Casino Classics – Complete Collection Album review
Cherry Red Records have seen fit to extend their musical family to incorporate a new label that is devoted exclusively to the release of Northern and Rare Soul. The newly created Soul Time has launched their new venture with the release of Casino Classics – The Complete Collection. This 3CD box set comprises everything ever released by Wigan Casino founder Russ Winstanley and club manager Mike Walker on the Casino Classics label.
The box set comprises the 3 best selling Casino Classics albums in chronological order plus a number of bonus tracks, which include all the singles spread across 3 CDs. Included in this box set is a 32-page booklet with a foreword by Russ Winstanley. The liner notes are impressive and they help to make the music come alive, as they are detailed and concise and provide the listener with important background information on the artists and their recordings.
The Casino Classics label was launched in 1978 to coincide with the enormous success of the Wigan Casino club and to reissue popular Northern Soul gems to a devoted following. The story regarding England’s fascination with Afro American music is long and has been told and debated as some might argue to the point of exhaustion. However, the British public absolutely adored this up-tempo, brass driven, string-laden music with passionate vocals of heartache, love and loss, and the Northern Soul scene is still thriving well into the 21st century.
The Casino Classics label’s three-year existence saw the release of a string of 45rpms and 2 albums with the third album being released posthumously after the closure of the Wigan Casino in 1981. The first thing that will strike the listener especially those familiar with Northern Soul is the absolute lack of snobbery in terms of songs chosen for the albums. The set comprises a combination of Northern and Modern Soul with the latter much more prevalent on discs two and three. The compilations are a curious mix of obscure songs with big selling hits and far away misses.
With hindsight this open minded music policy is to be applauded as the Northern scene in more recent years has succumbed to churlish elitism, by puritanical DJs and collectors, who will sneer at those whose own tastes in music are not obscure and exclusive enough to be allowed into the clique. This must seem baffling to outsiders considering that without exception all of these artists wanted to be popular and wanted their music to be heard by as many people as possible. However, for many reasons including lack of commercial appeal these artists were ignored in the 1960s, but here in the U.K these records were devoured by music obsessed working class English with the apogee of Northern Soul popularity arguably reaching its peak in the mid 1970s.
The selections on this box set may not appeal to everyone but compilations play a vital role in introducing the uninitiated to new types of music. However, there is a playful nature to some of the selections on these albums, for example, the inclusion of a cover version of the Doris Troy Classis “I’ll do anything’’ by Lenny Gamble (AKA Tony Blackburn) is somewhat baffling considering that Doris Troy’s version is vastly superior. However, there is an amusing story behind the discovery of this record. Long-term soul fanatic, legendary DJ and head of A&R at Ace Records Ady Croasdell discovered this song not long after it’s 1969 release and subsequently cut an acetate, which he covered with a white label and sent to Wigan Casino DJ Keith Marshall, who then proceeded to play it to unsuspecting club goers.
The Ron Grainer Orchestra also appear on chapter one and the inclusion of a “a touch of velvet’’ & “Joe 90’’ seems rather odd with hindsight. Grainer was a composer of film and television scores and was arguably without equal in this department. His iconic theme tunes include Steptoe and Son, The Prisoner, Doctor Who and Tales of the Unexpected. However, a soul icon he is not but you have to admire Russ Winstanley for including these tracks, as it is unlikely that these tunes will grace many Northern Soul compilations these days. However, one has to question the inclusion of Mods 79 who recorded ‘’Green Onions’’ and ‘‘high on your love’’. For some the ‘Mod Revival’ that occurred on the back of The Jam’s success in 1979 spawned a barrage of sometimes turgid identikit groups that used corny band names and eschewed Mod imagery and are probably best forgotten in the main.
This compilation has several classics on it that are so well known that they hardly need any introduction here. However, Gloria Jones, “tainted love’’ (1965) (covered by Soft Cell), The Ramsey Lewis Trio, “Wade in the water’’ (1966) and the finger clicking soul of The Tams, “Hey girl don’t bother me’’ (1964) are simply great tunes and should not be ignored. It would be fair to say that very few Northern or Rare Soul DJs would even touch these records now because of their mainstream popularity, and let it be said that casual listeners should never let a soul elitist spoil your listening pleasure.
Some other absolutely great songs grace this compilation, including a pair of gems recorded by London born Lorraine Silver in 1965. “Lost summer love’’ and ‘‘I know that you’ll be there’’ were recorded by Silver at the tender age of 13 and her assured and mature delivery makes these songs even more remarkable. Reparata and the Delrons were an American girl group in the 1960s, and although they did not quite attain the commercial success of The Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, they did record a number of great singles including “panic’’ in 1968. Even more impressive is that this particular song was a B-side and it is no surprise that this song with its insistent shuffling beat was so popular on the Northern Soul scene in the 1970s. More recently the song was recorded by those jingle jangle sunshine pop maestros The Primitives for their 2012 album “Echoes and Rhymes’’.
Jackie Trent has a pair of songs on this compilation, including “Send her away” and a stupendous cover of The Ronettes classic “You Baby’’, which were both recorded in 1966. Jackie Trent died in March of this year and along with her husband Tony Hatch wrote songs for Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark in the 1960s. Other highlights include the Just Brothers, “Sliced Tomatoes’’ (1965), (which was heavily sampled by Fat Boy Slim for his 1998 hit single ‘“Rockafeller Skank’’), Jimmy Radcliffe’s evergreen classic “Long after tonight is all over” (1965) and The toys’ “A lover’s concerto’’ (1965).
Without being accused of favourtism a special mention should go to The Flirtations. They released a string of great singles for Deram in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They became stars on the Northern Soul scene in the U.K but success largely evaded them in their native U.S.A. It could be argued that they were not distinctive enough and were just another 1960s girl group that had the talent but just not the right material to make them stand out. This observation may be slightly unjust because their best-known release ‘’nothing but a heartache’’ has been a classic on the Northern Soul scene for years. They also then recorded the Holland, Dozier, Holland penned “Little Darling (I need you)” in 1972, and sadly it never was to be the hit that it perhaps should have been. Luckily Russ Winstaley re-issued it in 1978 for avid Wigan Casino club goers and it is also included on this extensive compilation.
This box set will probably not appeal to rabid rare souls fans as everything on this compilation will already be in their collections or dismissed because they are now too popular for their exclusive tastes. However, this compilation is a great introduction for a relative beginner, and without sounding biased the only possible argument one can make against the song selections is that it is rather a little light on classic 1960s soul. Whether your preference is for Northern or Modern Soul or even both this box set will serve a newcomer well, and let the voyage of discovery into rare soul begin in earnest.