Closing Time at The Cobbler’s Thumb

News this week that one of my old haunts is set to feel the merciless punch of the wrecking ball – The Cobbler’s Thumb, in Brighton, is finally to be demolished after years of structural neglect. The old girl will be knocked down before she falls down, though for a while in the early noughties, it seemed likely it would be the other way around.

It became one of those pubs where everyone knew your name (or at the very least, alcohol-fuddled, tried to remember it) and a place in its heyday that always felt welcoming and snug. That wasn’t the case when two friends of mine became managers.. the pub was tired, it looked pretty desolate on most week nights, the only highlight (read: more than five people drinking) being Thursday – quiz night. But Geoff and Nicci gradually took charge: the decor was spruced up, the drinks range sorted, and attendance picked up.

Problem: the Thursday quiz became the least popular night of the week. The Cobbler’s Thumb just wasn’t the kind of place that suited the silence necessary for a serious pub quiz with a martinet of a quiz master. It needed a buzz.

A quick consultation with Geoff and I was a DJ (hey, wasn’t everybody in Brighton in those days?), supplanting the quiz. By plugging my laptop into the pub sound system, I found my feet and aimed to please with an array of classic sounds: punk, reggae, ska, Northern Soul, 60s, glam rock, Stax, rockabilly, old school hip hop.. things which just seemed to feel right stuck together on a playlist.

I started out with around 400 songs, so requests for tunes often had to be politely negotiated. “I don’t have that.. how about this?”. But I listened and learned, and would be back the following week with additions to the collection, often whole swathes of MP3s brought in by the regulars for me to play.

Little traditions sprung up.. Andy’s punk “Triple Play”, and always some Hank Williams to end the evening (unless we all got locked in, of course). We played John Peel’s All Time Festive Fifty when the great man passed away. We played a couple of great all-dayers with fans of Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City contributing to charity.

What could be better than playing music for your friends and having a couple of beers whilst doing it? Because they were my friends.. not staff, not punters, not clientele, for god’s sake.. just regular folks out for a good time, ones you were very happy to see and who made it plain they were happy to see you.  The best kind of people. Those Thursday nights were very special to me.

Here’s a Spotify playlist in memoriam. Good times.

Life Old Music

I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea. Oh, Wait.. looks like fun.

Part 2 here.

Old Music

Northern Soul – The Greatest Record Ever Made

Part 4 – Pure gold, and what might be described as Northern Soul’s biggest ever ‘find’, Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) was originally released on Motown’s subsidiary label Soul in 1965. Frank wanted to concentrate on producing, and Motown boss Berry Gordy would certainly have had him do that. The vocal line isn’t quite as strong as you’d expect if Smokey or Marvin had cut the tune. Consequently the vast majority of the 250 demo discs were destroyed.

There may be as many as five in existence, and if the unthinkable happens and you find one, you’re on to a winner. In 2009, a copy sold for 25,742 pounds. That’s 40,000 dollars, Americans.

Not only a rare record, but a great record. And here’s the real zinger – it was the last record ever played at Wigan Casino when it closed in 1981. DJ Russ Winstanley explains what happened when he came to play the traditional set-closing ‘three before eight‘:

I played them, and then I played them again, because people were just handclapping to the beat when the records had finished. I don’t know why, but I then played what has since become recognised as the best and most valuable Northern track ever, Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You’. After that, people just sat down and cried their eyes out.

A heartbreaking goodbye to the famous venue, but a moment in time which adds yet more lustre to the pure gold of the greatest record ever made*.

* Probably.

Russ Winstanley quote taken from Chris Hunt’s article.

Old Music

Northern Soul – The ‘Three Before Eight’

Part 3 – The daddy of all Northern Soul clubs was Wigan Casino, though, as this fine article by Chris Hunt says, it may not have been the coolest or the most innovative. If you wanted to dance, however, it was the place to go.

