Welcome to the Twisted Wheel – Soul Links on Soulbot.uk. The links are one way of understanding the influence and unchanging importance of this sixties soul club on the foundation of Northern Soul.
The Blackpool Twisted Wheel? Yes, there was a Twisted Wheel club in Blackpool. I remember a group of mods on scooters parked outside who decided that the fashion of the day was to wear school caps. The sight of these guys in parkas and various coloured and striped caps was bizarre will stay with me for ever.
I always thought that Soul Clubs had to be cellar dives (best with condensation dripping down from the roof and walls as for instance the Wheel in Manchester). This one was upstairs over a block of shops, on Coronation Street with an ordinary cafe on the ground floor. I remember being stood on the pavement outside the club when someone from somewhere across the street threw a bottle of beer at me which just narrowly missed my head.
Never one to miss a business opportunity, Ivor Abadi, owner of the Manchester Twisted Wheel, organised a coach trip there on at least one weekend -Easter Sunday 1967. I was on that trip.
We queued up outside the Wheel on Whitworth Street and the coach arrived and we all piled on. I had a packed lunch that my mum had made me! I was given two green and clears by a friend which ended up inserted into the chocolate Swiss roll that was part of my picnic…the result of taking these led to a different adventure but that’s another story…
If I remember correctly the club was run by his father. I can only remember Edwin Starr being played upstairs on the dance floor and The Impressions being played in the coffee bar downstairs. It did not stay open long but good fun while it lasted.
The first time I went to the Blackpool Twisted Wheel on Coronation Street the DJ had so many requests for SWEET SOUL MUSIC by Arthur Conley (It had just been released in the UK on Red Atlantic) that I guess it was played on that mid afternoon session well over half a dozen times.
I went to the Blackpool Twisted Wheel on another couple of occasions on my scooter, accompanied by my old school pal Chris Bean – I wonder where he is now? We kipped the night in a bus shelter and the next day were ordered to leave the town of Blackpool by a stout sergeant who took exception to Chris riding pillion, facing in the opposite direction and reading a newspaper. Blackpool wasn’t ready for us and that’s saying something today!
According to the Jethro Tull Tour Schedule (1965-1969) the group appeared at the Blackpool Twisted Wheel club on 12th June, 1966.
However, much later, the Blackpool Mecca became a venue for later Northern Soul fans in the 1970s and so Blackpool fans had a local soul club – for a time.
The first night at the very first Twisted Wheel had the Manchester pop group The Karl Denver Trio performing Wimohwey.
The club would become famous as the place that started off the movement that became NORTHERN SOUL. By early 1964’with its new DJ Roger Eagle, it was all about the music. One track that was repeated often and reverberated out into the street outside of ‘our’ secret home, (secret from our parents that is, most of us not even sixteen!), was Willie Mitchell’s Secret Home: but this club wouldn’t remain a secret for long as it became one of the most famous dance clubs EVER!
In a northern town in a county far, far away (from London, the acknowledged birth place of the Mod movement), where it was said to be grim and unwelcoming, something stirred that still reverberates today. Soul music was worshipped long before it was bequeathed its ‘Northern’ title.
The guy who was really responsible for it all was Roger Eagle, the Twisted wheel D J and fanatic supporter of all types of black American music. Although it was the Abadi brothers Ivor and Jack who owned the club, it was Roger who booked the acts through an agency and played the often imported 45s – many of which could now command a small ransom.
The Twisted Wheel’s first incarnation was as a ‘Beatnik’ joint – the Left Wing Coffee Bar. When it re-opened as the Twisted Wheel in September 1963 it still attracted lots of Beats or Dossers. They dressed in dark Duffle coats or ex-army combat jackets with an obligatory university scarf and frayed cut off bell bottom jeans and a rolled up sleeping bag for the All-Nighter.
Bell bottoms became a fad at the club for quite some time as early Mods also adopted them, without the frayed ends. The chat up line used by anyone in this non-conventional uniform was usually “I’m on the road”. Presumably these mainly middle class weekend dropouts knew their Jack Kerouac from their Alan Ginsburg.
