The first book to attempt to document the "Northern Soul" subculture that arose in Britain in the early '70s, McKenna's book is a slim and highly personal account of the glory days of the scene. I picked it up, 'cause I'd always heard the term Northern Soul, but was never really clear what it was all about. Well, as far as I can make out from this account, it's basically a little offshoot of the mod scene. Same obsession about obscure black American music, same obsession with clothes and style, and same big ingestion of drugs (especially speed). McKenna spends a good deal of time describing his own local scene around Blackpoolóincluding a lot on fashion, scooters, run-ins with police and motorcycle gangs, and the likeóbefore moving on to the main part of the book, which describes the all-nighters held at the Wigan Casino from the early '70s to 1982.
These all-nighters were essentially dances that ran from around midnight until 6am or so, and can very rightfully be considered the precursors to the rave scene that arose in the '80s. The music mostly came from DJs, although for a while, the Wigan Casino was considered the best live soul venue in the world and attracted big name American performers. The music bits are a bit boring if you're not into it yourself, and the details over the scene infighting about which club or DJ was playing more "authentic" music are laughable.
McKenna's discussion of the role of drugs displays an astounding capacity for doublethink. On the one hand, he keeps trying to say that it was all about the music and the dancing, and the drugs were a tiny part of it. But then he also talks about how almost everybody was necking them down, how the drugs were "out of control" and how obvious it was that eventually the heavy drug trafficking would lead to the demise of the club. In one incredible series of passages, he berates the tabloids for over-the-top articles on drug use at the clubs, and then almost immediately admits that the stories were more or less true. Not only that, but he spends considerable space mourning fellow scenesters who eventually died from heavy drug use! So, although he does do an excellent job of conveying the excitement and camaraderie of being part of an underground subculture, in the end it all seems rather a shallow and silly enterprise. It should be noted that McKenna's book had been criticized for overstating the amount of drugs there were on the scene.
The last twenty pages or so are a glance at the scene circa 1995, which he finds to be alive and kicking, as well as a few recollections from some old scenesters he runs into. The book ends with a list of 50 Northern Soul classics and suggestions for further reading, including Soulful Kinda Music and Soul Up North magazines. Since this volume, several other books on the Northern Soul scene have been published, including: Too Darn Soulful: The Story of Northern Soul, Casino, The In Crowd: The Story of the Northern and Rare Soul Scene, Northern Soul Top 500, and the novel Crackin' Up: A Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Northern Soul.