Russ Winstanley, legendary Wigan Casino DJ, chats with Kevin Cooper about the Northern Soul scene, discovering one of the world’s rarest records Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), his memories of Selecta Disc and his forthcoming appearance with Geno Washington at the We Got Soul Pop Up Party at The Riverbank Nottingham.

Russ Winstanley is a UK DJ who is best known for his championing of Northern Soul music. In 1973 he founded the famous Wigan Casino All-Nighters at which he was the original DJ. Over 4 million people passed through the venue until it closed in December 1981.

Since then Russ has still been very active, both on the Northern Soul circuit and on radio. He has hosted his own show on BBC GMR and XFM in Manchester, but is now hosting a regular Northern Soul show on Sunshine Radio.

In 1997, he compiled Telstar Records Northern Soul album, Soul Survivors, which has become the biggest selling Northern Soul compilation ever, grossing over £2million. In 1998, his book Soul Survivors – The Wigan Casino Story joined the best sellers list.

Taking time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, this is what he had to say.


Russ how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m fine thank you.

I have to ask, how is life treating you?

It is absolutely fabulous Kevin, thanks for asking. The resurgence of interest in the Northern Soul scene is just absolutely stunning. I started off by running Wigan Casino back in 1973 and then we finished in 1981. After that I had some time off because it all went quiet, and then in the late 90’s I put the Telstar album Soul Survivors together; the biggest selling Northern Soul compilation ever, which grossed over £2m. I also wrote the book, Soul Survivors – The Wigan Casino Story which seemed to kick-start everything again for me.

And do you think that the scene is as strong as it was back in the day?

Absolutely Kevin. I think that the Northern Soul scene is keeping a lot of the clubs alive these days, especially the social clubs that have big dancefloors. There are just so many events being held which is great. People can go along; everyone is really friendly and they are all there to have a great time.

I hear that the scene is taking you further afield these days?

(Laughter) that’s right Kevin, last year I did two gigs in Dubai, and one in Cyprus. I even got to tour with Madness, Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller (laughter). It is absolutely staggering; it’s brilliant. I am now doing gigs three days a week Kevin, and it is just amazing the places that I get asked to play at. It’s just tremendous.

I have to ask, are there any thoughts on slowing down?

None whatsoever. There is no point. When people retire they usually try to do something which they enjoy doing. So as I am doing something which I enjoy doing then what’s the point (laughter). I am looking at working with Warner Hotels next year and am thinking of putting on some weekenders there, which will be excellent.

So, in your opinion, why is Northern Soul still so popular?

I think that it is because of the quality of the music, and being able to tell a wonderful story in two and a half minutes. Plus when people hear the music, they either want to get up and dance or hear the record again. The good thing is that there are a lot of youngsters getting involved in the scene which is really exactly what you need. The other thing is, when I was on the radio in Manchester we used to get a lot of the students at Manchester University tuning into the show, looking for something different. The youngsters all seem to enjoy the dancing, and they also like the fact that it is still an underground scene today.

Are you looking forward to the We Got Soul event at The Riverbank here in Nottingham with Geno Washington?

Yes I am Kevin; it should be a really good night and I am really looking forward to being back in Nottingham. I used to enjoy playing at The Nottingham Palais back in the good years (laughter). Also it will bring back memories of me shopping at Selecta Disc. John Bratton and Hector from Selecta (laughter) down there used to supply me with records for my own shop back in the day. I have a lot of great memories of Nottingham and I think that I will be doing a lot of looking back on that day. They were great times Kevin

Talking of Selecta Disc, where do you stand on the argument about bootlegs versus original recordings?

Well Selecta Disc obviously used to get a lot of stuff pressed up, but for me, I didn’t like too much of it because it just made the tracks easily available to people to buy. However, on the other side of the coin, if people hadn’t have been able to buy them, they would have got fed up and would have left the scene. We can debate the argument regarding bootlegs and pressings all day, but as I said if the people could not have got hold of the records they simply would have left the scene and moved on.

After being involved with the scene for over forty years now, I have to ask, does the music still excite you?

