Soul Jam - Mickey Nold Interview with Moke

Moke # 3 Interview with Mickey Nold (Spring 1999)
Northern Soul is going though a renascence similar to that of Acid Jazz, some years ago. There, I've said it - and it will annoy the regular fans of Northern no end, but it's happening right now.
Take a walk into any mainstream music shop, and you will find at least a dozen or so compilation albums (which is so un-Northern Soul, the use of the long-player!), each album containing over a grand's worth of rare singles, for less than a tenner.) The phrase has entered common usage now, and is offered up constantly to us at mod-nights, countrywide, by DJ's fresh from exploratory weekends at Cleethorpes or Wigan - so much so that the sound even has it's own backlash movement, claiming it doesn't deserve so much needletime, at events - a sure sign of are revolution in our midst!
Northern Soul describes an era, a way of life that could only have happened in the UK, primarily because the genre grouping is a purely British ideal.
Scoured from record fairs and dusty top shelves in the US, the sound is derived from the outpourings and rarities of obscure soul labels in the States. The Northern tag being a reference to the fact that the fans of this sound congregated mainly in dancehalls in the North of England, such as Manchester, Wigan or Stoke.

Recently in GQ magazine, the experience was described thusly.....
A night at the Casino in Wigan often started with a lengthy journey, with many soul fans chartering their own coaches. On boarding the coach you were likely to be met by a horde of like minded individuals dressed in baggy trousers (a good 30" wide), shoes with toes resembling duck's bills (Pods), brogues, bowling shirts, vests, tight T-shirts, and of course, a lot of tattoo.
Some carried kitbags adorned with Mitre, Puma, Lonsdale or Adidas logos, whilst others made do with a check bag nicked from dad, in which lurked the required kit - spare clothes, toiletries,a bottle of Old Spice or Brut  (my personal favorite!) and talc to apply to the floor to aid the fast footwork and aid the essential splits.

Off the bus and up the unbearably long staircase, with your heart pounding and adrenaline pumping. The dancefloor was packed, with all the participants facing the DJ, heads down, breaking into a move whenever a gap appeared in the beat. By the stage were the real deal, the top dancers - performing the likes of which had never been seen before. Spins and splits, then handstands, backdrops, pirouettes, the lot.
There was also a lack of alcohol due to no bar, and anyway- drink slowed you down.
Northern Soul meant style, attitude and pharmaceuticals. It was totally impenetrable by squares and as a result, a real camaraderie existed amongst its fans. Which may or may not be how the real deal see it, for several years now, since moving to Birmingham, I've been listening to the work of one man's radio show, on the local pirate network - "People's Community Radio Link" or "PCRL" for short.

Davi 'A' & 'Beat Ballad' Bob
Mickey Nold hosts a regular Sunday lunchtime slot on the station, with a fluctuating posse of Northern Soul comrades in arms - "Mickey Nold's Basement Soul, with The Consortium" - a two hour feast for your jaded weekend ears, of only the finest soul and related R&B sounds. Somewhere in the house I've piled hours of tapes of the show (which others tape, and send world-wide), and have to admit, that I have become a fan, with each contributor's obviously well thought out knowledge of the music (like listening to Radio Three, sometimes), essential raw beats, all hosted affably by Mickey himself equally at home commenting on the background of the next track, or putting-up with the good-humored flack from his Consortium, as they spin the music of the heartbeat....

One day I took the plunge, and called up to ask for an audience with the man himself - and after having to send a few previous articles to a secret address in Birmingham, to establish that I was a legitimate fan, and not from the authorities who regularly raid the premises - I got the word from Mickey ("I like to spell it, as in Mouse!"), to meet up in an out of town pub, just north of Birmingham (where the sight of me pulling-up, on a silver Vespa Sprint, certainly raised a few eyebrows, with the clientele.)

All shadiness aside - merely a precaution, that most underground operators have to allow for, in the flesh Mickey is an just a music fan like you and me. Not something that could be said for the commercial interests who regularly hinder the work of PCRL, by complaining to the Department of Trade and Industry, and cause yet another confiscation of expensive radio equipment. 

