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60 seconds with Elaine Constantine, director of Northern Soul

Born in Bury, Lancashire, Elaine Constantine grew up surrounded by the Northern Soul scene, first making her name as a fashion photographer and music video director. Northern Soul is her first feature film. A true labour of love, it was in development for five years and finally hit UK cinemas in October 2014. We caught up with Elaine to see how it felt.


Elaine (middle) pictured on-set of Northern Soul

Elaine, the journey you undertook getting the film to screen could be a film in itself. Could you tell me a bit about the background behind Northern Soul?

 It started out as an idea for a documentary about 16/17 years ago, but the further I got into it, the more it became clear that to get across what I really wanted to communicate - that youthful excitement of discovery and total immersion, and the way in which something quite alien became woven into the fabric of the daily life of a northern lad in the 70s - would require a period fiction, albeit firmly based on real characters, places and events.

 How did you get all the dancing scenes to look so authentic?

A few years before we got green lit I realised that to do the club scenes justice I’d need hundreds of 16-25 year-olds who could dance as they did back then. They didn’t exist of course, so I set up dance sessions in London and Bolton and we invited 16-25 year olds to attend. The longer it took for us to raise funding the longer they went on. Some people were coming to them for nearly 4 years! We ended up casting quite a lot of our young actors through these dance sessions, including Josh Whitehouse who had never acted before. Elliott was there from the beginning too.

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Elaine (left) on set

 The whole film feels like a huge labour of love. How does it feel to have Northern Soul finished and showing in cinemas?

It means everything to me. I’ve spent nearly a third of my life on this film and every penny I could spare.

What has the reaction been like since the film hit cinemas? I hope you’ll be pleased to hear we’ve had a really enthusiastic (unprovoked) response to the film from Fred Perry customers!

It’s been overwhelming really. Initially we were told we might get 15 screens but never anticipated where we are today. It opened in 88 screens and showed at 100 or so on the 1st weekend - all of which sold out – we are now up to 150 cinemas showing it. This is in large part down to the soul scene in the UK demanding that their local cinemas program it. To have their approval and support has been humbling.

Elaine, thank you very much!


Northern Soul is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital HD 


Elaine Constantine on Twitter


Find out more about "Northern Soul" online/Facebook/Twitter

Josh Whitehouse from "Northern Soul"

Five years in the making, "Northern Soul" is the cinematic debut from acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine. The film saw its theatrical and home entertainment release in October 2014. 

Newcomer Josh Whitehouse plays central character Matt, bad boy of the film who steers lead John Clark (played by Elliot James Langridge) towards the vibrant Northern Soul all-nighter scene of the 1970's.  

We met up with Josh to discuss Northern Soul dancing, tattoos and how it felt working on a project that was such a labour of love...


How did you meet Elaine, and get involved with “Northern Soul”?

I met Elaine five years ago when my band were in the background of a photoshoot she was doing. She asked me to entertain a crowd whilst they were fixing something, and I jumped up on a hay bale played my guitar and sang a song. I think she noticed how responsive the crowd were in a situation like that. She invited me to her Northern Soul dance classes she was putting on in London, and I went along with no prior dancing or acting experience and just got involved really. I went for about six months, and after that she offered me private dance classes as I was getting better. We started doing acting workshops too – guys already involved with the film started trying out scripts with me and I then started doing acting classes. So from the dance classes, to script reading to acting lessons, one thing lead to another really. It was only about two months before we started filming that I was formally offered the part. It was two years of total anticipation and preparation. 

I’ve seen footage from some of the Northern Soul dance classes on youtube - they look pretty incredible. How did that come about, did they slowly build over time?

I joined the classes two years before we started filming, and to be fair, they were as packed at the beginning as they were at the end. They were held at a pub called the Old Queens Head in North London. Everybody was incredibly inviting and welcoming – I started new to it all (everybody else was amazing at dancing), but I gave it my best. It was just a great environment. At the end of every dance class two people had to go up and show what they’d learned that day– everybody would clap, cheer and support. It was really helpful.