And when you’d wrung yourself out on an all-nighter, the day was breaking, and it was finally time to go home, the crowd would always be treated to a signature ending from the DJ.. songs that became known as the ‘three before eight’: Jimmy Radcliffe’s Long After Tonight Is All Over, Tobi Legend’s Time Will Pass You By and Dean Parrish’s I’m On My Way.

They’re fine songs. They’re not brilliant songs – vocal lines wobble a bit, those horn charts might not be the sharpest ever written – but because of the indelible association of time and place, once again, they become some of the greatest songs ever made.

Try and put yourself in that place: the Casino, mid 70s. It’s early morning, you’re tired but happy. You’re getting your act together after a long night of dancing with your fellow devotees. You might have found someone special to spend the last few moments with. And then you hear..



and Dean.

Now, that’s a little piece of magic right there, isn’t it?

Read the final part of this Northern Soul exposition.

Old Music

Northern Soul – Hits The Charts

Part 2 – a large part of the excitment of the underground Northern Soul scene was provided by the discovery of obscure records and the battles of one-upmanship between DJs. Find a record with that sound that no one else had, and play it at your particular venue? Pure gold. That venue may have been the only place where a punter could go to hear it and dance to it. Best not to let the collectors know too much about the record, either, or they’ll be in the bargain bins and record fairs and rooting out copies for themselves.

But as we have said, these are some of the greatest records ever made, and the greatest records ever made are not going to stay underground for too long on a thriving club scene. What are you going to do: swear 100,000 people to secrecy? Like that’s gonna work.

So when I was a teenager, Northern classics would pop into the charts on a regular basis, and some of them would hit the heights – most memorable for me being R. Dean Taylor‘s There’s A Ghost In My House. Originally released in 1966, given a re-injection of pace by Northern devotees, the re-issue reached #3 in the UK. It sounds alien, it doesn’t sound quite like your regular Motown record.. it’s totally distinctive and leaps out of the speakers even today.

It joined records like Robert Knight’s Love On A Mountain Top and The Fascinations’ Girls Are Out To Get You in the upper reaches of the charts in the early 70s. And there’s a dilemma.. when those records became super-popular, did they lose their lustre? No longer a record for the devotee, but a record that practically everyone in the country with a working set of ears and a transistor radio had heard. Your exclusive Northern Soul club scene just became a little more inclusive.

Note: The Fall covered There’s A Ghost In My House in 1988. Their version is still their highest UK chart placing. Here’s another original Northern Soul stomper from Gloria Jones you might have heard somewhere before. That cover would be Soft Cell’s highest chart placing too. You see, it’s the influence of.. the greatest records ever made.

Read part three of this four part Northern Soul exposition.

Old Music

Northern Soul – The Greatest Records Ever Made?

Part 1 – No music genre more perfect than Northern Soul? Mix a fanboy’s dedication to unearthing obscure record releases, the regimentation of fashion, and a nonpareil club scene, each venue with its own distinctive politics and sound. Songs that were unheralded, failures by any commercial consideration, but songs that had a certain something, that were evocative of a time and a place, songs that felt like they were yours, like they were written just for you to dance to. And because of that atmosphere, that association, for the feelings they inspired in Northern devotees, they were the greatest records ever made.

And there’s no better way to kick off a soul session, if you want to separate people from their seats and get them out on the floor pronto, than a certain track from Shirley Ellis. Not one of her most famous recordings, though the nagging two-four-six-eight-ten hook in this song is rooted in the out and out novelty of The Clapping Song or The Name Game.

But this song means business from the word go: a twanging guitar figure, shuffling congas and a blaring clarion call of a horn riff, the rhythm section fires up and Shirley’s vocals ride in on the back of a terrific rattling drum-driven groove. You’re hooked, you’re dancing.

What time is it here at The Riverboat Captain? It’s Soul Time, with some of the greatest records ever made.

Read part two of this four part exposition on Northern Soul.