Other features of the station, are discussion programmes, Black history from a Black perspective, and an eclectic mix (no repeats, it's too varied!!!) of the many styles of Black music, from vintage ska, to modern soca and anything in-between. Mickey's involvement with the pirates began in the sixties, with his own station "Radio Nold", which consisted of Mickey and various friends gathering together for a party, and MC-ing on-air, using a portable Discatron record-player (which I'm informed, looks not too dissimilar from a pop-up toaster!), and he also wrote lyrics to a vocal version of "The Worm", which is an old gem from Jimmy McGriff. Maybe if I can pin him down long enough, I'll go into more depth on the scene then, as that would undoubtedly make an interesting article, but for the time being, I'm pleased enough to have him give me some of his time (even while the interview proceeds, he is checking the PCRL output, on a portable radio.), and I'm also busy being careful not to get in over my head with someone who will obviously know more about the subject than I will!

Introductions over with, we settle down on a couch away from the noise of the bar, and I start by commenting that Northern Soul is getting played more  at Mod gigs, more so than ever before,... "Really!.... I'm narrow vision, I only see what happens on our spectrum. If things are happening then tell me about it, I'm interested." Well, there's a night called "Hitchhike" in Digbeth, every other Saturday, put on by a Brummie mod-DJ called Pid, and he's been playing mainly Northern Soul, for years on the mod-scene, and he really knows his stuff....."It's a great name for the night! A Marvin Gaye title."

They play mainly soul on that night "You see on that sort of night, the mods used to play anything really, that's what it was like in the early days, which was really nice. But with the Northern scene, it wouldn't happen, because of the snobbery YOU CAN'T PLAY THAT, you've been listening to that for 30 years, nobody wants to hear that. Which is true in a way, but young people that are in there haven't heard them, it's a shame that they can't get to hear the stuff as well."

You get a song like "The Snake", which is played to death in a soulset at a mod-gig.....

"You very rarely hear that at a Northern Soul night, except maybe an oldies set, when the DJ couldn't find ANYTHING else, and he'd throw that on, just because he couldn't find anything before the end of the record, by accident perhaps.....
'The Consortium' Bentley's, Dudley 1992
But I hate the snobbery apart from all that, I'd rather not get involved in talking about how much this cost, and how much that cost, or this is good because it's rare - it's a total load of rubbish!" You can't tell how ,much a record costs, when you're dancing to it..... "But there are the snob-dancers, that will dance to something they hear that night, only because they know they'll only hear the song that night, because that's the only DJ in the country who has got a copy of that record.
But if they..do like it, they'll travel miles to hear that record played." Short pause for me to relate how I used to shop in Uncle Sam's Album's, a strange  little record shop in my hometown, who imported vinyl from bargain-bins in America, and sold it in the shop for next to nothing (I was picking up copies of Parliaments 45's, or New Colony #6 originals for under a quid... ..).

"To be honest it's really nice when you find stuff cheap, you get excited and you try to buy as much stuff as you can. In some shops in America, as soon as they hear the English accent, when you go up to the counter with a load of records, they'll take them off you, and say - these aren't for sale. And then the stuff will appear later, with the price bumped-up, because the dealer will know it's sought after.I've been buying albums for a pound recently, it's great - I can't get enough of them.
I've spent so much money on albums over the years, when you've been collecting albums for a while, obviously you get all the good ones, then there's the real good ones that are really rare, and they want bigger money for them.

Mark Murphy & Ella
So the only thing for you to spend your money on are silly amounts on one album (you know already.), or take the risk and spend a couple of quid on a few albums, and find nice things, which is what I tend to do!"
I mention some jazz favorites of mine, and Mickey tells me about his writing the words to "The Worm", which I relate to how Mark Murphy works, singing his own lyrics, over a jazz standard.
"We used to have a club in Birmingham, called the Triangle Club (related to the Arts Lab), and I went to see Mark Murphy there. Great stuff, just a couple of musicians, a guitar and a drum and a bass - you don't need anything else with a voice like he's got.
It was a nice little club, they did it all out, and lots of obscure artists appeared. Live music just don't happen anymore." The trouble with Birmingham is , that it doesn't have any middleground, since the Hummingbird venue closed."

"When the Hummingbird closed, we lost a good venue for soul. When there was a national tour, they would be at the Hummingbird  - but now Birmingham doesn't get included, that size venue doesn't exist.
I remember going to Birmingham Poly-tech, and seeing Curtis Mayfield!"

What sort of music policy do you have on PCRL?
"We try and balance the soul with the reggae, and reggae has now turned into raga, but ten years ago, all the reggae was lover's rock.

