Widely known as one of the most renowned Northern Soul clubs of the 1970s, Wigan Casino is one of those establishments many of us feel like we’ve been to with the amount we’ve heard about it, but only the lucky few really did capture the magic in real life. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the opening of Wigan Casino (September 23, 2023), we thought we’d reminisce on a club that made such an impact in the short eight years it was open.
Wigan Casino stood proudly in the building that used to be the Empress Ballroom, making it the perfect venue to spread out and dance all night long. The site now houses the Grand Arcade shopping centre in Wigan town centre, but the club existed from 1973 – 1981, near King Street which still acts as a club strip today. Back in the day, the club was characterised by its all-nighters headed up by resident DJs including Russ Winstanley, Colin Curtis and Keb Darge, playing Northern Soul classics through the night.
The ‘3 before 8‘ referred to the three songs always played before shutting up shop at 8am… yes, 8am. They partied hard in the 70s. Those were: Jimmy Radcliffe’s Long After Tonight Is All Over, Tobi Legend’s Time Will Pass You By and Dean Parrish’s I’m On My Way, so you knew when you heard the beginning of any of these songs, chances were the sun was up and birds were singing – a universally bittersweet realisation.
What’s more, many were said to hit the town in Manchester and get the train to the ‘Casino Club‘, as it was actually called, or stick to what Wigan had to offer, getting all the alcohol in before limbering up for the all-nighter of throwing some serious shapes, as drinking wasn’t actually allowed due to the club having no alcohol licence – God forbid!
Over the years, Wigan Casino held plenty of events, including the ‘Retro 1975 All day disco‘ in aid of local charities, and live bands who kicked things up a notch.
Unfortunately, the Casino building burnt down after the club’s closure in 1981 due to a freak accident, cementing its permanence. The final show in 1981 saw the crowds refusing to leave, to which DJ Russ Winstanley decided to have a lucky dip into the 7″ records and play whatever came out as the last ever song – it happened to be Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) by Frank Wilson, one of the most iconic Northern Soul tracks ever.
As forementioned, the site is now home to the Grand Arcade shopping centre, but nods to the past with a heritage blue plaque and a cafe lovingly named the Casino Cafe, so you can reminisce over the good old days whilst you sip your coffee and scran your bacon butty.
Now, local and even national music fans and shops boast nostalgic nods to Wigan Casino, with tapes and records harking back to the good old days, some even have recordings from the club itself, showing the love people still have for it. In addition, annual reunions are held in Wigan and Blackpool for Northern Soul and Wigan Casino fans in particular, with attendees encouraged to don their best cords and collars and dance the night away – how heart-warming.
As with many legendary places and people, it took almost 25 years from the closure of Wigan Casino for it to be recognised as the true home of Northern Soul. Wigan Casino isn’t said to have had the best music, the coolest reputation, or clearly, the longest life, but most have fond memories in some way or another from experiences there, and if you liked to dance, my God, was it heaven.
To mark the 50th anniversary, an outdoor exhibition on Standishgate will feature images from Francesco Mellina, a Liverpool-based photographer commissioned by NME to document the last all-nighter at Wigan Casino in September 1981; eight years after the club first opened its doors.
There’s plenty going on to celebrate the club and its anniversary, from the likes of the BBC and Wigan Council, more information on which can be found here.