Tony Horn has been in touch with me for several years now. He is, in a way, a bridge between the mainstream Soul Music, and the Northern style of this wonderful genre. Tony ran a fantastic magazine called 'Soulin', which, I read and read several times over, as each one was issued, and reminded me how little I know about this fantastic music. He is quite a humble person, who has been an enormous support to this old scribe, so I am absolutely delighted to return the compliment to this diehard Soul fan with a page for the man....here are some of Tony's writings.....
Fleetwood 2005: Only a little Togetherness?
Having had a self-imposed sabbatical away from the Soul scene for a good couple of years, it was with great anticipation that I headed for Fleetwoods annual Soul Weekender in November which was Togetherness 2005. I had been several times before, and neither the prospect of the North Wests notorious Winter climate nor the economy class caravan accomodation could dampen my enthusiasm.
Id made lots of friends on the Soul Weekender circuit (thanks largely to my Z-list celebrity status earned as editor of my old Soulin fanzine!), and I was really looking forward to meeting old faces, hearing new tunes and seeing the acts who were lined up to perform. The old excitement was returning!
The Friday night was a blast as it seemed every time I clinked a glass of cheer with one old friend, another would appear and so it went through to the early hours. The music provided a suitable backdrop of course, but too much chat prevented me from concentrating on the tunes too much, and I comforted myself with the thought of another two whole days and nights to really immerse myself in the sounds and atmosphere. The music may last forever but friends are not immortal!
For the uninitiated, the Togetherness format consists of traditional Northern/Rare Soul in the main room. The Sports Bar houses the Modern Room; and the past few events have seen the addition of The Tent a marquee annex which features Crossover Soul and those sixties, seventies and eighties sides which defy either Northern or Modern categorisation! Confusing eh? Suffice to say, that however you like your Soul, youll find it somewhere at the event.
So with a rather delicate head come Saturday morning, we rejoined the fray and wandered between the rooms taking in all manner of fabulous Soul Music. Lots of record and merchandising stalls offering everything from rare vinyl 45s and LPs; the latest hot CDs; magazines and books and even Soul cufflinks! And get this Motownopoly, Soul greetings cards and gift tags, and wait for it Soul teddy bears! I kid you not!
It has long been a criticism of the Togertheness product, that it is now operating purely as a business, and that maybe it has lost its Soul? Questions have been asked as to whether the promoters are really keeping the faith or doing it solely for the money? Well it would be most niaive of anyone to think that putting on such a huge event should not be entitled to a little reward for their efforts. That romantic notion of barely breaking even in the name of spreading the Soul gospel might work at the scores of localised events up and down the country, but filling a huge quota of accomodation such as the Cala Gran site requires considerably more effort than an honourable right on! with a clenched fist! And make no mistake, Togetherness has showcased dozens of artists and groups long thought to have been consigned to history; some seen in the UK for the first time, and some even the last, as many of our heroes and heroines seem to be passing on with increasing frequency. However, Togetherness will continue to receive such criticism regardless.
As I mentioned, this was my first event for some time, so it would have taken a minor disaster to spoil things for me, and as a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. But, my one gripe about Togertherness is the politics that still remain within the Northern scene, and which were clearly evident here for a couple of reasons.
The promoters clearly make the effort to provide as much musical choice as possible with its three room policy, but the old chestnut of oldies versus newies remains however. Patrons of either camp can, and still do, get most irate if you attempt to question their apparent narrow-mindedness. To each his/her own of course, but dare I suggest it is the fans of traditional Northern Soul who are the worst culprits? In my experience, a large percentage of people found in the Modern or Crossover Soul rooms are still of a certain age, and actually cut their musical teeth during the early seventies hey-day of the Northern scene. They still appreciate the old favourites and classics, but have moved on with Soul music and how it has evolved since. Their criticism of Northern Soul is not directed at the music, but more so at the die-hard stubborness to even listen to anything which doesnt adhere to the traditional Northern style of danceable Soul. Yet as if to contradict that statement, the Northern boys will suddenly latch on to a tune which defies all the usual pedigree and can turn the most inoccuous of tunes into a monster.
