Manchester Wheelers


A Book by Dave  


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Meeting at the Wimpy



Saturday night in Manchester, 1967: the Soul Mods needed to take their Amphetamines – the ‘Gear’– and gather at the Wimpy bar before going to the Twisted Wheel All-nighter. Pill pushers needed to have their supplies ready. The story is narrated by Dave. There were numerous Daves who were Soul Mods in the city;


‘You ain’t been nowhere till you’ve been in with the In Crowd’
                                                                                                         - Dobie Gray



Manchester’s buildings were black, everywhere you looked, all the buildings on every street - black. When it rained, it would come tipping down. Consequently the rain provided an additional tone and turned the buildings into a mixture of wet-look blacks and greys of all shades. If you looked closely, a dirty black mist floated on the water outlined with an inner greyness, a wet sliding paisley pattern with disgorged black sooty edges moving like amoeba riding on the water’s surface and sliding down the walls. Drizzling rain collected, then poured out of high roof gutters and down the black bricks, making the walls shine; rivers that flowed vertically down, eventually to sharply change direction and pour across the street. Wide, flat, single-dimension rivers that rushed over the blackened grey pavements, running around white chewing gum islands and onwards into the black tarmac road, where the rain turned into rivulets, racing off to find a tumbling gutter of rushing dirty water with floating dog ends, all gushing into a swollen grid.


I doubted anyone noticed these things because it was simply the way things were. Things we see often fade into our unconscious; being so obvious they get downgraded to an almost invisible background to our daily lives. I was noticing these things, and acutely so, because I had slipped into a different mode of consciousness brought about by consumption of a handful of pills. They adjusted my perception; I was becoming more awake than wide-awake. It was one of the first noticeable signs of their effect.


Manchester was black due to the years of industrial revolution; decade upon decade of soot had coated all the bricks and stonework. As a result the walls of the buildings, if you bothered to look, were black sooty velvet when dry and a wet-look black leather effect in the rain. Hundreds of mill chimneys joined thousands upon thousands of rooftop chimneys from row upon row of terraced houses all belching out black, white and grey smoke.


The opening titles of the TV Soap Opera from Manchester had got it right: ‘Coronation Street’. It was a black and white film set. Films were made about the North, some set in Manchester. Films like ‘Billy Liar’, where Julie Christie looked like she was walking across Piccadilly Gardens, but it was actually Bradford. ‘A Taste Of Honey’ with Rita Tushingham and Dora Bryan on the bus passing blackened statues in Albert Square, St Ann’s Square and Piccadilly. Later there was ‘Charlie Bubbles’, although this was in colour; it showed the demolition of row after row of the old Manchester terraced housing, with swinging balls of steel hung from cranes crashing into the walls, the entire scene becoming enveloped in dust.


A common sight was half the street in ruins, while the other half was perfectly intact and being cared for; painted red, brick by brick; here and there a red Geranium in a pot and all the steps yellow donkey-stoned. Mums running, hanging the washing out to dry after the dust had cleared, from around the last demolished house opposite: clearing and emerging like a ghostly apparition from the smog generated by the collapsed house it now became possible to see lady’s hanging out their washing on the once obscured back street. Manchester Mums with their hair in rollers inside a turban scarf – they would wear their patterned pinafore overalls, and keep up their standards in the midst of the intermittent grey dust storms set off by demolition and dampened down by the rain showers Manchester was famous for.


It seemed depressing; it looked like it was ‘Grim Up North’, but it was far from that. The soul of the city was the underground Mod Soul scene, ironically with its black American music. Soul was black ­– well, mainly black; our city was black, and so was the music that the clubs blared out in dark underground cellars. However, the music and ‘our’ scene gave us a set of colourful, bright and enthusiastic reasons for Mod Mancunians to get excited about their city.


After riding down town and parking my scooter outside the Wimpy Bar near Piccadilly, I walked through the drizzling rain just to stretch my legs. And as I walked, I remembered other days and times past.


Tuesday and Thursday nights we would go training and racing on the Fallowfield Cycling track; it was a velodrome, known to us as the Toast Rack due to the shape of the roof profile on an adjacent building. Reg Harris was still racing, but that night he just gave the prizes out. I was no prize-winner – I’d crashed out, falling through the bunch on the highest part of the track.


A few Blueys sorted out the pain and after the prize ceremony we planned to go dancing at the Twisted Wheel. Our cycling club, the Prestwich Olympic, was joined by our mates from the Manchester Domino, and others from the Manchester Wheelers. In the end about fifty of us went down to the club in Brazennose Street just off Albert Square where the majestic Town Hall towered above us in all its blackened Gothic glory.


