- Wigan Casino: 50th Anniversary
- Northern Soul’s Legendary Venue
- Music and Dance Endure
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Wigan Casino, the legendary nightclub that became the heart of the Northern Soul movement.
Half a century ago, as midnight approached every Saturday, hundreds of passionate music enthusiasts descended upon a Wigan street, defying the norms of bedtime. They came from all corners of the country, traveling by car, coach, and train to gather at this iconic venue.
Recalling those days, Richard Searling, one of the club’s DJs during its prime, paints a vivid picture: “The two huge wide doors would have a queue forming right the way back down the road, with 500 to 1,000 people waiting to get in. As soon as those doors opened, there’d be a flood of people.”
Inside, they ascended upstairs, paid the entry fee, passed through double doors, and entered a dance hall where a “wall of sound” greeted them. The club’s distinctive aroma, a mix of condensation, Brut, and sweat, added to the experience.
In 1973, Wigan Casino hosted its first Northern Soul all-nighter, an event initially starting at 02:00 before moving to a midnight opening. For eight years, this venue served as the epicenter of an unlikely musical subculture.
High-energy soul songs, largely overlooked upon their original release in the ’60s but rediscovered by DJs in places like Wigan, Stoke, and Blackpool, found an enthusiastic English fan base. These fans developed their own dynamic dance moves, creating a unique and spirited atmosphere.
“It was just such joyous, uplifting music, with lyrics that we could relate to in our lives,” Searling reminisces.
The Casino’s alcohol-free, drug-fueled all-nighters grew so popular that they expanded to monthly Friday night sessions, featuring Searling as the final DJ slot from 06:30 until the club closed at 08:00.
Following the lively nights, Searling would head to the record shop he co-owned with Casino founder Russ Winstanley, scouring shops and label vaults in the US for tracks to keep the dancefloors alive.
Gloria Jones’s “Tainted Love,” a B-side of a 1965 non-chart single, was a major find. Searling’s championing of the song turned it into a hit. It was later covered by Soft Cell, reaching number one in 1981.
Although Wigan Casino closed in 1981 and the building burned down in 1982, Northern Soul never faded away. Reunion nights, films, and a global fan base have kept the scene alive. This year, the BBC hosted a Northern Soul Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrating the genre’s enduring legacy.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, various events and exhibitions have been organized, including a soul festival, photo exhibitions, and new plays inspired by the Northern Soul scene. These plays reflect the scene’s timeless appeal and enduring spirit, attracting a new generation of fans who continue to find joy and unity in the music and dance of Northern Soul.