Northern (Soul) powerhouse

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling at the Winter Gardens

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Forget the booted suited business types in Manchester and Liverpool. If you want to know where the real Northern Powerhouse is it’s here - in Blackpool.

The resort is the Northern Soul powerhouse, music made in America but transformed into a way of life here.

And there’s every chance those booted suited bosses once bopped till they dropped at the Mecca’s Highland Room or Wigan Casino.

The inaugural Blackpool International Soul Festival is out to prove the resort’s got soul to thousands more - including visiting artists talked into leaving America to revisit the glory days some never knew existed here in Britain.

Veteran Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling (pictured) has persuaded some living legends of soul to sing songs live for the first time since they were recorded decades ago.

The venue is the Winter Gardens, the action is spread over five ‘rooms’ (if you consider the Baronial suite and Spanish Hall rooms) as well as the Empress Ballroom.

That’s over three days - starting tomorrow - with each day out to attract up to 3,000 people. That’s either 9,000 music fans or 3,000 of the same faces each day. Given the demographics and age range of soul fans, and the sheer magic of the music mix, live ad recorded, the latter seems unlikely. A gambling soul man might bank on at least 6,000 visitors to the event. And that adds to the bonanza of music tourism recently hailed as boosting the regional economy. Just look at what Lytham Festival has achieved.

So stand back or join in and watch a weekend unfold - and the birth of a new festival... hopefully to become an annual event “for the next 20 years”, says Searling.

The music is already memorable for mostly the right reasons and the festival is inspired by the success of the punk (Rebellion) festival. There’s classic commercial soul but, above all, it builds on the legacy of the North West’s standing on the Northern Soul scene - and that’s attracted Bettye LaVette to forsake the blues to dust off her old hits for the occasion. Bear in mind she sang for Barack Obama. Then there’s Gerri Granger (who sold 30k copies of I Go To Pieces in one week alone in Britain), Dee Dee Sharp, and Bobby Hutton - whose 1974 Lend a Hand became the Highland Room’s anthem. Searling has been building up for this moment for most of his musical life.

You could say Blackpool has too...