October 1999

Next in the long line of yesteryears DJ's making a comeback on today’s northern scene is John Vincent. Our man in Sheffield, Bill Brotherton went along and had a chat with him.

AT FIFTEEN he visited the Twisted Wheel all-nighter on Brazennose Street. At 16 he was jocking his first all-night at the Esquire club in Sheffield and by 17 he was playing R&B and Blues in local clubs. By 1970 the first Sunday night sessions at Samantha's, Sheffield began, followed by his own monthly all-night at the same venue which became a weekly event by 1974. Today the man who broke monster sounds like Lou Pride “I’m com'un home in the morn'un”, Willie Mitchell’s “The Champion” and the Pointer Sisters “Send him Back” to name just a few says he is poised to make a comeback. Former Wigan Casino jock and Northern Soul heavyweight John Vincent told Sheffield reporter Bill Brotherton “I will DJ Northern Soul in 1999.’

"Many times I woke up in my car on a Monday morning and had to drive to find a signpost just to find out where I was"

Ask most people what ever happened to John Vincent and you usually get told ‘I don’t know mate perhaps he is fucking dead?’

Since 1984 and Vincent’s last excursion with northern soul at Morecambe all nighters little has been heard and even less seen of him.

Totally drained by the non-stop life and his obsession with the music he had come to the end of the road. “I couldn’t cope with it anymore. I had loved it so much that I began to hate it, the whole thing had become a nightmare.”

But two years later while working in the high speed world of sales and marketing Vincent realised he still had a passion for it. He recalls: “I was doing 1,000 miles a week and no way was I going to listen to Radio One every day.

“Like so many others he went back to tapes of the music we alllove so much - most recorded in running order just as he would have jocked them.”

Since then hardly a day has passed by when Northern Soul has not figured on him in some way. “I have been going to gigs every week for the last 14 years only I have been the DJ, the public and everything else and the venue has been my car,” laughed Vincent as he recalled tapes used for his northern fix.

But now it is no longer enough. “I knew people were looking for me and messages got to me but hardly anyone knew where I was,” said Vincent.

John in full flight at the casino observed by Ian Levine Circa 1975

Yet all the time he was living in Sheffield - a mere ten minutes from the former Samanthas - an all-nighter venue he turned into a legend.
“I didn’t want to know. I didn’t really believe that people could be so interested. But looking back I suppose I worked on the scene when it was at its greatest. Every jock had a following and obviously some of mine are still alive,” he joked.

Motivated by this interest and spurred on by seeing names he was once synonymous with Searling, Soul Sam, Ginger and Roberts the temptation has proved too much and Vincent is ready to spin again.

His weekends used to begin with the Northern Soul Roadshow on Friday night taking him anywhere in Lincs, Lancs or Yorks followed by Samanthas all-nighter at 12am.

Saturday was spent chasing more sounds followed by Saturday evening back on the NS Road Show and then to Wigan Casino by 12am. Sunday morning was a trip to friends, on to an All-dayer somewhere like Burnley, Wakefield or Nottingham and finishing up on Sunday night in Doncaster, Goole or even Carlisle.

“I never went to bed from getting up on Thursday morning until finally crashing out sometime Monday afternoon often spending a whole 24 hours in bed.

“Many times I woke up in my car on a Monday morning and had to drive to find a signpost just to find out where I was,” recalled Vincent who at that time did nothing other than DJ on the scene.

But it was at Wigan Casino that Vincent peaked turning a string of records into northern legends most still cherished today.

He lays claim to making big hitters like Jeanette Harper, the Del Larks, Laine Hill, the Yum Yums, Carole WaIler, Lorraine Silver amongst others into the monsters which packed out floors throughout the mid seventies.

“I can recall on several occasions playing back to back, part one and part two of the Del Larks. It was typical of the sort of think I used to get up to in those days and I picked up both copies for £7 each,” said Vincent.

How did he break into the Casino? “I was just hanging around one night when Russ asked if I wanted to do a spot. The first record I ever played was Sons of Moses “Soul Symphony” immediately breaking all the rules because it had recently been pressed.

