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The History of Wigan Casino and Northern Soul

Started by: tony g (295)

Three wonderful stickys of music and now the history

At 2am in the early hours of Sunday September 23 1973 the doors of the Wigan Casino opened to a crowd of people from all parts of the UK. Northern soul had arrived on my doorstep and with me looking for a new venue after the closure of the Twisted wheel in Manchester and the Torch at Stoke I was more than happy. That night will forever live in my memory and hopefully after writing this article will forever live with you. The line of people waiting patiently to get in stretched almost to the last bus stop on station rd heading to Wigan town centre. It was hard to beleive it was 1.30am Sunday morning,any normal person would have been in bed, clubs very rarely opened past 2am apart from the odd one or two in Wigan. Usually this time of a morning you generally stumble out of a club drunk or half way their. Not for me sober as a judge thats if they stay sober these days. My shoulder bag packed with fresh cloths,shoes,talc, brut and the odd soul record on a black 45 vinyl. I lined up with the crowd, accents from as far north as Aberdeen and south of London. I sensed this was special,something different from the wheel and torch. At 2am Mike Walker god rest his soul opened the doors on Station rd, the crowd moved forward past the very hard faced dicky bowed bouncers and onto the staircase that would eventually take you to what I call the big doors of heaven, paid my quid and entered the atmosphere which anyone who remembers will testify was something I am sorry to say we will never experience again, it was bloody amazing, the smells of deodorant, the taste of sweat, the music thumping and finally the dancing. The Casino and Wigan had arrived on the world stage, well not just yet but nothing was going to stop this roller coaster, X factor, you must be fkin joking.

To be continued

Started: 15th Apr 2011 at 12:06
Last edited by tony g: 23rd Apr 2011 at 23:32:29

Posted by: kenny (inactive)

Nice one tony

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 14:52

Posted by: tonker (24051) 

I wouldn't say 'world stage'. The only people to have heard of it, other than locals, were Soul fans.
Many times, on mentioning Wigan Casino, people have asked "how much have you won"? or "how much do you lose"?

Ask any non-soul-orientated person in Wigan "do you know of the Torch in Tunstall"? and they'll answer with "where's Tunstall"?

PS: I met a girl from Norton at the Casino and spent a while going down there. Her main local place at the time was the Top Rank Suite, in Hanley. I'd say the Midlands was more Soul orientated than here.

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 15:15
Last edited by tonker: 15th Apr 2011 at 15:23:52

Posted by: baker boy (15574)

tonker wheres tunstall,are you trying to belittle wigan, you trying to say wigan casino was,nt known world wide

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 15:37

Posted by: tonker (24051) 

Tunstall is where 'The Torch' was.
No, I'm not trying to belittle Wigan, but a lot of people don't know where it is. Rather like you don't know where Tunstall is.
And yes, I am saying that Wigan Casino wasn't known worldwide.

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 16:00
Last edited by tonker: 15th Apr 2011 at 16:08:04

Posted by: dodger (3414)

Tunstall is in Staffordshire baker boy, tonker's girlfriend probably called him "mi duck"

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 16:31

Posted by: heritagelass (116)

BBC Radio Manchester at noon today - John Stapleton's programme on Wigan. He included an item on Wigan Casino and
Northern Soul, speaking to Russ Winstanley. The soul scene
in Wigan was world-famous which you can hear about - listen
to the programme on BBC i-player!

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 16:54

Posted by: kenny (inactive)

bakerboy

You should know what yon mons like by now mate

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 17:46

Posted by: joseph 1 (inactive)

Tony your attention is needed here.

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 18:54

Posted by: dave whittle (245) 

sorry to be a kill joy but in 1973 apart from a couple thousand soul fans in Britain, plus some rugby league fans in Australia nobody had any idea where Wigan was,you always had to say between Manchester and Liverpool when explaining where you came from.