Most definitely Kevin. The best thing is that I was talking to a friend of mine who still works for Motown over in the States whilst I was putting together a four CD box set for Universal, and he casually said to me that he had five thousand unheard Motown tracks over there (laughter). So every so often they slowly drip-feed them out onto the market. A lot of the time Motown would record three or four different versions of a song, so there are still a lot of tracks that have never been spun.

I was over in the States when Universal took over Motown and it was quite depressing. Every supermarket that you went into had a big $2 bin which was full to bursting with Motown CD’s. At that time, nobody was prepared to promote them.

Flipping heck Kevin, that is really strange. I have to tell you that I went over to Detroit back in 1978 and I went to a place that was selling records called Eight Miles High. I got chatting to the owner of the shop who said that I really should have gone over before they built the new motorway, just before Motown moved out of Detroit to Los Angeles. He pointed to a stretch of the motorway and told me that there were over two million Motown records buried under the road. Apparently the company took a few of the things that they wanted and then simply gave up and dumped the rest under the motorway. I find it absolutely amazing.

So coming right up to date MP3 or vinyl for DJ’s?

That’s easy Kevin, seriously it’s got to be vinyl. The funny thing is people always say to me that they can tell the difference and that they know when a CD or MP3 is played. I have to agree that you can when they are played in a hall but certainly not when they are played on the radio.   I once said on the radio that I would play some CD/MP3 and some vinyl in the next ten tracks played and asked the listeners to tell me which were which. You know what, no one ever got them right (laughter). The whole history of the Northern Soul scene is based on vinyl so it has to be vinyl for me.

There is nothing better than seeing the back of a DJ’s car loaded up to the roof with thousands of 7” singles. That’s what it is all about.

You are absolutely right Kevin, it is part of our history. The scene started with vinyl; that is the history of Northern Soul and it is great. However I have to say that there are places where I go and they only play CD’s simply because they don’t have the vinyl. The places are busy and people seem to enjoy it, but for me, it is all down to vinyl. The scene has changed so much; people can now download tracks and virtually get everything that they want but for me it has and always will be vinyl.

Tell me a little about your event that you stage yearly at Butlins in Skegness. How is that being accepted?

That’s right Kevin. It is absolutely brilliant and sells out months before the actual event. I have been putting on the world’s biggest event for the past two years at Butlins in Skegness and we have everyone on there from the likes of Martha Reeves to Dean Parrish and this year we have got The Contours and The Velvelettes. The audiences are absolutely great. We get eight and a half thousand in there every year which is tremendous over three days. You do get the occasional artist who you can only describe as being, in the nicest possible way, as mad as a box of frogs, and good old Geno (Washington) is one of them (hysterical laughter).

And just how does the weekend pan-out over the three days?

We have six major acts performing in five venues, together with thirty DJ’s. The event runs from mid-day to 6am for the three days. You just never sleep. It is absolutely superb.

If you pardon the pun, I hear that records have been broken?

(Laughter) oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, (laughter). That’s right Kevin we held the second event last year and we broke all records for any music weekend held by Butlins selling eight and a half thousand tickets. It is on course to sell-out again this year which is absolutely incredible.

What has been the highlight of your career?

That would probably be starting Wigan Casino. I did everything on the first night; carrying the equipment in, getting everything ready, and then hoping that it would last from September 1973 until Christmas (laughter). And incredibly here we are some 42 years later still talking about it.

Taking monetary value out of the equation, which record ‘find’ would you say has given you the most pleasure?

That’s difficult Kevin as there are three really for different reasons. Firstly, I would have to say that Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) by Frank Wilson for a very big reason, in the fact that we then found out that there were only two copies in the world. That was also great because the track was accepted as soon as I played it. Secondly, the one that was very difficult to break and probably made you think more of it was Tobi Legend’s Time Will Pass You By, because, weirdly at the time, all of the other tracks around were faster and Time Will Pass You By didn’t have that bump, bump, bump beat to it and it took me ages to break it. So the first year I finished the all-nighters with I’m On My Way by Dean Parrish, and then the second year I put Time Will Pass You By behind it, in order to give it a little impetus so that people would pick up on it and that worked really well.

Then thirdly it would have to be I Go To Pieces by Gerri Granger; another track with brilliant words. It is really funny that the tracks that were harder to break were the ones that meant so much because I had to put so much work into breaking them Kevin. I have to say that in my opinion, the words to both Time Will Pass You By and I Go To Pieces are absolutely stunning; absolutely brilliant.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the worst record on the scene?