We chained all our bikes together outside the double white doors and went dancing in the club. This was the Twisted Wheel, it was 1963, and it was known as a Beat club.


We streamed downstairs to dance in our cotton racing vest tops and cut-off padded gloves. Our frayed-end bell-bottom denim jeans had been recently released from our metal cycling clips, and we were clinking about in our cycling shoes with the metal pedal grips underneath. If you could have heard the metal plates under our shoes tapping the concrete floor it would have been like a tap dance, but no one could; the speakers had drowned it out with Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’. That had been when the Wheel was in its early music mixture stage of Beat, Pop, Folk music, Jazz and Blues, especially Blues, with Alexis Korner soon to become the resident band.


That was only a few years before at the ‘old Wheel’, but since then everything had changed. Cycling had faded as a core activity on my agenda of things I was really driven to do, replaced with the fervent All-nighter scene that had developed rapidly. The drugs would fit with cycling, but there wasn’t much time left to train at the level of commitment it required. And the ‘new Wheel’ scene at Whitworth Street was, incredibly, perhaps even better than that fantastic last year of 1965, at Brazennose Street – well, almost.


Although the Mod scene probably finished in London by the middle of 1964, it continued in Manchester, and in ‘66 fashions had stabilised on smart suits with everything. The American Army Parkas we wore when riding scooters only hid this fact. Smart was the dress code, and the way you did the smallest of things – like how your handkerchief was folded and placed in your suit jacket top pocket. The fact that you only fastened the top button of your Mohair threads denoted who you were, but only to those that knew the code. To the rest you became invisible – but smart invisible.


I looked around outside the Wimpy to see who was around, who was going, as the memory of those old cycling days faded. The rain was washing my scooter; it glinted with the reflection of passing bus headlights, traffic lights and the multicoloured wet-look neon signs mirrored from the surrounding buildings.


The mirrors on my scooter reflected back the same multicoloured signs inside the raindrops as they hit, then they drizzled down and streaked the side panels with wet coloured streamers of rainwater. The chrome side panels held off most of the rain, almost pushing it away as if by some anti-magnetic force. I let such thoughts fade – it was just the Brasso polish I had ‘Duraglited’ onto them before coming down here from Blackley.


Today was Saturday 14th of October, 1967. It was a special event tonight at the All-nighter, the biggest night there since the ‘Original’ Drifters had appeared at the end of April. The year had begun in a fantastic way for Manchester Soul Mods, with The Spellbinders on at our favourite All-nighter club, soon followed by Otis, and the Stax Tour at the Palace Theatre on Oxford Road. To celebrate the appearance tonight of De Walt (better known as Junior Walker), lots of us had promised to dig out our scooters for the occasion. By the end of 1966 scooters and the Mod scene had faded out in London, but not so much in Manchester where we had our own private Soul thing going.


The growling, unmistakable sound of high powered scooters ended in a slowing down, put- put-put-put noise as two immaculate GT 200s pulled up alongside my 250cc Durkopf. The guys got off, brushing water from their full-length leather overcoats. One leather was green, the other guy’s was dark purple, and double breasted. Only one Mod in Manchester had a purple coat like that; Sid from Langley. Sid was a tough guy. He was a scaffolder and bricklayer by day, and a pill pusher by night.


No one was inside the Wimpy; at least none of our lot. Others were irrelevant. We knew who we were and we could recognise each other at a glance. Mods had a certain look. If you were one, you knew it but you never let on. You never claimed to be a Mod. To say you were a Mod would immediately bring ridicule, and quick as you might have said it you’d be ‘out’. Such a status was earned and never openly claimed.


We rarely went inside the Wimpy; if we did it was for a coffee or a coke. No one in their right mind would have a hamburger before an All-nighter at the Wheel, unless you wanted to throw up on the dance floor. Some people threw up anyway, but as a result of all the dancing mixing their stomach bile with a concoction of pills and stomach acid. Bennys, Green and Clears, Black Bombers, Blueys and Dexys, and the saliva from constantly chewing Wrigley’s gum, all shaken and stirred by continuous dancing; it was a mix that could easily make you sick enough to vomit.