It was really nice, just endless amounts of mellow reggae - but now the guys that play that are few and far between, it'll be late-night music for them. But they have to be playing the hip, kicking tunes."
It's all a good mix of music on PCRL, I'm not into all of it, such as soca.....

"It's a specialist market, and if you come from one of the Caribbean Islands, you'd be enthralled by it- it reminds you of home, and you know all the artists. You can visualise it you know how you can visualise people dancing to the music you know, well that's exactly what they see, when they hear it - and that's where the love of the music comes from in a lot of cases, the good times and the bad.

1950's Palladium Club, New York
Latin music, unless you can actually see people dancing to good Latin jazz, you can't appreciate that." I get this situation when I'm talking to people about older music, such as ska, that they can't figure out how I know about certain old tunes and I get asked, "How come you know that old song, how come you've heard it?"
"You get the Spanish Inquisition! But do you think, if you weren't a Mod, you wouldn't take any interest or you wouldn't have gone up that path?"

Good point, I'm still doing it years later, so I must like it - it's just that without the Mod-thing, I may not have had access to any other music. Ska was big in the eighties, Tamla was big in the seventies, but in the eighties the emphasis shifted to psyce, and now it's the turn of Northern Soul.
"What's happened to the jazzy instrumental side of it, is that still happening?"
People play that (last year I saw The 3 Deuces, at a mod-gig), but mostly it's soul that's been given the priority. I think that the DJ's go to soul nights, and see how good an atmosphere it is, and they want to bring a little of that to their club, back home.
It'll never happen - cause they're all snobs on the scene! To attract them, you've got to have exactly what they want.The venue would have to be a well established one on the scene, the promoters usually have to be well established, otherwise they won't trust you, and then your DJ's have got to be national names.....
We had a revival programme on Wigan Casino, 20 years to the exact day that it opened, with Davie 'A' and myself."

When I was 11 or 12, I was given a soul-compilation album for my Christmas, and that's what got me into Donnie Elbert, Marvin Gaye, The Coasters, Sly Stone etc was lucky, the other choice was a Top Of The Pops album! "There's no doubt about it, you do get a certain age, when you're influenced. I think when you start clubbing, you are influenced a lot by your clubs at the time, and if you've got no musical inclination, then obviously you are going to take on whatever you hear in that club. It could be a bit of rave, or jungle or that sort of thing, but if you've got a bit of background, then you can pick your clubs, and sort your groove out."
Would you say that the Rave scene followed on from where Northern Soul left off - with the all-nighter aspect, the euphoric music and even the drugs..? "As far as popularity of music goes, I'd say yes.
But it's just a bloody noise!!!

The only comparison is the numbers, I think."
You can have a good time at a Northern Soul club, they have convivial atmosphere.
"But there's skills as well. People are doing good dancing, there's the acrobatics, you needed to get respect to be on the dance floor. You couldn't just walk on, because people would be looking at you.
But I can't comment on raves 'cause I've never been to any, and so I can't comment on it, and I don't read the media rubbish, because you can't believe anything you read in the papers.
But it (Northern Soul), is certainly going through a revival at the moment. People keep saying to me, is it a Northern Soul programme, it's not really, it's a sixties soul programme, it's just that the Consortium are mostly into Northern Soul.
We did have a couple of years back, a guy on the show who was into the Mod-stuff, and he played a few hammond organ tunes, from the sixties - it broke it up a bit y' know." Have you DJ'ed at any Northern nights?
"Well no, not really. Because I'm an album collector, I haven't got the singles. I did a few nights about ten years ago, when I had some singles, but I sold them all off now.
A lot of DJ's who go on stations like ours, do it to promote their DJ'ing skills, and it does help them - but it's never been that way for me, it's just been to hear good music played on the radio.
Birmingham has been a black-hole for a long, long time, as far as music on the radio is concerned - we had Radio Birmingham and BRMB, for what seemed like 100 years, and that was it.
Nothing ever happened, when you think about what was happening in Manchester and London, and other parts of the country - you could play a tune on the radio now, and everybody in Manchester knows what it is   but nobody in Birmingham will have ever heard it!
Simply because they haven't been exposed to it, they've never been able to appreciate it."
Birmingham is very cosmopolitan, we have so many different cultures on our doorstep.

