It’s no exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for Ady Croasdell, Northern Soul wouldn’t be as popular as it is down south. He’s known on the scene for being a torchbearer for all things of the northern persuasion. By day, Ady works as the head of A&R at Ace Records, taking on the mantle of also being the label head of Kent Records, as well as being the head of publishing. By night he’s better known for being El Presidente of the 6T’s Rhythm and Soul nights at the 100 Club, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, making it one of the oldest surviving club nights in the world.
Moving to London in 1970 as a student, Croasdell picked up punk rock and claimed to be the “oldest punk pogoing at gigs and I loved the energy of it all while being rotten drunk getting off my face.” Ady sat down and regaled us with stories on how he “used to go to Wigan Casino as a punk and nearly got Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69 to go to there after a gig at Eric’s Club in Liverpool.”
Of course, there are considerable punk ties connected with the 100 Club which didn’t stop in ’77: “A couple of Sex Pistols used to come down to the 100 Club, Shane MacGowan ran the cloakroom there for a year.” Croasdell also admits to almost committing Northern Soul heresy “I’ve been tempted to play Heaven 17 “Temptation!”
I’d like to know what role you had in the Northern Soul film and how the director Elaine Constantine approached you.
Well I’ve known Elaine for about 20 years and Marco her husband even longer. He started coming to the 100 Club allnighters when he was a teenager I think about 25 years ago. They didn’t know each other at all until later on. They were hardcore regulars at the club. I met Elaine when she moved down to London and she immediately gravitated to the 100 Club for Northern Soul, which she’d enjoyed and known since she was growing up. She also used to go on a lot of scooter runs so she picked up a lot of northern influence there.
As for the film, I was brought on board in its gestation period as it were! Because Elaine was telling me about it when she started work. She’d done some writing courses and told me about her ideas a lot as well as getting me to read through some proofs very early on to say what I thought about things. Elaine’s basically used me as a sounding board the whole way through. I’m by no means one of the main advisors, but being good friends we’ve talked about it constantly for 15 years.
So it’s been a 15-year painstaking journey from then to now.
Oh God yeah. Particularly in the last 2 to 3 years! But I was brought on to do licensing for the music in the film. I had no hand in the choice of material whatsoever. Mark ‘Butch’ Dobson mainly advised her on that. I advised Gary Welsh whom to contact amongst other things.
Do you think this current surge in popularity of Northern Soul is an underground scene bubbling under or another false dawn?
Well in a way none of them are false dawns because if you have a bit of increased interest for whatever reason it generally leaves a few devotees behind. Or at least it leaves behind great memories and experiences. It goes up and down in popularity. Because you get to see some great films, such as Good Vibrations on punk music, which I saw in Belfast and that was absolutely magnificent but nobody saw it as it hadn’t had a cinema release.
But I do think that with Elaine’s brilliant idea of getting young actors, dancers and people who wanted to get in on the project going to the Northern soul dance club/lessons to get a feel of it, spreading a bit of the culture and interest to the younger generations certainly gave the London soul scene a good boost over the last 3 years. Quite a few of those youngsters that are now in their twenties have stuck with it. But they’re keen, enthusiastic and enjoy the experience of dancing to this great music.
Is the Northern Soul scene down south as big as it is because of the 6T’s Rhythm and Soul nights at the 100 Club?
The 6T’s Rhythm and Soul club began as an evening dance at the Bedford Head pub in 1979 in Covent Garden. There were scenes in Southampton and Portsmouth and Bristol as we used to go to allnighters there. It just didn’t take off in London at all. Well, to a small degree until we opened the 6T’s club in ‘79. It was Randy Cousins, and I who was a very dear friend of mine who ran the club together for our first night. We only started it because there were one or two other nights that had been along those lines, but they closed owing to venue reasons and whatnot. And then nobody was playing what we wanted to hear so we started the club solely for that. Those nights weren’t allnighters, just evening dances going on from 9pm-2am. But then we lost the evening slot so we said ‘let’s give allnighters a go’ because we were obviously die hards from the northern soul scene and I’d been into it since 1969, so we knew that allnighters were the thing.
