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Capturing the quirks of British culture
It’s a bit about Northern Soul,” says Victoria Melody, describing her new one-woman show, ”it‘s also a bit about pigeons, but mainly it‘s about me, trying to join in!”
For the last year, the eccentric ethnographer has been living with pigeon fanciers and champion soul dancers to gain an insight into their passions.
”I just love Englishness,” she explains. ”I‘m really interested in anthropology and studying Britain‘s little tribes, clubs and societies. I think it would be sad for all these things to disappear without anyone knowing they‘d ever existed.”
The artist, who shares her findings in the funny and charming Northern Soul at Jacksons Lane next week, began her project with an advertisement in a pigeon racing magazine. ‘Would you let this girl come and stay with you and be filmed?‘
”They put a photo of me in the magazine. I got loads of replies from single men – so I had to really vet the people who were interested!
”There is a stereotype of a flat-cap wearing, pot-bellied northerner. And it is a bit like that but there are loads of pigeon fanciers in the south and I met female ones, younger ones and people that actually did it for a living – they‘d won boats and caravans, all kinds of Bullseye prizes!”
Her study took her down the fanciers‘ local pub (”sometimes they take their pigeons with them” says Victoria) and even for a spot of karaoke.
”I can make your eyes glaze over with the kind of stuff I know about pigeons,” she admits.
But while the bird-lovers accepted Victoria into their circle, breaking into the fiercely guarded Northern Soul scene took more work.
After happening across an ‘all-nighter‘ while on her hen-do in Cleethorpes, Victoria, daughter of Dickinson‘s Real Deal antique expert Mike Melody, was intrigued by this rarely mentioned movement.
In the late-60s, in dancehalls in the north of England, fans would dance into the early hours to the sound of rare, fast-tempo soul songs that had been specially imported from America. The movement survives to this day, upheld by protective enthusiasts.
”There was a bit of suspicion with me,” Victoria explains. ”They‘re scared of their legacy not being accurate. It‘s an underground movement and they don‘t want a light shone on it.”
For Victoria to be accepted, she would have to learn some of the scene‘s distinctive dance moves.
”Oh my god – every muscle and bone in my body killed! I found it so difficult.
”The very good dancers are terrible teachers because it comes so natural to them. They say: ‘You just do this‘, then spin around, fall on the floor and do this wiggly thing with their legs.
”It‘s like they‘re skating on a mill pond, just skating round the floor. It looks like they‘re not touching the floor – it was really difficult trying to learn that.”
Her efforts are shared in the show, along with some choice records, and a film that features a birds-eye view of Brighton made by strapping a miniature camera to a pigeon.
So why the fascination with the quirks of British culture?
”I think it‘s really important to try and capture these amazing little things that happen in Britain before they disappear,” she explains.
”When I was a kid I never managed to join any group or club, I wasn‘t even that popular. Before the age of 18, I was a bit of a loner really. I would see different groups and wish I could be part of them, but could never quite get my way in.
”So there‘s the matter of capturing these very English things but it‘s also about me seeing if I can hang out with the gang!”
Northern Soul is at Jacksons Lane, Archway Road, Highgate on March 2 and 3 at 8pm. Details: 020 8341 4421