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City culture and cultural identity and its role in economic success June 7, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Cultural critiques.
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On Monday I am speaking at one of the Birmingham Made Me seminars.  This one, entitled Back to the Future – Our Heritage Brands is on 10the  June 2013 8:30 am to 2:00 pm at Millennium Point. BCU, Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment Room 388

My presentation is on city culture and cultural identity and its role in economic success.  Here’s a short flavour of what it’s about:

This You Tube video is an extract from a 1965 American television spectacular which features the Motown singing group Martha Reeves & The Vandellas miming to their single ‘Nowhere To Run’ as they weave in and out of Ford’s Mustang assembly line at the Dearborn plant in Detroit. It links together the two things Detroit is most famous for to outsiders: the enormous international success of the late-1960s Motown Records, and the city’s dominance in the American car industry. This is the point at which mo(tor)town meets motor city.

It’s common when people see this video for them to ask, “did Motown pay Ford, or did Ford pay Motown to make the film?”  Actually, it was made to promote something entirely different. It’s an extract from a CBS TV 90 minute spectacular made for the US Office for Economic Opportunity, and broadcast on June 28, 1965. You’ll immediately get a sense of the whole programme from the title: It’s What’s Happening, Baby. This was an attempt by the television producers to bring together President Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ initiative with the idea of youth culture.

The sense of Birmingham, England as a motor city and producer of some great popular music may not have embedded itself so strongly in people’s consciousness, but it is, of course, part of our cultural and industrial heritage.

Many other cities summon up links in people’s minds between a place and a distinctive culture.  In music there’s New Orleans and jazz; Austin, Texas or Seattle and indie rock; and Chicago and Blues. But Venice, Paris and Bilbao make equally strong claims on culture as part of their identity. On a recent visit to China, I found that culture and the city are major preoccupations in discussions about the swift processes of industrialization and urbanization currently under way in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong

We have, though, to be careful about exactly what we mean by culture. Almost exactly 100 years before It’s What’s Happening, Baby Matthew Arnold was writing his proposition that culture is the “best that has been thought and known”.  And we keep that idea today in our museums and galleries, our conservatoires and concert halls, and our libraries and archives. In more modern times Raymond Williams offered a very different definition when he wrote in 1958, that “culture is ordinary”.  By that he meant that culture is our way of life, the bonds that tie us together as a people, the sense we have of ourselves in our everyday lives. We know what that means when we talk about Birmingham as a multicultural city, or when we discuss how we can promote a productive culture in our place of work.

I think that actually we need these two senses of culture: our traditions and our achievements, as well as our current senses of ourselves. And we need to understand how they play out in the city as sights, spaces and sounds. By that I mean we see our culture in the landmarks of our architecture, in the iconic buildings and in the skyline. We also see it in the spaces we inhabit, through which we walk as part of our working life or our leisure.  It is often neglected that we also experience it in the sound of the city. That includes the music soundtrack of the city, but also the sounds of everyday. In a recent series of radio programmes, David Hendy examined the way that sound structured our world, and made some interesting observations on the soundscapes of Amsterdam against, say, Los Angeles.

You may be asking what this has to do with the economic vitality of the city.  In fact there has tended to be an opposition between people interested in our economic well-being and those interested in our cultural life. The first can often see the latter as people out of touch with the realities of life, while the second dismiss the former for their philistine tendencies. In reality both are intimately linked. I trained first as an economist, and it is a core idea of the social sciences that culture is only possible once we have taken care of the basic requirements of life: shelter, clothing and food. We make culture out of the surplus of making things. And yet our built environment, our bodily adornments, and our celebrations and rituals are the place that culture starts. Culture is often the reason we work so hard, its what enriches our lives and makes us feel like us, and it is a major reason people give for wanting to live in a particular city.

So, in simple terms, if we want a prosperous city we must also want a culturally vibrant city. And we need a city which balances our traditions and our faith in the future, that matches the best that we have achieved and what we all have in common, and one that embraces our diversity as an engine of our vitality: an openness to new ideas, a sense that change is good, and a conviction that we are a city of the world.

