Where the Forgotten are Remembered
Stuart Cosgrove on the underground stars of the northern soul scene
Ahead of publication of his brilliant new book, Young Soul Rebels (Polygon) we’re delighted to share this lovely piece from Stuart Cosgrove. We have two copies to give away, check out our Facebook page for how to enter. Thanks to Stuart and all at Birlinn/ Polygon.
Northern soul resists simple definition but has many unique claims to fame. It is the most durable of Britain’s post-war youth subcultures, outlasting many more famous music scene like teddy boys, punk and grunge rock. The northern scene emerged in the mid 1960s as a continuation of the Mod scene and is still thriving today. It has a unique dance style that breaks with the courting rituals of teenage love – men and women dance alone, not as partners – and the style is often acrobatic, emotive and spectacular.More importantly, the scene has turned vinyl record collecting into an obsession, with some of the scene’s ‘holy grail’ records changing hands for thousands of pounds; one of the most famous records associated with the scene, Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ on the Motown subsidiary Soul Records, changed hands at auction for over £25,000.
But one feature that the northern soul scene shares with rock music and the movies is the passionate tragedy of young death. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Brian Jones, Marc Bolan and Kurt Cobain have written their names in the galaxy of fame as much for the circumstances of their death as the lives they led. Northern soul cherishes its role as a saviour of the neglected – rescuing some acts from being almost wholly forgotten while others have been plucked from semi-obscurity to be given the status of gods.
One woman stands head and shoulders above the rest. Linda Jones was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey.
She recorded her first single as a nineteen-year-old and was mentored by producer George Kerr, who in 1967 secured her a contract with the Warner Brothers subsidiary Loma records. Linda was blessed with one of the great voices of the gospel heritage but her only significant national hit was the blistering ballad ‘Hypnotized’ which grazed the outer reaches of the pop charts. Unable to crack the conundrums of African-American music, Warner Brothers closed down Loma in 1968, leaving great soul records by The Apollas, Larry Laster and Ben Aiken languishing in the obscurity of thrift shops and ghetto record stores. Linda Jones returned home and signed to a series of tiny East Coast labels but again success evaded her. However, her outstanding voice was cherished on the northern scene where it was presumed she was ‘too good for success, too talented for the charts and too special for the uninitiated’. It was an attitude sprinkled with an inverted snobbery but for northern soul fans Linda Jones was too good to be famous.
Jones had suffered from diabetes most of her life and was prone to debilitating fatigue. Appearing at the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem she travelled home to her mother’s home to rest and there fell into a diabetic coma. Tragically she never recovered and passed away leaving a rich catalogue of relatively unknown classics behind her: ‘I Can’t Stop Loving My Baby’ (Loma 1967), ‘My Heart Needs a Break’ (Loma 1968) and ‘I Just Can’t Live My Life (Without You Babe)’ (Warner 7 Arts, 1969), each one of which had been played at rare soul clubs across the north. Her death brought revered status on a scene that was uniquely vulnerable to young death, a scene in which drug abuse was widespread, travel from place to place was the norm, and defiance of the real world was admired.
Now over fifty years since her young career began, Linda Jones is remembered as a goddess to the itinerant tribes of northern soul, revered for her unique voice and for the cherished memories that her catalogue of great records unlock. Nor is she alone. She takes her place among the greats – the Detroit vocalist Darrell Banks who died in his thirties after being shot by an off-duty cop and the tragically gifted Jimmy Radcliffe whose classic soul song ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ was the closing song at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel Club.
Northern soul is a deep love affair with the unheralded music of black America: it is the cathedral where the forgotten are remembered.
Stuart Cosgrove is a writer and broadcaster and a well-known collector on the northern soul scene. He lives in Glasgow’s East End. His cult book Detroit 67 has been nominated as Music Book of the Year (2016) and his forthcoming book on northern soul Young Soul Rebels will be published by Polygon in May 2016.