SUIT YOURSELF EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH WIGAN CASINO'S

LEGENDARY DJ RICHARD SEARLING

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One of the great things about owning a fantastic website is that you get to interview some amazing people, now I have been a lover of Northern and Sixties soul for over 30 years and yes, like so many other people were inspired by some of the incredible DJ's, night clubs and all-nighters held all over this fair land of ours, now your more modern day Mod would tell you they were born in the wrong era claiming that they should have been born in the sixties, well the same can be said for the more modern day Northern Soul lover, yearning to have been part of a decade that perhaps we were a little too young for. To be part of the incredible Northern soul scene that dominated the clubs in the north of England. Everyone will tell you they had their favourite haunt from back in the day and will fight tooth and nail to protect it but you can't deny the legendary status of Wigan Casino and the DJ's that played there, this alongside other all night parties became the blueprint for the later dance culture that came along in the late 80s and its resonance can still be heard today through the mists of time in places like Blackpool and Stoke as well as countless other events happening all over the country.

 

The Wigan Casino has gone on to become one of the all-time legendary venues and has become a brand in its own right today, not bad for a club which closed its doors in 1981!

 

But, and I would argue this profusely, a venue is just a room unless you put a DJ and some dancers in it, and legendary only becomes a status if said DJ's can turn that room into an incredible journey for the dancers that burn the dance floor which brings us nicely to one of the gentlemen that helped Wigan Casino gain its lofty reputation. Richard Searling, the original Wigan Casino resident DJ has just released a book of memoirs from the halcyon days of the Casino, here, we are proud to bring you a small interview with the legendary DJ that helped shape the sound which has become Northern Soul. We would heartily recommend buying the book and the accompanying album once you have read this interview, kick back put the album on and relive some of the greatest days of Northern soul history - Words - Cris Davies.

 

Hi Richard, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you are from and about your early childhood

 

Hi Cris, I'm now 66, originally from Manchester, married to Judith for 47 years with one daughter, Carolyn April who lives in Exeter.

  

Can you tell us where your love of music came from, who influenced you and your early musical influences?

 

A big thanks for my love of music goes to my wife who attended the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. My initial love of music started when I was lead treble singing with the Halle Orchestra while still at school. Then I heard great soul music on Radio Luxembourg and via Tony Blackburn on Radio 1 from 1967-1970.

 

How did you become a DJ and who gave you your first break

 

I worked as a Saturday lad at Ralph's Records in Manchester and my first DJ set was for £2 at the SAGOT Club in Salford. The guy that recommended me was called Chris Davis, a local promoter.

 

Thinking about those early years for a moment, how did you fall in love with the sound that would shape your career, what was the scene like and where did you play.

 

From attending a local Manchester club in 1971 called The Pendulum, that's where I first heard what we now would call Northern Soul.

 

How did your residency with the Wigan Casino happen?

 

I had "made a name" for myself at the Va-Va's All Nighters in Bolton in early 1973 and was recommended to the Wigan Casino management by Kev Roberts, one of the original DJs at the venue.

 

For those that have never been lucky enough to have experienced a night at the Casino, can you try to set the scene for us?

 

A huge Victorian dancehall, a little dilapidated but perfect for All Nighters. With 1,000 attendees week in week out, and a frantic dancing scene.As a DJ you had to keep the floor full with uptempo sounds that you would not hear at any other club at that time. People came from all parts of the UK 

 

Can you tell us about the records that were broken on the dance floor and the big tunes that could be found in your own box. Also how you felt breaking these incredible previously unheard records to the Wigan faithful.

 

My new book details over 170 of the records that I was personally responsible for. Standouts include Cecil Washington, Rita and The Tiaras, Vickie Baines, Carol Anderson, Al Williams  and Eddie Holman

 

Can you tell us about some of the artists that appeared at the club

 

I remember acts including Betty Wright, Jackie Wilson, R Dean Taylor and Martha Reeves in particular but the organiser, Mike Walker was well-connected so many more appeared there over the 8 year period.

 

Can you tell us one or two truly magical memories that you hold dear about being a resident DJ at the most famous Northern soul club in the world

 

The most magical moments would be "breaking big" the more soulful, mid-tempo sounds by artists such as George Kirby, Mike Jemison and Mr. Soul.

 

Wigan casino was once voted the best disco in the world, how does it make you feel being such a pivotal part of its success story

 

One of the main reasons I wrote my book was to dispel this lie - for legal reasons I cannot reveal who started it off but it's a complete fantasy and needs to be corrected as the media keep harping on about something that did not ever happen. More details of this can be found in my book.

 

The famous three before eight, the last three records that were played to end the all night sessions Long after tonight is all over – Jimmy Radcliffe, Time will pass you by – Tobi Legend and I’m on my way – Dean Parrish. Although legendary moments for the Casino what three tracks would you pick today to finish off an all nighter?