The first one was a hit, even though it coincided with Quadrophenia but that wasn’t intentional! The new mods would have been about say 20% to start with in terms of the crowd. In all, we had two gigs in Covent Garden, then in early 1980 we moved to the Railway Hotel in West Hampstead, which was a famous mod club back in the sixties called Klooks Kleek, which I’ve just read a most entertaining book about. We were there for a year or so then we moved to the 100 Club in early 1981 and that is definitely very, very responsible for the northern soul scene in the London area. We also moved to another club for six months because the 100 Club were worried about the license but then they brought in temporary events notices and that cleared it all up.
The eighties were seen as a lean spell for northern soul as its heyday had passed a decade on. Did you think back then it would have enough staying power to survive newer trends?
I suppose some of the tourists did drop off when it wasn’t quite so en vogue as it had been to some degree. But it was never really en vogue down south anyway. A lot of London blokes didn’t get northerners dancing on their own to old records on the dance floor! It just didn’t register. The eighties was quite cathartic in some ways and I think the scene now is probably better for having dipped for a while and having gone back underground for a couple of decades before it got rediscovered. There were still some quite big dances going on, such as Morecambe Pier or Parr Hall in Warrington.
A few big-ish places but it certainly hadn’t as been as big as it was in the seventies. But people were still keen; it was still attracting a teenage and upward audience. The scene itself was only about eight years old by then to most people although that’s probably quite a long time in youth terms. In the sixties, people’s shelf life of going out was only about 3 or 4 years. But as the decades progressed, people didn’t want to grow up! A lot of people in their teenage years thought they could go on for another twenty to thirty years! Unfortunately it took me a long time to grow up because I was enjoying it too much!
Is there a north and south divide within the scene?
There’s not a north and south divide as much as there is an oldies and newies divide! The south is a lot stronger on the newer discoveries I think. There are probably more collectors in the north but they don’t get quite as successful with newies, which is a funny term but most of the clubs up there are nostalgic. There’s not that many where they can play good rare stuff that aren’t a bit bleedin’ obvious, whereas down south, most of the music is quite progressive. The main club up north is Life Line, but it’s only every couple of months and that’s pretty much the super rare scene.
Do you still have that same buzz of excitement and passion now as you did when you started out?
I probably do in a different way. Hearing a brand new sixties soul record that sends tingles up my spines is just as good as it was then. Hearing a great new record that I’ve never heard before still thrills me even with an aging body and brain! I take more pride in the promotional aspects and some of the DJing running on whatever I do as successfully as I can. So it has changed slightly from an amateur social thrill to a more professional career. I’m in a very fortunate position because working for Kent we get to hear old tapes, a lot of which never came out before. 99.9% of the records have been discovered because people have been doing it for so long. But there are still a good number of tapes out there that nobody’s ever heard. My buzz isn’t off finding an original piece of vinyl like it used to be when I was a record dealer for ten years. My buzz is now hearing an unissued master tape.
Even though we live in an age of the Internet and these songs are free to listen to on YouTube, there are still so many rarities that nobody would hear anywhere else bar the 100 Club.
Yeah, if you used Shazam at the 100 Club, it wouldn’t register that many!
From your perspective, where will the scene be in ten, twenty years from now? Those who went to Wigan Casino first time around will be a decade older so I imagine it may well take another life form of its own.
It’s a question I’ve been asked for forty years! Thirty years ago I used to cautiously say that I thought it had at least another five years, probably ten. I wasn’t saying that it would finish in ten, but it does seem to reinvent itself to a degree with the funkier end of things now. Then there was the RnB room and all sorts of angles with black American music; perhaps it’ll be up-tempo modern jazz next! God knows! But you’re right, there is a lot of people who are now in their fifties who have been going since the seventies. The top end in ten years is going to be interesting and strange to see I must admit (laughter).
But generally the people who come out are the ones with the right attitude and nobody cares how you dance, as long as you’re on the floor dancing. And if you love the music, you can talk about it if that’s what you’re there for and nobody minds too much. You’d think it would put off the under 25’s being on the same dance floor as a 60 year old but nobody seems to mind too much. In a way, it has its own little areas where you’d have the elders in one corner and youngsters in the other and they wouldn’t notice each other. Anyone who goes along seems to have an open mind in all respects.