Vincent still prides himself on being able to play centrefield both Casino and Mecca styles. He said: “I remember it being us and them but I just didn’t see it that way at all , to me it was just one hell of a big scene.

“I mixed everything together because it didn’t make any difference to me. I suppose what helped me was that first and foremost I was a professional DJ.

“I always went for atmosphere to try and create a great experience.

“By 1974 I was getting stuff of John Anderson at Soul Bowl. I remember he had a few copies of Lou Pride but none of the jocks got any - they went to minor DJs.

“Frank (Ian Dewhirst) and myself were doing a roadshow one night just outside Mablethorpe and this guy turns up with a copy and sells it to Frank, all the way home I badgered him to sell it to me and eventually he did.

Wigan early 1976

“I played it at Wigan and the first time it cleared the floor but reached epic proportions within the next six months.”

Another big hitter Vincent recalls affectionately include the Troy Keyes “If I Had My Way” - a sound rarely if ever heard today.

“I got a lot of satisfaction out of that one, a £2 record that became a massive tune,” said Vincent who says while Levine played some of the top sounds he discarded them too soon, so many were picked up and made popular at the more powerful Casino.

“By 1975 Wigan was riding on the crest of a wave. Richard Searling always jocked at 2am and I usually followed. There was always this huge block of enormous sounds between 2am and 5am, the biggest sounds in the country at the time. I think what made it so successful was there was a sharp contrast between Richard’s playlist and mine.

“I used to listen to his spot with admiration and then did my best to follow. I realised then it needed constant exposure to make a record go big. The majority of soul fans would only hear sounds once a week so a good monster lasted months. But it was a hard life - there were lots of critics but I made some biggies.

“One Saturday night I managed to jock Cleethorpes Pier AND Wigan Casino. I think that must be unique and a total one off and today I am still proud of it.”

In 1976 Vincent made what he now perceives as his worst mistake. Wigan hit a low that summer and he switched to play St Ives all-nighters.

Although St Ives was very popular he says it never quite tipped over the brink like the Casino and in hindsight he regrets making the switch.

Vincent said: “St Ives got close to Wigan with Soul Sam, Ginger and myself but never made the final jump. With hindsight I should have done both sharing my time between them rather than leaving Wigan completely.”

When St Ives shut in 1977 Vincent did lots of venues throughout the country but felt the scene was floundering a bit. Then in 1983 Morecambe Pier opened. Although good Vincent says it was never the place to break new sounds.

He said “I had a box of records I would have given my right arm for in 1975 but they would not dance to them and in the end it became frustrating.”

Then, one morning he left the all-nighter, put the box of sounds in the boot and drove off and quit the scene he loved so much for good. Or was it?

In recent years he has followed it with some interest although he never figured anybody had missed him. ‘But people relate records to times and places and in the end I suppose you are remembered in some small way.”

Just how times change has been shown by Vincent’s excursion on the Internet. “I was surfing the net one evening and put in the words Northern Soul Music. I was amazed, I registered on a site called “keeping The Faith” not expecting a lot I introduced myself and then wham dozens of E-MaiIs and people said such complimentary things I felt quite humbled by it all. After a couple of weeks I decided whether once or 20 times I will DJ in 1999.

“As far as sounds are concerned I'll just carry on where I left off with the classics, the forgotten sounds, the rarities, sixties and seventies, the same as it was before. It will be up front and in your face” said Vincent.

OK the scene is so familiar but its been a long time, so does he have any apprehensions.? “No,” says Vincent: “I was very lucky with Northern Soul. I went in with the right attitude I always used to say to myself music first, punters second, me last, keep your feet on the ground, an attitude that in the end must have shone through. I don’t think I will be surprised by what I find when I go back.

“As for the music there are so many obscurities which never got what they deserved - many which would be new to many on the scene today or not even remembered by those who were there at the time.

Anyone who thinks I no longer have any rare records better stand back because it will be 100 per cent dance tempo pure Northern Soul Originals. Vincent - a comeback - perhaps the first disc could aptly be Rubin’s “You’ve been away a little too long” John.

So there you have it, look out for John at a venue near you in 1999!