Northern Soul is less a scene or a style, and more of a religion.
For those hooked on it, the search for rare vinyl becomes an all-consuming obsession. A loose-knit confederacy of clubs, promoters, DJs, and - especially - dancers, Northern Soul devotees are disciples of wax, apostles of Black American excellence.
It's a drug that courses through The Magic Gang's veins. New single 'Think' is the clearest example of this, with the horn laden stomper matching Northern Soul to their indie pop template.
"Reminiscent of the Style Council in its sophisticated fusion of sounds," Clash said on its release, 'Think' "pays homage to the rare black American sounds that lit up iconic Northern Soul venues such as Wigan Casino or The Torch."
Kristian Smith leads the charge, and his vocal pushes The Magic Gang to a frenzied new intensity, adding a soulful touch to their summer-fresh songwriting.
Clash invited Kristian to talk a bit more about his fondness for Northern Soul, picking out a few key tracks in the process.
"This is barely scratching the surface of a treasure trove of music and it’s a real treat to share some personal gems," he says. "If you enjoy some of this music and some tracks are unfamiliar I would implore you to dig deeper as I am no means an expert and there is a lot of incredible music to discover."
"Oh, also Google 'Northern Soul dancing'..."
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Ruby Andrews - 'Just Loving You'
First up, I think a common misconception is that every Northern Soul tune has to be a super up tempo / straight 4x4 vibe but the range of music is much broader than one might presume from the get go - this one is a lovely little glider from Ruby Andrews.
I discovered this one whilst watching a video of people, young and old, dancing to Northern Soul. I had to take to the comments for the track name.
This is one of them tunes you just lose yourself in. The marriage of the music and the lyrics feels really symbiotic - bolstered by an utterly convincing vocal performance, whoever she is singing about in this tune you really believe her. Beautiful string arrangement (which I could talk about forever) and a killer groove to seal the deal.
I also love the bluesy switch up in the B-section as well which gives the tune a subtle edge and contrast as you’re floating along with Ruby.
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Towanda Barnes - 'You Don’t Mean It'
Next up, a super swaggy roller from Towanda Barnes. When I listen to this tune I like to imagine the person playing tambourine in this tune full getting it and having a sick time. The way this tune starts is just so sick - with the hook and uber funky choppy guitar mutes followed by a very tasty descending run. Then straight into some classic soulful horns.
The real thing for me about this tune is its insane tempo but simultaneous laid-back half time nature of other elements. Its like the band aren’t even breaking a sweat. Another thing worth mentioning is the choice of harmonic qualities in the chorus, impressively crunchy jazz orientated layering - not unlike something you’d hear some contemporary RnB artist like Robert Glasper draw for now
. It often surprises me how “left-field” these tracks would potentially be viewed if they came out today. Mega cool!
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Tony Middleton - 'Paris Blues'
A moody stomper and Wigan Casino classic. Featuring the classic 4x4 beat that people often associate with Northern Soul. A much darker cut than others featured in this list but I guess it’s a testament to how much range and diversity there was from the seemingly bottomless pool of tunes that people were spinning in those clubs.
This is the kinda tune I wish I was there to hear it blasted out on the bigs - it's super deep and I can imagine it being quite a cathartic and/or euphoric experience witnessing this in the club back in the day. Another conventionally short as hell song!
I love how much emotion and gravitas is packed into two minute tunes. Check out the orchestral brilliance around the one minute 20 mark that really sends it!
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Gladys Knight & The Pips - 'No One Could Love You More'
This absolute shuffler of a tune is so uplifting - the uber-vibes intro lets you know shit is going to get real as soon as the bass and drum kick in. The tune kinda moves in a forward fashion and just continues to build and build and suddenly modulates (around one minute eight seconds) upwards to reaffirm the potentially heartbreaking but undeniably gorgeous and devotional sentiment of the song.
I love the lyrics in this song. Just super real and sentimentally rare in contrast to what music sounds like nowadays. I suppose similarly to the Ruby Andrews tune it’s just the intention and convincing nature that really is a testament to the magic of these records.
Also: just listen to that rhythm section - the bass-line is nothing short of marvellous. It does that thing of being mega funky and super melodic at the same time. A real bubbler.
By the time the track is nearing the end it really climaxes and reharmonises again to give you a real sense of “it's the end of the film” in an almost celebratory / confirming way which I always admire when tunes pull this off tastefully.
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Chuck Wood - 'Seven Days Too Long'
This one is a bit of a de-facto banger. Its actually quite hard to talk about this one because its so fucking perfect - but I felt like I had to include this one because it has all the ingredients that we love about this music. Just listen to it - the tune sounds like its literally on fire. Exhilarating stuff.
The combination of the incredibly passionate vocal performance from Chuck Wood and the arguably unglamorous (not to me of course) recording fidelity causes the vocal distort which to me creates this kind of magical mojo that would be impossible to replicate nowadays that makes the tune feel even more deep and powerful.
The only problem with this tune is that I wish it was longer (but I suppose you can just always play it again...?)
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'Think' is out now.
Catch The Magic Gang live - full details HERE.
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