“QUALITY SOUL music and people having a damn good time” in a city with “a great history of soul events”. This is what DJ Paul Grant says can be expected when the Galway Bay Soul Weekender hits the city at the start of September.
The founders of the Galway Bay Soul Weekender are Paul Mulholland, who has been DJing in Galway and Dublin for more than 25 years, and Darren McDonnell and Paul Grant, founders and DJs at Pow City Soul Club, Dublin.
All three bring a lifetime of experience with the music, having grown up on soul. Paul Mulholland came to it via listening to The Jam and 2-Tone Ska, resulting in “a hunger to discover what went before it”; Darren’s childhood included “Sundays in my Granny’s house, hearing Motown on the radio – not knowing what it was, but enjoying its infectious rhythm and catchy lyrics”; while Paul Grant discovered it through his older brother's record collection.
The Galway Bay Soul Weekender runs from Friday September 1 to Sunday 3 - and includes a boat cruise along Lough Corrib as well as DJ events in The Blue Note and Seven. Joining the festival founders on DJing duties will be Greg McAlinney, Steve Thomas, Keith McCafferty, Karl Mitchell, Shane Walsh, Tony Doyle, Dave Barry, and Liam Evans.
So what led a Galwegian, a Tipperary man, and a Dubliner to come up with a Northern Soul festival for Galway? “After witnessing the great success the Disconauts have had down through the years with their boat parties, plus the similarities between the dance scene and the Northern soul scene, I thought this might be a runner,” says Paul Mulholland.
Darren expands on why Galway seemed the right place to host a weekender like this. “I’ve always found Galway to be one of the best places to DJ in Ireland,” he says. “The crowd are always up for a good night and have a great appreciation for the music you play. It’s always a pleasure to be in Galway, from the hustle and bustle of Shop Street to the cool and laid back atmosphere of the West End - it’s got it all. When you put all that with a boat cruise along one of the most picturesque loughs in Ireland, it’s very hard to think of a better location for a soul weekend.”
The festival begins on Friday 1 in The Cellar Bar from 9pm to 1.30am, with pounding sixties soul and gritty ghetto grooves. Saturday 2 will see a record fair and DJs playing smooth soul in The Blue Note’s beer garden from 1pm to 5pm. From 6.30pm to 10.30pm a private chartered cruise, starting from Woodquay, with full bar and Funktion 1 Sound System, will sail Lough Corrib.
“It’ll be all killer and no filler!” Darren declares. “Everything from the rarest northern soul to those familiar soul classics. We’ve selected a lineup of DJs who have years of experience getting a party started and a record collection to keep it going. There is also a strict policy of original vinyl only so we know these DJs mean business.”
The festival’s main event takes place on the Saturday night, in The Loft at Seven, Irish and international DJs will “spin the best in quality soul music in a great city with an atmosphere to match,” says Paul Grant. Running from 10pm to 2.30am, we can also expect to see a few northern soul dance moves with iconic spins, flips, and high-kicks. "I’m excited, not only as an organiser, but as a spectator,” says Darren. “I imagine I’ll be out on the floor for the majority of it.”
The festival ends on Sunday in The Blue Note from 2pm to 12 midnight with Soulfood BBQ and Soul Sounds.
A word of explanation - northern soul is a unique genre. The records northern soul DJs spin are usually records made in the 1960s, in the Motown style, by American artists who had only regional hits or released a handful of singles, mostly on independent labels. These records fell into obscurity, but in the 1970s started to come into the hands of collectors and DJs in England on the hunt for fresh and unusual dance tracks. They found an enthusiastic audience among the northern English working class, who would travel the length and breadth of the north to dance to this music at what became known as ‘all-nighters’ in places like the Wigan Casino, Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, and the Blackpool Mecca. The scene seemed to peter out towards the 1980s, but recent years has seen it make a strong comeback, and now looks here to stay.
“Good music never goes out of style and I guess the recent surge of interest is down to a mix of folk searching for something a little different and an older generation returning to their first love," says Paul Grant. Paul Mulholland adds: "It started to reach a wider audience world-wide due to a mass of compilation albums reaching the shelves of record shops. Over the past 20 years it has grown and grown from ongoing exposure and acknowledgment through the music media.”
No discussion of northern soul is complete without asking the festival founders what their favourite Northern Soul 45" is and if there is any chance they might play said track over the Galway Bay Soul Weekender?
“One of my favorites has to be ‘Breakaway’ by The Steve Karmen Big Band, featuring Jimmy Radcliffe,” says Paul Mulholland. “My most valuable, that I'm aware of, is Jackie Edwards’ ‘Feel so Bad’, and yes I'll give them a spin for sure.” Darren is promising to spin Towanda Barnes ‘You Don’t Mean It’, Linda Jones’ ‘Just Can’t Live My Life’, and Bongi & Nelson’s ‘Do You Remember Malcom’. Paul Grant says: "My favourite record is Frank Beverly & The Butlers ‘If That's What You Wanted’. You will certainly hear that over the weekend.”
Tickets are available at billetto.ie and on the door. A weekend pass including boat cruise is €25. A weekend pass for Friday and Saturday is €12.