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 21:41

Posted by: jem glover (1934) 

Hey up Tony nice one.I also went to the Casino on the first Allnighter 29th Sep 1973 only I got let in a side door where a band where bringing there stuff out into a van they had been playing on the Saturday night.So I saw a lad I new who was a few years older than me,who was a bouncer. Sadly no longer with us died far to young. Eddie McCormic lived in Greatacre Whelley when he was a kid,lived near me as I lived in Longshoot just a couple of Streets away.So there you are another free un for Glover and his mate.This was just before the doors opened so I was one of the first in there,but the last to be made a member that night. Mrs Woods could'nt fathem how I had got past without already being made a member,it was a white card but I've not been able to find it gone missing.Always wondered if the membership book survived after the Casino Closed.Think the cost that first night to get in was 75p.Don't know how much that is in today's money something like a fiver.

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 21:59

Posted by: kenny (inactive)

jem

My mate was wondering why you have pulled out of the music link

Replied: 15th Apr 2011 at 23:25

Posted by: tony g (295)

The History of Wigan Casino and Northern Soul

Part One

As weeks went by after the opening night I began to meet people from all over the UK and of course my own mates from Wigan. One particular lad I met was from Aldershot by the name of Meggy never knew his real name but he introduced himself by asking if I had any gear, I said no of course but knew where he was able to get it. About two hours later inside the casino I saw him on the dance floor, dance, he made the people on so you think you can dance look like prats, this boy had movement and dance rhythm down to a tee, he glided on the floor and would then just produce a routine of high kicks, back drops and a spin of the toes you thought he was on roller skates, I then realised I was a shit dancer and watched his moves for about 3 weeks went home and perfected them. Then one night I decided to try out my routine with a few moves of my own. I started at the front of the stage on the left near the toilets, at least if I made a twat of myself I could escape out of sight for a while and yes I did a few times but then everything clicked into place, the sounds of nothing can compare by the Velvet Satins helped me perfect my dance steps and to this day I have never lost it. When I go to the Northern soul events all over Australia, New Zealand and would you believe a few years ago Japan, (not famous, never heard of Wigan quote, Tonker) I love the people who relate to Wigan and the northern scene. For the casino the music got better week in week out, the DJs Russ and company just produced them out of that 45s box every week, god knows how they found them, mixed in with the sounds of the twisted wheel and Torch the place became a mecca for non commercial black music thrown in the rubbish by the US. Every Saturday afternoon I would go to Wigan Markets to Russ Winstanleys little stall outside the front of the main hall and browse through all these wonderful sounds on black vinyl. I would never miss a Saturday at that stall for a long time even if it was freezing or pissing down, Wigan had something special and I was a big part of it, life would never be the same.

Replied: 16th Apr 2011 at 05:37
Last edited by tony g: 16th Apr 2011 at 10:42:47

Posted by: brianjgreen (492)

I was sat with russ in his kitchen having a brew when the interveiw was on,yes it was voted the best venue in the world by the music press they even phoned from america and spoke to russ.But does all this realy matter so long as the people who went enjoyed themselves the music meeting other like minded people,they were not botherd if it was world famous it was the music thst made it for them and looking forward to the next allnighter.Keep The Faith

Replied: 16th Apr 2011 at 09:19

Posted by: jem glover (1934) 

Good answer Brian,at the end of the day (it's night)only joking.It's the music that count's,people who have an interest in it (Soul Music) ie Northern Motown or R and B.and have something good to say about the music are most welcome to say it.When you get people that are not to bothered about this type of music and are giving negative comments that's when it begins to get up your nose.I know every one as their own views on all things in life,but this is a northern soul thread and should left to the people who love the music.

