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Dig The New Breed: DJs Emma Noble and Sophie Heath Spread The Gospel To A New Generation

By way of introduction, what does it say on the Noble & Heath business card?

Emma: “Noble & Heath – Double-decking Vinyl DJ Duo: Playing Soul, Northern, Crossover & Disco”. That’s what we usually tell people. In a nutshell.

Sophie: Some people have suggested “Noble & Heath Sound Machine” too. We play soul 45’s at club nights, festivals and also have our own online radio show at Mi-Soul Connoisseurs.

“Soul, Northern, Crossover and Disco DJ” is not a job that we’ve ever seen advertised – how did all this come about?

Emma: It just accidentally happened.

Sophie: It was our friend’s birthday, and Emma and I played a few records while people were arriving. We absolutely loved it.

Making A New Impression: Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath behind the decks.

Emma: People seemed to be responding well to it so we ended up playing quite a while in the end. Then at the end of the night, our good friend Dean Chalkley was at the party and came up to us and said, “Don’t stop doing this” – that has really stuck in our minds since.
Next thing we know, Dean invited us to do a set at ‘Soul Box’, which is a monthly night he and Eddie Piller do at Old Street Records. We were nervous but luckily another mate of ours also asked us to come and DJ at his pub, so we used that as a bit of a ‘trial run’, and after we said “Blimey, that was brilliant”.

We then felt so much more confident we could do Soul Box; and it just escalated from there and it hasn’t stopped since. For every gig we did, we kept getting offered another one and so on.

Sophie: We had no free weekends for ages. We were enjoying it all so much that we were saying “YES” to everything that came along, having a great time and then wondering why are were so tired on Monday mornings at work.

If there is a stereotype Northern Soul DJ then you don’t fit the profile. Does that inform people’s attitude to you?

Sophie: No I don’t think so, a lot of the people we’ve DJ-ed with tell us they’re very keen to get fresh blood into the Soul scene.

Emma: We’ve been very lucky, we haven’t experienced any negativity yet. If anything, we’ve had a lot of people trying to help us and encourage us.

Sophie: People have said to us that if our younger generation don’t take on this music then it could disappear – particularly the Northern Soul scene. We’ve met a lot of really good friends through it all too; we’ve got our own little group who are all into the Soul scene, which is really nice.

Emma: Before we started DJ-ing, we were within the Soul scene anyway; going to club nights, and going dancing… so we knew a lot of people who have since been very supportive. They have seen what we are doing and said, “Come and do a slot at ours”.

Did music play a big part in your younger years?

Sophie: The only musical person in my family was my great-grandad, who used to play Jazz saxophone and piano. Apart from that, there wasn’t really much musical talent, I was more into my dancing until I turned 18 and I became aware of pubs and going out at the weekends! I guess I found the music I loved later on, particularly when I moved to London and became more aware of what is out there – this ‘Soul Scene’.

Emma: Very different for me. All my brothers and sisters have music in the blood. I grew up on a farm, and Dad had a dedicated music room; he really encouraged us to try and play instruments. We’d sit around a campfire and have little jams. My Dad loved Trad Jazz, classic Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and he and my Mum also loved Motown, so subconsciously it was always there, going on in the background. My brothers also had large record collections so I would hear stuff from them too. That definitely had a big part to play for me.

Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath at a recent instore event for stylish shoemakers G. H. Bass & Co.

Have you always been cool and trendy or do you want to confess to some fashion faux pas?
Sophie: I was a bit of a Tomboy growing up. I lived with my Dad, so he bought my clothes; military camouflage trousers, thick knit jumpers, baggy t-shirts and ‘sensible’ shoes, anything that was ‘sensible’ really. I used to go fishing with him every weekend or just hanging about in the garage messing with cars so didn’t really wear dresses and definitely nothing girly!

Emma: Me too – I grew up with four older brothers, so all my “hand-me-downs” were boys clothes basically.

Can you remember the first record you bought and where you bought it?

Sophie: It was cassettes for us – I used to tape things from the radio and listen back to it, and I got really hooked on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”. But I didn’t record that song just once; I recorded it through the whole cassette, back and front. I used to put it on in my Mum’s car – constantly! Sadly my Mum’s car got broken into one day and it got stolen, but I think she was pleased when it was gone! My first 7-inch record I bought when we started DJ-ing was Willie Parker “I Live The Life I Love”.

Emma: My first tape was “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith, which samples Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, so I must have been subconsciously attracted to Soul back then, even if I was unaware of it. And the first 7-inch I bought when we started DJ-ing was “Rap, Run It On Down” by Nate Turner and Vanetta Fields, which is a fast tempo Northern one.

Sophie: Both great Northern Souls singles actually.

Emma: We bought them online; we find it hard to make time to go looking through actual record stores these days, don’t we?

Sophie: Yes, unfortunately! I’ve also found that you have to have a certain level of self-control. I don’t let myself root through that many records; otherwise I would just end up spending so much money.

Emma: Yeah – It’s an expensive habit.

Sophie: They’re not even expensive records we’re buying; it’s just the amount we’ve bought.

Emma: I guess we pay for a single what other people would pay for an album. We’ve definitely not got to the stage where we will pay hundreds or thousands of pounds for a record.

Sophie: We aren’t that type of record collector though. We buy it because we want to play it, not keep it polished and neatly filed away. It’s about whether it makes you dance. We will quite happily buy re-pressings as well. Some people are really stuffy towards that but to us – we’d rather play a repress then not play it at.

When did you decide four hands were better than two?

Learning from the best: Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath with Norman Jay MBE.

