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Newsletter 5th March 2006

Site Launch and feedback

It's about a month since I launched this website and in that time, it has had over 2000 visitors. Two weeks ago, the daily visitor hit rate was typically 50-75, the following week, 75-100 and last week it increased to 100-125, hitting 173 on one day. I'm delighted with the very positive comments I've had, not just about the idea behind the site, but the compliments on the quality of the photography - thank you!

Undoubtedly, visitors have enjoyed seeing photos of themselves and their friends having a good time and that is the prime reason for the site.

A secondary reason has been the diary reviews where I "tell it like it is", or more accurately, how it was for ME! This too, has been, more or less universally acclaimed with visitors appreciating the honesty of the approach.

Facts and opinions

I have, however, had a couple of criticisms , one from a promoter of a venue (I hasten to add, NOT one that I've visited in the last few months, NOR reviewed in my diary) calling into question the bluntness of my language, where something has not met with my approval.

Although the reviews are only MY personal opinion, he rightly made the point that promoters spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to get a gig off the ground and that my comments jeopardised that. I have given some thought to his comments. It's very difficult to know where to draw the line and maybe I haven't quite got that right. However, I would not want my reviews to be sycophantic gushing comments of every gig I attended, irrespective of whether or not it was a good experience for me.

He also criticised the fact that I seemed to be promoting the larger, more established and already successful venues (which surely already had enough publicity), at the expense of the smaller venues. I suppose I need to make clear my stance on all of this. With one very notable exception (the Twisted Wheel), I prefer venues with a large wooden (preferably, sprung) dance floor. I've only been on the scene for just over a couple of years, but in that time, I've been to a large number of venues of differing sizes and specifications, and that has evolved as my PERSONAL preference.

I'm very much the sort of person who goes into a venue and seeks out the gut instinct, the vibes of the place, if you like. The first time I went to Brighouse and Monaco, I could feel the buzz of the place and just fell in love with those venues instantly. Equally, I've been to places and that oomph just hasn't been there for me. In that situation, I will probably visit the place once or twice more, to "give it a chance" but, given the number of venues around that already "do the job" for me, I'm unlikely to go further. After all, I am not a professional critic being paid to try venues out, I am going for my enjoyment and what is the point of going to a venue when you know you've not enjoyed it the last few times you've gone in the past? By now, as you will have gathered if you've read my reviews and the "upcoming venues" page, I have my favourites, a number of "don't miss" nights every month - such the Wheel, Prestwich, Monaco, Brighouse - and I fit the others in around them.

What makes a good venue?

Personal opinions here!! It's very difficult to sum up in a few words. As I've already said, the venue is one component - the dancefloor being an important part of the equation. If you're used to a quality floor and been to Cala Gran, then you'll know what DOESN'T make a good floor! Something that's harder to pinpoint is what makes for the ambience of the venue - I suppose the decor of the place is part of it (I don't like places that, quite frankly, are dumps and in need of a decorating makeover) , but more importantly, I look for a buzz from the place. That partially comes from the dancers - is it a place where people are itching to dance immediately they get in and do just that (such as at Brighouse and Stoke)? Or is it somewhere where they sit on their backsides for ages, getting tanked up before they venture onto the floor?

The music is what will initially tempt them onto the floor - I'm afraid I have no time for DJs who play for themselves, their job, plain and simple, is to get people on the floor. By all means, play some of the music you like, once they're dancing, but don't subject us to 45 minutes of obscurities, before you twig what's going on for the remaining 15 minutes of your set! I am always keen to discover new tracks so I encourage DJs to play some of their lesser-known favourites, no problem at all, it's just a question of balance.

I'm an oldies man and my tastes in Soul span from the early 60s R&B and ballads, through the classic era of the Wheel, into the Casino, the 70s and through to the smooth Philly sounds, probably ending somewhere with the late 70s. I don't mind the occasional newer track (I love the Frank Popp "Hip Teens Don't Wear Blue Jeans" and that's a real newie) but I don't like going to a venue billed as Northern to find it's virtually all Modern soul - that's a Trades Description infringement as far as I'm concerned, getting me to the venue under false pretences. While we're on the subject, I try to avoid the elitist "Connoisseurs" venues - in my book that often means obscure tracks that I don't know, don't want to know and don't want to dance to! Sorry! A couple of years back, I hardly knew any of the popular Wigan tracks, but I *WANTED* to get to know a lot of them and dance to them, so please don't think I'm hammering all tracks I don't know.

