The Manchester Wheelers
by Dave 

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Manchester - Soulchester 


Northern Soul as it is termed these days began here in Manchester in the mid nineteen sixties at clubs such as the Twisted Wheel and the Blue Note. Other Soul locations of note were: The Jigsaw, Rowntrees and Bolton’s Boneyard, (AKA The Caroline Lounge) in fact most ‘Beat’ Clubs favoured soul music at that time. Today artists such as M People and Simply Red have grown up and out of the cities cultural links with a strong soul scene.
Without doubt the instigator and originator of all this was Roger Eagle the legendary Twisted Wheel DJ. It was Rogers enthusiasm and knowledge of Black American music that made the place the epicentre of the cities love affair with Blues, RnB and Soul and all focused at the Twisted Wheel Club.
The club was located just of Albert Square (location of the Town Hall) in Brazennose Street. It was the fulcrum of the Manchester MOD scene; in 64 & 65.

Today very close to the clubs now demolished cellar location stands a statue of Abraham Lincoln; the great American president who freed the black slaves, which eventually lead in the 1920’s to a massive migration to the North to cities like Chicago and Detroit. Taking their spiritual and gospel roots to these places and giving birth to the eventual sounds that would be recognised and played and sort after, thousands of miles away by white kids in a drab northern town in England.

The Brazennose Street Twisted Wheel started in 1963 until around September 1965. It started playing pop. Predominantly beat music, due to the rise of the Beatles. In early 1964 Roger Eagle became the DJ and started out in his mission to bring American black music to the club; Jazz such a Jimmy Smith, Blues like Muddy Waters were mixed with early Motown releases and Rolling Stones and Beach Boys tracks. Live bands played like Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Zoot Money, The Animals, John Mayalls Bluesbreakers (with Eric Clapton) and The Yardbirds. The Small Faces did their first gig there. It all added up to a unique mixture of sounds and Mod styles: a coffee bar upstairs,  then going further down into a sub- basement cellar for a series of dance rooms and two stages for the live acts.

Roger introduced a generation to the blues and live performers like Sunny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker. He found, imported then played hundreds of obscure R & B artists recordings, and he was a pal of Guy Stevens who had set up the UK branch of Sue records. Eventually the scene was set for soul music domination at the club by the time of its closure in late 1965. By this time the Soul movement was established and the club was dramatically Mod a hotbed of Mod activity and style. Most Friday and Saturday nights had row after row of scooter Mods gathered outside, or driving up and down Brazennose Street. Everything that eventually, became tagged as 'Northern Soul' was in place at that time, thousands of soul titles and recordings by artists supposedly discovered many years later and christened ‘Northern Soul’ had already been established here and by Roger. Apart from the mainstream soul star releases, Roger and other club members imported USA records which according to many books on the subject today claim only to have happened at the end of the decade! Others who obviously had no clue that the first Twisted Wheel had been the wellspring of 'their' culture, have made many misleading statements like they discovered Major Lance! One of the Twisted Wheels most favoured artist tracks in 64/5. They may have been introduced to Major Lance in the early 70's by the second wave of Soul enthusiasts at the second Twisted Wheel, but we are talking about the first one!
Anyway, this website will show that the originals were Manchester Soul Mods who along with DJ’s and especially Roger Eagle were unearthing massive amounts of American music long before the latter day 'Northern crowd' re-discovered our sounds then claimed to invent it all five years later! We had already christened Manchester as 'SoulChester' especially so when the first Twisted Wheel closed and reopened in Whitworth Street on the other side of town. We thought at that time it was the end. The end of an era and a 'vibe' that could never be replicated. But it continued and with far more Soul content than before; the 'New' Wheel actually outshone the 'Old' in terms of Soul music played. The Blue Note followed the Wheel, playing a similar repertoire but with a more Stax, Atlantic and Bluesy feel.

For those with a historical accuracy interest and those with an open mind this website ought to prove useful as in the database section we have tried to put together an artists catalogue, with playlists from that time, in fact an attempt at a complete and comprehensive list of all tracks played at the 'Wheel' up to 1970, together with links to other valuable websites, and new commentary material about the Soul of Manchester and lots of other soul and 60's related material.

We don't want anyone to get the wrong idea we are not condemning Northern Soul, WE LOVE IT, we are trying to be objective and to set the record straight - to Tell It Like It Was! Far from knocking ‘Northern Soul’ we are full of admiration for it, as it continues our own great interest in the music. Especially favoured by us are the efforts of Ian Levine in his monumental work to re-record and document the original artists on his Motorcity CDs and the DVD collection: The Strange World Of Northern Soul. The fact that he unearthed the fantastic Carstairs recording: 'It Really Hurts Me Girl' .... well enough said. The Northern Soul Top 500 from Kev Roberts provides a great listing of fantastic tracks we missed (many from our scene). But before we return to praise ‘Northern Soul’ as currently understood and we do, first we need to rant a bit and get a few things of our chest.

The main irritating point is that 'Northern' tends to ignore mainstream Soul artists; The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding Booker T and The MGs. James Brown etc and so on and all of the rest. 

