MARK BICKNELL'S RHYTHM & SOUL RIOT I started my Soul journey back in 1976 after visiting 'The Top Rank' in Reading which later hosted Northern Soul and Jazz Funk alldayers. I was 16 years old the place was packed with your typical night club crowd of the day apart from a group of people in the far corner of the venue dressed very differently from the rest of the crowd - the girls in long circular skirts, flat shoes and tight shirts with the guys in smart 4 button jackets with small lapels, extra pockets and amazing baggy trousers, loafers, brogues they looked the business. The DJ - your typical Noel Edmonds look-a-like, a guy called Bobby Gee - suddenly over the mic announced "time for a bit of Motown for the Nortthern Soul crowd" something like The Temptations - Get Ready echoed out of the speakers and boom the crowd in the corner hit the dance floor. I just stood there mouth open and watched in total amazement as they shuffled, stomped, spun, back dropped all in perfect time. This was were it began for me. I had to find out what this was, so I picked up 'Blues and Soul'. l knew what Motown was as my parents loved it, I joined 'The Inter City Soul Club' who had an ad in the magazine, paid my 50p to join, got a membership card and a bright orange patch with the Black Fist logo and the club name on it. I went to the Co-Op in Reading bought a dark brown pair of cord high waisted three button baggies and a blue grandad shirt and sewed the patch on it which was my way in really with the Reading crowd. I found out they all met up in a pub called 'The Peacock' on Broad Street in Reading. I went in there and it pretty much changed my life, one of the guys saw the badge on my shirt and asked me if I was into Norhern Soul of course I said yes, really did not have a clue, but it was my way in.
I was born in Lewisham, May 1960, an only child, music was always around me from an early age. My late father Alf Bicknell got a pretty unique cool job back in October 1964 through 1966 for a beat combo group out of Liverpool.He was their driver, road manager and well basically looked after them - two world tours, he was at Abbey Road when Help! Revolver and Rubber Soul were recorded. The chain noises on Yellow Submarine sound effects were my old fella dropping chains into a bucket, also sang the backing vocals. He was with them in LA when they met Elvis, was beaten up in the Far East, he was at the Shea Stadium too and often brought Soul albums from Motown, Stax and Atlantic back from the States. So music was always around me. After becoming friends with the Reading Soul crowd I was soon taken to my first Allnighter which was 'St Ivo Recreation Centre', St. Ives Cambridgeshire in the Summer of 1976. I was taken to 'Wigan Casino' around this time. I remember walking in there - the whole building was pulsating full to the rafters up the stairs, then boom a wall of sound and heat hit me like a thunderbolt. At first all the records sounded the same to me as my knowledge of the music at this time was very basic but it had that special something which hooked me in for life.
Pretty much from 1976 - 1980/81 was my learning curve; my apprenticeship. The Northern scene in the South at the time was pretty strong places like Newbury, Aldershot, Southampton, Camberley, Oxford and Banbury all had good crews. Coaches were ran from most of these places or were certainly pick up points to coaches to St.Ives, Wigan, Peterborough, Coalville later Hinckley, Leicester and those towns which hosted Northern Soul Allnighters.
During this early period I began to get into the records big time starting off with buying all the bootlegs and pressings of the big tunes of that period. I attended an Allnighter in Yate near Bristol which was close to Reading just down the M4, this became my favourite venue where I started to pick up my game with the records inspired by DJs there like Ian Clark, Tony Ellis, Dave Greet, Dave Thorley, Jerry Hipkiss, Ady Pountain and others who basically changed my musical direction.
After Wigan Casino closed Yate and St.Ives followed so around 1981 I stepped back a bit from the allnighters and became more involved with the Mod revival which started around 1979. During this time I started to run my own Soul/Mod nights in Reading, from then I attended the 6T's West Hampstead Soul nights ran by Ady Croasdell and the late Randy Cozens. This was pre 100 Club allnighters. Around this time I was asked to DJ at the early 80's Scooter Rallies all over the UK which played Northern at the events. I was asked to DJ by Chris King who ran the 'Hinckley Leisure Centre Allnighters' which hosted top American acts like Gene Chandler, The Supremes, Edwin Starr, Major Lance and many others. I was pretty much a resident DJ there also running coaches up from Reading and elsewhere.
Fast forward a couple of years and Ady Croasdell invited me to DJ at The 100 Club which I have done many times over the years. Other high points for me were Clubs like 'Top Of The World, Stafford' where the scene pretty much changed in terms of tempo of records, DJ's like Keb Darge, Guy Hennigan, Pat Brady, Gary Rushbrooke basically threw the rule book out the window and more slower down to mid tempo records featured ignored by the clubs which came before. Northern Soul pretty much up until Stafford had been based on very uptempo 100mph records. My collecting changed at this point and the fun really started with the record obsession, other venues followed including 'The Unicorn Club', Leighton Buzzard where I was resident, numerous Soul nights, Alldayers, Allnighters, later weekenders in Great Yarmouth and Cleethorpes.
I moved from Reading to North Wales around 1987, ran Soul nights in North Wales, further Alllnighters such as Keele University for 'The Okeh Soul Club' again as a resident, another move to Manchester around 1990 where I ran Allnighters at three different venues and hosted a Soul night for 10 years in Stockport, numerous guest spots all over the UK, several gigs in Germany, Spain, Italy, trips to the States numerous times digging for records, ran my own Fanzine 'Soul Underground'.
During the early 90's I compiled two CD's for Sequel Records 'Soulunderground volumes 1 & 2' from labels including Gee, Calla, Roulette, Port, Cat, Josie, Jubilee which were very well recieved. I also used to write for 'Black Echoes' reviewing rare records, venue reports and so on. Through the late 90's I played venues like 'The Ritz' in Manchester for Richard Searling, presented radio shows at weekenders, guested on numerous radio shows with again Richard Searling, Dave Evison and others.
I played many big Soul nights in the North West in Bury, Lowton late 90's but started to hit burnout as it had pretty much been full on throught the 80's into the 90's. I was resident at 'The New Century Soul Club Allnighters during the early 2000's.
Then from 2000 I was asked to present my own show on Solar which I did for 7 years to 2007, then did a year with Starpoint before I stepped back a bit from DJing at the venues and moved on a lot of the big records I had. In 2014 I hooked up with 'Sectet Stash Records' from the USA who had the Chicago based One-derful, M-Pac, Midas, Toddln Town, Mar-v-lus, Halo record label masters and who I helped release several 45's. During this time I set up my own label 'Big Man Records' and am now on my 7th release licencing rare and obscure tracks with good success.
I moved from Manchester to West Yorkshire back in December 2019 and since March 2020 I have been doing live streams and so I am now excited and honoured to join Thamesfm.
I adore this music - classic Northern, Authentic Soulful R'n'B, Crossover Group Soul and more. I tend to not 'Keep The Faith' more share it so please join me 'Mark Bicknell's Rhythm & Soul Riot' every Sunday midday to 2pm