Two cases in point in recent years, and both coincidentally from Philly, are the Futures Party Time Man and Archie Bells Where Will You Go When The Partys Over. Both tunes were overlooked by the Soul underground upon release and the respective albums from whence they came offered much better tracks. So I find it difficult to fathom their recent popularity and demand, and subsequent inflated prices as witnessed on eBay! Quite how two such non-discript and predictable disco tunes suddenly make the grade in the Northern rooms leaves me non-plussed, and more so when those dancing so energetically to them are so critical of the modern-day equivalent of disco known loosely as Soulful Garage? I should mention that Im by no means a champion of the latter genre, but there have been many fine examples over the years that have been extremely Soulful and dancable in equal measure, and have earned classic status amongst lovers of real Soul music. My own criticism of Soulful Garage, is when a DJ embarks on a lengthy and seamless mix of tunes which often degenerates into no more than one continuous beat, with the vocals becoming purely incidental. Clever and artistic when done well and in the right setting, but not for events such as this I think, and on that score I can understand why Northern heads view the music with disdain.
Personal music preferences will be just that ultimately, I just wish people would be a little more open-minded, but it was another two episodes which disturbed me more than anything this weekend; the first being a conversation overheard by my significant other whilst in the ladies loo nearest to the main Northern room! Have you been in the other room yet?, one lass asked to her mate. What other room?, came the reply! I find it unbelievable that this girl was oblivious to the other rooms on offer, and more importantly, why? And on a separate occasion as we made for the Northern room, I bumped into a very well known pal who was on the Modern Room DJ roster who very seriously asked Why? when I mentioned where we were headed!
Arguing the toss wouldve been pointless, but it dissapointed me to find this attitude still exists. Me? Well I suppose I spent the most hours in the Crossover Tent, but did make time to visit the other two rooms frequently. But this strange attitude also exists for those who are noticable by their absence. I know several long-serving Soul fans and DJs who will not attend a Togetherness event under any circumstances! Why? They either dont like those involved in the promotions, or as DJs, they claim the line-ups to be predictable, unadventurous, and just jobs for the boys! As a result, they have forfeited some once in a lifetime opportunities to see certain exclusive live acts based purely on their political bias. Sad, but true.
Northern Soul and its related sub-genres have enjoyed another resurgence in recent years due to TV advert jingles and an assortment of bandwagon hoppers, but if it brings in some new blood then that can only be a good thing, right? Veterans of the scene ought to be welcoming younger enthusiasts with open arms, but the fact remains that many vets view such new blood with suspicion. These so-called keepers of faith will eventually be the death knell of the Northern/Rare Soul scene if theyre not careful. People are still judged by what they know, who they know, where theyve been, and what their collections comprise of unfortunately, and cliques within the scene still remain.
Just like many of our favouite artists, some of the scenes elder DJs and personalities will not be around forever. It is in our hands to ensure that all of the wonderful music and history of the scene is passed on willingly to any newcomers who show more than just a casual interest. Perhaps Spread The Faith would be a more appropriate mindset now?
As for Togetherness, despite my own personal enjoyment, it is sad to see that some 35 years or so down the line, such a huge coming together of Soul lovers still has the same old divisions.
On a more positive note, both William Bell and Bobby Patterson were excellent. Of the many new tunes on display, Prominents Step Into My World was a prime example that good, new Soul Music exists (and how to sample a cracking old tune to good effect!); and a superb version of Someday Well All Be Free by Noel McKoy due out next year I believe. Of course all the old monsters and rarities were trundled out, but as a fan and collector of over 30 years, I was delighted to hear some vintage stuff for the first time, and most notably, Walter Jacksons Let Me Come Back! Makes you wonder how such tunes pass you by?
Tony Horn (December 2005)