I was already partly ‘blocked’ or ‘coming up’; that was the descriptive phrase everyone used. Shivers like energy waves were going all through my body, especially up and down my spine. I wanted to move, to dance, to talk. Dancing or talking incessantly was what these pills did to you, and you could do it all night. You became ‘blocked’ after taking your ‘gear’, and after around twenty minutes had passed by, all of a sudden your perception changed; it was like coming up in a lift, but the lift was in your head. Adrenalin energy would pulse out from your stomach, all body aches and pains would just vanish. You felt a compulsion to move about, to dance, to speak. You couldn’t keep still, often moving in jerks, uncontrollable repetitive movements - things did speed up! Thoughts were rapid, speech too – and Speed appeared to affect the blokes more than the girls, with certain almost unmentionable side effects.


“Hiyyyaaa Dave, have you seen Angelo?” said Sid, looking sternly into my eyes as he unbuttoned his full-length leather, revealing his grey shiny Mohair suit below. “Are you going?”


“Definitely,” I answered, “it’s Junior Walker!”


“Get me a hot chocolate,” shouted Terry as he struggled to pull back his white GT 200 onto its stand. Terry was Sid’s sidekick; he was always in his shadow.


“Wimp,” breathed Sid under his breath, and he wasn’t referring to the hamburger bar. Then Sid gave Terry’s scooter a push from the front to get it on its stand.


Sid and I entered the Wimpy, with steam rising from our coats; mine was a parka with my grandma’s fox stole sewn across the shoulders. Long dead glass eyes stared out from my right shoulder.


We sat down and waited for the waitress; Terry then joined us. “Have you seen Angelo?” he said frantically as he sat down. “He’s got a load of our gear, and we need it for tonight.”


“Calm down,” said Sid, “he’s probably hiding it in a stash somewhere. He will be along, soon.” He turned, and mumbled into my ear:  “He better be...


I could see Terry was exhibiting the far away paranoid look that some members of our fraternity exhibited; it was due to being too many days in a row on Amphetamines. His lips were sore, very red and with a black outline highlighting them, tracing a sharp dark silhouette all around them, and his eyes were large like a ‘bush baby’s’ staring vacantly, unfocussed, around the room as he spoke.


“The bastard better had, he was at the match today. Georgie was fantastic with three goals, and that shitty Man City were total crap; Francis Lee, Colin Bell - what a set of twats! And Summerbee! Summerbee, Summerbeeeee; who the fucking hell is he?” he sang, churning out the current anti-City theme that everyone sang in the Stretford End.


“Did you go, Dave?” Sid asked me.


“Yeah,” I said, “fuckin’ brilliant! We should win the league again this year.”


“Fantastic, fan-bloody-tastic! You know Best is great, the greatest, but he needs Dennis. Without Dennis the entire team would be shit. If he doesn’t score, he’s the one who passes it to George for him to hit the back of the net.” Sid made this statement glassy eyed, adoringly.


We all sat silently then, reviewing the match; our eyes were open with blank stares as the rain ran down the outside of the windows. As we stared through them, we were seeing the footie earlier that day at Old Trafford superimposed on them, mentally lost in the visions of the game. We were brought back to the present moment with another raging outburst from Terry.


“Where the fuck is that twatting bastard with our gear?” he said, just as the waitress arrived at our table. She up picked the round imitation-tomato plastic ketchup ‘bottle’ and gave it a wipe, ignoring the abrasive swearing.


“Two coffees and one hot chocolate please,” we said in a chorus. Terry pretended to spray her with machine gun bullets from an imaginary Elliot Ness-style machine gun and shouted, “Al Capone’s Guns Don’t HHHArgue…..” trying to imitate Prince Buster. Then he started singing “Dum Dum Dum Dum Da Da Da Da,” clicking his fingers, swinging around on his seat.


“The fucker’s totally blocked,” said Sid.


Terry shouted, “Joke,” and proceeded to tell it without pausing: “A Chinese couple get divorced. She goes back to Peking… he goes back to WAN - KING… do you get it?”


Sid ignored Terry’s antics, and began to give me an explanation about their missing gear:


“We got 400 Green and Clears from your friend Angelo,” he said, putting a menacing tone on the word ‘friend’. After slightly stuttering a bit, he carried on.  “And we swapped them for cash in the bogs at the back of the Stretford End. He’s training to be the shop manager in a pharmacists. It’s great gear, and straight out the bottle, so to speak.”


After a pause, he frowned. “Funny name that, ‘Angelo’. He comes from Middleton, from a long line of Italian Ice-cream makers. There’s an Ice cream shop there in the woods, Alkrington Woods. Dave, you know him don’t you? Wasn’t he one of your cycling mates from years back?”


