Various ‘Northern Soul’ 2CD +DVD/Dig/Vinyl 7″Box Set +Book (Harmless) 5/5

northern-soulFor some, its champions, northern soul is a quasi-religion and the nearest thing to a musical cult being the ultimate in grass-roots collectors activities and way beyond the usual ephemeral in and out fashions. For others, its detractors, it was a narrowly defined clique, based on a formulaic beat, and deeply divisive in splitting the 1970s soul movement into various factions and there is little room in between these two polar positions, such is the passion that northern soul engenders. Which camp you may choose to belong to may be swayed by the release of a new film devoted to the unique phenomenon and it’s from the soundtrack that this superb double CD of northern soul music is taken. Northern soul compilations are certainly not thin on the ground and do vary considerably in the quality. However, the good news with this latest attempt is that there is virtually no duplication with previous ones and plenty of previously unissued 45s on CD to tempt those in the know. Of course there are some established dancefloor winners such as the Montclairs ‘Hung up on your love’ and the stomping ‘Right track’ from Billy Butler. Nonetheless, where this compilation winds hands down on others is in the selection of the less obvious, yet still equally essential in soulful grooves. This is exemplified by the wonderful ‘I really love you’ by the Tomangoes, the delightful Lester Tipton who offers up ‘This won’t change’, or the killer instrumental by the Luther Ingram Orchestra in ‘Exus trek’. Among the more established names are included some of the lesser 45s that were only minor hits first time round and Marvin Gaye’s ‘This love starved heart of mine (it’s killing me)’ or Edwin Starr’s stunning ‘Time’ with its whiff of psychedelic soul from the Norman Whitfield production stable would both fit neatly into this category. Not all the tracks have that classic 1960s feel. There is a definite feel of the modern Philly sound to ‘It really hurts me girl’ by the Carstairs and this did in fact transfer over to the disco floors and has even been remixed by Tom Moulton no less. For gritty soul, the duet of Larry Williams and Johnny Watson serve up a beefy serving in ‘Too late’ while the Salvadores impress with the percussive brass-led number ‘Stick by me baby’. If it is the retro Motown sound you are after, then Shirley Ellis should be your first port of call here with a sumptuous ‘Soul time’ that oozes class and Edwin Starr has a second offering with ‘Back street’. In total fifty-four songs makes for an unbeatable value for money anthology of the northern soul scene and for both neophytes and long-term aficionados alike there is something to treasure here. The 2CD is accompanied by a DVD that features an interview with film director Elaine Constantine. The film itself is currently on general release at selected cinemas and a separate DVD of this will become available shortly.

Tim Stenhouse