For me one of the best examples here is Chicago, where I have looked at these questions of culture in some detail, and where the city council has developed sophisticated plans and invested heavily to realize the ideas I have been talking about so far. As I noted, Chicago and blues are intimately linked. It’s Chicago’s heritage, developed in the everyday life of Chicago’s black population in the South Side, and then shared across the world. This identity has played a part in Chicago establishing itself as one of the main conference and event centres in the US. If you have to go and talk business, you also want to involve yourself in culture. And so the city invested in bringing its culture up to date, to increase its diversity, and to add to its greatness. In just one example, they covered up the railway, built a world-class outdoor performance venue designed by Frank Gehry [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Gehry], a garden by the internationally-renowned designer Piet Oudolf [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet_Oudolf], and sculpture that includes Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Gate] that together attracts hundreds of thousands of people a year. The whole thing then steals the skyline of some of the best buildings in the world as its very own. There’s no better example of how the sights, spaces and sounds come together for a cultural experience that’s become a cultural attraction.

Hong Kong is showing even greater ambition in the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District.  The ambition here is just mind-boggling: the 40 hectares site is created out of land reclaimed from the sea, above the new high speed train to Shanghai and Beijing, and the district will include 17 large and prestigious arts and cultural venues.

What should this mean for Birmingham? Well it is pleasing to see that culture has played a role in the development of the city over the last twenty years. The Birmingham Made Me event takes place in one of the products of that aspiration, the new library and railways station development is just part of a remodeling of space, and the university I work in is making its own contribution at Parkside next to Millennium Point. I would like to add three of my own observations to our thinking about our cultural future as a city.

One of the most neglected parts of our heritage is the intellectual tradition that used to characterise the city. It gave birth to both the University of Birmingham, and many of the institutions which formed the basis of my own university, along with the ideas of the municipality which in the late nineteen century made us a model for the rest of the world. I note that all these strands put an equal weight on both industry and commerce, and culture and identity. We desperately need a re-birth of this culture in a model for the twenty-first century. We will all need to play our part in doing so, but I would like to challenge my colleagues from the city’s five universities and its other institutions of learning to take some leadership in such a project.

Secondly, we need to find ways in which we could make better use of the great things we have made in the past in order to help rethink our future. I very much welcome these series of Birmingham Made Me events because they both celebrate this past and ask what is there for designing the future. At the same time we should look at ways in which we can all participate in using examples from across the world that could enrich the signs and spaces of our city centre and its suburbs.

Finally – and I would say this as Professor of Radio and Popular Music Studies, wouldn’t I – but we need to pay more attention to the sounds of our city.  How can we design our spaces so that they bring forth both tradition and future, greatness and everyday living, and help make sense of our diversity. The way we communicate and express our sense of localness and our place in the global world need media to reflect that. There are good new examples of more local media, but too often our radio is becoming part of a world in which our localness is less important than our global-ness. We need media that represent us as twenty-first century Brummies. And finally we need to re-engage with our musical past and ensure that we have a musical future. The best popular music has always arisen in cities characterised by diversity and change, innovation and adaptability. There are lots of recent examples of trying to represent our past, but there needs to be equal weight on how we best support the sounds of the future. Again, there is a major role for institutions like the Birmingham Conservatoire, as well as our entertainment districts and media quarters.

Culture may well be only possible once we have paid attention to the basics of economic life, but it is more than simply the creation of a surplus of industrial and commercial activity; it is part of a cycle of economic regeneration. If we want a vibrant economy in Birmingham and the West Midlands we need culture that will attract the brightest to stay, or even move here, and we need culture to consolidate the bonds between us, because we need culture as the engine of change and innovation.

Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love: Television’s first pop history April 3, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Music History.
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Music doc

My colleague Dr Paul Long and I have been working on a project to analyse the way popular music history is represented on television. The latest stage of that project has been work on what is probably the first documentary history of pop music on British television.  That’s Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love.The chapter is first up in a newly published book The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop edited by Ben Halligan, Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs and Rob Edgar.  You can find out more at the Routledge publisher page.

‘All You Need Is Love’ is a 17-episode documentary on the history of popular music. Expensive to make and expansive in scope, the series was originally broadcast in 1977 in a prime time Saturday night slot on UK commercial TV. It was written, directed and edited by journalist and programme maker Tony Palmer.

Palmer formed his filmic sensibility with the BBC’s ‘Monitor’ series as a documentarist concerned with high cultural forms. He achieved renown and notoriety as the ‘Observer’ newspaper’s pop music critic, suggesting that the form should be taken seriously, and for the controversial and impressionistic documentary on rock music ‘All My Loving’ (1968).

While his early film was an experimental filmic essay in comprehending contemporary music, ‘All You Need is Love’ developed and crystalised Palmer’s ideas about pop music – its origins, status, direction and value.  As Cordell Marks suggested in a preview article in ‘TV Times’: ‘Palmer will be to popular music what Lord (Kenneth) Clark was to Civilisation’. Such claims reveal the contemporary tendentiousness of treating popular music seriously at all, let alone dedicating to it the kinds of resources represented by this series.

