“It was like a test,” begins Elaine Constantine, between sips of tea at her office in London. “Could this happen again? But it’s gone beyond that now. Way, way beyond that.” On the eve of her directorial debut Northern Soul (in cinemas 17 October), Constantine is reflecting upon events that took place six years ago, long before she had funding, actors or even a plot for the film she so desperately wanted to make. At the beginning, Constantine – best known for her photographs of youth tribes for magazines such as The Face and Vanity Fair – explains that she wanted to “correct a misconception” about Northern Soul. Growing up in Lancashire, Constantine caught the tail-end of the movement’s first flowering and says that she can’t “square the way people often talk about the scene – the vests, the baggy trousers, all that sort of thing – with her own memories of “all-nighters in Blackburn, Morecambe, Warrington Parr Hall.”
In the film, the main vehicle for Constantine’s lifelong connection to the music is reflected in the road-to-Damascus moment experienced by main character John (played by Elliot James Langridge) when a chance encounter with local teenager Matt (Joshua Whitehouse) and his record collection leaves him instantly transformed. Constantine first encountered Langridge when sounding him out to appear in a mock poster for the film which, at that point, had yet to be made. Langridge set about learning the necessary moves to pulse-racing classics such as Exus Trek by Luther Ingrams Orchestra. However, it was in establishing regular dance sessions for teenagers who were hitherto unaware of this music that Constantine laid the sowed the seeds of what takes place in the film. “We set up a dance club in London and one in Rumworth Hall in Bolton – and we invited kids between 16 and 25 to come along. the deal was, ‘If you stay with us on this journey and get into the music, then we’ll offer you a part as a dancer, an extra or even something greater.”
Outside of the film, events have assumed their own momentum. Many of the teenagers attracted to the sessions in Bolton and London have gone on to form their own clubs. Seeking to revive a local scene that splintered with the demolition of the legendary Casino, Wigan Young Souls have commandeered Highfield Parish Hall with a succession of nights whose reputation has beyond the city limits. As co-founder Jordan Wilson puts it, “We knew that if we played this music that a younger audience had never [heard] before, they would grow to love it.” Echoing Wilson’s sentiments is 17 year-old Levanna McLean, who became a YouTube sensation when she uploaded herself dancing to Pharrell Williams’ Happy [below] and its 1977 namesake by Velvet Hammer. Further videos of her dancing with bystander-confusing glee have won her more admirers, among them Pharrell, who invited her and Wigan Young Souls to dance alongside him at this year’s Brits.” Calling on a lunch break from her studio production course in Bristol, she enthuses: “Some of the records may be the same, but the scene is different now. For instance, speed is a thing of the past. You just don’t see that now. If I go to one of the all-nighters at the 100 Club, I might have a Red Bull at 4am, but that’s it.”
Now playing in Paul Weller’s band, co-founder of Camden’s legendary 90s Blow-Up nights, Andy Lewis has been obsessively collecting Northern Soul music since 1981. For him, the most encouraging thing about the current resurgence is that “it isn’t a nostalgic misremembering of what happened the first time around. I like the fact that you can hear something like Aloe Blacc’s I Need A Dollar at these nights. It bears all the hallmarks, even though it’s from another age. Yes, it is a bit weird to see Fred Perry adorning their shirts with replica all-nighter patches, but you can’t be too cynical about it. It’s just great to see people half my age at all-nighters.”
Constantine echoes Lewis’s sentiments. “Whatever happens to the film, the experiment has been successful.” Levanna McLean seems to bear out the director’s words. “Me and my friends have already seen the trailer. We’ve already planned it. Every time another track comes on, we’ll be straight down the front.” Pete Paphides @petepaphides
For more head to Northernsoulthefilm.com.