With a bit of ritual, special outfits and a strong sense of camaraderie, northern soul is a music and dance passion that perfectly complements Dave Stubbs’ Freemasonry
Like so many, he first came to the genre as a teenager in his local youth club, drawn to the soul music and its athletic dance style.
Northern soul fashion is dictated by the need for practicality, with loose-fitting clothes such as baggy Oxford trousers, Ben Sherman-style shirts and sports vests the accepted uniform of devotees. Dave looks every inch the genuine article in Wrangler Blue Bell jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. The only incongruity in his outfit is the masonic ring on his right hand.
As a member of Salopian Lodge of Charity, No. 117, Dave balances his time between northern soul and Freemasonry. ‘My great grandfather was a Freemason, so it has always interested me,’ he explains.
Dave soon introduced his brethren to the belting world of northern soul. Every month, he organises a northern soul night at the masonic hall on Crewe Street, Shrewsbury, the proceeds of which go towards maintaining a World War I memorial.
It’s not just members who benefit from Dave’s musical interest. ‘My wife Polly is a Freemason and a northern soul fan too, so it’s close to both of our hearts,’ says Dave. ‘It’s not surprising that so many people who enjoy northern soul are Freemasons too. I find the two interests very complementary.’
Such is the adrenaline rush of the northern soul all-nighter that often, Dave returns home at 7.30 am only to head back out to an all-dayer by noon. ‘It becomes a lifestyle,’ says Dave. ‘Just like Freemasonry, it’s not about money, and it’s not about connections. It’s about camaraderie, and living in a way that makes you feel good.’
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Life and soul
With a bit of ritual, special outfits and a strong sense of camaraderie, Northern Soul is a music and dance passion for Dave Stubbs that perfectly complements his Freemasonry. Sarah Holmes finds out more
Leafing through a red leather box of vinyl, Dave Stubbs suddenly jumps to his feet. ‘Ah! This one! This record is magic,’ he beams. Turning to an old-fashioned record player, he carefully places the unsheathed disc on the turntable and drops the needle. A crackled silence is followed by the stomping bass of John Leach’s 1963 track Put That Woman Down. The music rumbles through the two-up, two-down terrace in Shrewsbury as Dave bounces on the spot, face to the ceiling and arms open wide, crooning in time to the gravelly vocal.
It’s the kind of passion usually reserved for the front row at a music festival, but here in the humble setting of his living room, Dave’s exuberance practically bursts through the walls. He is a music fan, quite obviously, but with a particular taste for the B-side American soul tracks of the 1960s.
Unlike the populist songs of Motown, this music was harder, grittier and less palatable for mainstream audiences. Even so, it found a devoted fan base in the Mod-inspired subcultures of northern England. From 1970 onwards, journalists such as Dave Godin referred to it as Northern Soul, and underground clubs like Twisted Wheel in Manchester and The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent began hosting Northern Soul all-nighters.
Like so many, Dave Stubbs first came to the music as a teenager in his local youth club. ‘It was the older lads, the ones sneaking into the Northern Soul all-nighters, who introduced us to the music,’ remembers Dave. ‘That’s how we learned to dance; we just copied what they were doing. It was all experimental.’
Thanks to the genre’s athletic dance style, Northern Soul fashion was dictated by the need for practicality. Loose-fitting clothes such as baggy Oxford trousers, Ben Sherman-style shirts and sports vests became the accepted uniform. Dave looks every inch the genuine article in Wrangler Bluebell jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. ‘It’s not a costume for me. I walk around in these clothes every day,’ he says. Although vintage shops are the main source of his authentic 1970s wardrobe, his most prized possessions have been passed down to him by fellow ‘soulies’.
The only incongruity in his outfit is the masonic ring on his right hand. As a member of Salopian Lodge of Charity, No. 117, Dave balances his time between Northern Soul and Freemasonry. ‘My great grandfather was a Freemason, so it was something that always interested me,’ he explains.
A military man for most of his youth, Dave served in Iraq in the early 1990s and his living room is adorned with paraphernalia of his time there, including a framed certificate of commendation for his work with Operation Desert Storm. But it wasn’t until leaving the army that Dave became involved in the Craft.
Having become a county standard bearer with The Royal British Legion, he got talking to a Freemason while on duty at the Shrewsbury Flower Show and was proposed as an initiate. ‘I know a lot of lads from the military who are involved in Freemasonry,’ says Dave. ‘It’s something that we look for after a military career – that sense of belonging.’
It didn’t take long for Dave to introduce his brethren to the belting world of Northern Soul. Every month, he organises a Northern Soul night at the masonic hall on Crewe Street, the proceeds of which go towards maintaining a World War I memorial commemorating the Shrewsbury Freemasons. Simon Curden is a regular attendee and, like Dave, has a passion for the Northern Soul scene: ‘It’s fun, keeps you fit and is part of a fantastic social world. It’s not so different from Freemasonry.’
