My First Visit To Wigan Casino-Mark Freeman

Why Wiganer1 ?

To be honest I’m not sure why I chose the name really.

But it all stems around my first visit to Wigan Casino six weeks before my 16th birthday September 1981 almost 35 years ago.

I’d been into Northern Soul since I was 14. Visiting the local youth club and other clubs where Northern Soul tunes were being played around the town. I was quickly hooked on the music.

I used to hang around Richard Jakeman and Glyn Reardon at our local school in Nuneaton. Although I was older they were more knowledgeable about the music than me .Richard had already visited the casino many times but I started to order the black echoes and regularly kept looking at the membership page for Wigan Casino, and then started collecting records.

There was just something about Wigan made my blood rush and knew it was somewhere I HAD to visit. Reading the reviews describing the atmosphere just fuelled my desire to get there.

I used to see local Soul boy Jez Smith (RIP) waiting at the Bus stop near to where I lived with his green bag filled with his casino patches to get into town to catch the train to Wigan.

And at a local Sunday Alldayer I was mesmerised by a dancer who was stomping and legs intertwining so fast. Who is that guy there Glyn? I asked. ‘Weasel’ came the reply. He was truly amazing and some one I looked up to ever since.

I was totally hooked on this thing called Northern Soul and had to visit Wigan Casino.

Several weeks later came the news the Casino was closing and this was my time. At the dinner table one day after school I said to my mum ‘I’m going to Wigan Casino’ pointing at the advert my Step Dad jumped in ‘You bloody well aint!’ and he meant it. My heart sank and realised I would never get the opportunity to attend.

The Saturday after I was dancing to the Northern at our local club in Bucks Hill dancing to the tunes we danced to every week when I got a tap on the shoulder from a large built guy, who was called Steve Ward who said to me ‘Oh so youre into Northern then ? I said ‘yeah’ . Have you ever been Wigan? I replied ‘No’ . He’d seen me there several occasions and said to me I know someone who has got a ticket for the end of an era , do you want it? ‘Bloody hell yeah’ came the reply .

I’ve never ran so quick in my life, along the road and up the hill to our house , told my mum and dad about the ticket , my dad was still adamant that I could n’t go but my mum managed to persuade him that I would be 16 soon and it would be ok. Then came the matter of fact of the £5 for the ticket but thats another story!!

So September 19th it was the day and night of the End of an era , the very last night at Wigan Casino and I was going.

I boarded the train with Steve Ward and Mark Forryan to Wigan. Had my bag equipped with 24 cheese and brown sauce sandwiches, several bags of crisps and loads of bottles of pop.

Changed at Crewe, arrived at Wigan late evening . Excited was not a word strong enough how I felt and then suddenly a policeman stopped me and called me over to an office and proceeded to search my bag. ‘What are you lllookkingg for ,,dddrruuugggs ?’ ‘Yes son they bloody feed you on them up there!’ . I took no notice as he smiled at the contents of my bag. I left shortly after and carried on our journey to the Wigan Casino.

As with many stories of their first visits to Wigan I wont bore you with the details but when I got in and looked over the balcony . Oh My God!! ‘Der dum der dum der der der (Massive universal clap from the 1000+ dancers below) I wanna feel your body with your temperature beginning to rise! My first Wigan Casino tune I heard .Eddie Holman – This will be a night to remember. How apt ? How brilliant? Little did I know that this visit would change my life forever. I’d done it I’m at Wigan Casino!!

The place was absolutely rammed, the clapping unbelievable ,the dancing,,,the backflips , I don’t remember all the sounds on the night but the emotion was there to see from all the punters who believed they were there to share in the last Wigan Casino allniter ,ironically my first. But I didn’t really take in the anger that there were more nights planned I just got carried away with a fantastic night, one I’ll treasure forever.

Although I couldn’t share in the emotion of those who had been there since the start. I was overwhelmed with the vibe of the place , one clap to the beat then a thousand claps. The last half an hour the three before eight , people crying ,sobbing uncontrollably I just didn’t get it to be honest but savouring the fact I’d shared in the experience.

For many it was their final visit but the extra nights that followed, It gave me opportunity to go attend another two times. I couldn’t make the October 2nd All-niter but went on November 6TH and the very last night on December 4th. Although not as packed they were still brilliant and provided memories that will last forever like the following:-

Buying my first record at the record bar – Condition Red - £7. Richard Jakeman laughing at me for clapping in the wrong places to 'A little bit hurt', dancing behind Matt Male to the Seven Souls (he still dances the same), Watching people flood onto the dancefloor to ‘Benny Spellmans’ – Fortune teller, trying to be clever being the first stomper in Mr Mms on the last night then having to retire a minute on because of my asthma. Buying a 50p tune from Russ record bar – Chrystal Motion – Youre my main squeeze. (still got it) Going up to Tim Ashebende with £6.50 asking him he’d take that for his £7 Tony Middleton on Grapevine when he said a firm NO! Brian Rae announcing at 5am on the last night . Heres Bobby Bland to do it for you and Shoes and the deafening clapping that followed.

Seeing the two twins in circle skirts who Ive never seen since, a large blonde lady who was doing all the hand moves like poetry in motion, Weasel s legs stomping standing out from many a dancer and also whilst watching the dancefloor from the top left balcony a majestic dancer who to this day is the most faultless dancer to grace the Northern Soul dancefloor Craig from Shrewsbury.

The last hour came upon us Dave Evison spinning his final tunes which included Betty Everitt – Getting mighty crowded and The Four Tops – I got a feeling . Then it was Russ Winstanley to finish off with a few classics Gloria Jones – Tainted Love , Yvonne Baker – You didn’t say a word , Sherrys – Put your lovin arms around me and Lee Roye –Tears and then came the three before eight and the last record Frank Wilson – Do I love you , the lights came on and we had to leave.

As we were ushered out people knew it was the end and some punters were trying to take any memorabilia they could. Ripping up carpets,trying to grab the Casino signs.Then it was outside into the daylight and on the way home.

As quick as my Wigan Casino journey had started after three visits it was over !

Little did I know that my association with Wigan Casino and ensuing 35 year obsession with everything that got played there would take over my life in more ways than one.

It was February 1982 that a Nuneaton Soulie and Wigan Casino regular Paul Jameson did something that would have a major affect on me for the rest of my life. He gave to me three C90 tapes of Wigan Casino Live from the 5th Anniversary. First was Russ Winstanleys 90 minute spot , second Richard Searlings 90 spot and the other Alan Rhodes and Dave Evison.

Oh my god!! They totally blew me away , the atmosphere , the clapping , the sounds on the tapes , most I didn’t know and they were good , not all good but most were fantastic . I’ve got to get all the records from these tapes!!!

And thats how it started. 
Little did he know giving me these tapes what effect they would have on me and my future on the soul scene and the records I would collect and play as a Dj.

And a lifelong fetish and obsession with Wigan Casino began.


To be continued.................................................

Mark Freeman, January 2019.