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The Twisted Wheel: A Brief History of Northern Soul’s Birthplace

Twisted Wheel Club

The Twisted Wheel nightclub was established by three brothers, Jack, Phillip, and Ivor Abadi, as a blues and soul live music coffee bar and dance club. The club’s first location was on Brazennose Street, situated between Deansgate and Albert Square. It was known as a mod venue for rhythm and blues music, with Roger Eagle as the DJ. On September 11, 1965, the last all-nighter was held at the Brazennose St. location with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, featuring Eric Clapton, as the headlining act. The club then relocated to 6 Whitworth Street on September 18, with The Spencer Davis Group, featuring Steve Winwood, as the headlining act. The Whitworth Street location had a soul-oriented playlist compiled and supervised by resident DJ Bob Dee, with slip-cueing techniques used to cue in vinyl records. The converted warehouse had a coffee snack bar on the ground floor and a series of rooms in the cellar, housing the stage, caged disc jockey area, and main dance room. Ivor Abadi managed the club without an alcohol license, serving only soft drinks and snacks. There was another Twisted Wheel nightclub in Blackpool under the same ownership.

Before the opening of the Twisted Wheel, most UK nightclubs played modern popular music, Soul, and R&B. The Twisted Wheel DJs and local entrepreneurs imported a large quantity of records directly from the United States, many of which were rare, some only released in one city or state. Each Saturday, from 11:00 pm through to Sunday 7:30 am, all-night sessions were held, with DJs playing new records generally not played elsewhere. However, by 1969, more mainstream songs were added to the early session playlist.

Soul artists performed live at the club each week at 2:00 am, with musicians such as Junior Walker, Edwin Starr, Oscar Toney Jr., Marv Johnson, Mary Wells, Ike and Tina Turner, Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, and Inez and Charlie Foxx squeezing onto the tiny stage. Soul fans from all over the United Kingdom traveled to the club for the all-nighters, most by train, coach, or bus. Singer Chris Rea commemorates the club in the song “Twisted Wheel” on his album Deltics.

The club was renowned for playing rare and uptempo soul music, leading to music journalist Dave Godin coining the term “Northern Soul” following his visit to the Twisted Wheel in 1970. The club closed down in early 1971 due to a bylaw preventing premises from staying open more than two hours into the following day. This closure allowed the Golden Torch to take the Northern Soul crown for the next few years until it too was shut down due to local council opposition. Although the Twisted Wheel’s legacy is now eclipsed by that of the nearby Wigan Casino, it remains an essential part of the Northern Soul subculture’s history.