Tributes paid to Sheffield 'Northern Soul fanatic' and 'unsung hero' Barry Holland

Family and friends of a popular Northern Soul DJ who helped revitalise Sheffield’s scene since the 1980s have paid tribute to the ‘unsung hero’ who died with Covid last year.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 2:47 pm
Barry KGB Holland. Copy pic of Barry. Picture Scott Merrylees
Barry KGB Holland. Copy pic of Barry. Picture Scott Merrylees

Barry Holland, who was 59 when he died, made a name for himself on the global Northern Soul scene, spending time with musical heavyweights such as Tobi Legend and Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

And, known around the city for his kindness and willingness to help people, his reputation extended further than music – including among victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

In 1999 Barry and his wife Ann worked with two other DJs and revived the famous Sheffield KGB all-nighters in Bar Abbey on Abbeydale Road, picking up a legacy that began in the city years earlier.

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Ann Holland, Barry's wife. Picture Scott Merrylees

Over 15 years they gave hundreds of DJs their first chance to play their records, but it was long before that when Barry’s ‘fanatical passion’ for Northern Soul was first established, his family say.

His brother Alan said: “Barry left school and started work at Marshall’s Hard Metals in 1976. As soon as that began he used to get his pay packet on a Friday and go down to Revolution Records in the Castle Market and spend everything he could on music.

"He was a Northern Soul fanatic, and he would collect anything to do with it that he could. It is a shame they don’t have a Northern Soul museum for all his things.

Some of Barry's Wigan Casino memorabilia. Picture Scott Merrylees

"His knowledge was encyclopedic. You could say some lyrics and he would know the record, who played what on it, and all the different versions.

"And he was generous with his knowledge. He wanted to share his passion and help people enjoy what he loved.

"When Barry was growing up Northern Soul was not that popular, but he carried the flame and wanted to get other people interested.”

Hillsborough born and bred, Wednesday fan Barry met Ann and they married in 1987, moving in together on Middlewood Road.

Some of Barry's Wigan Casino memorabilia. Picture Scott Merrylees

Ann said: “I was a rocker and he was a soul boy, but we still ended up together!

"He was quiet but he was good at telling jokes. He had an ‘S.W.F.C.’ tattoo and if Wednesday lost and somebody commented about it he’d say it stood for Stevie Wonder Fan Club.

"Doing the KGB nights we raised more than £14,000 for Sheffield charities. It was a passion for him, not just a hobby. Once you got him talking about Northern Soul that was it.

"But he never pushed himself on people. He was always happy to put other people at the centre.

A signed photo to Barry from Miles Grayson. Picture Scott Merrylees

"He was so humble. He didn’t realise how good of a DJ he was. He knew what people wanted and he knew how to read a room and play to a crowd and keep them dancing.

"I will carry on doing some soul nights now he’s gone. To keep his memory alive.”

Ann said that Barry would travel the country to go to Northern Soul events in Cleethorpes, Bridlington, Yarmouth and Skegness. She said that a trip he took to Wigan Casino – ‘the Mecca of Northern Soul’ – was a real ‘epiphany’ for her husband.

Ann also recalled a time when, after the Hillsborough disaster, she and Barry let Liverpool supporters into their house to use their phone to contact family members to let them know they were safe.

"We had the kettle on and a bottle of whisky out in case anybody needed a drink to calm down,” she said. “They kept trying to give us money but Barry said he did not want their money. He wanted to help.”

Some of Barry's Northern Soul collection. Picture Scott Merrylees

Alan added: “Barry’s funeral was a sad affair. There were the Covid restrictions and we couldn’t see him. But there was a cortege of scooters behind the hearse, and there were hundreds of people lining the way clapping.

"And we hope that when people read this they can celebrate the life of an unsung hero.”

Among the highlights of Barry’s life was a trip to Los Angeles with Ann to a Northern Soul convention, as well as meeting one of his favourite singers, Tobi Legend.

Barry had a tattoo of one of Legend’s lyrics: ‘Life is just a precious miracle’ from ‘Time Will Pass You By’. When the singer saw a photo of it she arranged to speak to him and, on hearing of Barry’s death, Legend sent Ann her condolences.

He also met many other artists at soul events, including Mary Wilson and Frank Wilson, Ann said.

Barry, who suffered from a number of illnesses in later life including COPD and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, was one of the first casualties with Covid at the Northern General Hospital. He passed away from pneumonia on April 14, 2020.

Doctors used their research from treating Barry for his Covid and various conditions simultaneously to contribute vital findings to Oxford University, which Ann and Alan have been told helped contribute to the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Alan said: “The doctors could not ventilate him because of his heart and lung conditions.

"They asked him if they could use what they learned from treating him and send it to the people researching the vaccines at Oxford University.

“It helps to know that Barry was able to help in some small way. That reflects his personality: he was selfless.”

A tribute to Barry has been organised, and DJs from Sheffield KGB will be playing the event to celebrate Barry’s life and passion.

Barry's jacket decorated with northern soul patches. Picture Scott Merrylees
Ann Holland. Picture Scott Merrylees