Various ‘Mr M’s Wigan Casino Northern Soul Oldies Room 1974-1981’ 3CD (Soul Time) 4/5

The phenomenon that is northern soul has been fertile terrain for re-issues in the last decade or more, but where this latest compilation scores highly is in the personalised chronicling of the scene by DJ Dave Evison, who was one of the most active and influential of soul DJ’s and it is worth acquiring for his testimony alone. That is to be found firstly in the third CD which amounts to a radio-style interview on how the adjacent Mr M’s room at Wigan Casino started, and the different sounds that originated from the evenings there. Secondly, the lavish and extensive inner sleeve leaves no stone unturned with individual notes on each of the 45’s, with labels, photos of the punters on the dancefloor and even badges all represented in their glory.

From a purely musical perspective, northern soul sometimes sprung surprise tracks that one might not immediately associate with the scene. For example, a later jazz dance favourite in Mel Tormé’s, ‘Comin’ home’, or a Herbie Mann instrumental, ‘Philly Dog’, became hits at Mr M’s, as did the swamp soul of Tony Joe White’s immortal, ‘Polk salad Annie’. On the other hand, some of the all-time great soul vocalists are showcased and these include the Chicago sound of Gene Chandler and a fine, ‘There was a time’, a 1970’s comeback for Don Covay on, ‘It’s better to have (and don’t need)’, or even the seriously under-estimated singer-songwriter talents of Phillip Mitchell on , ‘Free for all (winner takes all)’. More pleasant, if equally unexpected surprises, come from a Little Richard contribution, ‘Poor dog (who can;t wag his own tail)’, while UK mod soul is represented by the unlikely named, Wynder K. Frog and, ‘Green door’. Among other contributors, feature the recently deceased Bunny Sigler, instrumentalist Boots Randolph, and the blue-eyed soul of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons with the anthemic, ‘The night’. Long-time devotees may have the majority of these songs, but still require the conversation on the third CD. For the rest, this is a useful social history of the northern soul era at its zenith.

Tim Stenhouse