Replied: 16th Apr 2011 at 11:53
Last edited by jem glover: 16th Apr 2011 at 18:41:14

Posted by: kenny (inactive)

He does it on every thread jem

Replied: 16th Apr 2011 at 17:36

Posted by: baker boy (15574)

i,ve beeen driving around the uk delivering the dough for donkeys years,don,t know where tunstall is indeed,i say it again tonker wigan casino was known world wide

Replied: 16th Apr 2011 at 19:44

Posted by: tony g (295)

The History of Wigan Casino and Northern Soul

Part 2

Not only did Wigan have something special just 45 minutes away along the M6 and everybodys favourite seasisde resort Blackpool Mecca and the highland room was playing its version of northern soul. Ian Levine was the brains behind what can only be described as a point of difference in northern soul music, the sounds where different more towards a modern day jazz func soul. I alway say you take music as it comes, some sounds are brilliant and some you disgard, Levines approach was to early, yes this music had something but northern soul was still banging out sounds from the 60s and early 70s and most hard core northern soul followers where not ready for this new version, it caused disturbance between DJs across the scene and the rift began, Wigan or Mecca. Well we all know which club won that contest but I for one enjoyed the mecca and the highland room especially the alldayers on Sunday. It went something like this Casino Sunday 2am to 8am, Wigan baths from 10am to 12pm and off to Blackpool and the mecca, not too sure what time it ended could never remember but Monday morning heading off to Horwich loco works was not my ideal cup of tea. Bolton also had a terrific northern soul venue called va vas and I must admit some of the best sounds still around today came out of that wonderful place. My routine never changed each weekend looking for venues playing what became an obsession of powerful mind blowing northern soul. How I ever finished my apprenticship without getting the sack I will never know to this day. Once I took a tape cassette player into the toolroom of Horwich loco works, even the old blokes got into it, its that kind of music, it makes you happy, sad, cry and love. Not only was the music a trend but the fashion what came with it. I must have spent a fortune on having suits, trousers, leather jackets, shirts and shoes all made to measure and do so to this very day. Their comes a point in your life when you have to move on, I wanted to but this obsession had a strangle hold and was taking its toll.

Replied: 17th Apr 2011 at 10:54

Posted by: upthetims (6576)

Jem,I don't remember Edmund Mc Cormack being a bouncer,there was more meat on a dirty fork.I grew up with Edmund,he would have been 60 now,his sister Alice is having chemo at present,hoping she beats it.Edmund was same age as Frankie Gary,who along with his cousin Johnny Laithwaite I have not seen for years

Replied: 17th Apr 2011 at 19:29

Posted by: tony g (295)

The History of Wigan Casino and Northern Soul

Part Three

The first anniversary came quickly at the casino and as you can guess it was full to the rafters, people where still lined up outside 3 hours after the doors opened at 2am that night or should I say morning, the dance floor was full on every northern soul record played, the walls covered in condensation and people covered in sweat from head to toe. I remember lying down under a table for a quick rest after doing a good hour stint on the dance floor all of a sudden water was driping off the ceiling onto my face, I thought someone was having a laugh and pouring water on me. This is what people experienced for the first time if they entered the place, a dump of a night club, sweaty, smelly toilets, condensation off the walls and ceiling, even the tear drops of cigarette smoke mixed in, the odours of bodies smelling of brut or some other cheap deodorant and guess what you would not want it any other way, it was brilliant. The gear was kicking in and life was magic for 6 hours untill after 8am when it was back onto station rd with a howling cold breeze blowing straight from across Scholes. I can still feel it now and it sends a cold shiver right through me, that was the worst time of the scene the morning after of what do I do now to kill time before we move onto the next venue. The northern soul scene was never glamorous or who,s who of the rich and famous, it was exactly the opposite most members all working class, hated their jobs because they had no choice in what job they did, their was no pick and choose so when you bring all these people together they are freinds for life, following the same music, fashion and lifestyle, they understood the words being blasted out by the likes of Edwin Starr, Jimmy Radcliffe and many others, we can relate to it, the hardship, the loss and the love of something or person you had but now gone. The northern soul scene was big and reality is the commercial world wanted a peice of it, did we want the world to know about something we had made secret underground for many years from the wheel, the torch, Wigan and many others.