Another factor is the sound system itself. My ears are delicate instruments and I certainly don't see why I should pay good money to be subjected to a scratchy or highly distorted system that is just sheer pain to endure. Sorry, but that's how it is for me!

Finally, what is the ethos of the dancers? Is there respect for the others on the floor? Places such as Stoke, Brighouse, Monaco and Orrell seem to attract the more serious dancers and the level of respect is high - generally, there are likely to be more problems where the venue attracts handbaggers, they neither know nor care about the ettiquette on the floor. I sympathise with promoters wanting to get a venue off the ground, but I don't see why I should put up with ill-mannered dancers with no consideration for others. This is why venues with a high level of handbaggers are likely to get me exasperated and my life is too short for that stuf!! Friendliness of the punters is also somewhere in the equation - this is something in the makeup of genuine soulies. I feel lucky to have found this - I genuinely feel that I have found what I've been looking for, all my life, I've come home! I'm with like-minded caring people with a passion for the music and the dancing, a respect for our pals in this obsession called Northern Soul!

So, a lot of factors in there and maybe your priorities are going to be different. What I find amusing is that some venues I hold very dear to my heart are not liked by others and some of the venues they love are just not my cuppa tea! It's all down to personal tastes and preferences. I'm not so arrogant as to think my opinion is THE definitive one, it's highly subjective, based on my likes and dislikes, my prejudices, if you will.

We're all different, and long may it be so, but maybe I need to reflect a bit more prominently on this website that it's just MY opinions here and punters need to check out venues for themselves.

You have your say

In the last few days, one of the regulars on the scene, Susan, made a very positive suggestion. She rightly made the point that for every person that agrees with my opinion there may be another who has a different view and asked whether I would be prepared to include other reviews to give a wider balance to the site. I'd be delighted to adopt this idea, although I'm not sure whether to have this in my main diary page, or another page. Comments are invited! So, if you don't like what I've said, write in with your comments and I'll put them up as an alternative view - please e-mail me at alan@soulman1949.com. In the meantime, I really appreciate the constructive suggestion, Susan - thank you!

Footsteps following me and Pedometers

A few people have commented on the pedometer references in my reviews. Basically, this story goes back to 2004, when we had a "walk to stay fit "campaign at work - the principle being that the heart needs regular exercise to stay healthy and 10,000 steps is the daily recommended target. We were issued with pedometers, which measure the number of steps we do and I found that my daily figure is usually around the 5,000-6,000 level, way below the recommended target.

When I was married, I used to enjoy walking in the Derbyshire countryside, but since my divorce in 2000, I haven't done much at all. I don't enjoy walking alone and my experiences with walkers groups, such as the Ramblers, haven't been that positive - they all seem to want to do 10-15 miles, whereas I am more than happy with 5-6 miles, taking in the scenery and enjoying the company. I'm not one for gyms either, so exercise is a problem for me.

Anyway, one night I took the pedometer with me to a Northern Soul night and was astonished to find myself clocking up around 12,000 steps - and that was on top of my daily figure. It then struck me what a brilliant form of exercise dancing actually was. Not only are you listening to the most wonderful music and, if you're like me singing along to it, making it a euphoric experience, but you're keeping fit in the bargain!

Since I started doing Northern Soul twice a week, I have lost over 10 kg in weight and around 3-4 inches off the waistline, plus, I am literally having a ball and staying fit in the process. A few month back I started taking my pedometer with me to Northern Soul nights to get an idea of how much dancing I am doing - the count at the end of the evening tells me exactly how much time I've spent on the floor!

I've been aware of my raised cholesterol levels since the problem was diagnosed in 1992 and in those early days, my figure was around the 8.5-9.5 level, basically a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen!:-( Medication has controlled the problem to some extent bringing it down to the mid 5s, but still higher than it should be. I had my test results back a couple of weeks ago and the count stood at 4.1, which is the lowest figure ever and puts me back into the normal zone for the first time in 14 years. The practice nurse at my surgery was convinced my dancing was playing a big part in this superb result.

