1977, a young teenager, I was allowed to go to a weekly disco in a village hall. All the town parents would drive their kids out to the village and pick them up at 11 o’clock when it finished. In the summer months, it would move to an actual farm barn, with haybales to sit on and portaloo toilets, but most of the time it was 150 under-16s trying everything for the first time, half a mile from the nearest telephone box.
It was never billed as a Northern Soul disco, but that’s what it was. The guys who ran mobile discos were mad-keen on music; they loved the rarity and knowledge that went with Northern Soul music. The DJ played all the music that was in the charts, and that changed each week, but year after year, he’d play those obscure American 60s songs – Out on the Floor by Dobie Gray, Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love and Seven Days Too Long by Chuck Wood. Boys in high-waisted baggies would show off with dancefloor acrobatics and as I remember it, we girls got pushed to the edge of the room and watched until Carwash, Red Light Spells Danger or either version of Don’t Leave Me This Way would come back on.
When punk was happening in London and New York, kids in the villages had no idea. There would be a segment of the village disco for rock music and that’s when Black Betty by Ram Jam, The Stranglers, Status Quo and then Sex Pistols and Tom Robinson’s 2-4-6-8 Motorway, The Boomtown Rats and the Damned began to creep in. The DJ played these records because they were in the charts and a gradually increasing number of boys and girls stopped doing that thumbs in your jeans rock dance and started jumping and cavorting around the hall. It was exuberant, but they weren’t really punks – more like drunken idiots who thought it was fun pushing girls out of the way.
When punk properly hit my small town, and bands on Top of the Pops showed us the way, we embraced the urban life and stopped going to the village discos for good. With friends Clare and John, I started a punk band influenced mainly by Buzzcocks and X-Ray Spex, and and we put on gigs in a workshop room. We carried a portable mono cassette player around to listen to punk music in the churchyard, which is where we hung out. And that’s how, for me, punk wiped out Northern Soul.