‘Northern Soul: Keep The Faith’ – BBC 30 Minute Doco

The mark of a good music documentary is to present it in a way that people with no prior interest in the topic will find as engaging as those with a die-hard love and all the cynics in between. I got to watch Northern Soul: Keep The Faith last night and it’s definitely one that needs sharing. Big ups BBC and all involved in bringing it to us. It’s come down from iPlayer since broadcasting a month back, but you can view it by youtube below.

There’s been a fair few of these over years; so many so (and regrettably often featuring Craig Charles) that it became the quality of resurfaced archive footage and stills as well as the soundtrack that would be the defining point. Got to say though, Keep The Faith is one of the best we’ve seen. Not only is it turning up shots we’ve not seen before with a spot-on music selection, but despite being only thirty minutes in length it covers a lot of new ground and constantly moves the story on. It goes a decent way that they bring the topic in to current decade for example, but even past that it’s really Paul Mason as a host with insight that makes it stand out. An economic journalist by trade, the man’s also got a genuine love for Northern Soul. Mason lived it the first time around and the journey back to his old haunts is a returning pilgrimage of sorts.

Timed for release around the 40th anniversary of Wigan Casino’s first Northern Soul allnighter, there’s the brilliant introduction to the music and the venues – of which Wigan Casino was one of four cornerstones – tied in with the social aspects of the time. The three-day work week, Bruce Lee films and black music to a white crowd just some of the factors that come in to fashion and the vibe that made Wigan so special. The DJs and name-dropping records are given a backseat to focus on the everyday people that made Northern Soul their life for differing periods of time.

Happily, they dedicate more than a decent amount of time to the dancers, in modern day as much as the ’70s, right up to the crowd who’re hitting the all-nighters once or twice a month regularly. Whether or not they were there when it began doesn’t matter. They dissect the start of the dancing styles, it’s relevance at the time as the only scene where it was a “blokes thing” on the floor. Again, Paul Mason knows the questions to ask and the personal stories make it that much better.

When they start to examine the importance of drugs on the scene at the time (poor man’s speed to keep dancing) you start to see interesting parallels between the rave scene that exploded at the end of the ’80s. And this is where you can take personal opinions from it based on your own experience. Whereas some say that drugs fuelled the scene, I’ve come to believe that it’s always the level of outside influence of a drugs culture that will splinter it eventually.

The plus side of this break-up is that even though it loses popularity there will be an element of it’s original vibes that will live on. At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. My experience at Northern Soul all-nighters is limited to say the least, but one thing that got right was the sense of community and welcomeness to all who turn up on the night.

One day BBC is going to be swallowed up by some soulless corporation and we’ll all mourn. Until then let’s appreciate what we’ve got, and keep upping the shows to share worldwide.