This compilation's theme takes some explaining for those who aren't familiar with the U.K. Northern soul scene, and maybe even for some who are. Starting in 1993, "weekenders," or festivals of sorts for fans of the rare (usually dance-friendly) '60s American soul records and performers dubbed Northern Soul in the U.K., have been held on an annual basis in the English seaside resort of Cleethorpes. The "1993-2012" subtitle of this CD might lead you to mistakenly believe these are recordings made at those events. Fortunately, the contents are more exciting than that, the 25 tracks featuring rare vintage '60s recordings by 25 artists who have performed at these weekenders throughout the years. On the whole, it's not much different than numerous other Northern soul compilations on the Kent/Ace label, the Cleethorpes connection serving as a reason to generate yet another one. There are some obscure sides by artists who did achieve varying levels of major to modest commercial success, like Barbara Lewis, Maxine Brown, Tommy Hunt, Bettye LaVette, Doris Troy, and Bettye Swann. They're outnumbered, however, by selections from artists only collectors will know, particularly if they frequent Northern soul nights at Cleethorpes or elsewhere.
The music's weighted toward uptempo, grooving '60s sides that aren't from the Southern "deep soul" camp or, often, quite as slick as Motown, though Motown's a big influence. And they're songs that, by and large, don't have the staying power of the best such soul, though it's easy to hear how they'd sound good or least acceptable for a soul dance night. Some of the better cuts come from material by or with connections to higher-profile names. Tommy Hunt's "The Pretty Part of You" is agreeably brash pop-soul; Maxine Brown outclasses most of the competition here as both a singer and a songwriter, even with one of her lesser-known efforts, 1966's "Let Me Give You My Lovin'" (where the string-laden production and strong backup vocals really help make this a cut above its surroundings); and it's a dependable pleasure to hear a couple early Van McCoy compositions/productions, with Kendra Spotswood's "Jive Guy" echoing the beat of Mary Wells' Motown hits.
The 44-page liner notes feature detailed year-by-year memories of the Cleethorpes weekenders by frequent Ace Records annotator Ady Croasdell that might mystify readers in their overboard enthusiasm for cult performers. It's a world where booking a gig by Darrow Fletcher or Little Ann seems to be more cause for excitement than getting Aretha Franklin or Smokey Robinson to appear. Some of the stranger-than-fiction tales are intermittently entertaining, however, with soul legends repeatedly having to be coaxed to do old favorites that the crowd wants to hear. Highlight: when Al Wilson of "Show and Tell" fame clarified to Croasdell that he was not the same Al Wilson who did "Help Me" on Wand Records, he added, "Well the other guy ain't gonna turn up so let's do it anyway."