“Maybe,” I said, “Does he wear a green Tonic Mohair with a 23-inch centre vent?” I was purposely forgetting to tell them that I went to school with Angelo.


“That’s him,” retorted Sid, with a look that I took to mean he wasn’t having any of my vague reply.


“So why are you saying he’s got your stash?” I asked.


This seemed to upset Sid no end and he answered with an increased stutter: “B-b-b-because…. because, because…fucking because, we gave him most of it back again for safe keeping, to bring it here tonight. So right now at this very moment in time he has our gear and, and, and our cash.”


He stuttered again and then went on in a tirade. “That bastard Sergeant, what’s his fucking name? …Oh yeah, fucking Plummer – he’s after us, he frisks us on sight these days… so we took what we needed at the match. Then gave him, Angelo, back the rest and, and,” – Sid began stuttering once more – “A-a-a-and our fucking cash, for safe keeping!  He said he would meet us here half an hour ago, fucking bastarding rain. It took ages to get here and now we’re soaked and fucking frozen.”


“And late,” said Terry, stating the obvious.


“Why did you give him back the money?” I asked.


“Because, Sergeant drugs-‘el-supremo’-what’s-his-face would have something on us if he pulled us and nabbed us with just too much cash for a Saturday night out.” Sid spat out the words in disgust.


“Right,” I said, nodding.


“He stops and searches us every time he sees us,” Sid said repeating himself angrily.


Back with us after staring vacantly all around the other tables, Terry then changed the subject completely, as is the way of the blocked.


“I’m going to get some skin-tight leather gloves,” he said. “You know the type with all them little holes in them, driving gloves they’re called.” Terry then opened up his hands spreading out the fingers wide. “Look at my hands. You can almost see through my knuckles, they’re so fucking white.”


“Shut up,” Sid growled at Terry, “Just shut the fuck up. You’re always rambling on about shit.”


“So have you seen the fucker?” Sid asked again, turning to me.


“Who?” I replied.


Sid was getting fierce. His neck was turning red, the blue veins bulging: “FUCKING Angelo, you cunt,” he shouted over the table, attempting to put his face straight into mine.


A menacing atmosphere was generated. I rapidly decided on submitting no further methods of diversion.


“No, I only just got here, just before you came,” I said.


“Maybe he’s in the Shakespeare or the Town Hall or some other fuckin’ pub,” Terry interjected. “Maybe we need Agent Double O Soul, or Secret fucking Agents on the case,” he smirked, “or let’s send out an SOS…” Terry went rambling on… blocked uptight. “I bet he came on time and now he’s gone in the Dive Bar at the other end of the Street.” His eyes brightened a bit. “Let’s go down there,” he said.


“Don’t be fucking stupid, that’s where all those fucking City bastards beat the shit out of us…. and twice! I’m not going over there tonight,” said Sid, turning from me to face Terry, glaring at him, their noses almost touching.


I asked what had happened, and my question seemed to break the air of conflict.


“It was two weeks ago – we’d sold out all our gear in the Shakespeare. Then after, we legged it to the Town Hall Tavern and stayed for a half, when some City cunts started on us. So we left and went down the Dive Bar, and the bastards showed up there later! We ended up being dragged out of the place, punched and kicked.”


“We got away and ran all the way back through the streets with the bastards trailing us to the Town Hall Tavern. We went past and hid in a doorway - in the doorway of the Old Cona. You remember the Cona Café – first time we saw you and your pal the other Dave? It was in there.” Disjointed sentences were the hallmark of Amphetemised speech.


His remark triggered a forgotten memory: I remembered Saturday afternoons drinking cappuccinos listening to Roger Eagle telling us about his latest imports and all of us admitting to liking Bob Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changing’ as it came on the Juke Box in the Cona Café on Tib Street.


Sid ended his tale saying, “Thank Christ the bastards went back into the pub so we could get away.”


“If the City mob have taken over the Dive Bar then Angelo will be somewhere else; maybe he’s in Tommy Ducks,” I said.


“Look at my fucking new brogues,” said Terry.


 And we all did, even the waitress; she had arrived with our drinks.


We all got out some change from our pockets and individually paid her.


“Yeah, they are shitty,” I agreed with Sid, and told him to wipe them on the hand towel roller in the bogs. Moments later, off he went.


“He’s becoming an arsehole,” said Sid. “He’s getting blocked up all week, not just weekends, how he keeps going at work, working as a hod carrier is beyond me: the feeble twat doesn’t look like he could climb a ladder holding on with both hands, never mind with a hod of bricks. It must be the fucking ‘gear’ that’s fuelling the bastard up there!”


