26/365 – “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen (1984) – 365 Days of Music

The word “hometown” conjures up a lot of feelings for me.  I was born and raised in Wigan, a town less than 20 miles west of Manchester.  I lived there for the first 18 years of my life.  I then moved to Manchester for 3 years, where I studied for my degree, before returning home.  In 2011 I took the plunge and decided to fulfil my dream of living in London.  I have been in London ever since and have no immediate plans to leave.

This song concludes one of my favourite albums – and Bruce’s most successful – “Born in the U.S.A.”.  This was the record that rocketed Bruce to superstardom when it was released in June 1984.  The song is soft, slow, and quiet.  Its content, like much of BITUSA, reflects upon the hardships many American towns faced during the economic twist and turns of the Reagan years, particularly those of Bruce’s home state of New Jersey. The narrator details the history of his hometown, from his memories as a child collecting his Dad’s newspaper, to the racial tensions of the 60s, through to the current time, where “jobs are going, boys / and they ain’t coming back”.

My hometown of Wigan has a similar history.  Historically a working class town, Wigan has seen widespread regeneration in the last decade or so, but the memories of our industrial past are never forgotten.  Wigan was a major town for coal mining and cotton mills.  Industrial northern towns faced severe economic troubles during the Thatcher years and have also had their share of tensions brought about by immigration policies.  Despite that 3000 mile gap, “My Hometown” reminds me that some of the differences between Bruce’s experiences and those of my town aren’t so dissimilar.  Bruce is the blue collar hero.  His message in this song draws distinct parallels with the experiences of Wigan.  I feel both a sense of pride and sadness for this.  I am proud of my roots, but I’m also sad that my town is often a forgotten town on the map of Britain.  What happens in the halls of power in London affects what then transpires in my hometown.

Speaking of London, I was fortunate to hear Bruce play the BITUSA album in full at his Hard Rock Calling gig in June 2013.  Glorious summer weather, a great venue, and with excellent supporting acts, that was a day I won’t forget.  “My Hometown” was a particularly moving experience for me.  Bruce extended the final bars this song, using call-and-response to tell the crowd, “this is your hometown”, and I proudly sung it right back to him.  I have lived here in London for almost 3 years.  I will never be a born-and-bred Londoner, but home is where the heart is, and my heart is still here in the Big Smoke.  Yes, Bruce, this is my hometown now.  Well, one of two.  Thank you for reminding me.

11/365 – ‘Saturday Night’, The Underdog Project (2002) – 365 Days of Music

A bit of cheesy dance music for your ears.  This song reminds me of every Saturday night I’ve ever had down King Street in my hometown of Wigan, specifically the bending, sticky dancefloor of Surfer’s Paradise (formerly Walkabout).  There was a time I loved this song so much that I couldn’t listen to it until at least Thursday and listening to it on a Monday was a crime.  I miss those Saturday nights, but everything changes and the nights out I have now are never quite as good as I remember the ones of old.  And the hangovers are so much worse these days!

Northern Soul

I’m from Wigan.  Everyone knows this.  I bang on about it enough.  I’m from Wigan and proud of that fact, not just because home is where the heart is and all that, but because we have a lot to be proud of.  When I moved to London in June 2011, I vowed not to lose my roots.  I think, largely, I’ve succeeded in this.  People say my accent hasn’t noticeably changed, which is the best evidence that I have to prove my upbringing and hometown are still an important part of who I am.

Growing up in Wigan, specifically in my generation, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hadn’t heard of Wigan Casino.  Sadly, this will probably change in the next 20 years as the older generations pass on and the new generations are born further from the Casino’s final days in 1981.  But for people like me in their mid twenties, parents and grandparents alike have their stories of the nights spent in Wigan Casino, dusting the dance floor with talcum powder and showing off an array of moves to the thumping beats of soul music.  It was this dance floor where my Mum and Dad met.

And there begins my love affair with soul music.  It started with my parents and their nights in the Casino.  Though Northern Soul ignores a lot of the bigger Motown hits, it is Motown that I remember blasting from our car stereo when me and my brother were kids.  ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’ by the Four Tops, ‘Baby Love’ by the Supremes, ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations, the later hits of Lionel Richie and the Commodores… endless songs with timeless beats, vocals that break your heart, music made for the soul.  And when I hit my adolescent years, my love for soul music only grew.

By age 17, me and my friends were regularly hitting the clubs and bars down King Street, Wigan.  Underage of course, but everyone was doing it.  Every Friday night after college, I’d jump on the 113 bus at 7:10pm and head into town.  By 10:30pm, the hordes would be squeezed onto the dance floor of the Nirvana club (colloquially known as the Lux, where the original ‘Northern Lights’ night had taken place) for our weekly dose of indie, 60s rock, and glorious soul music.  I’m gutted I’ll never be able to relive what my parents’ generation had at the Casino, but being at “Lux” felt something like it I hope.

Since then, I haven’t looked back.  I get odd looks when people find out my obsession with Northern Soul music and soul music in all its forms.  It’s as if they expect me only to listen to my contemporaries.  But Motown, northern soul, Stax, Philly soul… these are ageless genres.  When you come from somewhere like Wigan, the culture envelopes you.  It’s inescapable.  We are proud of Wigan’s place in the history of soul music and I am blessed to have had parents willing to give their kids a history lesson in music.

I’m 25 now.  I still look at photos from those Friday nights and reminisce about that wonderful time in my life.  I know I’m sounding like it was 20 years ago, when really it was only 8-9 years back, but so much has changed since then and it feels longer.  I have rarely visited Nirvana/Lux in the last few years and whenever I have, it’s felt like something is missing and always will be.  The Northern Lights night itself has moved around from venue to venue, but it has never quite been able to recapture the vibe and the atmosphere of those nights.  But that’s an unavoidable fact of life.  You grow up, you move on, you take on more responsibilities and commitments and it’s something we all have to deal with.  I still haven’t found a 60s/soul night in London that comes close.  But the beauty of soul music, the way it makes me feel – that will always be around.  Music that good can never truly die.  And the minute I hear the intro to ‘Do I Love You’ by Frank Wilson, I’m 17 again, right back there on that sweaty, overcrowded dance floor in Wigan, with the best friends I’ll ever know, dancing until the wee hours of the morning, half-pint of cider black and a fag in hand.  If there is a heaven, I hope it looks a lot like that.