How was it learning Northern Soul dancing? Obviously the dancing is a little different from how most people normally dance. Were you nervous, or self-conscious?

Yeah, haha.  It’s one of those things where you’re aware you feel nervous and self-conscious, but the only way to get past that is to throw yourself into it and let it go. It’s the same thing as moving to a new school and trying to make new friends. The more you do it, and the more you have people see you do it, the less it feels like something that is completely new to you.  


With the music, was Northern Soul a genre you were into before the film, or is it something you’ve come to enjoy?

No, not at all, haha. I’m a musician – I play music, and I listen to a lot of different styles of music, but I’d never heard of Northern Soul. When I joined the dance classes I was given three albums of tracks being considered for the film’s soundtrack. I was asked to learn them, asked to listen to them. I really wanted to give everything to this so I listened to them day in day out, tried to learn all the vocals. Elaine would quiz us on the records, making sure we knew the songs. To be presented with a whole new genre of music – not just a genre, a culture of music, it was difficult for me to know whether I instantly liked it, but after going through all this – the classes, making the film, all these experiences really made me feel at one with soul music. 

You mentioned you have your own band, is soul something you’ve started to incorporate into the music you make now?

Absolutely. It’s really inspiring. I’ve got a band called “More Like Trees” and we do a cover of Frankie Valli’s “The Night” which is in the film. We do it a bit flamenco-y a bit like house music, but all acoustic. It’s very different to the original, but I realised I’d been learning all of this music so rigidly that I have this catalogue of great soul tunes that have been hand-picked for me by people from the scene. I started playing the songs on guitar, partly to learn the words, partly to learn some of the feeling as we had to sing along with these songs when we’re on set. When I learn a song I use a guitar. Singing along to the record doesn’t quite bed the words into my brain as much. It was my way of getting into the songs.

Your character in the film is a bit of a bad boy, he’s the guy that steers Elliot’s character away – do you see much of yourself in him, or are you quite different?

Yeah he is a bit of a bad boy. I’m definitely different from the character, but I think you have to have an element of a character deep down in you to be able to portray it fully. The main thing I connected to with my character was his relentless hatred for chart music. I used to spend many long drives listening to the radio in someone else’s car, and it used to drive me mad. It’s one of the reasons I started a band to be honest. A lot of the great independent bands, they never seem to hit the mainstream, and even when they do they get turned into something completely different. Everybody hates them because they’ve gone into making money instead of doing this or that. It can be a really messed up industry. With my character, he was obsessed with these great records. He had a hatred for Cliff Richard and the charts - one of my favourite lines was (adopts Northern accent) “Forget the charts, it’s all propaganda”. So yeah, I channelled all of this into my character – he’s obsessed with music, and I think that if you have that same venom running through your veins, you’ll be alright.

Your character has lots of tattoos which stand out in the film, I heard you kept one of them – is that right?

Yeah ha, I got it on the wrong arm actually – I must have preferred it on this side. My girlfriend got it for me for my 24th – my last birthday. I always said to Elaine that if I got the part and I played the role for her, I wanted a reminder to represent all the work that went into the project. You can only really get tattoos to represent big moments of your life, and I guess “Northern Soul” is one that I’m not going to forget. 


The film is now out in cinemas, how does it feel for it to be finally out there? It took a while to actually get to the screen…

Yeah, yeah it’s an incredible release of anticipation and waiting. Since I first got involved, the whole process has taken five years to release. For five years I’ve been imagining that film coming out, it’s been a really long wait and I’ve been looking forward to it a lot. It kind of feels a bit numb now, like it’s not necessarily happening – but I definitely know that it is, and the film seems to be doing really well, so I’m really really pleased about that.

We’ve already had a fantastic response from Fred Perry customers about the film

Wow, great

And something that keeps being mentioned in conversations is the level of detail and authenticity that runs through the film. How was it working with Elaine, who came from the scene itself?                   

