Dave Freeburg’s Northern Soul

I'm not this way, but I've always admired people who treat work - no matter what it is - as work, then they leave and get on with life.

There's others, like me, and others I know in the creative world, where their passion is their profession.

But what I find particularly fascinating is someone like local DJ David Freeburg, whose professional life and creative life cross-pollinate in a decidedly funky way.

He's a librarian who works for the Mohegan tribe and a voracious record collector, with nearly 2,500 LPs and hundreds of 45s organized by letter and genre.

"DJing came first," said Freeburg, who goes by the nom de spin, Sir Roundsound. "But library science made sense to me, going from record collecting to computer databases."

I think the most beautiful sight in these United States is the view of New York from right side of an Amtrak train while going southeast over the Hell Gate Bridge, with the Manhattan skyline flipping by your window.

But now that I've flipped through Freeburg's box of obscure soul records, that reliably magnificent scene has some competition.

I caught up with Freeburg during his regular Wednesday night gig spinning soul and reggae 45s at 33, a basement bar a third of the way up Golden Street in downtown New London.

Freeburg, an affable 37-year-old with moppish hair and glasses, was on stage with his turntables and stylish white headphones, eyeballing the styluses as they inch toward the run-out grooves.

He waved and beckoned me over to the stage to say hello. We've known each other for several years and I've often written about Fatal Film, the rock band for which he also plays bass.

There, to the left of the turntables, sat his "go-to" box of 45s.

"Do you mind?" I asked.

"Not at all," he said.

It's a black metal box with two rows of 7-inch records all protected by plastic sleeves. They felt slippery as I flicked through them, occasionally picked one out, then turned my wrist to glance at the B-side. If you haven't flipped through your albums in a while, you should. It's therapeutic.

Now, I long ago earned my diploma at the Nick Hornby Institute for Advanced Vinyl Studies and consider myself part of the 1 percent when it comes to music nerdiness.

I had no idea what the hell any of these records were. "Comeback Girl" by Jackie Edwards? Nope. "Hope We Have" by The Artistics? Never heard it.

See, Freeburg incorporates into his set a good amount of a particular sub-genre of soul called Northern Soul, which has something of a complicated history.

The "northern" refers to the industrial cities in the north of England, such as Manchester or Wigan, where in the late 1960s and early 1970s DJs would play lesser known uptempo, frenetic American soul records to working-class crowds in old dance halls. Some of these places, like Wigan Casino, hold an almost sacred place in UK music history.

The crowds would don suits and skirts, occasionally down some sort of upper, and dance all night.

Freeburg worships these records - all of them surefire dance floor fillers - but he also has an affinity for these long forgotten singers and bands.

"These were smaller groups, recording in small studios," Freeburg said. "They couldn't afford more than one or two takes. So, there's an urgency to them, more hunger."

A former DJ at WHUS out of UConn at Storrs, Freeburg told me that often there were only 100 copies of some of these records.

The original Northern Soul DJs often had to conduct painstaking searches to find new music.

"They were the archivists," Freeburg said. "A lot this really would be lost to obscurity."

And while many of the more popular Northern Soul classics can be found on compilations, Freeburg lets his collector impulse spin freely, and scours catalogs and websites daily looking for more music.

But Freeburg's records don't stay hermetically sealed in a sleeve; they slide out and meet the needle.

"Soul," Freeburg said. "I can't help it."

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.


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