Feature: Still keeping the Faith

“I’VE never known anything like that last night. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. When everything finished at 8am, we all just sat on the dancefloor and refused to move until they played some more music. We didn’t want it to end.

“So Russ Winstanley, the DJ who was finishing it all off, just said, ‘fuck it, what are they going to do? Take the licence off us?’ and carried on playing records. We got another couple of hours or so.

“People were just pulling the place apart, taking souvenirs there and then. I came out with a bag full of carpet tiles and the No Smoking sign from the kitchen. It wasn’t much, but it was something”.

When Wigan Casino closed in 1981, for many Northern Soul fans, it really was the end of an era. For Neil Jones, a 17-year-old from nearby Warrington, it was, “like losing a relative. Horrible”.

In its heyday in the late Seventies, Wigan Casino was packed out every Saturday night with more than a thousand clubbers, paying a fiver a head, dancing from midnight until 8am. Once a month, there would also be a Friday all-nighter which concentrated on musical golden oldies.

Fuelled by pure teen spirit and, occassionally, not-so-pure amphetimine sulphate, the crowd, which was around 70 per cent male, would spin and gyrate to the heavily-syncopated and lushly-orchestrated American music known as Northern Soul.

Neil Jones first became aware of the music at his local youth club and had soon got into a regular Saturday night routine of convincing his mum he was staying the night at a mate’s house, then hitting the Carlton Club in Warrington for a couple of pints before legging it over to Bankheath Station to catch the 11.07 pm train to Wigan. The trainload of soulboys hit the town, a mere 12 miles away, just as the pubs were closing and faced the choice of heading along the canal toepath, “where anything could happen”, or running the gauntlet of Wigan’s main drag.

Their principal tormentors were rock music-loving regulars from the Minorca, a pub with a particularly violent reputation, who didn’t appreciate a load of what they regarced as freaks – and freaks from Warrington at that – stepping into their town, pulling their birds, staring at their pints etc. It wasn’t pleasant ..

Read the rest of this piece at the new home of Expletive Undeleted here.

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