I personally didn’t like a lot of the funkier things. In fact I banned a few tracks such as The Ladies Choice by Boby Franklin, anything by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and then when The Blackpool Mecca started playing Copacabana I almost gave up (laughter). However, the Mecca closed a couple of months after that, and I wonder why (laughter). But probably the worst track, in my opinion, was My Heart’s Symphony by Gary Lewis & The Playboys; it must rank up there Kevin.

Russ, I have a confession to make. I really loved the instrumental to My Heart’s Symphony (laughter).

You have to accept Kevin that it was very popish wasn’t it. I have great difficulty explaining to people just how a Hawaiian guitar was so popular on a Northern Soul record (laughter).

Recently the site where the original Wigan Casino once stood has been afforded its own blue plaque. How did that make you feel?

It was fabulous Kevin, absolutely brilliant; to have that in your history. Over four million people passed through the doors and now to have more and more people getting into the music and enjoying it, it’s fantastic Kevin, it really is.

And of course back in 1978 America’s Billboard Magazine voted Wigan Casino the World’s Best Disco and you the number 1 Soul DJ. That is some recognition.

It really was a wonderful time Kevin. They were brilliant times which will never be beaten (laughter). It was really wonderful to be considered in that way. When I look back and think of all the records that I discovered it was really a fantastic time. Another one that springs to mind is You Didn’t Say A Word by Yvonne Baker which no one would accept until I kept telling them that it was the track that sounded like the James Bond theme (laughter). It really was a hard track to break. It feels really good to leave a legacy behind.

Are you still enjoying working on Sunshine Radio?

Very much so because I can play a broader spectrum of music. You don’t have to have people up and dancing. At the moment I have been playing quite a few of the unreleased Motown tracks. I just love the freedom that Sunshine Radio gives me.

Do you think that the Northern Soul scene is given the respect which it rightly deserves or do you think that it is still sniggered upon by some quarters?

I don’t think that it is sniggered upon Kevin, but the problem is that most of the media is still London based; they simply still don’t understand it (laughter). Probably the worst thing is that it is called Northern Soul so the media still see it as being a Northern thing. I believe that there should be a National Northern Soul show. It is still one of the most popular genres of music that there is, and you are killing yourself trying to get things played on the radio. I think that the main problem is that the media simply do not understand Northern Soul.

What about the recent films. Do they help the cause or do they hold it back?

Well they would probably help if they were any good. If you have seen the latest one Kevin, Northern Soul, why the hell did they concentrate on the drugs side of things? Speaking level headedly to you today, we spent the first year fighting to get the place cleaned up otherwise we wouldn’t have had Wigan Casino. Both The Torch (Stoke-on-Trent) and The Twisted Wheel (Manchester) were closed down because of drugs, so we fought like mad to keep The Casino open and at first it wasn’t too good. We took the step of inviting the police into the Casino who then identified the culprits to us and so we got rid of the bloody idiots. So why on earth did the film have to capitalise on the drugs side of things.

You tell me Kevin, have you ever heard a DJ effing and blinding over a microphone?

I have to say Russ that no I haven’t.

Why on earth did they have something like that it the film? It’s beyond me. It’s just madness. I was so upset Kevin that I never slept the night after I saw the film. I think that it is just such a bad representation of the scene.

To be honest with you, the more people that I speak to who have seen the film all have the same reaction.

I have to say that the dancing was good but the music was all wrong. They used around ten tracks that weren’t even around in 1974/75 (laughter). I found that really bad. It is such a shame because they should be championing the scene instead of making it look like all it was, was some ill, abusive, horrible people who just lived for drugs and a bit of music. I never saw one prosecution for drugs for any one person at Wigan Casino out of four million people. So that’s not bad is it?

Something that I have to ask Russ, is it true that you still have the original decks that you used back in the day at Wigan Casino?

That is perfectly correct Kevin. They are one of my prized possessions. To me they bring back so many memories and so they are priceless.

Russ, on that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure.

Thanks very much indeed Kevin, I really appreciate it. I will see you in Nottingham at The Pop Up Party gig.