“Mummy, what’s a Northern monster?”
“It’s almost embarrassing to think about it now; what with the Jimmy Savile connotations and piss-takes, but if a record became very popular on the early Northern Soul scene, it was colloquially known as a “monster”. Going “big” meant that everyone’s ears would prick up when the record was first spun: collectors and wannabe DJs would rush over to the DJ booth to read the label. The dancers would follow suit, so that they could request it at the next venue they visited and talk about it all week; down the pit according to the BBC.
A lot of the records featured here are from those half-remembered days, but we have taken the usual liberties and included latterday behemoths and even an ogre from today’s dancefloors. None of the tracks were issued as singles in the UK at the time of their US release, and though undoubtedly several of them would have eventually made their way over here, until the Northern Soul scene developed they would have been just another record in a soul fan’s collection. The scene bestowed longevity, kudos and recognition on them.
This is one of those rare Kent CDs where we don’t concentrate on the artists, producers and musical mentors, so much as on the shiny piece of vinyl; on how a disc got to hit the decks and the impact it had on our tender teenage legs, feet and impressionable hearts.
Not only were none of these 45s released in the UK, but none of them even dented the US R&B Hot 100. At the time they would have all been considered failures. Little did the singers, writers, musicians, arrangers and producers know: they created a MONSTER!”
So begins my 6,000 word ramble on the Northern Monster phenomenon and I go on to give a blow by blow account of the merits of each individual beast. And let me tell you that when you hear Double Cookin or the Gems’ I’ll Be There, roaring out of the speakers at mach 1, it can feel like a good clawing from a hairy alien.
The Gems’ catchy, yet beautifully written and performed number, along with Johnny Bragg’s They’re Talking About Me (unsurprisingly, given the six life sentences he was serving at the time) and Miles Grayson’s Batman-inspired homage to The Joker are all taken at a pace that should make healthcare providers put a ward on standby for dance-induced seizures. Perhaps it’s safer to re-live our youths from the safety of armchair listening, rather than attempting to execute the ‘whirling dervish’ on the parquet.
Mr Grayson, however provided for our advancing years with the tuneful and thankfully easy on the joints, southern-style mover Wash And Wear Love a song so replete with laundrette analogies that you can smell the Daz. That track is the exception in terms of tempo and the rest of the CD belts along at a fair old rate. Girly stompers by Patti & The Emblems, the Wooden Nickels and the Flirtations are relentless and the precise rhythm to the Charmaines’ recent monster discovery, I Don’t Wanna Lose Him, virtually propels soul feet into action; it certainly gets my knee jigging about.
Many of these tracks are taken from the original master tapes for the first time, and Frank Dell’s mysteriously titled He Broke Your Game Wide Open, the aforementioned Wash And Wear Love and the legendary Double Cookin’ sound even more fabulous on CD in this quality.
Trying to put the records into some sort of Northern Soul historical context proved to be fascinating but frustrating. I was even present at one of the alleged “first plays” and can’t verify its authenticity due to a hell of a good night out. That’s exactly what you will have when you slip this CD on at your kids’ eighteenth birthday party and for once you’re happy that the guests are all too pissed to notice.
By Ady Croasdell