“When I’m on the dancefloor and Northern Soul music is playing I feel like this is where I lie, this is like your home.”
Anthony Flavin has spent most of his life growing up in care. Life was hard for him for a good while, but he credits his passion for Northern Soul music with turning everything around.
As the teenager approached his 18th birthday he was filmed for a documentary called Soul Boy. He was introduced to the directors, Luke Radford and Toby Curson, through his key worker, Luke Greenhill.
“One Saturday afternoon Luke [Greenhill] suggested we join him at a Northern Soul event to meet one of the new young people that had recently moved into the care home that he works at,” says Luke Radford.
“Anthony’s fearless energy on the dancefloor and 1970s inspired outfit instantly captured our attention.
“Over the space of a few months, we developed a relationship with him and soon realised his story and journey were unique.”
The documentary shows the close relationship between Anthony and Luke Greenhill.
“Anthony has been in care since he was six so he’s very, very used to it, more than most kids that I know,” says the teenager’s key worker.
“He is an example of [someone] that’s been in care since they were quite young and literally seen the whole system.”
[Luke’s] efforts to develop and improve Anthony’s situation was also something that caught our attention,” says Toby.
“Luke goes out of his way to support Anthony’s passion for Northern Soul, which has allowed him to develop social skills and for the first time in his life feel a sense of community and belonging.”
Despite being born in the early noughties, Anthony’s home in Nottingham is a shrine to the 1960s and 1970s, with icons like Steve McQueen and Jimi Hendrix on the wall.
He wears classic Mod clothes like Fred Perry tops and Harrington jackets, listens to American soul music recorded in the 1960s and goes out dancing at Northern Soul nights.
“The first film I watched was Bullitt,” Anthony says. “In my eyes Steve McQueen is the ultimate cool of cool.”
Luke says Anthony’s passion for the genre is unique.
“I’ve never had a young person in my life that’s wanted to go to Northern Soul gigs but he said he wanted to go, so we went,” he says.
“I can threaten him with Northern Soul if he don’t behave. How many times do I go, ‘you’re not going Northern Soul if you don’t behave’?”
“About a hundred,” replies Anthony.
Luke says Anthony transformed when they started going to soul nights together.
“He presented a lot of challenging behaviour, nothing too bad, but just very kind of confused and yeah, it was hard for a good while,” he says.
“But literally from the first time we took him out to Northern Soul he did honestly change.”
Anthony says going to the events have helped him “massively”.
“He takes me to these, probably to build my confidence, to build my independence and to just make me feel like I’m happy, and to get out so I can enjoy myself,” he says.
Is it working?
“Yeah it is.”
Anthony’s passion for the music and dancing has also had an effect on other people, including shoemaker Pete “The Shoe” Bullock.
“I had a look at myself when I started to get into my 50s and I knew something was missing,” he says. “I suddenly realised I was getting a little bit depressed.”
Pete had not been on the soul scene for a long time, but seeing Anthony moving on the dancefloor one night deeply resonated with him.
“He were so happy and I thought, ‘that were me when I were his age’,” he says.
“Within minutes I’d got on the dancefloor myself then and something just clicked and I realised, I’m in my happiest days again, I’m dancing to Northern.”
Nisha Chopra, who co-produced the documentary, said the filming was emotional at times – especially when Anthony went to Blackpool to meet a legendary DJ.
“All the crew really had to hold back the tears when Anthony met Richard Searling, as it was quite something to see a young lad get this masterclass from a Northern Soul legend and for Anthony it was very overwhelming,” she says.
Nisha said over the two months it took to shoot and edit the film, all of the crew members formed their own bond with Anthony.
“He’s just a very unique young lad.”
Soul Boy will be broadcast on BBC One at 19:30 BST on 27 May.