We laughed.


“So you are going then?” I drawled with my speech slurring as another shuddering jolt from the pills ran through me.


“Yeah,” Sid replied. “I’m buzzin!” He followed on and asked the obvious: “You?”


I replied automatically, initially saying, “Yeah.” Then as I realised the momentous event ahead I became more animated; “Without a doubt… I only go for the music, and the birds and the dancing and tonight… Junior Walker!”


“The Music that’s gooooood,” Sid said, gazing into his drink ­– he was on his way up.


We both were ‘coming up’ and feeling that feeling.


“And the deals… I love the deals; that helps the income. We’re on bastarding piece work, and if that twat falls behind…” He pointed at the toilet door that Terry had just disappeared through, to clean his shoes.


Sid continued after being distracted for a moment with a ‘coming up rush’ and said “On the bricks we lose out; we’re a team… but then there’s the supplementary income…”


“Shoplifting!” shouted Terry as he returned.


 “No – dealing, you cunt,” Sid shouted at Terry. He then continued:


“And there’ll be none of that tonight if that twat Angelo doesn’t show up.” Sid was now shouting and all signs of his previous stammer had disappeared.


The sinister atmosphere was returning. Silence interrupted us, and again we all looked out of the window where outside about twenty or so Mods had materialised. We hadn’t noticed them until now due to being engrossed in our conversation.


“So how did you get your stuff for tonight?” I asked them as it was obvious they were under the influence.


“We took a few at the match,” replied Sid, “and then we stopped in Cannon Street, just as Monica from Langley was getting off the 121. She gave us enough to get us up.”


“For now,” interrupted Terry, indicating he was anticipating a fuller recharge sometime soon.


“Angelo - what a fuckin’ stupid name,” said Sid, bringing the conversation back to where I wished it wasn’t.


“Poof name,” said Terry.


“Yeah, poof bastard,” agreed Sid.


I thought it wise not to mention that I knew Angelo and that he was no ‘poof’. His name was Italian, and lots of Italians went to our school. It was due to Angelo that I had become a cycling fan; it was he who told me all the stories about his cycling hero Fausto Coppi. Our school was Roman Catholic, so all the Italians from North Manchester sent their kids there.


We both hero-worshipped Jacques Anquetil the French cyclist, and had haircuts that matched his; cut short all over, very short at the front and longer towards the back, the sides the same - all combed backwards for streamlining on a bike! Later this style was developed longer and longer with a back-combed elevated top; it became very popular, influenced by the Small Faces.


It was a good practice to take your stuff before going into the Wheel, as the plain clothes drug squad sometimes raided the toilets in the club. I usually took my gear on the bus; I didn’t even need a drink. I could easily swallow twenty pills without a drink – practice makes perfect.


This time I took the pills on the scooter, opening my mouth and drinking in the rain to wash them down. One of the effects of taking the pills, or the ‘gear’ as we affectionately called them, was that they made everyone very, very friendly. Well, they were prescribed as anti-depressants, but they could sometimes do the opposite with certain types, and Terry and Sid’s bemoaning of Angelo was exhibiting this type of paranoia. I could see that hanging around with these two could be dangerous, so I swigged at my drink, told them I just saw my girlfriend outside, said ‘Tarrah’ and hopped it.


* * *


Mod girls all tried to look like Dusty Springfield, or Mary Quant, or Julie Driscoll. Twiggy, Patti Boyd, Rita Tushingham, or even Amanda Barrie. A full set of such almost ‘look-a-likes’ or ‘Dolly Birds’ were now gathered outside the Wimpy, sheltering from the rain underneath the concrete overhang. And so was Doreen. I was in love with Doreen – she was a Julie Driscoll type.


Outside the Wimpy a large crowd of people who were all getting together to go down to the All-nighter had formed. The Wimpy was a well known Saturday night gathering place for us to meet up.


As I walked over towards Doreen, a soaking wet Mod said, “Hiya, I’m Pete from Blackpool, have you seen Fred from Stockport? I’ve got this record for him, it’s ‘Sixty Minutes Of Your Love’ by Homer Banks; Fucking rare, man, on the Minit label.”


But before I could respond, Dave Leyton came up and danced around me singing, “Get on upDa Da Darrrr Da Dat DaHey… You over there… Get on up now… We’re gonna dance, dance, dance, and boogaloo… AND BOOGALOO…!”


