The legendary Wigan Casino was one of the defining nightclubs of the 1970s and early 1980s but its closure remains highly controversial. David Nowell considers the club’s impact and the events leading up the last ever Northern Soul all-nighter.
The chaos and controversy that surrounded the final days of the legendary Wigan Casino are laid bare in a new book.
The Casino Club in Station Road, Wigan, became the most famous club in the world in the 1970s as its manic Northern Soul all-nighters attracted dancers from all over the UK.
One of the original DJs, Richard Searling, has now taken a look back at the venue in his book Setting The Record Straight.
The lavishly-illustrated book deals mainly with his time at the Casino between 1973 and its closure in 1981.
It is packed with memorabilia, photos, flyers, and the inside stories of how some of the most famous records in Northern Soul history were discovered and aired at the Casino.
But Richard also deals with the controversial final days of the Casino, which divided opinion and angered many.
And for the first time he gives his take on the events of the final weeks.
When the Casino discovered the Station Road site was needed by Wigan Council for redevelopment, management set September 19, 1981, as the “final night”.
It was a sell-out as expected as around 2,000 people said an emotional farewell to the venue that had been part of their lives for eight years or more.
But another Casino all-nighter was announced on October 2 supposedly to cater for the demand from fans who could not make the September event.
Many fans were annoyed and confused - and so was Richard. He had already booked Wigan Tiffanys a few hundred yards away for the launch night of a new all-nighter that same night
and Richard thought the Casino would have closed by then.
He writes in the book: “The new venture was organised by myself, but only after the Casino had officially confirmed and announced to the club members and the press that they were closing for good on a specific night.
“In hindsight, I should have at least informed owner Gerry Marshall of my plans.
“Our Tiffanys event did go ahead, but now suddenly clashing with a hastily-reinstated event over the road at the Casino, and DJs Dave Evison Gary Rushbrooke and Keith Minshull pulling out of my event and electing to stay at the Casino, allegedly after threats from the Casino management not to work at the new venue.
“So we only attracted around 150 through the doors but I remember it was still a musically excellent all-nighter.
“The false ending of the Casino upset many people, not only myself and several of the club’s DJs, but many other Casino members who had forked out to be there at what they were led to be the historic, last ever Casino all-nighter,”
In the end there was at least one other “final” all-nighter - but Northern Soul fans were already moving on to new venues.
Ironically, the building planned for the Casino site never happened, and the Grand Arcade shopping centre now occupies the plot.
The Casino - or the Emp as it was known locally for decades - has a special place in Wiganers’ hearts.
Built in the early 1900s, it was a firm favourite for dances and live music with its huge sprung wooden dancefloor, ornate balcony and superb acoustics.
The venue had many soul nights before the all-nighters were launched in 1973.
But then followers of Northern Soul - rare and often overlooked American soul music - made the venue their own and the Casino became internationally famous for eight years.
Fans would travel the length and breath of the UK to experience the Casino all-nighters.
Richard Searling was born in Manchester and entered the music business as a warehouseman at Manchester-based Global Records. From there he went to WH Smith and then onto Russ Records in Wigan before joining RCA Records as its north west promotions man.
His love of music and DJing led him to unearth many great Northern Soul records, including Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love in a Philadelphia warehouse in the early 1970s. It became a Northern Soul anthem and played a big part in him landing his job at the Casino.
A decade or so later Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love was a worldwide hit.
Richard has had a long radio career and can still be heard on BBC Manchester and Stoke and also on Solar Radio.
He promotes many events around the North West, including the Blackpool Soul Festival at the Winter Gardens.
His passion for the Casino years and the many venues he has been involved with since shines through.
He said: “It has been a truly memorable journey and a privilege to be so closely involved with this ‘music that loves us back’. I hope it continues for years to come.”
Setting The Record Straight by Richard Searling is distributed by Anglo-American (Manchester) Ltd priced at £24.99.