What sort of response do you get from the show?
"You've got the listeners that have been with from day one, and if you say hello to them, they are always there. They phone you up." I dropped my bacon sandwich when you mentioned me the other day..... "They don't really push for requests, as it's a bit awkward - I do tend to say;  "it's so-and-so's birthday", and dedicate a record to them.
We don't really get a lot of calls, not like in the early days of the pirates, when the phone didn't stop ringing. There was a survey in the early 90's, with Which Magazine, they just asked people in the street, and our station had got half a million listeners, and that's when the shit hit the fan!!!  figures - and that's what pays the bills."Was it because the commercial stations weren't playing what people wanted to hear?
 "Well, yeah. They get a set-programming format, and it never changes. The same thing, if they get a new DJ, he's plays the same thing it just went on and on."
Ted Massey - Mickey's Consortium

The thing I like most about PCRL is, you rarely hear the same song twice in one day - each show has it's own content. "Well Ted was complaining to me, the other day, about last Sunday's programme. He said we're not playing enough of the things that people really know - we need to play more….."
You've been playing some Quincy Jones.....
"Well it was his birthday recently. But I said, yes Ted, we've got to play those classics, as well. Because we all tend to find new things and want to play them, but we need to spin those classics, now and again.Ted always has a little moan - if he doesn't think things are right, which is good, we all need to talk about these things."
Soul fans are going to hate it - but there are other people listening y'see.
And that's the way I look on it. There's so much soul in other categories, that to stick to one format is a crying shame."

There's soul-jazz, Latin-soul, garage-soul such as the Human Beinz, "Nobody But Me!"
What is the difference between a beat ballad, and big city soul?
"A beat ballad tends to be a big city production, but with a medium paced tempo. A beat ballad, is never going to be a stomper - it's never going to be really fast, but it's still got to have enough tempo to keep people's feet going. Big city soul, is a really polished production, it won't be just bass guitar and drums, it'll have strings, fugal horns - and they tend to be from New York.

I've always loved soul music - but there's too much around to go and buy it all, it's the same with jazz, there's no way I could go out and buy jazz, there's too much, I could never catch up."
Do think that in the seventies when soul music hit a commercial peak, it also hit a creative peak, that with the added output, there was better quality?
 "At the end of the seventies, it all turned to disco didn't it. Early disco was really good, it was creative, and there was good melodies, things like The Tramps, Tavares - but then big companies saw there's money to be made here, don't bother with a good song, the sound of the last hit song word, it'll do it again, give it a different lyric - and that's what happened, it just ruined it.
And it got a bad reputation then, which is a shame, you never hear good night of disco-tunes now, nobody will dig out those good ones that were never hits."

What's your favorite period in music?
"I love them all. I go through phases, at the moment I'm into the fifties and the rest of the crew are hating me for it! Stop playing that rock 'n' roll, they keep saying, and I have to remind them, it's not rock 'n' roll, it's R+B." Such as the work Buck Ram did with The Platters, who started in the fifties, and yet stretch all the way into the later soul-scene."Look at the stuff that The Platters did at the end of the sixties, you wouldn't believe it's the same group. Jackie Wilson however, was one of the people who couldn't handle that. He'd got a good niche in the fifties, and he got involved in the sixties, but in the seventies he couldn't handle it."
Frankie Lymon for instance, who ended up a teenage alcoholic. "With the musicians they are 'the artistic types' aren't they. They tend to have weaknesses like drinking and drugs and drugs do help with creativity, but you just burn yourself out after that, because obviously it's a downward spiral after that.There are the survivors though, that are still around." Geno Washington?

"We booked him at Dudley Town Hall, a couple of years back, and to be honest, they booed him off the stage. They had the Soul Survivors as support, and they were big five years ago, playing all the Stax stuff, and they did a much better job of entertaining the audience, than Geno Washington did - which is a shame really."
He's playing scooterist dates now, and he's obviously cleaned up his act, as he's getting a lot of respect again.
Have you been to any all-nighters recently?
"We used to, originally the programme was on at breakfast time, between six and nine in the morning. And that gave me a bit of room the weekend, to go to all-niters, but now that it's a Sunday, if you've been up all night, well there's just no way. A few members of the Consortium are rolling back at six in the morning."How do you meet the members of the Consortium, for the show?
"A lot of them were listeners like yourself. Who approach me, and send me tapes.
Brian Goucher - sent me a tape, and I was  well impressed with this, and the next thing you know, he was on the programme with Jodie is she's in her early twenties, a big difference from the rest of the Consortium - and she's just as keen with 60's soul music, there's no stopping her!"