 

All these records were played at other venues before the Casino opened, however, top "oldies" DJ Dave Evison put them together to end the All-Nighters at The Casino.Were I ever to finish off an All-Nighter I would probably feature -

Ray Pollard "The Drifter"

Gene McDaniels "Walk with a winner" 

Esther Phillips  "Just say goodbye"

 

There has been a movie made about the Casino (Northern Soul) were you involved in the making and did it give it a true reflection of what the club and times were like?

 

I was the executive director but all the credit should go to Elaine Constantine who wrote and directed a brilliant film. We set up the Wigan Casino scenes at the King Georges Hall in Blackburn and the attention to detail throughout was stunning accurate

.

Outside the Casino your legendary status as a DJ was gathering pace, can you tell us about some of the places you were playing at this time

 

Venues I remember most include the "Clouds" All-Nighters in Edinburgh and "Angels" nightclub in Burnley.

 

When the club closed in 1981 how did you feel and what happened next….

 

I have gone into "what happened next" is great detail in my book...(See link below)

 

Your love of sixties soul developed into a love of modern soul also, seeing you play both styles on a regular basis, could you tell us how this new love came about.

 

I didn't see it as "new" at the time, merely a logical progression as the music should not be held back by when a record was released.

 

After all these years of collecting are you still finding future club classics?

 

Yes, not as often though , and I love playing them on my BBC Radio shows

 

Can you tell us about some of your favourite venues you have played in and some of the highlights of your DJ career.

 

My favourite venues are happening now, namely the Winter Gardens and The Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. I also enjoyed DJ'ing at The Cleethorpes Soul Weekenders, and the Southport Soul Weekenders.

 

Over the years you have continued to champion the sound that shaped you, can you tell us about your radio career and your other promotional activities.

 

My BBC Shows go out every weekend on BBC Manchester, Stoke and Hereford & Worcester, and Sunday lunchtimes on Solar Radio as well. I started back in 1980 on Radio Hallam in Sheffield then onto Red Rose Radio in Preston, Sunset Radio in Manchester before working for Jazz FM between 1995 - 2009. My events are mainly in Blackpool highlighted by the International Soul Festival every June at The Winter Gardens. I have organised weekenders at The Blackpool Tower since 2006 and Luxury Soul weekenders at the Blackpool Hilton since 2001. 

 

With such an incredible career behind you it’s no wonder you have decided to slow things down a little, this year sees you DJing at your last ever all-nighter at the Kings hall in Stoke, it’s going to be an emotional time for yourself and your fans, without telling us all your set list, how on earth are you going to pick from collection that spans a legacy of Northern and modern soul and could we tease out of you on a couple of tracks you may play.

 

It's something I'm thinking about right now! I will do two sets, one Northern one in the Ballroom, a Modern one in the smaller room. I will try and feature records that people associate me with.

 

Slowing down has given you time to write and release your new book, ’setting the record straight’ which sees you delve into your personal memories of those halcyon days of Wigan casino, can you tell us what we can expect from such a great read.

 

It was something I felt compelled to write and the title says in all. So much incorrect information about Wigan Casino has been fed to the media since 1981 on the basis nobody would challenge it - as I was there throughout I needed to be the one to do it now before people were /are misled any further.

 

So, what is next for one of the greatest DJ’s in the world?

 

That's a lovely way to describe me - thank you. I intend to "keep on keepin on" with radio work and running my events. A few gigs in Europe perhaps if I can fit these in

 

This last question is going to be the hardest I think I have ever asked a DJ of such knowledge and calibre but I will try anyway, Richard can you give us your own definitive top 20 favourite Northern soul records of all time……

 

Of course, it's hard, but my selections would change every day - so here is today's 20-

 

1     ALICE CLARK      You Hit me 

2     MARVIN GAYE    Love starved heart 

3     BARBARA LEWIS    I remember the feeling 

4     BOBBY HEBB       You want to change me 

5     CLYDE McPHATTER    Please give me one more chance

6     LINDA JONES         Just can't live my life 

7     LARRY SAUNDERS     On the real side 

8     THE ORIGINALS       Don't stop now 

9     ALEXANDER PATTON    A 'lil lovin' sometimes

10   RICHIE ADAMS        I can't escape from you 

11   NANCY WILSON       End of our love

12   BRENDA HOLLOWAY    Starting the hurt all over again

13   BOBBY HUTTON        Lend a hand 

14   MAURICE & THE RADIANTS     Baby, you've got it

15   TONY CLARKE            Landslide 

16   THE SALVADORS        Stick by me baby 

17   LYNNE RANDELL        Stranger in my arms 

18   THE BELLES               Don't pretend 

19   THE SPINNERS            Sweet thing 

20   THE INVITATIONS     What's wrong with me baby?

RICHARDS BOOK - SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT IS AVAILABLE TO BUY HERE

THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE BOOK IS AVAILABLE TO BUY HERE

© Suit Yourself Modernist Culture 2019

EST 2016