Replied: 18th Apr 2011 at 12:03

Posted by: sydneylass (2346) 

Tony could you please let me know next time there is a Northern Soul event on in Oz or where I can find the info. Thanks

Replied: 18th Apr 2011 at 12:16

Posted by: tony g (295)

Hi Sydneylass,

Theirs one at the Polish club

Saturday, April 30 at 7:30pm at The Polish Club, 10 Marie Street, Milton QLD
7.30pm till 12.30am. Resident DJ's Steve and Gaz plus guests spinning Northern Soul, R'n'B and Motown from original vinyl...

And one the Friady 7th May at Kingscross Sydney, Darlinghurst rd the place is called Tatlers, 9am to 2pm,

Soul weeknder in Melbourne 27,28 and 29th May 11.

Replied: 18th Apr 2011 at 12:32

Posted by: tony g (295)

The History of Wigan Casino and Northern Soul

Final

One night outside the casino I noticed a tv crew from ITV (Granada), cameras filming the line up of soulies along staion rd waiting for the doors to open for the casino, a lot of us where shouting piss off to the crew and shove your cameras up your arse. That moment suddenly dawned on me that our wonderful underground scene excluding the local drug squad of course had exposed the northern soul scene this night to the rest of the UK and eventually the world. The cameras finally entered inside the club and paraded around filming the dancers on the floor and we all know what became of the documentary once ITV had finished with it, its not hard to find on youtube and anyone can view it with a flick of the mouse. Never too sure what if it did any harm but the product became a marketing tool for too bit so called soul singers mainly white, re-released records played on radio 1 etc and finally top of the pops with some of our very own Wigans chosen few. My opinion is the Casino began to die after this and most of the original members moved on to lessor well known venues with djs still playing the music of the early days plus some recent modern stuff which to me was refreshing. Occasionally I would still go to the casino say once a month and it still had a great atmosphere, I would still meet people from all over the UK who had become freinds over the years. In 1981 the year it finally closed its doors for the last time I finally made the move to Sydney Australia, not because the casino shut but Thatcher did a good job of putting everyone out of work and I thought a change as good as a rest. 12,000 miles away from Wigan its now 2011 and the northern soul in Australia is massive. Ex Brits, some in their late 40s, I call them the young uns, my lot in their 50s and would you beleive many in their 60,s dancing like it was yesterday. My good mate here said to me one night, you can take everything I own and I would not give a fuck but take my Northern soul away and my life will end. Life is magic with northern soul may it continue for ever. KTF

Replied: 20th Apr 2011 at 11:07
Last edited by tony g: 20th Apr 2011 at 11:35:12

Posted by: ahcawntspeyk (5871)

Posted by: tonker (9786)
I wouldn't say 'world stage'. The only people to have heard of it, other than locals, were Soul fans.
Many times, on mentioning Wigan Casino, people have asked "how much have you won"? or "how much do you lose"?



Thats why in 1978 Billboard magazine in America voted the Casino the best disco (although i would never have classed it as a disco but i suppose they included all music venues) in the world ahead of New York's studio54.

Replied: 20th Apr 2011 at 20:25

Posted by: chatty (8548) 

How can the Midlands have been more soul orientated than here?
When the three biggest venues on the scene where in Manchester, Wigan and Blackpool?

Anyway many a time I heard people say they had lost £3 but won
three Black Bombers when talking about Wigan Casino

Replied: 21st Apr 2011 at 10:44
Last edited by chatty: 21st Apr 2011 at 10:44:42

Posted by: dave whittle (245) 

Tony q, you should have been a writer,sadly though only someone who lived through those times can truly understand your feelings,great music sometimes comes from depressing times,thanks for the memories

Replied: 23rd Apr 2011 at 18:28

Posted by: rio caroni (5077) 

Anybody go to the soul night at "The Hub" in King St last night

Replied: 24th Apr 2011 at 10:16

Posted by: pisolivadi (1812) 

Great nostalgic stuff, Tonyg , well done pal.

