Art & Photography

Soundtrack: Rob Ryan

The artist looks back on a youth spent dancing the night away to Northern Soul classics, such as The Fantastic Johnny C’s ‘Don’t Depend on Me’

I first heard this record when I was 17, at Wigan Casino in 1980. Me and my mates from Birmingham had started travelling up for the monthly ‘Friday Oldies’ all-nighter. At that time the once great Northern Soul scene that I was too young to experience was shrinking fast year by year, but the ‘Friday Oldies’ night was still huge. Thousands of people travelled from all over and the huge dance floor was always packed right up to the last record at 8am, you had to fight for a space on the dance floor.

It was incredibly hot and crowded and the first night I went as a beginner I hardly knew a single record that was played. But as we kept returning, more and more songs began to stick in my head, none more so than this one.

I suppose the lyrics, about being free and being a travelling man, struck some sort of chord with this romantic youth, travelling through the night to dance till dawn while the rest of the boring country slept soundly in their beds.

The record itself is plain old classic mid-70s Philadelphia Disco and like most Northern Soul records, the artist is pretty much unknown outside of its own peculiar and insular world. I haven’t played this record in years and listening to it now as I write this, the hairs on my arms are standing up to attention and I can remember how I felt when I first heard it back in the middle of the night on a packed dance floor, when its magic travelled down deep into my soul and a part of it stayed there forever with me. For a few minutes I was lost in time and space in a precious moment of pure bliss.

Fantastic Johnny C

A selection of Rob’s papercuts and screenprints will be on show at the London Original Print Fair, Royal Academy of Arts in association with TAG Fine Arts this April. More info on Rob Ryan HERE