The Northern Soul Project

One of the terms in my blog’s subtitle is “Lifelong Learning.”  When I started writing here a couple of years ago, I thought I’d be talking much more about that topic than I’ve turned out to, as it’s a huge interest of mine.  The thing is, I suppose, “lifelong learning” really has more to do with my professional life, and this blog has turned into . . .

Well, I’m not exactly sure what it has turned into.  I seem to post on whatever I feel like writing about.  Which is cool.

But guess what?  I finally have something to post about lifelong learning, after all: Northern soul.  First, let me backtrack a little.

The term “lifelong learning” apparently has vastly different meanings depending on who you talk to.  I have a Google alert for the term, so I’ve gotten a weekly digest of articles and blog posts on the topic for several years.  Mostly what gets written about?  Enrichment classes for senior citizens.  The other subject is professional certification.

Neither of those is what I mean by the term.  And the only people who talk about “lifelong learning” in the way I define it seem to be members of the British Commonwealth and Malaysia.  Oops, just checked: Malaysia is a British Commonwealth country, so there you go.  I don’t know why they all have the same perspective on lifelong learning as me, but I’ve found that whenever I read something that resonates, it will turn out to be a research paper from Great Britain or a newspaper article from Australia or Malaysia, etc.

Here is how I define lifelong learning—or, more accurately, “transformative” (aka “transformational”) learning (to distinguish it from senior-citizen activities and professional certification)—in my LinkedIn profile:

This is a form of lifelong learning characteristic of adult learners and usually occurring outside a formal classroom setting. Transformative learning is a largely self-directed process involving self-awareness, reflection, and critical thinking that leads not only to professional development but also to social connection, creative insight, and personal growth.

Transformative learning is really exciting for me.  I love reading stories about/from people like Peter Drucker or Steve Jobs who learned this way.  Formal education, as institutionalized in a school setting, often takes away the imagination and creativity of self-directed, curiosity-driven, informal learning . . . to the point where people may not trust their own instincts to forge an individualized path to knowledge and wisdom.  I’ll do a separate post in a few days to expand on this a bit.

Meanwhile, back to Northern soul.  Earlier this week I was listening to the radio in my car and heard an old ’80s song I recognized, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys.  Because I have satellite radio, which displays the name of the song and artist, I saw for the first time ever that Dusty Springfield also sings on this recording.  Dusty Springfield was way before my time as a radio listener.  But I’ve always known who she was, partly because of her striking “mod” style (heavy black eyeliner, blonde bouffant hair) during London’s 1960s pop-scene heyday.

Here’s the kind of embarrassing way I discovered her music.  When I was a teen, I liked this horrifyingly cheesy band from Scotland called the Bay City Rollers (don’t judge me 🙂 ).  With their spiky haircuts and cropped, tartan-cuffed pants, they were a teenybopper sensation.

Thing is, I really liked their music.  They had one truly monster breakout hit, “Saturday Night” (S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y pause NIGHT!), but most of their songs were actually covers from the 1960s—a fact I didn’t realize until the day I was surprised to hear one of my particular Bay City Roller favorites, “I Only Want to Be With You,” sung on the radio by a woman with a warm, husky voice.  Dusty Springfield.

As soon as I made the Pet Shop Boys–Dusty Springfield connection in the car this week, my mind started to race.  It was sort of a “eureka” moment for me.  One section of “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” particularly caught my attention, the bridge where Dusty sings solo.  To me it sounded like one of her old songs, but I couldn’t quite place it.  So I went digging around the Internet, couldn’t find it—although I did find a video on YouTube where a singer appears to have possibly ripped off the lyrics and melody as an internal section of her own song (which I’ll refrain from identifying, out of the goodwill presumption that she did the right thing and obtained permission from the original songwriters, the Pet Shop Boys and Allee Willis).

In the course of my Internet search, I came across a term I’d never seen before: Northern soul.  Here’s how Wikipedia begins its entry on the term:

Northern soul is a music and dance movement that emerged independently in Northern England, the English Midlands, Scotland and Wales[1] in the late 1960s from the British mod scene. Northern soul mainly consists of a particular style of black American soul music based on the heavy beat and fast tempo of the mid-1960s Tamla Motown sound.

As I read the entire entry, suddenly my mind started making connections, almost on its own.  There’s a certain sound I love in ’80s music.  I’ve never been able to really characterize it, other than to say there seems to be an ironic link between its upbeat production and its use of minor key in the melody line.  But as I continued linking, in the serendipitous way that the Internet makes so very easy, I kept finding an incredible correlation between this “Northern soul” geography and many of the groups with that sound I liked so well.

The Pet Shop Boys, both originally from northern England.  The Bay City Rollers, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Duran Duran, Birmingham.  The Eurythmics, Aberdeen, Scotland (Annie Lennox) and Sunderland (Dave Stewart).  Soft Cell (“Tainted Love”), Leeds.  One-hit-wonder Kajagoogoo (“Too Shy”), Bedfordshire (immediately adjacent to the English Midlands).  The Beatles, Liverpool.

So this is my new learning project: to find out as much as I can about Northern soul.  My intention is to post regularly on my “journey” (to use a word that’s been, sadly, way too corrupted by reality TV).  In the process maybe you can learn something about Northern soul, too (if you’re interested 🙂 ).

And I can also share my own definition of “lifelong” learning by demonstrating how it works for me.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in History, Learning, Life, Music, Popular culture, Teaching, WPLongform (posts of 1000 words or longer) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Northern Soul Project

  1. Oh, Katie, and now you’ve taught me something about “lifelong learning” (which I’ve always loved and just didn’t know it!). And Northern soul, too. 🙂 I love your blog!


  2. Lisa says:

    I had a Bay City Rollers poster above my bed for the longest time! Thanks for the memory and for the information, Katie.


    • Ha! I should have guessed we had Rollermania in common 🙂 Memory is the strangest thing: I think I even remember their names, first names, anyway. Alan, Derek (brothers), Les, Eric, and Woody.

      (I just checked, and at first it seemed I’d made a mistake. I had everyone right but Woody, and instead of him, there was someone named Stuart. But then I saw Stuart’s last name: Wood. And I remembered that Stuart Wood went by the name “Woody.” So there you go. Have you seen the research on Alzheimer’s that shows how strong music and kinetic memories are? I haven’t thought about those guys in almost 40 years. Isn’t it strange that I’ve had their names unintentionally archived inside some random spot in my memory and could access the info so effortlessly? The human brain is a fascinating thing!)


  3. Pingback: The Northern Soul Project – Some Background (post #2) | Katherine Wikoff

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  5. Pingback: The Northern Soul Project – Streaming 24/7 Northern Soul Radio (Post #4) | Katherine Wikoff

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  7. MELewis says:

    Funny, what attracted me to your post was that I just recorded a movie to watch this weekend – haven’t watched it yet but thought you might find it interesting:
    The Bay City Rollers! Now that really takes me back! 😉


    • Oh yes, this film was all over the Northern Soul social media last summer when I first started looking into the subject. I haven’t seen it yet, but my understanding is that it’s pretty on target. One of the original dancers featured in the documentaries I’v posted and linked to, Fran Franklin, apparently advised the young actors who appear in the film. Looks like a well done production. Hope you enjoy it, and I think I’ll try to watch it soon myself!


  8. Pingback: Katherine Wikoff - The Northern Soul Project

  9. simonothen says:

    I linked your article on my new website, interesting view from an americans eyes !


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