Brazennose Street Twisted Wheel Club entrance
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 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 jacket with an obligatory university scarf and frayed cut off bell bottom jeans. 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.
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!
The music evolved, moving from its roots in folk and jazz 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 he introduced soul records as RnB and Blues gradually diminished in popularity in the US. Ska and Blue beat also began to make an appearance.
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 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 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.
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 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 19 68).
When the Club closed in 1965 with John Mayall as the last live band, everyone thought that was the end of an brilliant era. It was scheduled to reopen on the other side of town in Whitworth Street opposite the Fire Brigade headquarter 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 allnighters – 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 of The Rising Sun.
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. At the end of the last session of 45′s in Brazennose Street Roger played Jimmy Smith’s Walk On The Wild Side.
Whitworth Street Manchester, home of the New Twisted Wheel
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.
Amphetamines drove the dance floor. 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.
Hiya’ - I’m Dave from Warrington.
I’m Sheila from Burnley, Pete from Stockport a hand outstretched to shake, I’m Diane from Liverpool and this is Andy from Winsford.
Everyone introduced themselves by the Christian name followed by the town they had come from. These days this is seen a well known effect of amphetamine use.
It was the music and the atmosphere that was core reason for going to the Wheel Allnighters. For some it was the Mod based ‘In Crowd’ scene and their amphetamine based dance culture. The DJs hardly spoke and were really there to fuel the dance floor. 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.
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 occasional fatality. 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. 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. 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 ‘E’ at the Hacienda (also on Whitworth Street). It will probably continue and there will always be casualties. The music was the real core of the Manchester Soul Scene and drugs just a dead end which most participants quickly grew out of. Manchester should be proud of its Soul legacy as this story is has become a larger worldwide phenomena.
The Soul baton was carried to places like The Torch, Wigan Casino and kept going. The story comes full circle and the Twisted Wheel in Whitworth Street reopened in 2003. Long Live Soul and it looks like The Wheel may live alongside it as long as soul survives.
God bless all those soul artists and especially Edwin Starr who helped make the Wheel what it is – the Northern Mecca of Soul Music.
There is now a new book about The Wheel – by an authentic Wheel-goer from the beginning to the end. 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 read it anyway and experience the buzz.
Buy The Manchester Wheelers book