DJ Sessions: Rare Soul Gets Some Love

Jan 15, 2014
Originally published on January 15, 2014 1:32 pm

Americans who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s are probably familiar with soul artists like Marvin Gaye and Al Green.

But a number of artists who didn’t make it big in the U.S. went on to become stars in Northern England years later.

And to mark the 40th anniversary of the first Northern Soul All Night Dance Party in Northern England, KALW in San Fransisco curated a 24/7 music channel online devoted to the style.

One of the DJs behind the effort is Ashleyanne Krigbaum of KALW in San Francisco.

She joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to share some Northern soul.

Music From The Segment

    • The Orlons, ”Spinning Top”
    • The Orlons, ”Wah Watusi”
    • Rita and the Tiaras, ”Gone with the Wind Is My Love”
    • Brenda Holloway, ”Just Look What You’ve Done”


    • Darrell Banks, “Somebody, Somewhere Needs You”


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And time now for the HERE AND NOW DJ Sessions.


HOBSON: And today, a style known as northern soul. It's popular in northern England's nightclubs - or was in the 1970s. It has been 40 years since the first northern soul dance party there. To mark that, KALW in San Francisco has created a northern soul music stream online, and the DJ behind that is KALW's Ashleyanne Krigbaum. Ashleyanne, welcome.


HOBSON: Hi. So tell us what northern soul is.

KRIGBAUM: So northern soul, we're talking about records that were produced in America at the height of the soul movement in the '60s. They were records that were kind of passed over here. So collectors in other places, specifically in England, actually started finding these records. They were like new songs to them.

HOBSON: So when we hear northern, we're talking about northern England?

KRIGBAUM: Yeah. So the term northern soul comes from that foreign appreciation of mostly working-class individuals in northern England who were part of this really vibrant dance, like all-night dance culture that were springing up from finding these records.

HOBSON: Well, let's hear some. This is called "Spinning Top." It's by The Orlons.


THE ORLONS: (Singing) I can't take it anymore, can't take a heartache (unintelligible). Can't seem to shake the things you used to say to me. Can't seem to find an end to all this misery. Guess love was like a spinning top that I knew one day would stop.

HOBSON: Well, what was it about this song and The Orlons that would catch fire in England compared with all the rest of the soul that actually did do quite well here in the U.S.?

KRIGBAUM: Well, the - this pulsing beat that you can hear through that song that's just driving it quite quickly, because these dance nights that were springing up in England generally lasted all night. Some people call them the first original rave culture. People wanted to stay up all night just dancing as fast and as sweaty as possible.


ORLONS: (Singing) Round and round, up and down (unintelligible). Made me sad, made me cry...

HOBSON: And the Orlons, a group from Philadelphia. People may know them from their other songs, including the "Wah Watusi."


ORLONS: (Singing) Wah wah watusi.

KRIGBAUM: Correct, which is a lot slower. But it was their mid-tempo slower stuff that really caught fire on the charts in America rather than the more, you know, fast tempo, kind of minor key sounding songs like "Spinning Top."

HOBSON: All right. Let's get on to another one. This is by Rita & the Tiaras. It is called "Gone with the Wind is Our Love."


RITA & THE TIARAS: (Singing) I gave up everything (unintelligible) what things I possess. I knew it was wrong, you said it was great and I did it for you, babe. And now I see you leave right out of my life. My heart cries out. I gave you love and my devotion. And I gave you my soul (unintelligible). He's gone with the wind is my love like a bird in the sky. He's gone with the wind is my love. I thought he can weather the storm...

KRIGBAUM: A lot of northern soul songs - one of the big appeals is that the lyrics aren't just this, you know, sweet and saccharine, lovey-dovey sort of language. It's actually songs about heartache and turmoil juxtaposed with a really fast tempo. That really sort of differentiated northern soul songs from the ones that would - you know, the popular counterparts.


RITA AND THE TIARAS: (Singing) ...with all my friends. New folks have gone, but I know that they really want to love and to comfort me.

HOBSON: And tell us about Rita and the Tiaras.

KRIGBAUM: She was actually one of Ray Charles' Raelettes, so she was in the background for a while performing a lot and trying to make her way. And she, you know, got a big break, and she was able to start putting out her own records and follow a solo career. And though it didn't take off in the States for her, in England and other northern soul communities, she has a name for herself just as herself.

HOBSON: Now, we should say that all of the people we've heard here, all the artists we've heard, are African American, and yet this music became very popular in the U.K., mostly among whites, with a lot of white DJs. And there is some controversy about whether the artists ever ended up benefiting from the popularity of the music or whether it was just the DJs that did. Here is DJ Brown Amy talking about that on KALW.


BROWN AMY: Some of these northern soul songs are, you know, like if you go on eBay, they're selling for, like, $500 a song, where, you know, a lot of times the people that actually made the music aren't obviously seeing any of that.

HOBSON: Ashleyanne, tell us about the controversy there.

KRIGBAUM: So the artists that were making these records in the '60s, most of them never became big in America. Therefore they never had sizable paychecks for the work that they did with these records. And then once they started becoming really popular in Northern England, and also because the scarcity of these records were high because they're just, you know, physical objects that were only made once, the price tag for some of these records for collectors have gone up and up and up. And these artists don't see any of that money.

But the other kind of side of it is that in a lot of ways the northern soul community did want to support these artists. A lot of times they bring artists from America to perform at these all-nighters. So in certain ways a lot of black artists who weren't getting any love here in America were getting, you know, thousands of people wanting to see them and give them their proper dues. And that was actually, for some artists, really positive.

HOBSON: Well, we have time for one more artist. And this is one that didn't actually lose out. Her name is Brenda Holloway. Let's listen to her song "Just Look What You've Done."


BRENDA HOLLOWAY: (Singing) Now that you're leaving me. Just look what you've done. You've turned my dreams to dust. I thought you needed me. But now I find that you're leaving me. Oh, you've turned my heart to stone without you by my side. Where will I get the strength to carry on? Ooh, yeah. Now, helplessly, I stand watching love walk away. There's nothing I can do, nothing I can say. To you, our love was just a passing thing. But to me, my darling, it was everything. Where did it go...

HOBSON: So tell us about Brenda Holloway.

KRIGBAUM: Brenda Holloway, she signed with Motown with big dreams of, you know, being a popular artist and hitting the charts. But within four years of being with Motown and not really getting any traction, at 22 she decided just to leave the industry completely. And she was out of performing for several decades. And then in the 1990s, because through the northern soul - burgeoning northern soul scene, she actually had an audience who wanted to hear her do more songs and record more. So in the '90s she started performing again. And just recently she performed to a packed house of several thousand people...


KRIGBAUM: Northern England. So there - and there are other artists who, after their time making these records and maybe not hitting it big in America, like Darrell Banks had a huge following in England. And after he passed away, there is a big community in Northern England that actually put money together to give him, like, a proper grave and a sendoff and a memorial.

And there's just a lot of love that Northern England has for these artists. And even though the records - there aren't new records that are being printed and made, there's still this continual, like, finding and digging for records that just haven't been found yet from that era. So it's this continual quest that just - it just keeps moving forward.

HOBSON: Ashleyanne Krigbaum of KALW in San Francisco. She is curating a 24/7 online music channel devoted to northern soul music. Ashleyanne, thanks so much.

KRIGBAUM: Thank you so much for having me.


HOBSON: Some great music. Robin, this is "Somebody, Somewhere Needs You" by Darrell Banks. And we've got all the song titles at

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW.


DARRELL BANKS: (Singing) No one else to turn to. Open up your heart, stretch out your arms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.