The aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the cool sounds of up-beat Northern Soul music, embracing you as you enter. Welcome to Coffee Press, a vibrant, busy cafe on the site of an old newspaper building in the small town of Kilmarnock, Scotland, a once thriving industrial hub some 12 miles south of Glasgow.
“Soul music is a big part of what we are all about,” Coffee Press owner Alisdair Hood laughs as he explains his affinity with the music. “It's all about creating a good atmosphere for our customers, getting their toes tapping while enjoying their coffee.” Here the playlist is steeped in Northern Soul greats like Frank Wilson's “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”, (Marvin Gaye and) Tammi Terrell's “California Soul”, The Supremes' “Stoned Love”, The Jackson Sisters' “I Believe In Miracles”, and Minnie Riperton's “Les Fleur” to name only a few tracks on the playlist.
I'm talking about the original version of “I Believe In Miracles”, of course, not The Jackson Sisters' more famous disco crossover. The original is a Northern Soul flag waver and the distinction matters.
Northern Soul was a musical phenomenon that captivated young people in northern Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. In towns like Wigan, UK youths fell in love with the music of Chuck Wood, Dobie Gray, and Tobi Legend—obscure artists in their native America overshadowed by the massive success of Motown, but adored in the small towns of Scotland and northern Britain, spun and re-spun at public dances until the grooves wore off. America largely ignored these artists, but in Northern Soul circles that was the attraction: the more obscure the better.
The Coffee Press opened in 2006, and it may be Scotland's only coffee bar dedicated to the sounds of Northern Soul. “The name is a nod to the history of the building,” Hood tells me. “It was previously the offices of the local newspaper (The Kilmarnock Standard), and is also another name for cafetière.”
In ten years the outlet has grown in popularity and has a reputation for being a well-organized and operated coffee outlet close to central Kilmarnock. The staff are attentive, even in busy periods, and Hood's cooking up many of his own recipes for the cafe menu. The shop is well-equipped with the retro-styled and hard-working Elektra Barlume two-group coffee machine and the durable Mazzer espresso grinder. Coffee is supplied by Matthew Algie, an independent Glasgow-based coffee roaster founded in 1864.
But this is more than just a coffee shop: it is a cultural oasis in a town whose great engineering and manufacturing era has long since passed, and a nod to the days when American soul music transfixed a generation of Scottish and English kids. They host at art shows here and allow it to double as a gallery; there are occasional themed nights in which Hood, a talented chef, rolls out menus that celebrate cuisines from around the world, all of it accompanied by great music (and a friendly BYOB policy).
There should be more Northern Soul cafes, in my very biased opinion, and more appreciation of this quirk of musical history, which is still inspiring new generations of musicians today—Belle and Sebastian, an iconic Scottish band, are huge Northern Soul devotees. And so it was that obscure American soul music would get a generation of Northerners dancing in the streets; today Coffee Press has mixed those sounds with coffees from around the world. The beat still grooves.
As a special treat for Sprudge readers, allow us to offer 10 classic Northern Soul cuts, in collaboration with the staff at Coffee Press.
Frank Wilson — Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
Dobie Gray — Out On The Floor
Judy Street — What
Dean Parrish — I'm On My Way
Epitome of Sound — You Don't Love Me
Al Wilson — The Snake
James Fountain — Seven Day Lover
Chuck Wood — Seven Days Too Long
Jimmy Radcliffe — Long After Tonight Is All Over
Tobi Legend — Time Will Pass You By