I was there too at the very first Casino allnighter, proud and excited in me Oxford bags; from memory my membership card number was 555, but me mam washed it in the pocket of my jeans.

Unlike yourself, I preferred Colin Curtis' stuff at the Highland Room at the time;and used to love gettin the train for the atmosphere on fridays at the tiny Pendulum Soul Club at MSG ,a cockstride from Victoria Station, then hitch-hiking back at some ridiculous hour. But there's no doubting those venues got dwarfed by the success of the what was going on in Wigan.

What tickles me a bit - is how a large chunk of Wigan's 1970's Councillors bad-mouthed the Cas early years regularly in the Observer, and did their level best to get it closed down. Whereas the contemporary bunch herald it as a rich vein of our popular culture and heritage.

The Aussie Northern Soul Scene sounds and looks in rude health just as it still is here in venues across the North West and beyond; Keep spreading the faith. Over the last year or so in Wigan there's an incredibly popular monthly Sunday N Soul All-Afternooner at Swinley Club. Full to the rafters.

Also, did you hear of the Radio 4 fictitious plays about the Casino, broadcast a week or two ago? Only heard one of them myself, written by Laura Barton, a young Guardian features writer, who I think hails from Wigan originally.

Thanks again for the three posts.

Replied: 4th May 2011 at 12:41
Last edited by pisolivadi: 4th May 2011 at 13:57:33

Posted by: tony g (295)

Hi Pisolivadi

yes I have been told about the Swinley on FB, looking forward to visiting the place when Im back in Sunny Wigan in September 11, not too sure about the plays though but would like to hear if possible

Cheers

Replied: 26th May 2011 at 03:54

Posted by: aitch (5487) 

It was really sad to see the old casino at the end, in this state


Replied: 31st May 2011 at 21:35
Last edited by aitch: 31st May 2011 at 21:41:06

Posted by: baker boy (15574)

smashed the casino/palais down to make the concrete monstrosity millgate hq,then only made it a sodding car park,council cretins,wanton megalamania

Replied: 31st May 2011 at 23:23

Posted by: tony g (295)

Hard to believe for people like myself but this weekend coming marks the 38th anniversary of Wigan Casino. Its amazing that this place and the northern soul scene never leaves your mind. Its special and only the people who went in the first few years would know that. KTF.

Replied: 4th Sep 2011 at 09:25

Posted by: jo anne (33719) 

@mancmadeprod (18th Apr, 2021):

Replied: 18th Apr 2021 at 19:50

Posted by: tonker (24051) 

Manc made ?

Manc spirit ?

Casino in Manchester ?

Owd Mon, Sorry !


Replied: 18th Apr 2021 at 23:18

Posted by: JR (259)

Tonker,
I know you tend to upset people on here occasionally but you also have some amazing knowledge and facts to share (you have particularly helped to pinpoint a location for me on the history section which I was struggling to find).
I do agree with you that Northern Soul has its roots more firmly fixed down Stoke way. Wigan later became popular for soul (the big night for me was the rock night - I never went to the all-nighter).
You mention Wigan Casino not being known worldwide. Again I agree, but this is an interesting little conversation. When my son was in music promotion he managed to get a band called Yeti to play in Wigan. The leader was John Hassall, formerly of the Libertines; very nice chap. Anyway, the band came to my house before the gig to use my computer (to view potential covers for their single which was out the next day). John and I had a chat (interrupted by knocks on the door from young girls asking when the band was coming out). John then asked why the Casino was pulled down. I gave him a rough history of the circumstances and he couldn't get his head around why it wasn't rebuilt as surely it must have been great for the town. He went on to say that he had just been in Detroit and everyone he spoke to there knew of Wigan Casino. It was even mentioned in the American Billboard Magazine.
So not worldwide as you quite rightly point out Tonker, but nice to know that it is recognised in some places overseas. I'm sure the Torch is too.

