Richard’s realising his Northern Soul dream

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

Talk about heart and soul – Richard Searling has certainly put the former into bringing the latter to Blackpool.

The man behind the Blackpool International Soul Festival which takes place at the Winter Gardens later this month has scoured the American music scene to bring artists to the event who have rarely if ever played in the UK.

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

He has sourced them, booked them - and in some cases cajoled them - into coming to the resort to give fans chance to hear songs played live which they have danced to on their turn-tables for decades.

And with around 3,000 people a day expected to attend the event from June 17 to 19, the festival is shaping up to be another massive boost for the whole town.

Richard, who has promoted Northern Soul events for more than 25 years, already runs a string of successful weekenders in Blackpool including at the Tower and the Hilton Hotel –and these are continuing as usual.

But while those offer chance to dance to records, this one will be artist-led for the first time.

Performers will include Bettye Lavette who sang for Barack Obama at his presidential inauguration in 2009, and Harold ‘Bobby’ Hutton whose 1974 LP A Piece of the Action includes Blackpool Mecca anthem Lend a Hand.

Blackpool, along with Wigan and Manchester, has a long-standing Northern Soul pedigree but with most original venues now demolished, it is events like this festival which are keeping the genre alive for lovers of the music who now include a new generation.

Blackpool Mecca on Central Drive was famous for its Highland Room, in Manchester it was the Twisted Wheel while the Wigan Casino was the most prominent venue of them all.

Richard said: “I wanted to give something back to the scene and bring people to the UK whose music we have loved over the years but who people would not have seen performing live.

“So while our other events are more DJ-driven, this one will be artist-led.

“I always say about Northern Soul that the records were born in America, but the scene was made in the North West of England.

“The acts we are bringing to Blackpool are seriously impressive. There are acts who have been seen before but not doing these songs.

“We’ve got some big name artists on the bill and some will be performing tracks that haven’t been done live since the day they were recorded which is just incredible.

“Gerri Granger has not performed in the UK at all.

“We also have Mickey Stevenson who wrote Dancing in the Street doing a Q&A session.

“He was given a blank canvas to go out and find talent in Detroit and he will talk about what it was like in the 1960s, with problems such as segregation.”

Stevenson co-wrote Dancing in the Street with Ivy Jo Hunter. It was originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas in 1964, later to be covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger in 1985.

It has taken Richard 15 months to organise the festival which will take place over six rooms filled with soul music and more than 50 DJs from across the UK and Europe.

Areas will range from high energy dance to chill out zones while the Empress Ballroom dance floor alone has capacity for more than 1,000 people.

Richard continued: “One of my jobs as promoter will be settling the artists down and getting their mindset into what this is about.

“If they want to mingle with the crowds they will be worshipped, or they might just shake a few hands after the show. But one thing for sure is they will be amazed at the knowledge the audience has got.

“The Tower is a magnificent venue but the Winter Gardens is fantastic for a festival spread over a number of rooms.

“It is the right time to do it and I hope it will still be running in 20 years time and become an annual fixture like the Punk Rebellion festival is.

“Northern Soul goes right across the ages, 18 to 75 and has a fantastic sweep of demographic and age group.

“There will be people who are coming just to see the live acts and others who will dance to 6am.

“It is easy music to get into and lyrically it is about the things we all experience. It mirrors life in the North West and we have historically had the great venues - like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca.”

Richard’s own knowledge of the Northern Soul scene is such that he presents a show on BBC Radio Manchester from 10pm until midnight each Friday, while on Saturdays he presents Soul on Trent on BBC Radio Stoke.

The concerts on the Empress Ballroom stage will all be supported by musical director Snake Davis and band The Suspicions.

Winter Gardens managing director Michael Williams said: “We are delighted to be promoting the festival in association with Richard.

“The Winter Gardens is ideal for hosting such an event and the audience can look forward to a great weekend of entertainment thanks to superb line-up of artists.”

The public will also get a taste of soul with a live DJ and a scooter exhibition in St John’s Square from 10am until 4pm on Saturday June 18.

n For more information go to www.blackpoolsoulfestival.co.uk or www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk