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17 September 2010

Soul Boy

Written by Published in Issue 23 - Beyond Matter Read 2467 times

Stoke-on-Trent – 1974 – grey, overcast and generally forlorn. There’s little joy bar one musical ray of hope that echoes along the airwaves, emanates from car stereos and whirls around racks of forgotten vinyl in crusty old record stores. Cue the rise of Northern Soul and enter the story of Joe McCain: two girls, one sound, a lot of dancing and some very high-waisted trousers.

Joe is tired with the monotony of life, until one day he meets Jane (Nichola Burley), a glamorous and totally- out-of-his-league local girl. Desperate to impress, Joe and his socially inept friend Russ (Alfie Allen) follow her to the new Wigan Casino to discover what appears to be a decrepit dance hall. Suddenly the scene is set alight with the gusto of Northern Soul. Spencers are buttoned, leather-soled Loakes laced, the vinyl starts spinning and the ace movers are busting out on the dance floor. From here, Joe embarks on a journey of – you guessed it – love, loss and self-discovery, with a soul-serving soundtrack.

Perhaps a little predictable in its storyline, Soul Boy is nonetheless a spirited tale that provides a glimpse of the music scene that conquered the minds and bodies of northern youth throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Beyond a genre of music, Northern Soul became a lifestyle choice, a scene fully accessorised with its own style and rhythm – an escape from the bleak reality of a world intoxicated with the air of industrial life. Beneath towering factories and grey skies, the energy and enthusiasm for Northern Soul lead to international recognition. By 1978 the famous Wigan Casino was labelled ‘best disco in the world’ by Billboard magazine.

The cast features an assemblage of award-winning newcomers, accompanied by the oldies such as comedian Pat Shortt, and Fun Lovin’ Criminal Huey Morgan, who cameos as a music-store-owning hippy. One may expect this kind of audience-encompassing combination to work harmoniously, appealing to nostalgic fiftysomethings, while hitting the nail on the head for younger audiences, yet it all feels just a little off-key. It’s a genre almost unheard of by most twentysomethings today, let alone those in their 50s who grew up in the south of England. Is this a film for the soul-peddling, swinging steppers of 1970s glory, or a tale to entertain the scene-stealing musical youth of today?

Whatever the answer, Soul Boy makes a worthy addition to a rising portfolio of new British cinema. Humorous yet sensitive, with a balanced wave of energetic fervour and introspective stillness, this is definitely a film for music lovers, those who love to dance and those who believe in the uplifting and reparative power of music.

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