Spinning round on the last note of the song by the Esquires, he ended up with his face right next to mine, his wide-eyed dilated pupils fixed on me.


 “Hiya,” he said his face all flushed red and beaming, holding his fixed stare through his glasses right into my eyes.


 “And that reminds me,” he said, “Please – I’m saying it nicely – have you got my record that you nicked on Thursday in the Blue Note?”


“What?” I said, looking towards Doreen, who was talking with two guys I hadn’t seen before.


“You know what,” Said Dave ‘L’.


Dave ‘L’ or ‘DL’ was his nickname. There were just too many Daves around, so he’d acquired a nickname to distinguish him from other less, notable Daves.  In fact his full nickname was Dave ‘Rubber Legs’ Leyton. He was indeed an accomplished dancer and had just demonstrated his talent out here in the street.


“Yes, my ‘Boogaloo Party’ by the Flamingos,” he said, emphasising the ‘my’ as he went on: “It’s mine, it’s rare, it’s on the Philips label, the Blue Label, number BF 1786. It’s got my DL sticker on it inside a little white circle, and you or your pal Angelo nicked it.” His delivery was faultless and pedantically accurate.


It had been nicked but it wasn’t me – it was Angelo who’d done the evil deed. DL had come into the Blue Note during the week and raved about his latest find, ‘The Boogaloo Party’. He’d pulled it out of his airline bag to show it, when someone grabbed it for a laugh and passed it overhead to the next person. Soon it had gone from hand to hand overhead, over the tables, then traversing the dance floor a couple of times with everyone laughing. It was all light hearted until it was snatched by Angelo, where it disappeared down the front of his trousers. Angelo was an accomplished record shoplifter. DL must have blinked as Angelo stuffed the 45 away at lighting speed, leaving him bemused and hopeful of its return, which had never happened.


Just then I was rescued by someone who had met DL at last Saturday’s All-nighter and couldn’t remember Dave’s name. He addressed DL and said, “Aren’t you Dave… thingy, err…?”


I laughed and said, “Its Dave ‘L’ or ‘DL’ to you.”


I was glad to change the track of DL’s conversation with me.


“L, what is that for?” said the bloke.


“Legs, rubber legs. Dave Legs; Rubber Legs Leyton,” I spurted out, laughing.


I was struggling to change DL’s intention to corner me about the ‘Boogaloo Party’, so I adopted a somewhat stupefied change of course to the conversation.


“Anyway did you know that Mr what’s his name… another ‘L’… what’s his fucking name… you know… oh fuck, what’s his name? Something like… ‘L’ you know him, he did pictures, paintings: matchstick men and women… outside mills, and chimneys…” I chuntered on hoping to divert DL’s attention.


“And cats and fucking dogs,” said DL. He was sharp, and homing in on my nonsense.


 “So what?” he said, as I saw that he had put the name to my blocked-up brain’s search for it.


I got the name just as he did. I said with a puzzled frown, “Oh yeah… Lowry.”


“Well, what about the fucker?” chorused the wet Mod from Blackpool and DL.


“Well, he used to be my grandmother’s Rent Collector, Mr Lowry. He does pictures of Manchester, some of them in the fucking rain!” I told them. I was hoping that my changing the subject would throw him off the scent of his ‘Boogaloo Party’.


Often the pills we took would make you struggle for a word or a name. Many times you heard people trying to remember something or other, often giving up and the conversation heading off at a complete tangent.


“So what’s that got to do with my ‘Boogaloo Party’?” DL shouted as we began to wander together up and down and around the gathering crowd.


“Nothing, nothing, nothing at all,” I said. I was going to tell him that my grandmother had been offered one of Lowry’s drawings and that she had given it back to the man with advice about making his figures look a bit more realistic, and that he should try harder. However just as soon as this memory popped into my head, I dismissed it. Instead I clicked the fingers on both hands and continued:


“It’s Junior Walker. I hope he does ‘Cleo’s Mood’, it’s my most favourite track of his, it’s great, it’s moody… it’s fucking moody and fucking great. Imagine that thundering out live in the Wheel!”


