Bletsoe to The Wheel with Norman Rogers

Whilst researching for photos for the forthcoming book ‘Scorcha!’ which looks at the original skinhead/suedehead era circa 1967 – 1973, I came across the work of Norman Rogers on Facebook. They formed part of the unique collection of high-resolution images taken between 1968 to 1972 that you rarely find, and trust me, I’m always on the lookout for this kind of thing. 

Obviously taken with a very decent camera, the ones that I was particularly taken with, captured the late skinhead/ early suedehead styles of both the guys and girls in the photographs.

I spent ages examining the check button down shirts, mohair suits, sheepskin coats, college ties, razored in side partings,  side burns , V-neck Fair Isle knitwear, leather jean jackets, driving gloves, well I could go on, but you get the idea.

I saw it also mentioned that Norman’s photos had been used in the past in various books , without his knowledge, so he had decided to self-publish a book to put the record straight and reclaim ownership, and this he did with the photos, backed up with recollections of the soul clubs he attended and the music he had danced too.

Entitled ‘Bletsoe to The Wheel and Back’ the book revealed that Norman’s father had won a Ricoh 35 S camera at work and unbeknown to the old man his son would then borrow the camera and take photos at the many soul events he attended back then.

I would think that someone in a club with a good quality Japanese camera would be a rarity in those days and indeed you can see a mixture of suss and confusion on many that Norman pointed his camera towards. Get past those sometimes bewildered stares however, and you can examine to your hearts content, the interior of the venues, in places like Kettering, Market Harborough, Corby, Cambridge, The Twisted Wheel in Manchester and Saints and Sinners in Birmingham, complete with tales of the dealing ‘sweeties’ and the constant drug raids by the boys in blue which eventually forced the closure of many of the clubs named above.

I also enjoyed reading the thoughts of Ady Croasdell in the book. Many of you will know Ady from the legendary Kent compilation albums and of course, the 100 Club all – nighters. He is someone I have long admired for introducing the uninitiated to the glorious sounds of the Northern and rare soul scene.

Then, topping it all off, is the added bonus of lists of the records that were being played in the clubs back then. Many I knew, introduced to them via Ady, but also included were many that I hadn’t heard of before, which is always an added bonus.

In truth, the book left me wanting to know more, so I reached out to Norman and asked him a few questions for a short interview.

The Mumper – I’m intrigued by the camera. Back then of course, it would have been a rarity to see one such as that in the clubs.

Norman Rogers – It was just left around the house and unused as my dad wouldn’t spend any money on film for it. Some of the places I was ending up, were very impressive to me, so I thought I’d take a few photos. I was 17 when I first discovered the rare soul scene, so around 1966. That’s how it all started.

TM – When you had the various films developed, did you then show them to the people in the photos at the events?

NR – Yeh, I would show the photos to friends and then have to get duplicate copies made to give to them. Many years later, I purchased a book on The Twisted Wheel and discovered loads of my photos were in it, so they had obviously been scattered around over the years.

TM – Not ideal that, because they were your own photos staring back at you, but did you then think, maybe I’ve got something here with my collection?

NR – Well, before I was married, I had them all at home and then when I moved once wed, the photos came too. Forgot about them really.  It was only when I joined Facebook ten years back or so, and started to post up a few of the photos, that friends on there started saying I should do a book myself. So, that’s what I did.

TM – One of the things that really stood out to me and some of my pals, were the clothes and styles that those in the photos were wearing. Some great details on show.

NR – Well, everyone I knew wore smart clothes to the venues. I didn’t purposely take the photos thinking of what they were wearing, I just thought they looked really smart. I used to buy my clothes at places like ‘Ziggy Style Best’, ‘Clyde’ and a couple of other shops in Cambridge.

TM – What about the records? Where were you getting them from?

NR – My mate Jeff Tomlin, who is featured in the book was the record collector among us and I used to buy off of Jeff.

TM – In the days before the internet, Facebook and all that, how did you hear about the dates of the up-and-coming nights, and indeed about the new ones springing up?

NR – It would have worked a lot like the ‘rave scene’ a few years back I guess, with getting the info. from those in the know by word of mouth, or a telephone call tipping us all off.

TM – I heard from a good mutual mate of ours, namely Ady Croasdell, that you were a very good dancer. Tell me a little about that. A natural, or hours of practice?

NR – Well, in truth it all come naturally to me. In fact, when at a nighter in London once, I was asked if I was a professional dancer, from one of those West End shows.

TM – Impressive sir. Ok, time to murder your darlings. If I was to put a gun to your head, name me your top ten tunes of all time, from any genre.

NR – 

Just Loving You – Ruby Andrews

It Really Hurts Me Girl – The Carstairs

My Love Is Your Love – The Isley Brothers

I’ll Never Stop Loving You – Carla Thomas

Messing with My Mind – Clarence Carter

Right Track – Billy Butler

Wade in the Water – Ramsey Lewis

Baby, I Need Your Lovin’ – The Four Tops

That Driving Beat – Willie Mitchel

Blue’s in the Night – Johnny Taylor

Nessun Dorma – Luciano Pavarotti

I’ll have to  double check that last one out Norman, not sure I’ve heard the Northern version of that….

In closing, I’ll leave the last few words to Ady.

‘Norman was the real deal, cool as and occasionally helped a large proportion of our crowd from nodding off at the all-nighters. The amazing thing is that he kept himself together enough to take so many great photos.‘

The Mumper of SE5

Bletsoe to The Wheel and back…. can be purchased on eBay: 



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