In the seventies I felt one of its strong points, which I felt never got publicized was a) that it was a great place for women to go on their own without getting hassled. I thought it was fantastic for women who were into northern soul. They wouldn’t be getting approached all the time, getting on with their own thing. They would be respected for being good dancers and they knew about the music as well. It was all about equality in that scene. And b) the amount of black people – though there weren’t many – they were more than welcome as it was a very open scene. But in those days I think most black people in this country of West Indian origin were either into the reggae side of it or if they were into soul, they were into the brand new soul and they thought it was square to be dancing to old stuff. I’ve got a few black friends on the northern soul scene but there weren’t that many in total.
Has that changed in this day and age?
(Long pause) I’ve not really thought about it. It’s changed a bit in the sense that there’s more of a varied crowd that come down. It’s still predominantly a white crowd when you consider that it’s black music. But modern England is quite a mixed place anyway so you don’t seem to notice or worry about it too much.
What are the biggest misconceptions regarding northern soul?
That it’s a predominantly male thing. Putting on gigs and collecting records I suppose makes people see it as a trainspotting scene, such as talking about matrix numbers and ridiculously obscure records that a lot of people say are no good. I also think a misconception nowadays is that the records that are played have got to be worse than they were in the seventies because they got discovered brand new and you had the whole of that music to choose from. Though there were different styles and tastes, people had managed to play bad records the whole way through the scene from the beginning, right from the classic period that are still doing it now. But as the styles have emerged, changed and evolved, there’s great new music being programmed all the time.
What are your favourite Northern Soul songs?
My all time favourite song is ‘Helpless’ by Kim Weston on Gordy, which is classic Motown. It was rare-ish, I don’t think it was a hit in America. But there are only 200,000 copies of it as opposed to a million copies of most Motown records so it was only slightly rare. But in the early sixties, when Brits couldn’t get hold of music like that, it was something to be cherished and it was just fabulous Motown at its best. It was a dancers style that I heard at one of the first allnighters I went to in 1969 and its stuck with me all the way through my life as one of my favourites.
Then there’s Carla Thomas ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, which is the most emotional and meaningful one because I always play that at the end of an allnighter. The very last one I play at the end of most nights after that is the Four Tops ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’, which was a hit but it’s a beautiful 1964-65 soul record. They are my three before 6am as it were, but I choose between six and seven records at the end of a night. With Carla Thomas, I didn’t discover the song myself but I was the first to get hold of the tape through Kent Records to play and it’s just a lovely sounding record. There are a few million others as well but that’s an example of one of my own and from my early days I suppose.
I’ll give you an example of how records can just turn up like the Parliaments “This Is My Rainy Day”, which I think got discovered about five years ago, which is relatively like a new hit for the northern soul scene! Which goes to show that after forty odd years, people can turn up utterly brilliant dance records that storms along like nobody’s business, even I have to get up on the floor and dance to that one. It nearly kills me, as it’s a very fast record!
What can newies expect from an allnighter at the 100 Club?
Funnily enough, because of the people that have been coming for the past 35 years, come out just for the anniversary shows. It’s probably not as adventurous as it should be! The ones that come out once a year are desperate to hear their favourites when they came in the eighties! So there’s less time to programme new discoveries when really it’s the ideal night to stick newies in. You try and get the balance right but I’d say you’d have more of an upfront policy on any night, but the anniversary.
In terms of newies, I’d play a couple of songs that have never been played before, a few that I’ve only played 2 or 3 times. So there’s about 8 records in all won’t have been played that much or at all from me. In all, that’s about 20 records from all the DJ’s on the night that have never been played, which is quite a high percentage when you’ve forty or fifty years of northern soul to play.
Northern Soul is a broader church than most people on the outside don’t seem to realize. It’s not just about obscure sixties records, there are modern soul records and disco tracks that are played very often.
Even by the late seventies and early 80’s there was a heck of a lot of early 70’s stuff being played. Obviously the Blackpool Mecca with Ian Levine used to start playing those things, but modern soul got onto the northern soul playlist five or six years in.
Do you still speak to Russ Winstanley or Ian Levine?
Yeah, once in a while though I don’t do much with them. I knew Ian a little bit at the time but I was just a punter in the seventies and I’d started record dealing by then. But I hadn’t started working for Kent; I hadn’t had my own club, I never even DJed. So I just used to go along to the dances as a fan. As time went on I bumped into them eventually but I didn’t know any of the names as such.