At this break in the conversation the Mod from Blackpool waved around his Homer Banks single asking if anyone had seen Fred, but he got no answer. At the same time, the gathering realised it was 11:30 and like a flock of spooked starlings without any one starting it off, all at once everyone moved off together. The rain had eased up and those at the front of the troupe began to sing, “Let’s go, Let’s go…”


At the front it was ‘Lets Go (Pony)’ by the Routers that they were chanting, whilst us at the back turned it around into ‘Lets Go Baby Where The Action Is’ (the ‘B’ side of Barefootin’ by Robert Parker).  We all took off through Piccadilly, down London Road, past the Army and Navy and then Mazell’s second hand record shop, past the Indian restaurant down the hill to the Wheel; The New Wheel on Whitworth street. We called it the New Wheel in deference to the one before, the first Wheel that was on the corner of an alley with Brazennose Street, just off Albert Square.


We began to skip and dance, we were all: ‘Dancing in the Street’. Our ‘gang’ used to do this often, clicking fingers, jumping up and swinging around lampposts, just like the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story; except we were Manchester Soul Mods – cooler, smarter, hipper, switched on to black music and ‘blocked up’!


One of the Impressions LP covers showed three very smartly dressed guys, in silver shining lightweight Tonic Mohair suits. This was certainly an influence upon the Northern Mod scene. Shiny Tonic Mohair suits with 13", then 15", and then 17" side vents. Then came centre vents, and even, in one period, centre pleats. ‘Who is the coolest guy…..’ sang Charlie Rich….. It was Mohair Sam and we wore the Tonic Mohair: we were the Kings, we were the Cool Jerks, we were the Soul addicted Mods.


Top pockets had handkerchiefs, and only silk ones made the grade. Ticket pockets were an essential feature of our suits. Searches for military and paisley patterned ties took hours, but they had to be found otherwise you could be 'out'. Silk ties, even flat bottom knitted ties, silk handkerchiefs, tight fitting leather driving gloves had to be obtained, even if it meant shoplifting them; we had to be in with the ‘in’ crowd.


Patent leather dance shoes: flat ones for blokes, and red four-inch high heels for girls. Long leather coats were always ‘in’ probably because of the cost. Winter in the North dictated that long warm overcoats were needed, and so a new fashion started for Crombies, and for hats and long, long, university scarves epitomised by Rod the Mod, the Scottish singer in the Steam Packet. 


DL danced around me; had he been black he would have been a dead ringer for David Ruffin of the Temptations, and they both wore exactly the same specs. This was no accident on DL’s part, as he idolised the Temptations. He even said he could never forgive Otis for doing a version of ‘My Girl’.


I managed to get away from him, but he was approaching once again. ‘Bollocks,’ I thought as he went on and on about his missing record, but then as his fifteen or so Green and Clears fully kicked in, his mind went onto a different track.


“I got ‘Secret Agents’, an import on Mirwood 5513 by the Olympics, it’s great, it’s fantastic; it’s just fucking brilliant.” He started to sing it – “Honey West and old I Spy are working together for the FBIBut I’m missing my ‘Boogaloo Party’.” And all to the exact rhythm of Secret Agents. You couldn’t help but smile at him.


DL was one of those guys who knew every record, its catalogue number, the ‘B’ side, the producer, the USA originating record label, etc. He would buy or shoplift Tamla Motown records and their previous Stateside label releases to get them all in numeric and sequential order, searching for them all over the place. His intention was to have them all, and in strictly catalogued numerical order. He was always asking for early Oriel, Fontana and Stateside and Motown singles, often by number, not by artist or record title. He learned to do this as it helped when requesting 45’s in record shops, and it impressed the proprietors. Sometimes they thought he was the company Sales Rep! Well, he did dress far smarter than they did. He was a walking card index system, invaluable as a resource to DJs who were seeking to find rare tracks.


A guy from Warrington joined us and immediately burst out with comments from his last visit to the Wheel. “Did you see Graham Bond last week, the other week or whenever it was? My fuckin’ memory is packing up man, I’m sure he did a few Ike and Tina Turner songs? Or was it the DJ that played ‘A Fool In Love’, and a great version of that Darrel Banks track ‘Somebody Somewhere Needs You’, dead good songs they are.”


On hearing this DL began singing, ‘He’s such a good man but he treats you like a fool…’ The lyrics echoed inside my head as I watched the same two blokes from outside the Wimpy walking along in front with Doreen.


The lyrics seemed to fit my changing mood and I sang them out with venom in a duet with DL: ‘Fool in love… When he treats you like a fool when he’s such a good man…’ The track was from the Ike and Tina Turner Review. People passing by on the pavement would shake their heads and mutter “Nutters”, as they pulled up their coat collars and scurried past.