Replied: 20th Apr 2021 at 16:24

Posted by: tonker (24051) 

Yes, J.R.. If you asked "have you heard of coal" in Newcastle, you'd get the same reaction. Likewise, if you ask about Manchester United or Liverpool in, say, Barcelona or Madrid.
But, if you went to any non-English speaking country and asked about Wigan Casino, they'd just look at you blankly and ask, "No tinc ni idea de que parles, amic!".
If you wanted to catch a rabbit, you'd go where there are rabbits.
All the main soul venues will be known about by music fans in the capital of soul music.

As it is, there never was a 'Wigan Casino'.
Like there never was a 'Manchester Twisted Wheel', or a 'Tunstall Torch'. It was 'the Casino Club'. Officially. That's what it said on the tin. It just happened to be in Wigan!

It's the way of people from a near proximity to Wigan. They are obsessed with the name and add it to anything else as often as they can.

By the way, that band called "Yeti", did they base their name on that of their lead singer's current car, the Skoda Yeti?

Replied: 20th Apr 2021 at 19:17

Posted by: JR (259)

Thank you Tonker,
Gratefully received. I do know what you are saying and largely agree much of the time (sometimes I don't). Some witty humour too. Others may not get it!
However, I am sure we will have our differences on here. But I expect that that's what the site is all about. We must convey what we feel about Wigan. I've lived here all my life and have recently published a book of poetry based on Wigan. I'm happy with it but I expect it will provoke much criticism. I may even be ostracised. But I try to to be true.
Oh heck, I might have to move to Leigh!!!

Replied: 20th Apr 2021 at 20:24

Posted by: tonker (24051) 

"Oh heck, I might have to move to Leigh"!!!

Well, there you go. Leigh is just as much 'in Wigan' as any other WMBC administrated area. Except Wigan, of course.

Replied: 20th Apr 2021 at 20:49

Posted by: JR (259)

I can claim Georgie Fame as a native then - many thanks.

Replied: 20th Apr 2021 at 20:56

Posted by: ianp. (711) 

To be truthful, I have to partly agree with tonker and say that 'world stage' is difficult to accept as this Earth of ours has a vast surface area and not only is it populated, but there are many cultures with different genres of music. Soul music and Motown music aren't interesting in certain lands and so 'Wigan Casino' has no meaning to many people and no interest - music wise - to these people.

Additionally, I lived and worked in America for a while. I worked for an American organisation and I worked with Americans . I also spent a lot of my time with Americans, in the bars, playing soccer and rugby etc. Not one of them had even heard of Wigan. Most of them knew two places: London and Liverpool. When I asked them how they knew Liverpool, I got the same answer: 'The Beatles'.

If you asked me the question: 'What, regarding music, put England on the world stage?'
I would give you this answer: 'The Beatles'.

By the way, I like some Soul music and early Motown. I visited Detroit and stayed there for a couple of days, when I lived in America.

Sadly! The possible truth is this: 'Most Americans haven't a clue where Wigan is and haven't a clue about anything to do with Wigan.
For proud Wigan Casino fans, it is difficult to accept that the land which introduced England to Soul and Motown does not entirely recognise, what Wigan Casino fans believe is, the heart of Northern Soul.
But, it is probably the same for those proud New Yorkers when it comes down to talking about Studio 57.
Also, how many of the younger generation or Wiganers know anything about the 'Cavern Club' or the 'Star-Club'?
It is part of your life, it is part of your history, it is part of your great love, it is 'in your blood', then you want it to be the best and to be famous. Whatever it has to do with you and the way you feel about it, is the opinion you project.
Whatever the genre of music you like and the precious memories you keep alive inside of you, enjoy them.
Does it really matter how famous it is or how much it means to others?
If it keeps you happy, that is all that counts.

Replied: 21st Apr 2021 at 13:58

Posted by: jo anne (33719) 

Last Night at Wigan Casino - Kickstarter Link
A book of photographs documenting the last all-nighter at Wigan Casino in 1981.


@Revealed_Book

Replied: 24th Apr 2021 at 08:09

 

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