past the Delaware Bridge and on AM radio on WBT 1110 I picked up this beach music stuff. I stopped and phoned the DJ and explained to him what northern soul was. He was shocked that I was looking for these northern obscurities on small Detroit labels.
Does this beach scene still exist?
Yeah. It’s a working class scene, blue collar. A few beers and a bop with a little cool element because the records were not always hits. Northern soul was like that. Two guys working in a factory.
Can we move on to cover-ups [DJs covering up their secret weapons with fake labels]?
It was an interesting, quirky thing started by Ian Levine, I think. He was protective. It was great when they were playing Freddy Jones “My Heart’s Wide Open” for about six months. It turned out to be by the Coasters on Atco. But I wasn’t really a fan of it and I don’t ever remember covering up records myself.
Do you think people did take it seriously?
Yeah, they did. But that was at the tail-end of the Wigan Casino when I think northern soul was going crazy. Credibility-wise, northern soul had two big disasters. Disaster one: In late 1974 the record companies clocked on to what was happening and started infiltrating northern sounds and won over Russ Winstanley and persuaded him that this is where it was at. And Russ started playing “Goodbye Nothing to Say.” Then he extended it to “Hawaii Five-O” and the “Theme from Police Story” and hideous, stupid pop records. They became popular, because they were odd stompers, but they didn’t have any substance.
Richard had become the new Ian Levine, and Russ totally went against that and created his own dancefloor.
By the Ventures. Russ played it and it was massive. That very much swayed me against Wigan. I was still playing there – this would be late ’75 – but I did not like that at all.
The next big mistake was 1978. For some unknown reason, there was an abundance of good northern soul records being played by Richard Searling, but I think the problem was Richard had become the new Ian Levine. He’d got the cover-ups, he’d got the unknowns, he’d got the good sources. Russ totally went against that and created his own dancefloor.
I’m not saying Richard Searling packed the dancefloor any more than Russ. But Russ suddenly went a million miles down the road and started to find pop stompers that were worse than the first lot. I’ll give you an example. He used to play “Theme from Joe 90” by the Ron Grainer Orchestra. Obscure pop records like “Nine Times out of Ten” by Muriel Day, which was the other side of an Irish Eurovision entry. Just bizarre. Dusty Springfield. American obscurities with almost Dolly Parton-type vocals.
That was the kiss of death. The real soul fans were getting off on what Richard was trying to do – find good American soul records, but I think he was on his own. The northern scene was shrinking. And if you went to a local disco in Warrington it would be “Nine Times out of Ten.” And homemade stuff, because he was working for Casino Classic who were re-recording stuff like “Skiing in the Snow.”
What was Richard playing?
In the early part of the Casino, Richard brought “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones and lots of credible stuff. By the later stages there was only Richard and Russ left as residents because I’d left, and you liked either one of the other, because what they played was so different. Casino Classics came from Spark and Barry Kingston. They had a few hits like “Three Before Eight.” They then went crazy and started issuing bizarre records like “Theme from Joe 90.” How did that come about? Richard stuck to his guns and started to introduce records like Cecil Washington’s “I Don’t Like to Lose,” obscure American 45s.
All this talk of cover-ups brings me to the tale of “Do I Love You.” For years you owned the only copy in existence, didn’t you?
By Frank Wilson. I’ll tell you the story of Frank Wilson. It was a disc unearthed by a guy who’s no longer with us called Tom dePierro. Tom was an archivist who was employed by Motown to reactivate the Motown Yesteryear series. Tom didn’t manage to get many fantastic records released at that time, but he did manage to put some other stuff out. On a chance meeting with Simon Soussan, Tom loaned Simon some records and in there was the Frank Wilson disc.
Simon heard it and did some research surrounding it and it turns out that nobody had ever seen or heard it. He subsequently covered it over, sent some acetates to England, notably to Russ Winstanley, who was definitely the first person to play it and he called it “Do I Love You?” by Eddie Foster. Eddie Foster, incidentally, was already someone who’d had a northern soul hit, so he chose this pseudonym to make people believe it was him. The record was instantly massive.
Simon Soussan quickly pressed up copies, which sold like wildfire. Soussan then decided to sell his record collection and a guy called Les McCutcheon, who discovered Shakatak, acquired the disc reputedly for $500, which was a lot of money back then. The record then left Les’s hands to a guy called Jonathan Woodliffe. I bought the record from Jonathan for a load of albums and 12-inches worth £350, an unearthly sum. I remember very clearly that the minute I bought it quite a few people – because northern was dying then, it was ’79/’80 – said to me, “Oh, it is by Frank Wilson and it’s on a Tamla Motown subsidiary. £350? There’s loads of them around.” So I kept it, never thought any more about it.
Slowly, over the ’80s I’d get the odd call every six months: “Have you got the Frank Wilson record? Do wanna sell it? I’ll give you £700 for it.” Anyway, got to about 1987 and suddenly I was being offered a grand for it. The upshot of it was I kept it till 1991 and Tim Brown offered me £5,000 for it. So I sold it. Here’s the rub. Our partner in Goldmine, Martin Koppell, bought a Motown collection from a guy called Ron Murphy in Detroit and a second copy was unearthed in the early ’90s. And that copy has just been sold to a collector in Scotland for £15,000!” So there are two copies now. The first ever copy is with Tim Brown and the second copy, which is in better condition, is with this guy in Scotland.
There have been a bunch of revivals over the years. How do you feel about it all now?
Well, there was only one golden era of northern soul. There was only one definitive playlist. Now, you can argue how many records were on that playlist, but really it’s no more than about 200. I’m talking “Landslide” [by Tony Clarke], “There’s a Ghost in My House” [by R. Dean Taylor] and [Gloria Jones] “Tainted Love.” The absolutely stonking mega dancefloor fillers.
This interview was conducted in September 1998 in London. © DJ History
To hear the sounds of Wigan Casino, check out the playlist below, exclusively compiled by Kev Roberts for DJ History.