Northern Soul fans are busy practising their extravagant dance moves as Manchester festival Un-Rest stages an all-nighter at the historic Victoria Baths.

The ten-day festival is dedicated to the beauty of human movement so what better way to do that by putting in a specially constructed dance floor? This means the dancers from this cult movement will be able to show off their kicks and spins to the driving beats of obscure 60s soul records.

The idea for this Northern Soul all-night dance marathon on May 3 came from an unusual source – visual artist William Titley.

“I’m involved in a project called Recorded Soul which is a photographic archive project that developed out of a dance project I was doing with some street dancers and an old Northern Soul dancer who is a bit of a legend in East Lancashire where I work,” says Titley.

“We ran these dance sessions where Roy shared his Northern Soul knowledge and they were sharing their moves with him so it was like a cultural exchange in a way. When that project finished we had all these artefacts like old records people had given us and we’ve now got over 3,000 images at our base which is in a library in Brierfield.”

Titley will be bringing an iPad to the all-nighter to capture more images from a scene that is still going strong nearly five decades after it began.

As the name suggests, Northern Soul is a movement which started in the North West when a group of working class soul fans in the 1970s rejected the mainstream Motown sounds. Instead, they searched out ultra-rare singles with a very particular driving beat.

The soulies then created their own intricate and athletic dance moves as they descended on the legendary Wigan Casino which became a mecca for this new youth movement. Now this quintessentially underground movement is coming into the media spotlight thanks to Elaine Constantine’s forthcoming celluloid love letter to this very Northern phenomenon.

Victoria BathsAs well as putting on a new installation by Panamanian artist Humberto Velez before it goes to Tate Modern, and a performance piece by Another Adele revisiting her musical youth, it seemed logical to Un-Rest artistic director Alison Kershaw to get Titely to show off his photos.

“I’ve worked with Alison before and when we were talking about how we could get involved I said people can bring things to add to the archive and we can show young people the scene,” says Titley. “I then jokingly said ‘why don’t we have an all-nighter at the end of the exhibition’ and Alison said ok, let’s do it.

“I’ve never been to an all-nighter as I don’t like the idea of being up all night, but I was charged with finding DJs and the East Lancashire soul community have been fantastic in helping me make contact with big name Manchester DJs.

“I remember taking over the East Lancs community members for a site visit and I never said what a special building the baths are. When we got there it blew their minds, so it was like when Crocodile Dundee goes to New York as they got really excited and emotional because of the building.

“Roy said he can’t wait dance in the baths just once even if it is a just a temporary one covering the pool.”

For those soulies left standing the next morning there is an extra challenge when designer and Northern fan Wayne Hemmingway DJs a face-off with the Border Morris dancers in a clash of two working class dance movements.

But for Titley the lasting appeal of Northern Soul is the pride of the now mainly middle-aged fanatics who put their responsible day jobs to one side as they strut their stuff out on the floor.

“I don’t dance but I love to sit there in awe and watch them dancing so elegantly and smoothly as if they are floating across the dance floor.”

By Paul Clarke


To find out more about the Un-Rest Festival which kicks on April 24 follow this link