Northern nights are famous for everybody having a good time..... "Yes, it's sad to say that in a lot of cases, people go out, and they just want to get drunk, and a good night is getting drunk; and falling over - but Northern Soul isn't about that, the bar shuts just after you've arrived!
If you go to Keele All-nighter, you've got probably 30 minutes of bar time - and the rest of the night, it's just soft drinks, and everybody is still happy.
I can remember at Wigan, they were drinking pints of milk - because that's all you could buy at the bar!
People on the dance floor, with a pint of milk, incredible !!!"
Did you spill my pint !?!
"No point in crying over spilt milk!" Do you think that mods evolved from an aspect of the northern scene?
"Obviously they were into their 60's beat as well, but there was a good percentage that said - Goodbye scooters, hello soul!
But there was your big soul collectors in the sixties, and they come from the blues-period.

There was quite a split in the soulscene as well, there was your Mecca crew who were into the sophisticated new releases, and there was your hard R+B - who didn't want to hear anything else but the old stompers.
And it was a hard split at one point, and there was venues for one, and venues for the other.
But over the years it's got back together."

Wigan was known for it's up-tempo soul, and the Blackpool Mecca, for it's sixties soul - but it broadened it's sound, is that true? "Wigan was a bit of a fusion of the two, because you had all your strings and instrumentals, so it was a bit sophisticated, albeit a bit simple.So Wigan wasn't really a good example of what was going on, it was just the one that got the most
Publicity - there was lots of other venues around the country.
Some venues do develop their own sound.
The classic one is Stafford - they had like a 'horn sound', everything that was taking off in Stafford was heavy on the horns, and horns in an echo chamber!
And when Bretby took off in the early days, they had a slow tempo feel. People would say - that's a Bretby tune!
Venues do tend to get their little niches, and they do tend to look back on those venues with a little more fondness - and they think that a tune was discovered there.

I met Georgie Fame at a soulnight down south, a couple of years back. He came up to me (I was the DJ), he was actually in the place! - but he'd come to see Edwin Starr really, and he was asking me if I'd got this and that - (my Mom brought me'Yeah Yeah' when I was a kid -  Lol.) He's one of those true musicians, he can play the piano - and it made him survive.
I used to love his cover versions, y'know -  "Papa's got a Brand New Bag", I used to prefer it James Browns'.
Davie A is a big fan of good pop-music from that period, hence the other week, he was dying to do a Dusty Springfield tribute."What's your favorite combination of sounds, that go into a record? "I haven't got any favorite, I like them all! At the moment, I'm loving fifties R+B - but I still have to look for 'two-step' stuff for my Tuesday night show.
Two-step is a category that belongs to the Jamaican side of things. They'll tend to spin two or three tunes on a reggae night - so I like to construct a programme around it, because I love them myself.

I can remember being very young, and liking only one type of soul, and not touching any other, and I sadly missed out a lot from those days. Over a period of time, I've realized what those records have got, and I can now appreciate them. If anybody ever asked me to do a top ten - I'd have to do a top ten of all the different styles that I love - lots of top tens! There's always new things to discover, otherwise you can't be a true soul-fan!

There's a series of northern soul, "For Millionaires Only" - and they've done about three of them now, they won't put anything on there, unless it's worth more than a thousand pounds a track!" How do they get to be so expensive?

"Well, they're usually one-off copies, in most cases they're singles, and just one exists.In the early seventies in America, they had the oil crisis, and they were recycling the vinyl, melting down old records, and repressing them as something else - and the quality of the vinyl was terrible, it really crackled. But some of those original tunes that never saw the light of day ended up there. Some of those tunes that go for big money, when the Consortium bring them in, I do savour over looking after them, because I'll never see them again - Sometimes they'll just play it a few times, and sell it on, because they can't afford to keep it!"

And with that, my audience was over, as it was chucking out time in the pub, and Mickey had some work to do back at the station, so I sped off into the night on my silver, if not slightly rusty steed.
Seriously though, it was a pleasure to meet someone who has spent so long being involved in something he loves. Mickey Nold's Basement Soul with The Consortium, broadcasts every Sunday from 12-2 on PCRL (103.5 FM), and has a radius of over 40 miles - LISTEN !!

 (Gordon@Moke - photo's not in original article)

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