Of all soul’s sub genres (indeed of all of popular music’s myriad categories) few provoke more discussion and debate than “Northern soul” and within Northern circles there’s nothing more contentious than the status and importance of Wigan Casino. The old Empress ballroom was one of the main temples of the cult known as Northern soul and through the 70s worshippers flocked there from all corners of the UK. It became a place of pilgrimage and as its status grew the debates started to rage about just how properly soulful was the soul peddled at the famed Wigan all-nighters by spinners like Russ Winstanley and Richard Searling.
This isn’t the place to take sides in the debate; we’re here simply to draw your attention to a brand new 3 CD box set that brings together every track issued by the Casino’s own label, Casino Classics, that flourished between 1978 and 1980.
The label was the brainchild of the aforementioned DJ Russ Winstanley and club manager Mike Walker. They knew that pilgrims in every age wanted souvenirs of their visits and what better souvenirs for visitors to the Casino than to sell them the music played there. Winstanley and Walker did a deal with RK/Spark Records and the label went on to issue two successful compilations and a stream of 45s. All that music has been reassembled for this box and over the full 57 tracks you can hear why the Casino and its music promoted so much argument.
Everything’s here – the good, the bad and the downright ugly! Casino Classics issued/reissued some fabulous soul music … including James and Bobby Purify’s ‘Shake A Tail Feather’, Jimmy Radcliffe’s ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ and Gloria Jones ‘Tainted Love’. They did also issue stuff that was a lot more questionable in the soul stakes… I mean when could the ‘Theme To Joe 90’ ever be considered a soul tune! Never, of course…. but the brassy TV puppet show theme had the right beats that the Wigan punters wanted and most of those who trekked there cared just for those beats and not the provenance of the music and speaking of provenance was there anything more dodgy than labelling Tony Blackburn “Lenny Gamble” and what about “Nosmo King” who appears cheek by jowl with people like Ramsey Lewis and JJ Barnes!
Like Northern soul itself, Casino Classics’ output was a right old rag bag and though this collection won’t resolve any debates it’s a great snapshot of a fabulous period in the history of the UK soul scene. Now where did I put my Spencers and that talcum powder?