A civil war would emerge in the Northern Soul scene during the mid-70s with DJ Ian Levine’s decision to spin the ultra rare It Really Hurts Me Girl at the Highland Room of the Blackpool Mecca being its catalyst. The Carstairs track was recently recorded with a sound that retained some of the feel of Northern Soul but fused with a more contemporary beat. A shuffler rather than a 4/4 stomper. It Really Hurts Me Girl was Modern Soul.
Holidaying with his parents in Miami during the summer of ’73 – when this kind of thing was about as common for Brits as a copy of Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You, well where I lived anyway – the teenage Levine came across a Goodwill thrift store where he painstakingly sifted through piles of second-hand vinyl singles from the moment the shop opened until the shutters finally went up. Not just for one day. But every day for a week. Fanatical yes but at least sunstroke wasn’t going to be a problem for this young crate digger.
While in Miami, he also tuned into a local radio station playing It Really Hurts Me Girl which he soon discovered had only appeared as a promotional copy, having been pulled when label Red Coach lost its distribution deal with Chess Records/GRT. He wanted a copy of the record as desperately as vocalist Cleveland Horne seemingly wanted the heartache of a recent breakup to end – the lyrics of the song, which he co-wrote, being largely autobiographical.
Despite his best efforts, Levine found the task of tracking down a copy in the States as difficult as finding a record needle in a very large haystack but he did eventually secure a copy from Glasgow born dealer John Anderson, who ran Soul Bowl Records, a mail order and wholesale distributor in King’s Lynn. For a while only two British DJs apparently owned copies, Levine and Ian Dewhirst, who unearthed his copy at an all-dayer in Hanley for fifteen quid.
‘If you want everything on one record, then this record’s got it,’ Dewhirst enthused when interviewed for Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s book The Record Players. ‘The most passionate vocal, scintillating beat, brilliant strings, produced by George Kerr, the fucking archdeacon of Northern Soul!’ He claims to have spent almost a week just looking at the 45.
The problem at the time for the northern die-hards was that, despite an increasing number of obsessives making the pilgrimage to the States to plunder record shops, charity stores and warehouses, the unrelenting conveyor belt of new finds of ’60s stompers was inevitably going to eventually dry up. Yes, there were thousands of Goodwill and other thrift stores spread across the States but I doubt that even a small minority of them held a tiny fraction of the treasure trove of soul discovered by Levine in Florida.
One potential solution to maintain the vibrancy of the scene would obviously be to start incorporating newer songs with different tempos like IRHMG and this is the path chosen by Levine when, back in his home town of Blackpool, he landed a residency at the Mecca.
Other forward thinking DJs including fellow Mecca stalwart Colin Curtis embraced the new soul vision and began introducing many examples of the contemporary sound into their sets, Hung Up on Your Love by The Montclairs being one high profile example along with Paul Humphrey’s Cochise and I’m Your Pimp by The Skull Snaps – and how that latter track somehow managed never to appear on any Blaxploitation soundtrack of the era remains a mystery to me.
While the more open minded Northern fans embraced these groundbreaking singles, the shock of the new alienated at least as many traditionalists.
Arguments raged about this turn of events at soul venues across the country and within the pages of the soul music press. Both factions were equally passionate and their bitter rivalry has been compared to that of fans of two football clubs.
A ‘Levine Must Go’ campaign was launched which was kinda similar to what happened to the last manager of the Scottish national football team except that wasn’t as nasty and was promoted as ‘Levein Must Go’.
Anti-Ian Levine badges and banners were produced with the man being branded a traitor and abused regularly in person. One night his car was attacked while he was inside.
None of this, though, stopped him from pushing ahead with his new policy and he steadily incorporated even more new sounds, with out and out disco and jazz funk making an appearance in his sets. He also began producing his own ‘tailormade’ singles, new songs with the (supposed) feel of the 1960s and these were promptly banned by DJ Russ Winstanley at the Wigan Casino. Levine himself had to stop visiting that venue due to the regular hassles he would inevitably encounter any time he visited.
Of course, in the end the arguments began to die down and today more tolerant attitudes generally exist at northern nights. Many events cater for differing tastes in separate rooms at the same venue with many club-goers happily moving between the two.
As Stuart Cosgrove explains in his highly recommended book Young Soul Rebels: ‘Looking at it today, the Mecca wars were arcane, concerning records that the vast majority of young people in the UK didn’t know even existed. But that was the secret strength of northern soul: even its civil wars were underground.’
He could be describing the young me here. During this time I was mainly listening to Bowie and Roxy Music and Slade and Mott the Hoople and was completely oblivious of all the fuss.
Modern Soul – yes, it is strange to hear that term still being applied to records that are maybe around forty years old – isn’t something I listen to regularly and I obviously couldn’t remotely claim to be any expert on it but I have to say I just can’t get my head around the idea of anybody objecting to records as good as, for example, Eloise Laws’ Love Factory, a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition from 1973 that went on to became a floor-filling favourite at the Mecca:
Finally an Ashford and Simpson track from 1977 which gave a Glaswegian band their name. Ashford and Simpson wrote many songs that will never make their way anywhere near my music collection but I can’t be too harsh on them since the pair also penned California Soul, the track usually associated with Marlena Shaw; the Ace Spectrum classic Don’t Send Nobody Else and a string of hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
The better known version (with lyrics) of Bourgie Bourgie is by Gladys Knight and the Pips but this is the original, a lush soul instrumental with spiralling strings and a gloriously supple bassline that is, em, as solid as a rock. Enjoy: