Junior Walker & the All Stars - Road Runner

By Ruth Fishman, South East London, UK -
It's 1972, I'm 14 years old and go to secondary school in Chorley, Lancashire . OFSTED is no more than a bitter twinkle in Chris Woodhead's eye, boys still get the cane, we do 'O' levels, our school uniform is gradually being adapted to look fashionable and we have a record club. It takes place in a classroom and we organise it ourselves, borrow a big wooden record player from the music teacher, push the desks and chairs against the walls and listen to music. We dance too because this is Lancashire in the early 70's and we are playing Tamla Motown records and learning about Northern Soul.

Some of the older kids are expert dancers, the lads are athletic and cool, the girls more contained but following an incredibly fast paced set of steps. You can hardly see their feet move. One girl who is my age dances very confidently. She talks about going to the soul clubs in Manchester, the Twisted Wheel, the Five Bar Gate and in almost hushed tones, the holy of holies, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca. No mention as yet of the place that would really come to be seen as the home of Northern Soul, Wigan Casino. That isn't going to happen for another year. We are in awe of her, this girl who has a much older boyfriend (shocking in retrospect) and whose school uniform is customised so she looks like a proper soul girl with a big flowing skirt, and platform shoes.

It is at the record club, leaning against a desk which probably has an inkwell full of blue ink in it, that I first hear Road Runner by Junior Walker. It is a revelation, a call from another world. I'm desperate to go in to the centre of the grey tiles on the classroom floor and dance with the fifth formers but I'm far too shy. My friend and I practice our moves in the girls toilets and we dare each other to dance. We sidle to the edge of the dance area and begin to slide along the floor. We are doing it!

More practice in other toilets, youth clubs and pub discos, Monday nights at Leyland Civic Hall and finally a year later and 10 miles down the road on the 113 bus, we make it to Wigan, dancing round our handbags, talking about rare records imported from America and wearing those 70's clothes that will never, ever make a comeback! One night, amazingly, Junior Walker is there playing with his All Stars. The floor is packed. It is a magical night.

I buy my own copy of Road Runner and take it to parties, insisting that it be played and played. I love the sexy sax breaks and the on-the-road sentiment.

The summer before university I live with my uncle and auntie in North London, work on a play scheme in Hackney and go out with my cousin's friend Bill. Bill is not from the north but he loves Northern Soul and he buys us tickets to see Junior Walker at Hammersmith Odeon. It is so different from Wigan! We have to dance in the aisles and we are the only ones who get up. Everyone else sits in their seats! We can't understand how they can stay still .Junior Walker appreciates our exuberance though.

He gives us a big wave.

A little background by Ruth
Northern Soul was a big cultural phenomenon of 1970's northern England. Its origins lay in the R and B clubs which had existed throughout the country during the 60's. They were Mod clubs, heavily associated with amphetamine use and many were closed down because of this. The ones that were left were mostly in the north and they developed the focus on rare soul singles imported from America. The dancing, always an important part of the Mod scene, became faster and incredibly energetic and the clothes were baggier and sporty for the boys, floaty and a little bit reminiscent of the 50's for the girls. The drugs were still there but All Nighters in Wigan weren't licensed so people drunk cartons of milk to help them power through the dancing.

The first All Nighter at Wigan Casino was in September 1973 and there were Friday evening sessions from 8-11 that under 18's could go to. The Casino was a shabby old fashioned ballroom with a huge dance floor and a balcony tier running round three sides. It had a stage area too. Being well under 18 with anxious parents, I went to the Friday sessions which were less frenetic but still exciting. Everyone always danced, sliding, spinning, back flipping (boys mainly, showing off!) sometimes clapping and singing along to the music. There was never the awful cattle market feel of some of the other discos at the time. People just went for the music and the dancing. It felt very companionable and egalitarian.

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