Pete McKenna recalls what else was happening while Wigan was busy being the coolest place on the planet…
The UK northern soul scene remains the oldest dance scene going, now celebrating over fifty years existence. These days there are soul nights held in most countries but back in the early 70s it shunned the commercial world, making it that much more exciting, mysterious and difficult to find. A telephone call here, a word in the right ear, a knock on the right door and you were in.
Over the decades there has been so much talk of the so called Big Four Northern Soul clubs: Blackpool’s Highland Room, the Golden Torch, Tunstall, the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and of course the most talked about of all - Wigan Casino - held in such global esteem it was voted the world’s best dance club three times in succession by the prestigious American music magazine Billboard.
As good as those clubs most definitely were, there was a club with an awesome reputation for top class music that played a large part in making the Northern Soul scene what it is today - the sweat pit that was the Catacombs on Temple Street, Wolverhampton, affectionately known as The Cats to all those who were weekend regulars. As was the case with most Northern Soul venues, the decor had definitely seen better days, boasting decaying chic interiors that for me added the essential intrigue and magic.
I was a Wigan Casino regular from late 1973 onwards but my good mates who used to travel up from Birmingham told me so much about their beloved Cats. Rather than take their word for it I decided to see for myself what was going on. The club opened in 1967 and closed in 1974 due to the fact that Wigan Casino managed to get the all-night licence approved, attracting many of the Cats regular soulies. Sadly, that was a deciding factor in the club closing down.
Although I can´t recall the name of the pub across the road I do remember it being packed with a mix of skinheads, soulies and bikers, the air full of a tense violent vibe that put me on a right downer before I even got to the Cats, but once through the door and down the corridor, I instantly felt at home. The tiny club was in a right old state of repair, just the way I liked, these weird red walls covered in crazy graffitti leading me to such a small, cramped amphetamine and sweat-soaked space. Everybody there was staring out with headlamp eyes and chewing away on Wrigleys, the music blasting out and not a space to be had on the pulsating dancefloor. I watched all the guys and girls going through their own storming individual one hundred miles an hour dance moves without touching bumpers so to speak, many of whom I recognised from Wigan, as the deejays laid down a constant barrage of singles - and what deejays they were!
A collection of some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable guys on the scene, who really cared for the records they were spinning, some of whom went on to be big names on the Northern scene for decades to come. Resident Carl Dene and the brilliant Pep Pereira, Blue Max, Basil, Froggy, Bob Crocker, Alan S and Oscar Micheal, backed up by big names like Colin Curtis, Keith Minshull, Soul Sam, Kev Roberts and others who have made a decent living from their lifelong passion for Northern Soul. I visited the Cats four times and the vibe was so incredibly powerful each time, the equal of anything the Casino had to offer, the clapping like thunder from the dancers who were fully in tune with the music and the moment, the strange, energetic, nocturnal world of the Northern Soul scene at its best - courtesy of the Catacombs.
Pete McKenna is the author of several books, including Nightshift, a gritty and hard-hitting recollection of the 70’s Northern Soul scene, published in 1996. His latest offering, David Bowie: Star Man, is also widely available, including from - here.