It’s not just members who benefit from Dave’s musical interest. This summer, his friends and family will get a glimpse into the Craft when he hosts his Northern Soul-themed wedding reception at the masonic hall in Shrewsbury. ‘My fiancée Polly is a Freemason and a Northern Soul fan too, so it’s a place that’s close to both of our hearts,’ says Dave. ‘It’s not surprising that so many people who enjoy Northern Soul are Freemasons too. I find the two interests very complementary. On the Northern Soul scene, we’re often called soul brothers and soul sisters, and just like a masonic lodge, we all stick together.’
Watching Dave cut his way across a dance floor, it’s no surprise he was cast as an extra for Elaine Constantine’s 2014 film, Northern Soul. In celebration of the premiere, Dave hired out the local cinema, selling the tickets to family and friends, and giving the proceeds to the local Freemasons’ memorial.
It was his involvement in this BAFTA-nominated documentary that won him the starring role in a national Shredded Wheat advert last year. A mini film showing the ritual leading up to a Northern Soul night out, it captured every moment of Dave’s meticulous routine as he got ready. ‘The ethos is all about turning out smart,’ explains Dave. ‘So from the moment you wake up on a Saturday morning you’re ironing shirts, shining shoes and listening to records. It’s a whole-day ritual.’
For three days, a film crew camped out in Dave’s front room, interviewing his friends and family on his lifelong devotion to the Northern Soul scene, and the philosophy behind his passion. ‘They could have hired an actor,’ he says, ‘but I think they chose me because I actually live the lifestyle. It’s in me as a person, so there was no need for pretending.’
Luckily, Dave’s brush with stardom didn’t go to his head; he didn’t even keep the lifetime’s supply of Shredded Wheat that he received after the advert. ‘We tired of it pretty quickly, so we gave it to the homeless shelter down the road,’ he says, keen to add that money was never going to be a motivating factor: ‘Northern Soul is my passion and I wanted to show other people what it is like, and hopefully share the joy with them.’
While Northern Soul was predominantly the preserve of Suedeheads and Mods in the 1970s, over the years its following has diversified; nowadays you’re just as likely to find youngsters tearing across the dance floor as the original soulies. ‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul,’ explains Dave. ‘It’s all about the shared love of the music. You can completely lose yourself in it, and it feels amazing.’
Such is the adrenaline rush of the Northern Soul all-nighter that often, Dave says, he’ll return home at 7.30am only to head back out to an all-dayer by noon. ‘It becomes a lifestyle, I suppose,’ says Dave. ‘Just like Freemasonry, it’s not about money, and it’s not about connections. It’s about camaraderie, and living in a way that makes you feel good.’
‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul.’ Dave Stubbs
Out on the floor
Starting off in venues such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in the late 1960s, Northern Soul’s unique brand of fashion and dance quickly spread to other UK dancehalls and nightclubs like Chateau Impney in Droitwich, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and Wigan Casino. With the beat becoming more uptempo, Northern Soul dancing became more athletic and started to feature spins, flips, karate kicks and backdrops.
Dave Stubbs is a Northern Soul enthusiast, ex-Army family man and the new face of Shredded Wheat!
Dave's philosophy of life can be viewed here on YouTube, where he advocates finding out what makes you happy, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people.
The Senior Warden of Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117, based in Shrewsbury in Shropshire, has become accustomed to seeing his face on ITV as well as in the national newspapers, and Freemasons in Shrewsbury quite regularly give up the function room at their Crewe Street headquarters to his brand of Northern Soul music.
It’s not every day that half a dozen Freemasons, including a Deputy Provincial Grand Master, are to be found at 6.30am congregating in a dark supermarket car park...
Well, not unless they’re gathering to start the biannual Walk2Welshpool 25-mile charity walk, that is.
So it came to pass that on Thursday October 9th a small but intrepid group of masons gathered in a rainswept Church Stretton in the masonic Province of Shropshire – the starting point for a challenging day’s hill walking.
The Walk2Welshpool is a sponsored walking event organised and administered by the Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117, and in particular by the aptly named W Bro Kim March.
On this occasion the aim was to raise enough funds to pay for an Automatic External Defibrillator to be installed at Freemasons’ Hall in Shrewsbury. According to the British Heart Foundation, around 60,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the UK. Sadly, fewer than 10% of the victims survive to return home. If every victim received timely CPR and defibrillation the survival rate would rise to an impressive 75%. Freemasons’ Hall in Shrewsbury lends itself to having an AED: it’s a busy year round meeting place in an area prone to ‘ambulance delaying’ traffic congestion.
This project was very generously sponsored by other lodges and orders in the Province and further boosted by a £200 donation from our welcoming masonic hosts, Powis Lodge No. 7355. The walking group is also supported by its own version of International Rescue or ‘Thunder Brothers 1 & 2’ as they are appreciatively known, namely W Bro Marshall Cale and Bro Dave Woods, both members of the Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117.
There’s some good news too for The Freemasons' Grand Charity, as the excess funds will go to this very worthy cause via the Province of Shropshire’s 2019 Festival Appeal. Nearly £1,800 has thus far been pledged.
Ranging from master mason to Deputy Provincial Grand Master, the group dutifully started the walk bang on time at 6.30am. The weather was certainly no respecter of rank!