In many ways Palmer established a type of approach that many subsequent popular music documentaries emulated (and indeed, his work is endlessly appropriated across televisual documentary). In its scope, use of archive material and original footage, as well as Palmer’s distinctive position on popular music, ‘All You Need is Love’ can be understood as an important moment in music documentary and a serious contribution to the historiography of pop. Nonetheless, although the series has been made available on DVD, and the accompanying book is back in print, this work, and indeed Palmer’s wider project, is little studied or even acknowledged in documentary or popular music studies.

Our chapter argues that ‘All You Needs is Love’ is a seminal documentary in applying techniques of television history to popular music, in interpreting a series of discourses about popular music’s cultural importance and modes of production, and in establishing pop as a suitable topic worthy of serious documentary investigation. We ask questions about the origins and implications of the programme content and form, both for television and popular music, apply questions about historiography to make assessments of the construction of the past in the series, and relate the editorial line of the programmes to the way popular music studies has changed over the last thirty years.  In particular we draw on arguments we have made elsewhere to examine the narrative structure, role of the diegetic and meta-narrator, and the relationship between existing stories about popular music and the visual and aural material out of which the series is constructed.  Fundamentally, we seek to demonstrate how seeing television documentaries as mediations of mediations of the past enables us to think beyond the usual approaches to understanding this document of pop’s past.

Studying Popular Music Culture [Second Edition] now available March 24, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Music History, Music in the media, Music Industry, Publishing.
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Pop Book Cover

The second edition of my book Studying Popular Music Culture is out now.

At the publisher’s site

or at Amazon sellers

Here’s what the very generous Nathan Wiseman-Trowse had to say about the new edition:

Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning. Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music. The new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways. Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times. Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular music production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.

Here’s the reviews of the first edition at Amazon:

I bought this book at request of my (soon to be) course leader at University where I will be studying Popular Music. I found the book very detailed and unlike a lot of these types of books not at all boring. Well written and divided into different sections focusing on many aspects of the Music Industry, with every subject spoken about in depth. Would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to study anything music related.

If you like the book once you read it, I’d appreciate an Amazon review if you can spare the time.

Here’s what’s in the book:

Introduction: Definitions and Approaches
1. Constructing Histories of Popular Music
2. Musical and Cultural Repertoires
3. Social, Economic and Technical Factors
4. Writing Popular Music History
5. An Overview of Popular Music Production
6. Taking Issue with the Record Industry
7. Popular Music and the Media
8. Form
9. Meaning
10. Representation
11. The Sociology of the Music Consumer
12. Listening, and Looking
13. Dancing
14. Acquiring, Organising and Sharing music

South African Jazz Cultures: indaba / discussion day University of York, UK on Saturday 20 April 2013 March 24, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz.
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SA Jazz

There’s  a really interesting event on South African jazz coming up at the University of York in the UK on Saturday 20 April 2013

The programme is as follows:

09:00-09:50 registration / coffee

09:50-10:00 welcome

10:00-10:45 presentation and discussion 1: Brett Pyper ‘Jazz Stokvels’

10:45-11.30 presentation and discussion 2: Matthew Temple ‘Hidden Heritages’

[11:30-12:00 coffee]

12:00-13:00 Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim in conversation: ‘On working with Mbizo Johnny Dyani’

[13:00-14:00 lunch]

14:00-15:30 film / response and discussion 3: Aryan Kaganof ‘The Legacy’ / Jonathan Eato respondent

[15:30-16:00 coffee]

16:00-17:00 ‘Unheard Music, Unseen Images’: recordings and photographs from the Ian Bruce Huntley SA jazz archive

17:00-18:00 Roundtable / closing discussion: Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim, Darius Brubeck, Brett Pyper, Matthew Temple

They say themes will include:

Artistic heritage in post-authoritarian, post-censorship societies

The artist in exile

Vernacular intellectuals

Informal / underground knowledge transfer structures

Artistic modes of resistance

Navigation Links

Registration | Programme | Abstracts | Presenters | Subscribe to email list

To register (free) email jonathan.eato@york.ac.uk by 15 April 2013.

Studies of British Jazz February 17, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in British Jazz, Jazz.
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Up until recently studies of jazz in Britain have been few and far between. Here’s a selection of those that I’ve been using recently.

Harris jazz

Jazz – Rex Harris [Penguin, Pelican Books, 1956]
There are four and half pages devoted to jazz in Britain.