Allnighters on Saturdays were rapidly introduced. This suited many of the ‘Dossers’ as they slept at the sides of the many rooms in the Wheel, heads resting on duffle bags, some in sleeping bags with no general use of amphetamines at this stage in its evolution. Sunday mornings the Club organised hiking trips by coach from the Wheel to local beauty spots such as Whaley Bridge – shades of the socialist element of the ramblers movement!
It shouldn’t be assumed that Allnighters were all-encompassing. Many Mods didn’t enjoy the effort of organising a ‘lost weekend’, preferring instead to go nightly – sometimes three or four times a week.
Twisted Wheel Membership
The Twisted Wheel membership was eventually quite considerable – you even had to wait 24 hours to join and it cost ten shillings. The club did not serve alcohol, just Fanta Orange, coke and coffee. The first time at the club I had to be signed in as a guest. To become a member you had to fill out a form and pay your ten shillings, then you got your ‘Red Card’ in the post.
By 1964 the card had become a round one with a twisted cartwheel printed on the front and your details on the back. Each year the colour on the card was changed. How I wish I still had the one I got Sonny Boy Williamson to sign, just a few months before he died! His obituary was in Roger Eagle’s RnB Scene under the strap line: He Died With His Boots On.
The music evolved, moving from its roots in folk and jazz and a smattering of pop, to blues and RnB and sixties groups playing cover versions of American blues and RnB tracks. Roger Eagle’s instincts for American RnB were allowed to flourish and guided the club’s playlist direction. It was Roger who introduced a whole generation to Jimmy Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, and many more – the first UK RnB boom.
Later Roger introduced Soul records as RnB and Blues gradually diminished in popularity in the US. Ska and Blue beat also began to make an appearance, with some Surf 45’s too.
Style in the shape of Modernism: The Mods evolved at the Wheel to morph into Soul Mods, distinct from the same movement begun by their London ‘cousins’.
The Club was still a coffee bar during the day and a ‘beat club’ at night. Many office staff used to spend their lunchtimes dining on mushrooms on toast and Welsh rarebit with hot chocolate drinks while listening to the best US music in the country.
One legend who was due to appear but never made it was Cyril Davis. His signature tune was a harmonica instrumental called `Country Line Special’ which was attempted to be copied by many of the young boys who had bought their Echo Vamper, Marine Band and Hohner harmonicas in the futile hope that the tune would just sort of appear – it rarely did. He was due to appear in January 64′ . I already had his EP and we managed to get tickets but Cyril died before he got to the Wheel as a result his – Country Line Special – became even more popular.
In those early days a mixture of white UK live artists with recordings by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Motown, Surf and Dragster, even pop chart and folk tiles formed much of the music played. The place itself was in a cellar, painted black, walls and ceilings usually dripping with condensation. Coke and cappuccinos were served upstairs in the coffee bar with its Cona machine, chrome steel basket chairs and coffee in thick glass cups, with the jukebox playing lots of great sounds. Cool, eclectic, and elitist!
Alexis Korner became the resident solo artist during the week and could be seen for 2/6 (12 1/2 pence).
By mid 1964 the influence of Soul became dominant with the rise of Motown and Stax and Atlantic records others prominent were the Sue label and of course the soul releases on EMI’s Stateside. The sounds of Booker T And The MG’s: GREEN ONIONS merged with: STONED by the Rolling Stones.
The Mod scene was here – The Twisted Wheel became its epicentre in Manchester. Fashion tended to change almost weekly – Desert Boots, see-through plastic macs, airline bags, cycling tops and hundreds of other fashion changes rapidly replacing each other. Manchester Mods were not far behind the London Mod scene, covered in the TV Show Ready Steady Go and occasionally Londoners would come to the club for a weekend. The pop music played was influenced by blues and early Motown and Stax. The originals even at that time were very rare records – the radio never played Soul and hardly any record shops had heard of the artists although now and again the local record shop might accidentally end up with a copy of a sought after track.
Once I nearly got into a fight over a copy of Every Little Bit Hurts by Brenda Holloway in a shop more accustomed to selling Bing Crosby and Matt Munro. “Green Onions” – you want the green grocers mate!” Getting excited by black musicians was seen as not quite the thing in those days. But that sort of attitude simply encouraged us to seek out 45’s by black American artists.
