The title of this posting is also the title of a song. You may know the track. It’s a Northern Soul classic by Tobi Legend and it’s really appropriate for this piece as it’s all about all about grabbing the opportunity and not letting things slip by. (You can check it out for yourself here
). It’s appropriate because recently a unique opportunity came my way and seized upon it and I’m so glad that I did.
Yesterday I was able to bring together 2 of my joys in life, Northern Soul and Movies. I have always loved movies and I fell in love with Northern Soul in my late teens. A couple of years ago a film came out that promised to unite the two. That film was SoulBoy
. It’s a good Brit Flic but it got a lot of criticism from purists and, yes, it does have a few errors and a poor climax but overall it warms the heart and gives you a glimpse of the passion that surrounds this scene. Well, around the time of SoulBoy I became aware of the development of another cinema project, Northern Soul the Film
This is a project that has been long in the planning from the
writer and director Elaine Constantine
who believes that she can truly represent Northern Soul on the big screen with a meaning narrative. I have followed the development of the project through its website, FaceBook
page and through Twitter. One of the most stunning things about the film's development is that a group of young dancers have been schooled in Northern Soul over the last few years so that when filming began they would be perfect. Having seen them online and, yesterday, in the flesh I have to say that they were.
It was from Twitter that I saw the call for extras in the dance scenes. I filled in the form and was amazed to get an invite to go along to Blackburn’s King George’s Hall for the filming. I was unbelievably excited about the event, so much so that sleep evaded me like a kid going to Disneyland.
We had been asked to wear clothing to suit the era (1975) and although I owned nothing I found some passable gear online which wouldn’t make me look like a freak but would blend in OK. Arriving early I was asked to hang around an hour while they got the dancers from the agencies booked in. While I waited a queue formed outside and the soul bags (trousers) and vests were very much in evidence. I am always amazed at the old soulies who insist on sticking with the huge baggy trousers and vests or bowling shirts. I just don’t see why your choice in clothing should have stuck in the mid seventies, after all, the
music spans decades. They were there, all togged up but it has to be admitted that these styles, more than most, look better on amphetamine skinny kids than on 50 year olds with bald heads, paunches, fading tattoos and bad teeth.
Once inside we were ushered to the balcony to wait. It turned out that, as well as the core of wonderfully trained dancers, other agencies had supplied dancers too and it was amusing to watch as they were shown the most simple of soul steps. We watched from the balcony knowing our time would soon come. A scene was shot 6ft to my left of the main female characters watching the boys out on the floor. This added more excitement as I recognised the lead as Antonia Thomas
(Alisha from Misfits). We waited and watched. As the time ticked by I was absorbed by the set, by the instructions being given, by the information given with each take and the slight changes made before reshooting.
We were thanked for our patience on numerous occasions and although I heard grumbles they were minimal. We were advised that at 3.00pm, 4 hours after we were taken in, they were opening up the dance floor for us to have a dance session while the crew took lunch. There was little surprise when the time passed and we were invited to take up floor space in a wide shot of “Wigan Casino”. I realised I was mentally noting where I was in relation to the action so I might be able to locate myself when the film comes out. Here is the weird thing: we filmed the shot 3 times but we danced to imaginary music. They wanted to record the characters’ dialogue and you can’t do that with the music pumping so they played a track in to get things started and then it cut. We danced on and all that could be heard was the
rhythmic pad and slide of feet.
Once they completed that scene the cast and crew went for a well deserved break, a DJ came on and we hit the floor. Classics boomed out, the hall was sweltering and we give it everything. A couple of records into the set and I realised that some of the trained dancers were in amongst us oldies and they moved and sung like they had been going to nighters for years. The more I looked the more of the cast I saw. Antonia Thompson was just a few feet away dancing opposite me and later I turned to find James Lance
spinning effortlessly to my left. Sweat ran. Legs ached. We danced. It was magical.
After the break a track mounted camera on a crane was set up and the set prepared for the 3 main male characters to enter Wigan Casino for the first time. Watching this build up was fantastic. The first couple of times through they walked in to an empty space, dropped their bags as a song kicked in, continued walking to the centre of the floor and then danced with elegance and passion. When the music cut one of them was still singing along, showing how caught up in the moment these actors are. Young soul dancers were arranged around the area where the action would take place, then other young dancers around them, and lastly, us oldies were poured around the edges to fill up the floor The floor was packed, absolutely rammed. No room for big moves. It would be a case of doing your best without stepping on other people’s toes.
Crew members wandered through the crowd and began moving some of the older dancers further away. A group of black vested baldies grumbled as they were pushed back to the fringes. I resigned myself to the fact that this was a movie about young people so if I was asked to move I would. I was asked to move, but they moved me toward the action. I had calculated, based on the rehearsal, that the actors would be about 8 foot away from me at about a ten-o’clock position. Imagine my surprise when during the first take they came in at one-o’clock and were just 5 foot away. With each take they got closer. Between takes I shared jokes and concerns with a similar aged woman next to me as we waited to be moved out of shot. Crew members came through and shifted people. We were left alone.
Then we were told that a couple of tracks would be played and we should all enjoy ourselves while they took lots of footage for filling in during the dance scenes. The cast spread themselves across the floor and before I knew it Antonia Thompson was dancing right next to me. Between tracks my friend and I looked around. There were young dancers and us. Behind us there were older dancers but somehow we were allowed to stay put. No one said a thing. The next track played, action was called and we danced. This time the male actors and dancers were right there in front of us doing amazing acrobatics. The action was being filmed right in front of me. A ragged ring formed around them as they kicked, spun and dropped and I was part of that ring. It felt too good to be true but it was.
That was it for us. They had more scenes to shoot but we were done and we could have the dance floor back when they were through. What a fantastic day! Now I just have to wait and see. It will no doubt be a long time before the film is completed and released. I can’t wait to see it. I may be left on the cutting room floor, I may only be glimpsed in passing, I may appear clearly and look a complete pillock but whatever happen, when that film comes out I can say “I was there!”