So, the moral of the story is - to stay healthy, go to Northern Soul dos as much as you can and dance as much as you are able! Long life!;-)

Prestatyn

Turning away from this site, to matters in general on the Northern soul scene. We are now a couple of weeks away from what is widely touted as being THE weekender of the year, Prestatyn. Up to now, I've been to three weekenders of varying specification, but this will be the first time at Prestatyn for me - it seems that virtually everyone I know on the scene is going! I'm really looking forward to meeting people at that weekend and enjoying the camaraderie as well as the music and dancing. I will be taking my 25 year old son, Simon, as a guest and enjoying some quality time with him as well as introducing him to the delights of the scene!

Kim Weston and Jackie Ross - live

There are a couple of live acts that I'll be seeing this month. Kim Weston is on at Blackpool Football Club this coming Friday 9th March - I saw her at Great Yarmouth at the Motown Legends Weekender last October and was just blown away by her and the quality of her act. At the end of the month on March 25th Jackie Ross will be in concert with Syl Johnson and the Snake Davis band at Frobisher near Wakefield. Jackie was last in this country in 1964 promoting her US hit "Selfish One" and, again, I'm looking forward to seeing her perform. Jackie has a most unusual voice quality, which I was reminded of when Richard Searling plugged her track "Trust in me" towards the end of last year. That prompted me to seek out her album "In bloom" - through the internet I managed to find a copy of this in the States and when I got it, I came across a blow away track called "I dig his style". Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Complete Motown Singles

Universal in the States have just released Vol 4 of the Complete Motown Singles series, this 6 CD set covering all US singles released by Motown in 1964 - I am eagerly awaiting delivery any day. Previous volumes have covered the earlier years, Vol 1 1959-61 (6 CDs), Vol 2 1962 (4 CDs) and Vol 3 1963 (5 CDs). The plan is to issue all singles ("A" and "B" sides) released during the halcyon Detroit years (until 1971, I think), culminating in the final boxed set during 2009, which will be Motown's 50th Anniversary! For those of you not familiar with this series, it is a limited edition, each volume coming in a beautifully bound hard back folder - there are copious notes on the background to each track and each volume also includes a reissued 45 from the glory years. The presentation is exceptional and a real labour of love, obviously produced by people with a genuine love of Motown. The series is not available direct in the UK - my suppliers are the excellent people at www.soulmusic.com - follow the links for "Motown Limited CDs".

New venue causing a stir

Soul fans who have been on the scene for a while comment on the large number of venues these days, compared to the early days in the scene. For those of us in the Greater Manchester area, we often have 3 or 4 venues to pick from on a Friday or Saturday night. Great choice for us consumers but it can spread the market thin for the promoters. Last week, I was more than a little surprised to hear of a promoter starting a new venue at a location which has hosted soul nights for many years on another day in the month. While I have no interest in getting involved in the politics, I just hope the existing venue is not damaged by this new development. I would hope that, if I were ever tempted to put on a new venue, I would seek out a new location, rather than treading on someone else's toes. 'Nuff said!

"Dancin' All Nite" Northern Soul Exhibition

Finally, for this month, this coming week sees the start of an exhibition, "Dancin' All Nite", celebrating Northern Soul. It will be staged at Salford Museum and Art Gallery from 10th March till 25th May 2005. Further details of the event are available by downloading the ON IN Salford Guide for March/April 2006. (This is a 1.4 Mb download document in PDF format and requires Abode Acrobat Reader.)

This exhibition was shown at the Wigan Pier Heritage Centre last year and was so successful, it achieved audience figures which were greater than the combined total for the rest of the year!! The Salford Museum team are taking this already successful exhibition and overlaying a local Salford component to it, the experiences of local Salford folks on the scene now and in the days of the Twisted Wheel and Wigan Casino.

I have helped behind the scenes with some aspects of the exhibition, providing contacts, photographs and interviewing people with an involvement in our passion. On Thursday evening, March 9th, there will be a ticket-invitation-only launch party for this event and for part of the evening, Russ Winstanley from the Casino and John Green from the Twisted Wheel will be playing DJs sets. The wooden dance floor will enable us to enjoy the sounds in a novel venue. I was lucky to secure a number of tickets for this event and all have now been distributed to my friends who will join me on that night. Even if you cannot make that night, do make a point of seeing the exhibition at some stage in the next 3 months!

Anyway, that's it for now, see you around on the scene. If you see me snapping at your venue, come over and say "Hi"! Keep on keepin' on!

Soulfully yours,

Al the Soulman


E-mail: alan@soulman1949.com

All images are copyright 2006, Alan Milewczyk (Al's Soul Shack)