The mainstream soul standard classics of today were at their time of release often quite rare and difficult to find and soon deleted. This eventually led to the situation at the end of the 1960’s when collectors sought anything rare just for the sake of it, recordings with a rarity factor being hyped up beyond their merit and often would not have made the grade at the Wheel in its heyday (1964 to 1968).
Twisted Wheel Moves to another location – Whitworth Street Manchester
When the Brazennose St,. Club closed in 1965 with John Mayall as the last live band, everyone thought that was the end of a brilliant era. It was scheduled to reopen on the other side of town in Whitworth Street opposite the Fire Brigade headquarters but no one believed it could ever be the same.
In the event it was a different club – better if you were into soul and recreational amphetamine use – worse if you still craved RnB and Blues. It was ironic that the ‘New’ Wheel was so close to the fire brigade headquarters as the city council had used fire regulations in an attempt to close down the ‘Old’ Wheel’. They wanted it shut down because of drug user rumours – amphetamines had just begun to be used as a method of staying alert at All-nighters – rather in the manner of fighter pilots using Benzedrine during World War Two.
Today, close to the location of the Brazennose Street Wheel stands the statue of Abraham Lincoln standing almost in front of the Pub that most of the acts frequented – the freehouse: The Rising Sun. And, to the eternal shame of Manchester Council, there is no plaque to mark the spot – either here or on Whitworth Street. Future generations will no doubt wonder how this could possibly happen.
The evolution of soul culture that today has massive following (Northern Soul) began here starting at the ‘Old Wheel’ in Brazennose Street and moving more and more into total Soul sounds at the ‘New’ Wheel in Whitworth Street. I remember that at the end of the last session of 45’s in Brazennose Street Roger played Jimmy Smith’s Walk On The Wild Side.
The first live group at Whitworth Street was Spencer Davis and Gimme Some Loving was deeply associated with Twisted Wheel Allnighters.
Soul music predominated, but with a smattering of the old stuff: blues like Jimmy Reed’s Shame Shame Shame and Scratch My Back by Slim Harpo and a few others from the past scene made it through to the new era, but some like I’m A Lover Not a Fighter by Lazy Lester: even though – it was “built for speed”…
The Twisted Wheel and Drugs
It is true to say that many dancers fuelled their all night sessions with amphetamines. You must remember that these were legally prescribed at the time for anything from depression or a pick me up (mother’s little Helper) to a slimming aid and were often available from the home medicine chest (I kid you not). Some of the pills were straight amphetamines which had been used regularly during the Second World War to help energy levels of troops in combat (on all sides). In the sixties they would be sometimes combined with other drugs such as sedatives to prevent too much of a ‘come down’. When drug companies today are hauled through the courts for compensation due to the side effects and addiction properties of some of their products, they had free reign in the sixties to experiment as and when they wanted and with the full backing of the doctors at the time who prescribed them as if they were sweets.
Live soul acts like the Drifters Ike and Tina Turner, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Billy Stewart, Alvin Cash and the Registers (the Crawlers had to be replaced as a backing group due to Musicians’ Union rules) replaced the previously popular Blues artists.
‘I’m Mike from Widnes’
Everyone introduced themselves by their Christian name followed by the town they had come from. A sort of very friendly togetherness: these days this is seen as well known effect of amphetamine use.
It was the music and the atmosphere that was THE core reason for going to the Wheel All-nighters. For some it was the Mod based ‘In Crowd’ scene and their amphetamine based dance culture. The DJs hardly ever spoke but knew what to play. The owners of the club watched it all in a detached, raised eyebrows, ‘what the heck, let’s not interfere’ kind of attitude. There was no alcohol on sale and as a result it was not considered a true ‘night club’, just viewed as a place for a bunch of kids dancing. The underworld club owners never moved in on the Wheel as they did at other Manchester clubs such Mr Smiths.
The Twisted Wheel – Allnighter come down
Many soul revellers would cool off on the fire escape during All-nighters and this is recounted in the book: The Manchester Wheelers. At the end of the All – Nighter the rear doors would be opened to let everyone out and they oozed off like zombies to get a coffee at the train stations or even from the Salvation Army. The major topic of conversation was, which pill had you taken, how many and how bad would be the come down. Remember, these were all prescription drugs, usually the result of raiding the parent’s medicine box although later the result of someone’s raid on a chemist shop which became quite frequent at the time. The security measures were, to say the least, primitive.
