September 9 2016: Aberdeen DJs at heart and soul of 70s sound

The Evening Express, September 9 2016

It could have gone either way for Steve Willox.

Just over 40 years ago, the taxi driver, 56, was walking along Union Street when he spotted a man wearing baggy trousers and a white blouse.

As a 15-year-old who was always up for a fight, Steve squared up to the man, who stood out from the crowd.

However, the man didn’t back down and invited Steve and his friends to a soul club.

“I used to go to the boxing club in Huntly Street.

“There was a guy coming up Union Street, I asked him what he was about.

“He said he was into soul music and asked if I wanted to come with him.

“I realised he was different, he wasn’t backing off.”

The blouse-wearing man was Elgin-born Keb Darge, now a world-renowned DJ and record collector.

After Steve attended his first soul night at the 62 Club in Summer Street, Keb invited him to Wigan Casino, where the subculture northern soul was taking off.

“I really enjoyed it,” says Steve, now a grandad-of-one, who grew up in Mastrick and Rosemount.

“Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were playing. “That was me, hook line and sinker.

“When you open the door and see 2,700 people dancing you think: ‘Where have I been?’”

The northern soul movement emerged in the late 1960s and 70s as music fans, mainly from the north of England, scoured record shops for rare soul.

It led to all-nighters in venues like Wigan Casino and Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club, where up-tempo B-sides and little-heard soul tunes were the soundtrack for energetic dance moves.

In Aberdeen, talcum powder was also being shaken across springy dance floors as women wearing full skirts danced alongside men in baggy trousers and vests.

They were listening to classics like The Key To My Happiness by The Charades and Tony Galla’s In Love in venues, including the Music Hall, Broadhill Bar and Belmont Social Club.

Years later the scene is still alive in the North-east and attracting a new generation.

Steve, a member of Aberdeen Soul Club alongside Des Crombie and Alan Sadler, is helping to organise Scotland’s annual all-nighter at the Beach Ballroom on Saturday.

It is a far cry from the all-nighter he organised at Tillydrone Community Centre in 1979 – the days before the internet existed – when handwritten leaflets were handed out.

“I was catering for 150 and 300 showed up,” says Steve.

“I just saw all these 52-seater buses coming in.

“We had to use mops to scrape the walls because of the sweat.”

Des, 47, says the North-east coast has always been a “hub” for the music scene. That could be down to the airforce bases, which had connections with the United States, he suggests.

Des got into northern soul when he was about 15, during the mod revival in the late 1970s.

He was on holiday in Scarborough when he came across an off-the-beaten track music store.

“Every record shop I’d been into, records had brightly coloured sleeves.

“This record shop, all the sleeves were white.”

The cheapest was £5.

It was the Newbeats, Don’t Turn Me Loose and it’s a purchase Des will never forget.

He started going to club nights and has fond memories of the Allanton Miners’ Club in Shotts, where people from all over Scotland and the north of England would meet.

Des, originally from Stonehaven, began collecting records and now has vinyls worth more than £10,000. Northern soul never disappeared,” says Des, who works in the oil industry. “There were people like myself who kept it going.”

Alan, 48, was a fan of the mod subculture growing up and used to ride a Vespa.

The grandad-of-one from Mastrick began to hear soul at an under age night called Boogaloos which sparked his interest.

Alan, a document controller for a law firm, accompanied a friend to a soul night in Dundee.

“That was it from then,” says Alan.

“Once you hear the music – and the words as well.”

The trio, who will DJ at the Aberdeen all-nighter, agree that the music and the friendliness of the scene are the reasons it has endured.

“It’s the music and coming together,” says Des.

“You don’t have to dance but if you love the music you’ll enjoy it.

“I always say to people: come along and actually experience it,” adds Alan.

For Steve, there’s no overstating how northern soul has changed his life and many others, he suspects.

“It’s generally just people who love music,” he says. “Some of the music is peoples’ saviour.

“I often wonder if I never got into music what road I would have taken.”

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