Emma: We met at the interview day for our University, and we were the last two to be interviewed, so we were just left together… there would have been hundreds and hundreds of people that went through there that day, it was weird how fate decided that we were the last two left. We ended up getting on, and became best mates. We both liked going to the same clubs with old music, and then as time’s gone on, together we’ve found this passion for Soul music particularly. And it’s just grown and grown.

Sophie: And also it’s more fun being together behind the decks. We can have a good dance and a laugh together. I think we have been a lot more proactive together too, we put a lot of effort into our record buying, prepping for our radio shows and even the artwork we do for events, so having the two of us makes it easier.

Emma: It’s much more fun than being by yourself. And I think we both bring slightly different things to the table. We both like Soul music but one week Sophie might bring a record that I won’t, or she’ll find a new record that I wouldn’t necessarily buy.

Sophie: Yes, we introduce each other to a lot of new music.

Emma: It’s a nice combination. Sophie loves the slower groove stuff, whilst I’m more inclined to the fast tempo stuff.

Never tempted to “cheat” and use CD or MP3?

Sophie: No. I think it’s good that we’re restricted to a record box, we have to be more selective about what we take to gigs, what we buy and also it’s satisfying have something tangible. If you were playing MP3’s it would just be an endless choice of music.

Emma: You consider a song a lot more when you are buying it on 7-inch vinyl for some reason.

Who are your musical heroes?

Emma: A lot of today’s music is lacking the Soul that music like Motown had. For us, when Amy Winehouse came along she had that modern flair, with a lovely old school sound. She introduced a new type of music to a lot of young people so we’ve always admired her. She was a huge character and she created a big stir.

Sophie: I think it’s just that we can relate to her, because it is “now” or in our lifetime. We’ve got quite a soft spot for strong female vocalists, like Aretha Franklin, Ann Sexton, Margie Joseph – when we do our radio show we actually notice that it’s sometimes all female artists that we play.

Does music and style go hand in hand?

Emma: I guess we are part of a subculture of music and style. We’ve always thought that part really interesting. We’ve found each other and ourselves through a passion for decent music and lovely old stuff. We, and a lot of our friends, have a particular love for ‘60s, ‘70s vintage clothing.

Sophie: And also with vintage clothing, even though there’s a lot of retro-style clothing being made now, it kind of gives you an individual look, as you won’t see anyone else wearing the same thing, which is quite nice; it sets you apart.

Emma: If people are a part of something, they often use clothing to project that. “I’m into this, so I’m going to dress like this”

How do you set about discovering new tunes to play?

Putting on the style: Sophie and Emma, rocking the Tootal Paisley.

Sophie: Now we’ve started doing our radio show, we listen to a lot of other online radio. Also when you’re hunting for music on YouTube, it often leads you on to finding something else. It’s an endless journey or bottomless pit of discovering new music! We’ve also found, particularly since we started doing the radio, that a lot of people that have approached us and said, “Oh, if you like this, you might like this”. I like that because it’s a lot more personal.

Emma: Spotify gives you those Discover Weekly things and the Release Radars, and Recommended Artists which is a great way to discover new music. You can spend a day listening to an artist you haven’t heard before.
And, of course, going to see our mates DJ. Like we were saying earlier, a lot of the older generation on the Soul scene have really helped us. They’ve got years more knowledge than us, so we’ll listen to what they play, and if we like a song we’ll go up and ask, “What’s this then?’

Apart from your own events, some favourite club nights?

Sophie: When we’re not DJ-ing, we go to a lot of Soul Weekenders or All Dayers, like the one at Blackpool Ballroom, the Brighton Mod Weekender and there’s a great one in Manchester. We don’t particularly go to any regular club nights though we used to love going to Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues when we were students, and Madame JoJo’s. Sadly Madame JoJo’s got shut down but Gaz’s is still going strong.

Emma: Yeah ‘The Good Foot’ at Madame JoJo’s, it was a great night. That’s when we were students and we would go out and hit it hard, you know? We probably still do – a bit – but we are more likely to go to the pub or to see our mate’s DJ now. It’s actually on our “To Do” list for this year, to start going to more nights in London. We would also like to get our own resident night up and running this year.

Apart from setting up your own club night, what else is in The Masterplan?

Sophie Heath (left) and Emma Noble: Soul, Northern, Crossover, Disco… and Steps?

Emma: By day we’re both graphic designers; with the whole Noble & Heath thing unexpectedly taking off, we’re actually finding it a little bit hard to balance our work life versus DJ life. So, our long-term plan is to start up the ‘Noble & Heath Studio’, which would give us the freedom and flexibility to do both.

Sophie: And to combine our passions, to be a studio specialising in design for music – branding, album artwork, books, events, etc.

Emma: We’ve both done some design for Acid Jazz releases and I’ve just finished branding a new music venue in Peckham, so for us that set up would work perfectly. We’ve been booked for quite a lot of European festivals this year so this would make balancing our time a lot easier!

Sophie: The short term aim is to get that residency up and running. And just keep trying to educate ourselves – it’s a constant learning curve for us. We would love to do some big festivals this year too.

And finally, what records do you always have to keep in your box?

Emma: There are a couple of overlaps that both Sophie and I have and love and we generally start our sets with them…

Sophie: Ann Sexton “You’ve Been Gone Too Long”.

Emma: We always have a lot of Bettye Swann and Barbara Acklin.

Sophie: We always have Margie Joseph…

Emma: Alice Clark… those five, that handful…

Sophie: Oh, and they’re all women!

You can find Noble & Heath on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter at @nobleandheath

The Noble & Heath Soul Show on Mixcloud is hosted by Mi-Soul Connoisseurs every other Monday. All their shows are also available on their mixcloud page: https://www.mixcloud.com/nobleandheath/stream/