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WHEN THE CLAPPING WAS SPOT ON – MEMORIES OF WIGAN CASINO

by Tony Littler 

I started going to the Casino in September 1975 when I was about 17, not to the all nighters at first that came much later, at least 2 months on! There were 4 of us went on a regular basis, me, two of my brothers Mike and Larry, and a mate called Pricey (why does every one know someone called Pricey?).

 

I was a butcher’s lad back then working in a Saturday job and all the school holidays, so I was up early on a Saturday morning, must have been about 6.00 and at work in St Johns Market (Liverpool) for 7.00 in the morning. After a hard days work carrying several half sheep from the storage/ fridge area to the stall, serving all the lovely old dears their two chops and ½ lb of mince, I was ready to get home by 4.00 in the afternoon. It was cook my tea, a very nice piece of rump steak (perks of the job), chips and peas, listen to the footy results, pack my bag and then to bed.

 

After 4 or 5 hours sleep Pricey would come round, and we would all be ready to go out. At first we went on the train, but then Pricey finished his apprenticeship and was suddenly flush with cash, some of which went on a car.

 

Huyton to Wigan, all the time anticipating the night ahead. Had I packed the necessary stuff for a good night of dancing? You had to have a sports bag, Gola or Adidas. Badges were sown or stuck on showing which clubs and all nighter you’d been to, what Soul club you were a member of & the obligatory “Keep the Faith” badge. The badges showed people came from all over, Scots and Welsh, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Stoke and Paignton. I don’t remember any Londoners!

 

Me and the lads didn’t do the “uppers” or “downers”, “blue-ies” or “red and greys”, speed as its now called. We couldn’t afford it for one thing, and for some reason one of us would usually be searched on the way in. Our bags contained the all important “Casino Soul Club” membership card, a flask of strong black coffee, a bottle of Lucozade, butties, a tub of talcum powder, a towel and a change of shirt. And in my case, a pair of leather soled brogue shoes, for dancing only.

 

We would get to Wigan about 11.00 at night, park up and head for the action. First stop was the Empress Café. It was situated underneath the Casino, and had seen better days. I remember formica tables and a concrete floor, the air thick with smoke and  a hundred tape recorders bashing out very poor quality recordings of legendary soul sounds. Records being sold, swapped or just admired, chemical substances being touted, friends from far and wide being greeted.

 

The Rockers and Bikers night in the Casino was over and they were coming out, there was never any trouble but lots of business between the “soul suppliers” and the “needy greasers” if you get my drift. A quick tidy up by the club staff and at midnight the doors would be open for business.

 

There was a queue, there was always a queue to get in. Through the doors at street level, leaving the sounds from the Empress behind, and up the stairs to the pay desk. £1.50 to get in, money well spent. The heat and the atmosphere were building, and we hadn’t got into the dancehall yet. Entrance fee paid, up another flight of stairs and you could feel the air around you pulsating to the beat of a Detroit soul record. Through the doors at the top of the stairs and you were there, it was hot, it was loud, it was pure soul heaven.

 

First things first, get a table somewhere near the dance floor. The dance floor was a sprung wooden floor, it bounced as you moved across it, ballroom dancers loved it. Remember this was 1975, so the bar wasn’t open for booze, but Coca Cola and water were being sold by the gallon load. The fashion was T shirt, singlet vest or bowling shirt, for both lads and girls. Lads wore baggie trousers, and girls wore skirts that would fan out as they twisted and turned. Oh yes & Long leather overcoats.

 

Open the bag, and a sip of Lucozade. Change my shoes from one pair of leather soled brogues for my dancing leather soled brogues. These were highly polished, (my eldest brother Peter was in the RAF, he showed me how to get a good shine on the shoes. I got him to the Casino once, but to him it was like being on the planet Zog! Still at least I tried) and very comfy, just what you need for 8 hours of dancing. Remember the talcum powder I told you about before, that came out next and a sprinkling was dusted over the floor, this made it much easier to glide across the floor when dancing or “Shuffle” as it was called. Back drops, the splits, spinning on the spot like an ice dancer, back flicks and the all important hand clap were all part and parcel of the dancing. You didn’t clap when ever you felt like it, it was all timed, it went with certain records but not others, clap in the wrong place and you felt like a heel, clap in the right place with a couple of hundred others and it was like a thunder clap. You didn’t dance with someone else, you got up and danced to what you liked, how you liked, no pressure on your mate to dance with “her friend”. Brilliant.

 

Another couple of dances and then down to the area in front of the stage. This was where the best dancers congregated, more energetic than the gymnasts at the Olympics, precision timing through hours of practice, they made it look so easy. Some of them were on Top of the Pops dancing to Wigan’s Chosen Few but we won’t hold that against them, it was all about spreading the faith. The girls would spin and their skirts would fan out like a  ballet dancers tutu, lads just in and still wearing their long leathers would do the same and they would have a waist high tail projecting horizontally out behind them and moving in a perfect circle.

 

Upstairs to the balcony and meet a few friends, especially Doreen from Wigan! We’d have a Coke, look through the record boxes of the dealers, occasionally buy a “must have” sound, but could never afford the more rare records priced at a fiver and upwards, some of them costing hundreds of pounds, that was a lot of money back then.

 

At the corner of the balcony you could go into “Mr Ms”. On a Saturday night / Sunday morning this was a room off the Casino, the rest of the time it was a club in its own right. Here you could listen and dance to the oldies. There would be no new breaking sounds in here, just tried and tested classics from the Torch, the Twisted Wheel or VaVas, three legendary clubs from the 60s and early 70s. I used to wish I was older and could have gone to them, now I wish I was a lot younger!!

 

We’d arrange to meet midweek and then Doreen would go back to her crew, and I’d go to mine, record in hand and ready for some serious dancing. Pricey would have his tape deck out under the table and be recording this and that my brothers would be on the floor or chatting about an article in Blues and Soul magazine by Dave Godin (the font of all knowledge and the man who named it “Northern” soul). Something to eat, more coffee or Lucozade, a wipe down with the towel, a change of shirt and before you knew it “Long after to night is all over” by Jimmy Radcliffe was being played. You knew it was going home time soon, next up was “Time will pass you by” Toby Legend, the lights would come on and the final record at every all nighter was “I’m on my way” by Dean Parish. At some stage I owned all of them, all gone now but a tidy profit made on each of them!

 

Its 8.00 in the morning and depending on the time of year, you could walk out from a super heated pressure cooker to weather that could “freeze the balls off a brass monkey” to anything else you could imagine. It didn’t really matter because you would probably go back to the Empress Café to re-live the night, have a fry up and arrange to meet same place same time next week.

 

You could measure a really good night by the amount of times you heard people say “Clapping was spot on tonight.” Bank holidays had a different ending, it was down to Whitchurch in the West Midlands for an all dayer, but that’s another story.

 

 

           

 
   
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