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01 Sep, 2023

Celebrating the Iconic Wigan Casino: 50 Years of Northern Soul

Northern soul 1

Colourhouse Masterbatch are renowned for supplying colour to Vinyl pressing plants around the world, but, as hard as it is to admit it, Colourhouse Masterbatch isn't the only musical connection in our home town of Wigan, The town boasts an eclectic mix of connections that have left their mark on the cultural landscape over the years, maybe not a normal Colourhouse post, and some may say why post this on a Masterbatch site, well, if we cant help to promote Wigan and the local community, what can we do, sometimes we just need to kick back, relax and be on our way.

now, Wigan proudly claims the legendary George Formby as one of its own. Born in the town, Formby became an iconic figure in British music and comedy. During the 1930's and 1940's he went on to be one of the highest-paid and most popular musical stars of his time, Add to this bands and artists such as The Verve, The Railway Children, The Lathums, The Lottery Winners and of course Kajagoogoo and the towns connection with Music cant be denied, but there is something that separates the Wigan music scene from all other towns and cities around the world.

In the heart of Wigan, amidst the fervour of the 70s, the modest Empress Ballroom located on Station Road in the centre of Wigan ascended to global fame, becoming the epicentre of the Northern Soul movement. The Casino Club, affectionately known as Wigan Casino, carved its name in history by hosting electrifying all-nighters that drew passionate dancers from every corner of the UK and abroad. The club's journey from inception at 02:00 am on Sunday 23rd September 1973 to its emotional closure in 1981 is a tale that continues to resonate with music enthusiasts worldwide.

Wigan Casino All-Nighter
Wigan Casino All-Nighter

Following the shutdown of Stoke's Golden Torch half a year prior, the Northern Soul scene had been left without a sanctuary. While the Highland Rooms at Blackpool Mecca, under the stewardship of DJs Ian Levine and Tony Jebb, had amassed a dedicated following, it operated within regular club hours. This left a void in the community, prompting a quest for an all-nighter haven akin to Manchester's late-60s Twisted Wheel, a venue steeped in tradition.

The expansive ballroom could comfortably accommodate up to 1200 enthusiastic dancers. On three sides, ornate balconies provided vantage points for observers to marvel at the acrobatic moves of dancers, their figures illuminated by the soft glow of just two suspended fluorescent lights, casting an ethereal ambiance.
Adjacent to the main hall, an ante-room known as the Palais, later rebranded as Mr M's, offered a scaled-down but substantial dance area. This clever addition transformed the Casino into a versatile space, further boosting its capacity to well over 2000 attendees.

Jimmy Radcliffe - Long After Tonight Is All Over
Select to watch Jimmy Radcliffe - Long After Tonight Is All Over

Wigan's dance aficionados were discerning, demanding music that resonated perfectly with their rhythm. A DJ's worst nightmare was the sudden clearing of the expansive dancefloor, a spontaneous gesture of musical dissent from the energetic crowd. This action bared the vast expanse of spring-loaded wooden flooring to the onlooking patrons on the balconies. In stark contrast to the compact, concrete-floored Twisted Wheel, the Wigan Casino boasted a spacious dancefloor that lent itself perfectly to the gravity-defying moves of its dancers. Observing these dancers in their distinctive 32-inch-wide Spencer’s and vests adorned with badges bearing slogans like "keep the faith" and "night owl" was a sight to behold, evoking a sense of awe and admiration. The intense eight-hour dance marathons, dwarfing those of the Blackpool Mecca and the Golden Torch, cultivated a culture driven by the frenetic pace of amphetamine-infused dance beats.

One of the driving force behind Wigan Casino was the local DJ luminary Russ Winstanley. Collaborating with soul enthusiast and Casino manager Mike Walker, they embarked on a daring venture that would reshape the nightlife scene. Persuading the owner, Gerry Marshall, to take a gamble on their concept, they birthed a cultural phenomenon that was to define an era.

During its zenith, the Wigan Casino boasted a staggering membership of over 100,000 enthusiasts. Such was its popularity that, by April 1975, Mike Walker found it necessary to temporarily halt new memberships due to overcrowding concerns. The Saturday soul nights flourished, and soon the club introduced regular evening soul sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, embedding itself even deeper into the hearts of its fervent followers.

Tobi Legend - Time will pass you by
Select to watch Tobi Legend - Time will pass you by

As the club's popularity soared, unforeseen events shaped its trajectory. The impending redevelopment plans by Wigan Council led to a bittersweet farewell on September 19, 1981. Thousands gathered for a final dance on the storied floor, bidding adieu to a venue that had left an indelible mark on their lives.

Ironically, the supposed closure marked the beginning of a new chapter. The announcement of another all-nighter on October 2 left fans bewildered and organizers scrambling. Nevertheless, the legacy lived on, and while the Casino had its "final" moments, Northern Soul aficionados were already exploring new horizons.

Dean Parish - I'm on my way
Select to watch Dean Parish - I'm on my way

The Casino's physical presence may have faded, but its essence endures through the passion of its devotees. As the 50th anniversary beckons, Wigan is set to commemorate the iconic venue in grand style. An outdoor exhibition featuring photographer Francesco Mellina's evocative images from the Casino's closing night will grace Standishgate, offering a glimpse into history.

Another exhibit, '50 Years on The Soul Stays Strong', explores the everlasting impact of the Casino on successive generations. Diverse perspectives, unified by a shared love for music, converge through the artistic works on display.

The celebration doesn't stop there. A commemorative badge, designed by We Are Willow, captures the essence of the Casino's spirit and will be available at the Museum of Wigan Life. Artist William Titley adds an interactive touch by collecting cherished Northern Soul 7" records and weaving them into a masterpiece titled 'time machine'. The immersive experience, featuring these records, promises to evoke powerful memories on September 23.

A new play by Jim Cartwright and directed by Nick Bagnall is poised to recreate the vibrant atmosphere of Wigan Casino on October 21, a fitting crescendo to the celebrations. With its 'New heritage' theme, the anniversary aligns seamlessly with Wigan's cultural manifesto, the Fire Within.

Now as a Wigan company it wouldn't be right to finish this blog without paying homage to the three from eight, the links can be found above, now, put these on any jukebox in Wigan and watch what happens next.

The story of Wigan Casino continues to reverberate, inspiring a love for music that transcends time and place,

If you missed it, we would highly recommend the wonderful BBC at the proms recently aired, please find link here BBC at the Proms present Northern Soul

Keep the faith!!

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