DL picked up on my jealous mood, realising I was singing whilst watching Doreen in front. Probably motivated by his frustration with my avoidance about his missing 45, he started sticking the knife in, singing:  “You’re her puppet, you’re her puppet.” He was singing contrary words to the song by James and Bobby Purify, and acting out being a puppet with arms outstretched, wobbling along like Pinocchio.


We could remember most of the lyrics to our favourite Soul songs; they were drummed into us on a weekly basis. Music would replay over and over continuously inside your mind when you were blocked. Sometimes the entire repertoire of an All-nighter would play back in the hours of the following days inside your head. It wasn’t too bad during the day, but would almost drive you crazy at night when attempting to get some sleep.


Sometimes I would think how strange it was that I had no power to stop this continuous replay. Many times I would command it to stop, but after several intense efforts it just moved on to the next track, like a Dansette record player on auto. When the songs eventually died out I just lay there trying to sleep, every noise irritating beyond belief, every twitch generating a reciprocal itch at some other body location, like acupuncture gone mad. Then just as warm cosy sleep arrived, the alarm would ring for work.


Doreen stopped in front, turning around and waiting for me to catch up. The two guys carried on. She began dancing… skipping… “I’ll always love you… Baby… I’ll always love you…” She was singing the track by the Detroit Spinners… and she was spinning around me, then she just danced away. She left a strange after-image inside my mind’s eye of her Mary Quant hair gliding past in slow motion. This after-image was left together with a dim brooding feeling – Would she? Always? Who are those two blokes? Love sickness had got a hold on me!


We joined the back of the queue; it was strung out around the block, around the White Heart pub and up London Road. People tended to be in groups – they came from all over Manchester and the surrounding towns, and many from far off exotic places like Huddersfield. In fact they came from all over the UK; there were groups from Connah’s Quay North Wales, from Scotland, even London.


I noticed Doreen had been ‘let in’ the queue further up the line by those same two blokes. Anger was growing.


The people in front of us were from Oldham, and those in front of them were from Sheffield. They shouted back to us that they went to the Mojo Club. DL told them to “fuck off” and said to them that “it must be crap or else you’d be there” and that “this was the Wheel the one and only.” We both said this in a jovial friendly manner; everyone was really everyone’s friend at an All-nighter.  However, joking aside, we were sort of serious about the remark. To us, only the Wheel was worthwhile. The Wheel was the greatest, and the only other place that was great for music, but not for All-nighters, was the Blue Note. It was the music that mattered to us the most.


A group joined behind us from Blackpool; they too were singing, all of them singing, and really soulfully: ‘People Get Ready….. for the train to Jordan.’ They were clicking fingers, chewing gum, (we called it ‘Spoggy’) twirling around, just dancing and blocked up in the queue, singing that great Impressions’ song.


As we got closer we could hear the thumping sound from below, inside the club…. ‘Neighbour, neighbour… Don’t worry how I treat my wife…’ sung by Jimmy Hughes. Then ‘Determination’ by the Contours. Louder, louder and LOUDER as we got nearer. Looking at the Fire Station across the street, someone was shouting ‘Fire, Fire’, like ‘Liar, Liar, Town crier…’ putting their own lyrics to the Castaways’ tune.


With excitement mounting we reached the door. The Adabi Brothers, the owners of the Wheel were both at the door, looking at our round Wheel membership cards and taking our twenty five shilling pre-paid tickets; we often came down mid-week to get them. We passed the door anticipating going down the steps, down into the Wheel. We had one hand holding the other elbow moving our arms from side to side, the thumb in our mouths, playing a dummy Saxophone, imitating Junior Walker.  Daft we were. Blocked we were. Pill Heads we were, exactly as Roger Eagle the original Wheel DJ described us.


Ivor on the door rolled his eyes at us impatiently as we constantly and agitatedly moved from leg to leg sideways, swinging our shoulders dancing on the spot, waiting for his new-style ticket scrutiny. Anyway, these were real tickets not like the fakes we had used for the Drifters several months or so ago. It was our mate Roland who did the printing of the fakes. He did it to get some extra funds, but did some free extras for us too. Everyone helped each other out, we were all the best of pals. Manchester Soul Mods stuck together.


Through the sound system Jimmy Smith was mumbling away trying to get his ‘Mojo Working’ as I was putting my cloakroom ticket in my top pocket behind my showy pink silk handkerchief. After queuing in the cloakroom line inside the club for around half an hour, it was then that I realised with shock and shouted out loud:


“Shit, my Scooter! I left it outside the fucking Wimpy!”

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Where Northern Soul Began