Within minutes the first of four climbs was under way in the foulest of weather conditions. Clearing Rectory Woods (so dark it evoked fond memories of Mole and Ratty’s Wild Wood adventures in Wind in the Willows) the group forged their way through a near 1,000 feet of ascent to the top of the Long Mynd. In a style that would have made the grand old Duke of York terribly proud, an immediate descent ensued only to rise up again to the Stiperstones ridge – the second sustained climb of the day.
Up until that point the group had been facing directly into stinging westerly winds for several hours in very open countryside. Mercifully the weather thereafter moderated, so a good speed across a rain sodden field section could be maintained. Up onto scenic Rorrington Hill and down into the village of the same name, then a two-mile tour on quiet country lanes to Marton and the welcome sight of the village shop. ‘Sorry, all the hot pies have been sold,’ was the shopkeeper’s lament. Never mind! Only one last long climb and we’ll be home, but not so dry!
Long Mountain seemed to take forever to surmount – it just goes on and on. Towards the summit the ‘Four Crosses’ road junction with its leaning milepost has been a traditional photo stop for previous walks. Walkers gathered round the milepost in a state of abject shock. Not only was the milepost no longer on the lean, but the remainder distance to Welshpool had apparently diminished – someone with a collection of Working Tools had clearly been at work!
The Welsh market town of Welshpool soon came into view and an hour later all had safely arrived, weary but happy, at the Masonic Hall. Another customary photograph and then off to a nearby hostelry-cum-B&B to revive, shower and change for the Installation Meeting of Powis Lodge No. 7355.
The warmest of masonic welcomes, a very good Installation Meeting and a hearty festive board later and the walkers were well and truly ready for their beds. Two of the group stayed overnight in Welshpool for the pleasure of walking back again to attend evening meetings. Perhaps they’re from Barking!
A moving, candlelit ceremony outside Shrewsbury's Crewe Street Masonic headquarters commemorated the entry of Great Britain into the First World War exactly one hundred years before
At that time the present Freemasons' Hall was St Michael's Church in Ditherington, Shrewsbury, and the names of many local lads who gave their lives are listed on a monument within the grounds. The service, held on August 4th, was attended by over three hundred people, and many of these stayed on to a reception afterwards inside the Masonic Hall.
The simple service was conducted by W Bro the Rev Philip Niblock in the presence of Mayor Beverley Baker and the RW Provincial Grand Master, Peter Allan Taylor, his Deputy VW Bro Roger Pemberton and the Deputy Grand Supt. John Williamson.
Also present were representatives from the Royal British Legion, a cadet band, the Halfway House Ladies Choir who led the singing, many masons and non-masons alike from around Shropshire, but most especially a number of family members to whom the names on the memorial have a very special meaning.
The war memorial itself had been in a state of disrepair before a group of Freemasons from the town's lodges decided that something needed to be done. A committee was formed under the Chairmanship of W Bro David Griffiths of Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117 (David's face is already familiar to followers of Shropshire's twitter account @ShropshireMason).
Funds were raised with the support of Freemasonry and of the local firm of Morris and Co. (just a few hundred yards away from the Hall), and the memorial was cleaned and restored to its former glory with the assistance of an operative mason! Now it is the focus for Acts of Remembrance each year, as well as a comfort to those in the local community who still remember family members lost in the Great War.
The Provincial Grand Master for Shropshire, Peter Allan Taylor, was pleased to hand over a cheque for £50,000 to the RMBI care home at Llandudno on the first day of June. This magnificent sum was the result of a year’s fund raising as well as a Fete earlier that day, and more money is confidently expected to be added to the total in the next few weeks.
The sun shone on Shropshire’s Masons, who co-operate with North Wales to support Queen Elizabeth Court. Residents of the home were able to enjoy the visit of hundreds of people to the Fete, held in their grounds, and listen to music from the Shrewsbury Brass Band. These musicians had earlier entertained people in Llandudno town centre, and the leaflets they distributed boosted the attendance still further.
Several of those present had special cause to stroll slowly among the varied stalls. A group including Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, had hiked the 106 miles from Shrewsbury to Llandudno. These intrepid walkers encountered rain (and many stiles) on their five-day journey, and contributed over £5,000 to the eventual total raised. Their progress was closely followed on Twitter (@ShropshireMason), where Roger lamented that after more than 100 miles he found he had actually put on a little weight! Organiser Kim March, Master of Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117, finished with a smile but also with ‘blisters on blisters’.
The Provincial Grand Master was among those who walked the first leg of 17 miles in support of the main party. One mason ‘yomped’ the journey alone, and the amateur walkers who followed him were heartened to see the occasional square and compasses traced in the mud ahead of them. Two cyclists also made the trip from Shropshire to celebrate the day. The undoubted star, however, was Clive Jones, blind WM of St Mary’s Lodge No. 8373 who hiked the last leg from Rhyl to Llandudno.
The day ended with a gala dinner at Llandudno’s St George’s Hotel where a good meal was enjoyed and Shropshire’s Masons and their ladies saw Peter Taylor make a presentation which not only smashes previous records, but will undoubtedly assist the work of the RMBI in providing excellent care, including a top quality dementia unit, for the 67 residents at Queen Elizabeth Court for some time to come.