Decca Book of Jazz

The Decca Book of Jazz – Peter Gammond [Frederick Muller Ltd., London 1958]
There are two chapters on jazz in Britain and one on jazz in continental Europe.

Boulton Jazz in Britain

Jazz in Britain – David Boulton  [W H Allen, 1958; Jazz Book Club 1959]
The first extensive study of the development of jazz in Britain.

Newton Jazz Scene

The Jazz Scene – Francis Newton  [A Penguin special, 1961] 

Francis Newton was the pen name for British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. Includes an interesting study of the British Jazz Fan, 1958.

Carr Music Inside

Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain – Ian Carr [Latimer New Dimensions, 1973; Northway Publications 2008]

Important polemic about the state of British jazz in the 1970s

Cotterrell jazz Now

Jazz Now – Roger Cotterrell [Quartet Books in association with the Jazz Centre Society]

Godbolt 19-50

A History of Jazz in Britain: 1919-1950 – Jim Godbolt [Quartet Books, 1984]

Godbolt 50-70

A History of Jazz in Britain: 1950-1970  – Jim Godbolt [Quartet Books, 1989]

Innovations In British Jazz Volume One 1960-1980 – John Wickes [Sound World 1999]

McKay Circular

Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain – George McKay [Duke University Press 2005]


The Evolution of Jazz in Britain 1880-1935 – Catherine Parsonage [Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series, 2005]

Moore Brit Jazz

Inside British Jazz: Crossing Borders of Race, Nation and Class – Hilary Moore [Ashgate 2012]


Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975 – Duncan Heining [Equinox  2012]

Duke Ellington band on BBC Radio 14th June 1933 8.00pm January 16, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz, Music Radio.
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Photograph of Duke on-route to England published in the Melody Maker 17th June 1933

This is a list of numbers played by Duke Ellington’s band in their 1933 broadcast. They are listed by order as set out in a contemporary Melody Maker review. While Jim Godbolt (2005; 105) when citing the review says there were 14 numbers, it is more likely there were nearly 20 including the seven song ‘Blackbirds of 1930’ section and a suggestion that there were other popular songs later in the broadcast. Ulanov (1946, 131) states the programme was 45 minutes long. The Radio Times says 14/6/33: Duke Ellington and his Orchestra and says the broadcast is on the BBC National Service 8.00-8.45pm. Godbolt says it was broadcast on the Regional Service at 8.30 (109), but he also correctly cites that “He (Ellington) was preceded by a talk on Industrial Relations, by Professor John Hilton, and followed by Philis Clare and her Boys, a polite song and instrumental act.” Godbolt’s confusion may have arisen from the fact that he seems to have been using the Daventry listing which refers to the National Services English Midlands transmitter.


The Radio Times listing says:

“Duke Ellington, the famous American coloured dance-band leader and composer arranger, is now on his first visit to this country, under the auspices of Jack Hylton. Tonight listeners all over the country are enabled to hear the first direct broadcast of this famous band from the studio in England. A relay of the band from New York was included in the Birthday Week programmes last November. Ellington has a dual title to fame : his original orchestrations and arrangements for the dance music played by his band, and his original compositions in the jazz idiom, notably Creole Rhapsody, Mood Indigo, and Hot and Bothered”.

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (theme)


Creole Love Call

Old Man Blues

Rose Room

Limehouse Blues

Best Wishes

Medley of tunes from Blackbirds of 1930:

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby

I Must Have That Man


Doing the New Low Down



I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby (reprise)


Sophisticated Lady

It Don’t Mean a Thing

I’ve Got The World on a String (in a selection of popular tunes)

Mood Indigo

Rethinking ‘European jazz’ through the work of Steven Feld December 22, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
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Here’s the abstract for my paper at Rhythm Changes II: Rethinking Jazz Cultures

11-14 April 2013, Media City UK/University of Salford

Steven Feld is an anthropologist, who in 2012 published his book length study of “five musical years in Ghana”. His book takes the idea of jazz cosmopolitanism as a way of investigating the way that individual musicians in Accra have utilised sounds and discourses from American jazz in their own music making and in their interaction with Feld as an American anthropologist.


I take his conclusions and disposition as a researcher, rather than his research method, as a way to open up our thinking about jazz in Europe.  Employing a variety of examples, including Jan Garbarek, Courtney Pine and Dudu Pukwana, and the European scenes in which they made their music, I use the ideas of cosmopolitanism, cultural essentialism and re-enculturation to reimagine some of the standard approaches to thinking about the place and role of jazz in, and of, Europe.

