Wigan Casino Revisited - Northern Soul At The History Shop

By Zoe Graham | 22 November 2004
Shows a black and white photograph of a man speaking or singing into a microphone, surrounded by people in a night club.

Live action at the Casino. Courtesy Wigan Observer.

Making sure she’d sewn her badge on properly, Zoe Graham made her way to Wigan History Shop for an all-nighter for old times’ sake.

Be transported back to the heyday of Northern Soul with Wigan Casino: The heart of soul on show at Wigan History Shop until February 26.

The exhibition charts the rise of the venue through its early days as the Empress Ballroom, a major dance hall in the town, through to the Northern Soul era when between 1973 and 1981 Wigan Casino became the place to be seen.

Shows a photograph of two men - DJ Russ Winstanley and BBC DJ Stuart Maconie. They are standing side by side, holding up a set of headphones to their ears.

Founder of the all-nighters, DJ Russ Winstanley (left) was joined at the exhibition opening by Wigan native, BBC Radio 2 DJ, Stuart Maconie. Courtesy Wigan Heritage Service.

What would become a Mecca for ‘Soullies’ (Northern Soul fans) was originally an idea of local DJ Russ Winstanley who persuaded club owner Brian Child to host an all-nighter. On September 23 1973 the casino hosted its first soul event.

Northern Soul is a rare form of music originating from Detroit and Chicago, so in a way it’s fitting that a rare piece of furniture greets you on arrival at the exhibition. The Casino King Throne, by Gaye Chorlton, is covered with memorabilia such as records, towels, bags, talc and others objects that pay homage to northern soul.

Original art work by local artist David Barrow, himself a Casino regular, is also present and perfectly captures the atmosphere of a night at the club.

Shows a painting, which depicts the outside of the Wigan Casino Club. There are queues of people, lining the pavement in front and a coach stopped nearby.

This painting by David Barrow depicts the Casino Club in its heyday. Courtesy Wigan Heritage Service.

His paintings evoke a real sense of anticipation, depicting the hoards who would queue to get in on a weekly basis and catching the essence of their unique and highly energetic dancing styles.

There are also records from the time, which now change hands for thousands of pounds, on show, including a replica of a Frank Wilson record from 1965 - Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – the original copy of which sold for £15,000!

Several designs of the instantly recognisable Wigan Casino cloth badges are on display as well. These badges were designed by Russ Winstanley and were initially given away to mark the first anniversary of the all-nighters.

Shows a photograph of a number of bags with Northern Soul and Wigan Casino badges sewn all over them.

Every self-respecting Soulie had to have a cloth badge or two. Courtesy Russ Winstanley.

In 1978 Wigan Casino was named Best Disco in the World by American music magazine Billboard, beating the infamous New York club, Studio 54.

However, all good things must come to an end and the Wigan Casino and Northern Soul all-nighters were no exception to this rule.

The last official all-nighter was held on September 19 1981. Two more ‘final’ all-nighters were held on and December 2 and 6 the same year, but a fire in March 1982 signalled the end of the Wigan Casino and in the following year it was demolished.

Shows a black and white photograph of some dancers at the Wigan Casino Club.

A dancer at the Casino in the late 1970s. Courtesy Wigan Observer.

For a while the site was a supermarket, but now it stands empty and is used as a car park.

These days Wigan is probably as well known for its so-called pier, rugby league and football as it is for its connections to Northern Soul.

So get your dancing shoes on, grab your talc, head down to Wigan, relive the Northern Soul era and find out what the music really meant to thousands of ‘Soullies’.

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