Various Artists

Wigan Casino Soul Club: 30 Years of Northern Soul Memories

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Wigan Casino was the most popular club in England in which to hear Northern soul from 1973 through the early '80s, whether it was rare records played by a DJ or live music by veteran soul performers. This is a 26-song compilation of 1964-1976 recordings (mostly from the '60s) that became favorites among the Wigan crowd, and thus by extension faves among Northern soul fans from all over Britain. In the Northern soul subculture, what makes something a "favorite" often goes hand in hand with how rare it is, and little on this anthology is well-known to the general soul fan (with the exception of Al Wilson's sinister 1968 hit "The Snake" and Gloria Jones' great "Tainted Love," the original 1964 recording of the song covered for a huge 1980s hit by Soft Cell). In fact, many of the artists are all but unknown as well, with exceptions like Dobie Gray, Major Lance, Nancy Wilson, and Dusty Springfield. For those outside the Northern soul subculture without Wigan Casino memories to be jogged, it's an OK but hardly top-of-the-line rare soul collection. There's way too much weight on cuts with the midtempo beats favored for Northern soul dancing, and not too many songs that sound too out of the ordinary as far as '60s commercial soul goes -- flaws that are shared by other Northern soul-slanted comps on the Ace label and others. It's not a wholly predictable sound or selection, though, as room is made for some downright idiosyncratic cuts that somehow became Wigan favorites, including some by white and/or British artists. Few people would expect Gary Lewis & the Playboys to show up on a soul anthology, for instance, but they pop up here with "My Heart's Symphony." More satisfying surprises include Dusty Springfield's fine 1967 single "What's It Gonna Be"; Derek & Ray's odd harpsichord-laden cinematic soul instrumental "Interplay"; Dana Valery's bizarre blue-eyed soul cover of the Simon & Garfunkel non-LP B-side "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies"; a quality obscure late-'60s Gamble & Huff production in the Vibrations' "'Cause You're Mine"; Rita & the Tiaras' haunting "Gone With the Wind Is My Love"; Judy Street's original 1965 version of "What," another song covered for a big hit by Soft Cell in the early '80s; and Biddu's disco version of "Exodus," with "Theme from Shaft"-like wah-wah guitar. The real star of this compilation, however, is the packaging; though it's a single disc, it's encased in a full-length box set-size format, the inner portion folding out to reveal a pop-up scale model of the actual Wigan Casino club, accompanied by a club membership card. Produced in a limited edition of 10,000 copies, it's available from the Fab-U-Lus website, www.fab-u-lus.com.

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