Fans of legendary Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling will be raising an extra special toast to him at this weekend’s British International Soul Festival. For he has just been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the Soul Industry and to the community in the North of England.
After his arrival on to the music scene in the early 70s, Richard become famous for spinning the decks at Wigan Casino, Va-Vas in Bolton, The Pendulum in Manchester and St George’s Hall in Blackburn. His expertise led him to being commissioned as the music consultant for Elaine Constantine’s BAFTA award-nominated 2014 film Northern Soul, in which he had a cameo role.
We caught up with Richard as he prepared for the 4th British International Soul Festival here at the Winter Gardens to find out what inspired him on his soulful road to success.
What first attracted you to Northern Soul Music?
Hearing records like “Color Him Father” by The Winstons on Radio Luxembourg in the late 60s.
How old where you and was it Northern Soul that led you into a music industry career, or the other way around?
I was 16-17 then. The music did lead me into the industry from 1973 when I worked both in the UK and in the USA looking for rare soul records for a Manchester based wholesaler.
Which artist/s first made the biggest impression on you?
The Originals, and Marvin Gaye.
Do you have an all time favourite today?
Alice Clark “You Hit Me”.
You’ve become a hugely influential figure – how does it feel to not only be instrumental in keeping the old Northern soul music alive but to also enable new artists to get heard?
I take great pride in my radio DJ work for the BBC and Solar Radio. I hope in these programmes to be able to share my memories and bring a new audience to the music I grew up with.
What are your top 10 tracks of all time?
Alice Clark as above
Marvin Gaye - Love Starved Heart
Yvonne Baker - You Didn’t Say a Word
Bobby Hutton - Lend a Hand
Linda Jones - I Just Can’t Live My Life
Chubby Checker - You Just Don’t Know
Nancy Wilson - End of Our love
Bobby Bland - Shoes
Patti & The Emblems - I’m Gonna Love You a Long Time
The Younghearts - A Little Togetherness
I read that you said Blackpool and Northern Soul go hand in hand. When did you first DJ in Blackpool and what made you love it so much?
It was a town I visited often in the early 70s as a collector to visit a wonderful shop called Starpic Studios. Also I would regularly visit the Highland Room sessions at the Blackpool Mecca to see DJs Tony Jebb and Les Cokell who influenced me greatly.
Are there any especially memorable moments from the old days in Blackpool?
Every time Judith and myself came here for weekends on Vance Road and then the after-parties at a flat owned by Janet.
The first BISF was at the Winter Gardens in 2016 – I read that it was on your bucket list to launch the festival. Why did you choose Blackpool over other Northern towns and what has made the Winter Gardens the ideal venue?
The Winter Gardens is the perfect venue for such a prestigious event which needs six-eight rooms in operation at the same time to allow all the styles of music to flourish. No other Northern town has this as well as the breakout areas that folks love so much, and of course the Opera House for films and interactive presentations. It should not be forgotten that I also organise four events in the equally splendid Blackpool Tower which is similarly unique in the whole of the North.
Are you a good Northern Soul dancer? Where did this style of dancing evolve from?
I’m a DJ because I’m a hopeless dancer!
The energetic style of dancing harks back to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, the Golden Torch in Burslem and the Catacombs in Wolverhampton.
Northern Soul has influenced other genres, for example with Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, and now with the Courteeners featuring Northern Soul dancers in their video for "Are You In Love With A Notion". And of course Pharrell Williams’ Happy. What is it about Northern Soul that’s so enduring?
I had no idea about the Courteeners! The music is uplifting, stays in the memory but most of all it’s great melodies sincerely performed and lyrically resonates with our own life experience. It’s also remained “trendy” in an underground kind of way for almost 50 years. My 2020 Northern Soul calendar reflects the history of the scene as does my recent book “Setting The Record Straight”.
The festival already has its cult following of experienced fans. What would you say to newcomers who might be considering trying it out?
Book early for next year! We have another great line up of American icons and DJs. It’s a three day event that has to be experienced. There really is nothing else quite like it in the world!