In Manchester in the 60's these mainstream artists were played predominantly at the cities Soul clubs. The more obscure ones were played alongside them, but it was these major artists with longevity and large repertoires that made Soul go from a Soul Mod underground to a mainstream music genre. Obviously Manchester was only a small part in all that, but these beginnings had massive support in Manchester. Comparisons with such an active scene then, discovering songs and new artists alongside the mainstream Motown, Atlantic, Chess, Stax, Sue, and Stateside output etc was enormous, and the subsequent catalogue of Northern Soul discoveries have had more decades to retrieve them, than our single one!

It is true that Northern Soul has found many great tracks we missed, but they do not value to the extent we did the tracks we found and played by major Soul artists, their obscurities go rarer and rarer, harder to unearth and we couldn’t find them all then due to the fact that we were living inside a vital and concurrent living music scene. A scene with many if not all the accepted major soul stars being’ discovered simultaneously then. Had we had any access to returns warehouses in the USA that stored hundreds even thousands of deleted 45’s I bet we too would have found many of the same ones, since discovered, because mostly they are fantastic. Anyway, all praise to those that have done this work.

This Website may annoy some people as it points out many things that later day soul folks of the Northern mould are misguided about. Books have been written probably with good intent, yet they omit major facts, or claim to have discovered things already known and fail to acknowledge things like the vibrant Manchester pub and club scene that the Manchester Mods unlike the Saturday Allnighter importees, frequented, during the other six days in a week after the Allnighters at the Wheel and other locations (yes there were others!). The Manchester soul crowd (Mods) met in The Old Nags Head and the Rising Sun pub, which Rod Stewart and other Wheel acts frequented, the Town Hall Tavern, Tommy Ducks and loads of other pubs, the Favourite Snack Bar in Albert square, at the Cona Cafe and Mogambo. Manchester Mods would frequent and meet for a pint or two, then go to the Wheel, the Jigsaw Club and lots of other places during the week. Also records were swapped and bought, discussed and investigated for writers and producers names all sorts of semi obscure facets, became 'our' knowledge base, like the originating source USA label identification. Many imports were obtained, often from deletions and mail order auction lists. This import of 45's aspect is particularly annoying; when some recent Northern Soul books claim that they invented imports only in the late 60’s! One even claims to have exclusively found Major Lance! When we were dancing away to Rhythm in 64! Others list records that they discovered, however to put the record straight a great many were mostly well known long before many of these guys came along,  at the very end of the original Manchester scene. They may not have heard them due to their ‘late’ entrance to the soul scene, as often many tracks were displaced by more popular tracks (at that time) or simply the new wave of DJ's just did not have them in their collection. We prized original labels and recordings; USA imports and original UK label releases were prized above all. These you could not get from shops that one book says everyone frequented like Ralphs and Barrys records; we had long since cleaned them out and were mining, almost, secret shop locations for back track vinyl. Many sounds still go unnoticed often ‘B’ sides that were extremely popular then but probably diminished in their air time by the late 60’s. These and other sounds will be listed, in the A-Z database section. Tracks like Al Wilsons The Snake, make it high on the Northern Soul ratings, whilst for us, especially at the Blue Note, it was the 'b' side that was the hit; "Do You Know What Love Is"

The Soul City label proprietor gave credence to and named ‘Northern Soul in 1971 which is not anything to impress us or our absent friends, he came too late, five years approximately, and he should have called it Soulchester! We, at the time in the mid 60's did not particularly regard him in high esteem, even if he did help Motown in this country, as he was a re-release merchant, whilst we arrogantly - no doubt - wanted the original vinyl, after all we were the 'In crowd' and the originals, Kings of the Cool Jerk, the greatest! Without doubt 'Northern Soul' had its Genesis at the Twisted Wheel, it began from the sounds played there by Roger Eagle, then Paul Davis and others. Pop, Jazz Folk was predominant in the early days of 63' with Jazz and Blues, then in late 63 this moved away from pop to heavily blues influences, and Soul began to move up the request lists at the end of 64. The Mod scene predominated, Mod groups played in the city at The Wheel, The Top Ten Club, The Oassis, the Jungfrau, The Jigsaw, at The CIS (Co-Op) and at lots of other clubs.. By 1965 it was the Soul music that dominated most of these Manchester locations. 

The Wheel got a very bad press due to pharmacological abuse; but uppers were just for a purpose, to keep the dances up all night. It was the scene the styles but mostly the music that was the ultimate core of the original scene.

The Wheel kept going until around 1971/2 but the original 'In Crowd' by this time had been replaced. Following the closure of The Wheel, Northern Soul became the buzz and started out at The Torch and Wigan Casino. But it all began in Soulchester!

The database on this website reflects the full range of music played on the Manchester Soul scene, some pop, some Jazz, certainly blues and it shows the range of music on the turntables, but of coarse depicts the main seam of Soul music as the most predominant. You may be surprised to learn that at the allnighters on Saturdays at the 'Wheel' 67 - 68 the DJ played a Rock & Roll session and everyone loved "Runaround Sue".... honest!

If you select the top section option on the front menu; 60's Soul Artists Database, you will find all the artists who's recordings were featured at the 'Wheel' and other Manchester soul clubs.
The tracks high-lighted at the top of each page were certainly played and those in capitals or other highlights were the most popular, often nightly repeated tracks, and constantly on the request rota, and often these were in many cases to become today's mainstream Soul artists. You only need to notice the dates on the recordings to see which ‘Wheel’ was playing them first! The Old or the New. And it was Roger Eagle who began it all. Maybe one day they will put up a statue of him in Brazennose Square?