Oh man, Elaine is incredible. I consider her one of my closest friends now, even though she’s 30 years older than me. I think when I met her on that first photoshoot, I decided internally I wanted to stay involved with what she was doing. She manages to be so on-point and professional, whilst making sure everybody is doing their job, but still keeping everybody relaxed…I don’t know if I’d describe it as Northern? Haha very Northern. She’s a dirty, grotty Northerner and she’s completely amazing, incredibly talented. She was a dream to work with really. She’ll be really blunt with you, and I need that because I wasn’t an actor before. She’d come up to us and say things like “Y’know that line you just did? You’re saying it all wrong. Could you just like, say the words properly?” which was great – I’d be like “OK love, yeah yeah, now I know exactly what you don’t want me to do”. Her way of handling people is really fantastic.

In terms of the authenticity and attention to detail, the costumes were just incredible. She’d have top DJs from the scene constantly down. If you think about the dance scenes where there were perhaps up to 2000 people on the floor dancing, what you can’t see is the other 1000 people sat on the balcony above who were all from the Northern Soul scene originally. They were there watching. They are the people who are going to really critique this film, the people this film is really going to matter to – she invited them all down to come and watch her make it. I think it was a smart move of her. She was saying she was confident she wasn’t going to get anything wrong, and if she did they could come here and tell her. 


I think it definitely seems to have struck a chord. How was it working with your co-stars? There is some real British talent involved in the film.

It was fantastic. I’ve never really worked with other actors before. I was a bit nervous about acting with really experienced people. They were all brilliant to work with, and seemed really excited about the project and got really involved. We all got on really well, and spent the whole time on set talking in a proper Northern accent. The film completely came out in everybody – I felt Northern by the time the shoot was finished.

What has been the reaction been like since the film has been released?

I’ve been tagged in many, many, many posts on Facebook – I’ve been getting a lot of love from people. Loads of lovely messages, from old friends to complete strangers. It seems overall incredibly positive. I keep getting pictures from friends of sold out cinemas. There’s been a campaign to get the film shown in bigger cinemas, which I totally support. It’s a bit like going back to what I was saying about chart music. There are a lot of other films that get attention because of the name, or people cast in them, but I think sometimes people like to support the underdog. The film has done so well already at independent cinemas, I think the next step is to get the public to push to get the mainstream cinemas buckle I guess. There’s a load of groups for the film on Facebook and the internet, and I think public support is one of the main ways an independent film can get out there – and I’m just really happy it’s happened to Elaine. 

Finally, what’s next for you?

I’ve just signed with an acting agency, and if something good comes in acting-wise then fantastic. But I’m mainly focusing on my music and my band, so lots of gigs and solo gigs. I’ve got big plans to have an all-powerful band by the New Year. It’s an exciting time. 

Northern Soul is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital HD 

Josh Whitehouse on Twitter

Find out more about "Northern Soul" online/Facebook/Twitter

Northern Soul - An Illustrated History

Acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Elaine Constantine has compiled an illustrated history of Northern Soul movement in a new book. Sitting alongside shots from Northern Soul - The Film, the book features many personal snapshots and stories from the legendary music scene. Whilst the rich cinematic stills hold the book together thematically, it's the unique material compiled from the 60s, 70s and 80s that are key to the book's authenticity and depth.

Northern Soul The Book 2

Speaking of the book, Constantine says: "this project has real lifelong soul fans and active scene members at the helm, so rest assured it will be an excellent complement to the film and a worthwhile study of our beloved scene in its own right." Born and raised in Bury, Lancashire, the photographer and filmmaker has been featured in The Face, i-D, Vanity Fair and Italian Vogue, often using friends and street castings as models. Northern Soul - The Film is due to be released soon, featuring Steve Coogan and Ricky Tomlinson.

'Northern Soul - An Illustrated History' is available now.