In particular, I address the idea that European jazz may have a distinctive sound or set of practices, and that individual cultures or nations within Europe may provide an accented, or maybe even alternative, approach to jazz, distinct from those that developed in the US. I will explicitly address the relationship of Europe to the USA, and investigate the notions of influence and transnational jazz culture.  Specifically, though, like Feld I ensure that this discussion is rooted in actual examples of music-making and cultural practice. Included in this rethinking of European jazz is the role of European jazz media in representing and mediating what it is to be a twenty-first century European jazz musician and jazz fan. My position, therefore, will be that of a media and cultural analyst, rather than an anthropologist.

Prepublication review for the second edition of Studying Popular Music Culture August 31, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Music History, Music in the media, Music Industry, Publishing.
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Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of popular music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning.  Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music.  This new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry and the challenges it faces as it enters the twenty first century.  Readers are provided with ways to understand the changing nature of the music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways.  Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times.  Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular musical production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.

Taking Popular Culture Seriously: Public Service Television and Popular Music Heritage July 26, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Abstracts, Music History.
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An abstract for a proposed article I have submitted to write with Paul Long

This article explores the ways in which the BBC has scheduled popular music programming on BBC4. Launched in March 2002, BBC4 was the Corporation’s first foray into the digital distribution of television programming. For the station’s originators the channel was a site for high-quality and distinctive programming, especially in music, offering a serious approach to its subjects in tandem with a commitment to myriad listening and viewing pleasures. Peter Maniura, the BBC’s Head of Classical Music charged with formulating the channel’s music policy, has said that his intention was to ‘broaden the mix and give more depth and volume’ and to give airtime to popular music genres not usually covered on ‘mainstream’ channels. Janice Hadlow, BBC4’s original controller, has said that the channel aimed to challenge viewers: its goals in music programming ‘allow people to enjoy what they know and love already, but also about introducing an intelligent and discerning audience to new and challenging music’.

The channel offers music-themed nights, or extended seasons of music programming, often acting as a testing ground for new approaches to music broadcasting by the BBC. Friday night has become the point in the week in which popular music programming, and music theming, is concentrated. An evening’s schedule will usually be built around a new BBC documentary production supported by rebroadcasts of material taken from the BBC’s extensive television music archive.

We ask: how have BBC4 programmers managed music commissioning and scheduling across broadcast, online forums and social media platforms? And in what ways is the material presented in the Friday night slot understood in relation to a wider set of practices around popular music heritage exemplified by magazine such as Mojo or Uncut and Simon Reynolds much-discussed Retromania thesis? We suggest that the ongoing ‘curation’ of pop’s heritage (which perforce involves a contribution to defining that heritage) and archival retrieval by the BBC of its own recordings, highlights a history of the treatment of popular music and ways of treating its forms seriously as behooves the public service remit.

The nature of this programming is exemplified by the Britannia documentary series and one-off films which concern the history of musical genres and related cultural activities in the UK. Beginning with Jazz Britannia in 2005, subsequent contributions include similar treatments of folk (2006), soul (2007), dance music (2007), pop (2008), prog rock (2009), synth (2009), blues (2009), heavy metal (2010) and lately punk (2011) (see: Long & Wall, 2010; Wall & Long, 2011). With notably high production values, extensive archival research and interview schedules, such programmes utilise an impressive wealth of media sources, as well as many original contributions from performers and critics. Original documentaries are screened alongside repeats from the BBC TV vaults such as complete episodes from Jazz 625 (1964–65) or compilations of available performances from series such as Monitor (1958– 65), Colour Me Pop (1968–69) or The Old grey Whistle Test (1971–87).

Abstract for Symposium on Soul Music and Community in the UK June 27, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Northern Soul.
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Stomping Ground: How Northern Soul Built a Dance Community

There are a number of myths about the UK Northern Soul music culture which tend to disguise how soul fans have operated as a self-sustaining community over the last forty years. Drawing upon my own experience on the scene, and my published research, I’ll be highlighting three of these myths and examining how a networks of venues and DJs established a body of recorded music and forms of dance as the basis of the Northern Soul community. In doing so I want to ask some questions about the place of venues like Wigan Casino, the conventions of dancing at a Northern night and, perhaps most controversially, the role of class, gender and race on the Northern dance-floor.

I’ll be delivering a presentation on this theme at Symposium on Soul Music and Community in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square Manchester, M2 5DB

Details at: http://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/annual-research-programme/2011-12-community/northern-soul-community-memory-and-place/


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