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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Feature: The Twisted Wheel

The Twisted Wheel
by Sam Warri

It’s 1963. The Beatles are yet to go global, the colourful explosion that would become ‘The Swinging Sixties’ is on the horizon. A post-war Britain is enjoying a boom in the economy meaning that for the first time young people have disposable income. This means they can spend money on what they like, and what’s important to them; clothes, music, scooters, motorbikes, cars and going out and having fun. Mary Quant is about to have a light bulb moment and raise hemlines and eyebrows with the invention of the miniskirt. Vidal Sassoon is about to create the bob hair cut, and fashion boutiques like Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba were about to crop up in the capital. 
But before this happened, a club in Manchester was opening its doors for the first time, and was soon to become one of the most iconic clubs of the decade. 

The Twisted Wheel opened as a jazz and blues bar, originally on Brazennose Street near the Deansgate area and was the brainchild of the three Adabi brothers Jack, Philip and Ivor. The club soon expanded and moved to Whitworth Street in 1966, where the Twisted Wheel club nights are still held. Down a steep flight of stairs is the dark cellar club, split into different cave like rooms, a bar, and a small stage and DJ booth that overlooks the small dancefloor. There is little to no space to sit down, the lighting is minimal and the air is stagnant and heavy. This dingy place is said to be the place that gave birth to the huge phenomenon that is the northern soul scene. Legends nightclub as it is now known has been threatened with closure recently, after the building the club is beneath has been sold to Development Company Olympian homes, who have plans to tear down the building to build a new hotel. Dedicated soul fans from England and beyond have been devastated by the news that the birthplace of such an iconic music movement could be torn down to make way for yet another hotel in the city centre. 

Historically The Twisted Wheel changed the nocturnal habits of the local youngsters. At the weekends the ‘all nighters’ started at eleven at night going on till after seven in the morning, with young men and women dancing till their clothes were soaked in sweat. “It was a big part of the mod scene” life long fan Fred Dickie shouts over the thumping music and excited chatting at the clubs Sunday Session which takes place once a month. “We had to take holdalls to change our clothes, you’d be that sweaty from dancing all night, the shirt would freeze to your back if you went out in the cold afterwards, it was like having a shower.” Anyone you speak to often refers to the nights as being hot and sweaty, and there is always a hushed admittance that there was a helping hand when it came to dancing all night, a little thing called speed, or amphetamine, a drug heavily linked to the mod and soul scene. “It was just the done thing, everybody did it, everyone had eyes like saucers, it was just what we did to stay up all night.” Drinamyl or ‘Purple Hearts’ as they were called in the clubs, were also commonly used, newspaper articles at the time mentioned ‘young people staggering out of clubs at 5am with dilated pupils.’

I met original DJ Brian Walker who used to play records at the club, and he recalls the same thing. “People would break into chemists before they got there (The Twisted Wheel) if they couldn’t get any gear before. Then they would sell it on. The police soon got suspicious that there was a club full of kids going into a club opening at 11pm and walking out at 8am the following morning still perky and chatty, they often turned up unannounced, or uninvited as it were.” At the time nightclubs played regular soul and rhythm 'n' blues, music that could be heard in any club open at the time but the Adabis wanted to do things differently. They began importing soul records from America rather than buying them in the local record shops. This created a unique sound for the club, some of the songs that they played were even rare in America, and people turned up in their droves to experience what was happening. Situated right next to Piccadilly train station, the club was in a perfect location. As word got out about this cutting edge discotheque people started travelling from all over the country to get on the concrete dance floor.

Today is no exception, soul fans from every corner of the country make the pilgrimage to the original soul Mecca of the north, a title swiftly pinched by Wigan Casino in the 1970’s, a huge soul club which was opened in the light of the success and popularity of The Twisted Wheel. The brothers owned a second club in Blackpool, but it never matched up to its sibling. Today there may be slight changes to the club, the bar now sells alcohol for example, when it was first opened none of the Adabi brothers had an alcohol licence, not that it stopped anyone from going. The people that go may not be as young as they once were, but The Twisted Wheel club nights clearly emulate what happened here many years ago. Pete Roberts who runs The Twisted Wheel is very much against the closure of the club. He compared the loss of the club to be similar to Liverpool losing the Cavern. “They only have a Mickey Mouse cavern now, bet they (Liverpool Council) wish they hadn’t pulled it down. The Twisted Wheel is the most iconic club of our time; its importance should not be underestimated. We were importing black American artists when there was segregation in America and treated them like gods".

Beatin’ Rhythm is a record shop on Tibb Street in the Northern Quarter area of Manchester. It provides soul fans with a huge selection of vinyl to choose from and has been strongly linked to the Manchester Soul scene. Owner Derek Howe thinks that once the building is in the hands of the development there will be no stopping the club being closed down. “With all the names and the signatures in the world we won’t be able to stop it. I don’t think it will stop the northern soul scene, it’s just bricks and mortar. Of course it will be a shame, but people will still have a good time somewhere else. Northern soul is as popular as it’s ever been, the soul fans have always been and will always be very dedicated.”

The Twisted Wheel was the platform for many soul singers’ careers, the list of people who have played there is more than impressive. Tina Turner, Junior Walker and Edwin Starr have all graced the tiny stage at the beginning of their careers. Sugar Pie De Santo is 77, is a retired soul singer who lives in Oakland California, who says she owes a lot of her success to the British soul scene. “I’ve not been to England in 48 years. You should ask them to have me back, I’d come all that way to play for people like that again. The fans over there were so loyal and friendly it would be a sad day if a place they enjoyed was to be pulled down.”

So will the northern soul scene be affected if the nightclub was to be pulled down for yet another hotel in Manchester’s city centre? Fred Dickie is optimistic. “I will come here until it closes, and then I will go wherever it goes afterwards, and I’m sure other people will too. If it stays here that will be fantastic, if it goes what will be, will be.” With such die hard and dedicated fans who travel all over the country in order to dance to the music they love, merely moving venues may not alter the atmosphere it is popular for, and may not mean a full reinvention of the Twisted Wheel.

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