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24 September 2014
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Northern Soul Club

Northern Soul veterans

Staffordshire has strong tradition of keeping the faith. Listen to the stories of some of our local 'Soulies'...

Northern Soul music, as heard every week on BBC Radio Stoke with Mary Fox, has one of the most devoted and loyal followings of any kind of music.

Back in the 60s and 70s sharp dressed young men and women would travel all over the UK to dance all night to rare records imported from the USA. The soul scene was especially big in the North of England, where towns like Wigan, Blackpool, and Stoke-on-Trent played host to legendary soul clubs.

There was a real buzz around Stoke especially at one of the most famous Northern Soul clubs - The Golden Torch in Tunstall, and the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley also saw many of the top DJ's and live acts.

Many of the original soul fans are now well into their middle-ages, but they've kept the spirit of the scene alive, and are reliving their youth at soul revival nights all over the country.

For Inside Lives on BBC Radio Stoke, Northern Soul veterans have been talking about how the music changed their lives and has given them a lifetime of pleasure...

The legendary Golden Torch

Frank… was a sharp dressed young man, wearing the same up to date clothes as the hippest soul fans - but he'd never been in to the music until… the evening when his girlfriend at the time persuaded him to go to the legendary Golden Torch nightclub in Tunstall for the first time...

That night he heard the song 'Little Piece Of Leather' by cult soul singer Donnie Elbert for the first time and he was hooked. Frank became immersed in the soul scene in Stoke and all over the north of England.

More than 30 years on, Frank is as fanatical as ever, Dj'ing at soul revival nights around the East Midlands, and still spending a fortune on rare records!

audio Listen to Frank's story >
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Your first taste of nightlife

When was your first visit to a disco or nightclub? Maybe you sneaked in somewhere at the age of 14... or perhaps you waited til you were 18 for your first taste of nightlife...

In his Inside Lives story, David Williams remembers how he was just 10 years old when he got dressed up in all the latest gear, and got ready for a big night out at the Oakengates disco in Shropshire! That night in 1970, he heard 'Little Darling' by Marvin Gaye, and was hooked on soul music.

He went to the disco every week until he was 18 - and today the venue is known as The Place and David goes back there for soul revival nights several times a year - where everyone has a chance to see who's put on the most weight and lost the most hair!

audio Listen to David's story >
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Blackpool Mecca

Blackpool Mecca was one of the hottest places for soul music in the early 70s, and soul fans would come from all over the country to dance to the best tunes, show off their sharpest clothes, and go looking for romance. The Highland Room was where all the best action took place, to the sound of legendary DJ Ian Levine.

Geoff Swallow was a regular at the Mecca, and one fateful night more than 30 years ago, he started dancing with a young lady named Angela to the sound of 'Seven Day Lover' by James Fountain.

And more than 30 years on, Geoff and Angela are still together...

audio Listen to Geoff and Angela's story >
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Goldie has been a huge soul fan since the early '60s. He was a sharp dressed man in his youth, and he was a regular at all the big soul clubs in Liverpool and Manchester…

Seeing singers like Inez and Charlie Foxx live on stage blew his mind. But in 1966, just when his love of soul music was fading, two girls from the soul scene in Stoke would change his life forever when they asked him to meet them at Derby Midland station to hear a very special record…

The record he heard at that early morning rendezvous was 'A Touch Of Velvet, A Sting Of Brass' - and since then Goldie has never looked back, and he has spent the last 40 years working as as a DJ, and spending a fortune on rare records, as he told BBC Radio Stoke in his Inside Lives story...

audio Listen to Goldie's story >
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One of the best loved characters on the Stoke scene in the 70s was a young man named Bootlace...

Gary Watkins
Gary Watkins AKA 'Bootlace'

He was a sharp mover on the dancefloor and knew everybody on the scene and everything that was going on. He would be found in the clubs around Stoke, and further afield at places like the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca.

Sadly Bootlace - real name Gary Watkin - died at the age of 18 in a car crash. But his memory lives on, and many people remember Bootlace, including Georgina. She thinks about Bootlace every time she hears Northern Soul classic 'Out On The Floor' by Dobie Gray...

audio Listen to Georgina's story >
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Bootlace update:

Hearing the story about Gary has had a huge impact on his family, as his brother Rob explained on Mary Fox's Northern Soul messageboard on the BBC Radio Stoke website.
This is what he wrote:

"Hi, my name is Rob Watkins from Cheltenham and I’m writing to you following a phone call I have just received from my 74 year old mother who in turn had just received a call from a friend of hers who had heard the name of my dead brother mentioned at 09:30 this morning on your radio station but for what reason we do not know? Here is some history...

Several months ago Mary Fox read out my e-mail requesting help in two areas but both dealing with my dead brother Gary Watkins who died in a RTA 18th May 1975. All of his teenage life revolved around Northern Soul from the Steam Machine, Top Rank etc. On his death, coach loads of people turned up to his funeral from all around the country which only went to confirm his popularity.

Strangely enough though he didn't like his photo being taken and so we have few photos of him in his latter year and wondered if any of your listeners recall him and may have a photo we could copy. Just before Mary went on holiday she told me that she had had some success and would contact me on her return, unfortunately this never happened.

In addition, I was also searching for his son who I never met Simon Paul (first names) not sure of current surname but I know he and his family came from Stoke or surrounding area, Grandfather was an ex miner and his mother would now be about 47. My mum is in remission from Cancer at 74 and has one last wish - to meet Simon. Does anyone remember Gary, have photos or by some miracle, know the whereabouts of Simon Paul?"

If you do have any more memories about Gary Watkins - Bootlace - or any photographs, you can email them to:

Or call James Finlayson at BBC Radio Stoke on 01782 208080, and we can forward them to Gary's family.

last updated: 29/08/08
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