One or two more enterprising Wheel goers worked in chemist shops themselves or even in the factory where the pills were made.
All the great soul releases were played at the club and its peak coincided with the peak of soul music releases from 1964 to 68′. By 1969 the original clubbers had moved on – exhausted after years of attending Allnighters.
Quite often parents of missing kids and police would be in the club, searching for drugs asking about missing persons. Now and again an ambulance would ferry collapsed revellers to Ancoats Hospital for a stomach pump and there was the infrequent fatality. Roger the DJ sort of looked down on us as “pillheads”. Newspaper articles about drug abuse continued and the council wanted the club closed. However, before actually closing for the last time in the early 70’s it had a renaissance, with major new imports being found in the USA and played by a new generation of DJ’s including Ian Levine. The birth of Northern Soul was often viewed with amusement by the original pioneers who knew the music simply as ‘Soul’.
Drugs were a blemish on the Soul scene’s ancestry, a fact not to be hidden although seemingly minor compared to the ‘Madchester’ revels that occurred later way down further on the same street – at the Hacienda. Manchester has had a history of excess or exuberance when it comes to alcohol and drugs, in the 19th century it was alcohol, in the sixties amphetamines and in the 80’s it was ecstasy. It will probably continue and there will always be casualties.
The Twisted Wheel Music and Artists
The music was the real core of the Manchester Soul Scene and drugs just a dead end which most participants were able to outgrow. Manchester should be proud of its Soul legacy as this story has become a larger worldwide phenomena.
The Soul baton was carried to places like The Torch, Wigan Casino and kept going, refusing to die: well how could it with such a great catalogue of music. The story comes full circle and the Twisted Wheel in Whitworth Street reopened in 2003. Long Live Soul. But no the council demolished the club in 2014 for a German Hotel, same as they did with the historic Free Trade Hall – you can’t trust politicians with the things that the people love!
God bless all those soul artists and especially Edwin Starr who helped make the Wheel what it is – the Northern Mecca of Soul Music.
Also for further background and with listings about the All-nighters at the’Wheel’ CENtral 1179 – which was the first Twisted Wheel’s telephone number. Never mind, it’s still a great read and the best attempt at capturing the Wheel.
Screaming Jay Hawkins appears on the cover. Unfortunately, there are many inaccuracies as well as lots of great stuff. It tends to pander to Dave Godin rather a lot, as some sort of GURU, when in fact he arrived about five years after the peak original scene.
The Manchester Wheelers is another book about The Twisted Wheel – by an authentic Wheel-goer from the beginning to the end of the club’s life. Although a novel, it is a genuine and successful attempt to re-create the atmosphere of the golden age of Soul in the North. If you were there, read it – you might even be in it. If you weren’t there, read it anyway and experience the buzz of those days. Most of the things remembered or listed, or memories from others related in the book were lived through by us. Click the image to buy the book.
An introduction to the music played at The Twisted Wheel:
THE TWISTED WHEEL WHITWORTH STREET TODAY
The site of the Whitworth Street Wheel is a new hotel: Hotel One
Here is an email we received from a ‘Wheeler’: Anna Guerrero.
Dear Mr. Phillips,
Thank you very much for your message and interest in Motel One.
We already heard about the Twisted Wheel club and its importance for the social history of Manchester.
However, the interior design of the hotel is already complete but we forwarded this information to our design department. Hopefully they will be able to integrate this theme into the lounge area of the hotel.
The design department will reach out to you in case they need any help.
Your Motel One Team
The Twisted Wheel Manchester – Soulbot UK credentials
The Twisted Wheel
You may have guessed from many of our comments within Soulbot that we went to the Twisted Wheel from its earliest days and visited again on the final last night. Not every week, of course, otherwise we would have burned out long ago instead of still being here to tell the tale.
Our knowledge of that Club and others in Manchester especially the Blue Note club (where we were DJ’s), formed our earliest impressions of Blues, R&B and Soul music. We owe a debt to Roger Eagle the main influential DJ at The ‘Wheel’ – THE BIRTH PLACE OF NORTHERN SOUL.