Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hit the North

The North can sometimes turn out the coolest sounds – amidst the humdrum towns that drag you down – there’s something in the constant mither and moans – rains and winds that has us all running to music to soothe our ills.

Because everybody’s got to live their live.

However, it was and never will be fashionable the North that is – you can add a touch of gloss here and there and often northern souls are hip in a way that can’t be recorded or documented with the lens of the capital cameras. But fashionable it is not. I guess anyone thinking that the Beatles had it, or The Buzzcocks started it, The Smiths lived it and the Mondays partied with it would think that the North was awash with glamour and excitement. But that means you negate the existence of:

Doncaster
Rotherham
Grimbsy
Hull
Preston,
York,
Skipton,
Scunthorpe,
Scarborough-on-Sea,
Chester,
Chorley,
Cheedle Hulme,
Ormskirk,
Accrington Stanley,
and Leigh,
Ossett,
Otley,
Ikley Moor,
Sheffield

These places are all in the north, filled with fury and futility as kids kick cats and hit each other with baseball bats. And growing up you would wrestle with the ‘big’ kids or find alternative routes home to avoid a kicking through ten foots and alleys, over railings and walls to retreat to the sounds that filled you with hope and security. And as I grew older I fell in love with it all – a romance with the bleak outlook and frustrated faces – the furnaces and the smoke. And we would play records and dream of escape but a little part of me reels around the [central park] fountain and is forever wedded to cheap pies and ale and those discos with deejays who talked over seven inches and scraps with your chips. Holed up in the council house streets – in our shared bedrooms we played tunes to soothe our troubles and growing pains.

I remember the revolving 45s and 33s – the wait as the needle hit the record and the drumbeat went like that. This was our heaven up here, up the stairs and away from the folks – we would roar through The Birthday Party EPs, rock to the Spector sounds of Rock n Roll by Lennon, immerse ourselves in the electric jangles of bands from foreign places and sunny climes and discuss lost albums by the Beach Boys or how we could track down Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed. It’s all at a touch of a button these days – a sharp hit on the return key and you can hear it – find out what others think – study the style [and go wild]. Back then it was a [mystery] it was trips to the library to seek out books on music – and leaf through back issues of NME – perfectly stored in boxes under tables. And you could even take records out – take them home under your arm with the books. Now you’d be lucky to get a book out.

Existing on one photograph of Lou Reed or The Byrds to create your [Scunthorpe] style was a challenge – but one we relished and warmed to. Sub-culture the meaning of style – having a look because that’s all you got to distinguish you from the masses [and attract the lasses] And never to be recreated. I know I discussed that this writing should not be about looking back – but it is permeated with loss – it’s the age thing creeping in and the disconnection from the real on a day to day basis. Like an alzhiemer’s waltzer – spinning and glimpsing and then forgetting for no reason other than it pops and springs into the mind.

But amidst the spit on the streets was a mapping out of the attitudes the opinions – it was where friendships sparked with wit and naivety stem from – of getting things wrong and working things out to the backdrop of bass and guitars, thumping drums and screams of alienation – which sounds so death metal – but it wasn’t - it was quite light to be honest – full of fun apart from the occasional thumping – which I often deserved anyway, as oversized kids on ‘peds – confronted you with fucks and fingers because of your hair or this or that. Although,I did own a mustard crimpoline cardigan – an homage to Mancunian miseries – that riled many a person up. I mean a cardigan causing confrontation and consternation – THIS IS THE NORTH.

They take offence at a built up shoe, or a slow queue or a badly pulled ale.

So we thank them for the music and the songs I am singing. I never really subscribed to the North/ South divide – you’re either thick or you’re clever – it don’t make no difference what dialect you speak in or what you call a bread roll. And I haven’t worked it out – no doubt somebody will – an ex-accountant with a penchant for the indie scene of the early 1990s – how many bands have risen from the North as opposed to the South - but i guess i like as many bands from down south as do from up north. You know I own an Airstream box set for christ’s sake.

I haven’t felt excited about a band in a long time – well not in the way I used to as a young man. It was what got you through the week. But a friend I worked with gave me a burnt CD – it had Arctic Monkeys written on it – he said they we’re good – had seen them a couple times in London dives and on small stages and the crowd went wild and everybody sang along. I was worried to be honest – never felt that next big thing really – you know I cock an ear to it – but don’t exactly follow it. I mean Glasvegas or the XX anyone? All that studiedness and Brit[school] pop charm and sensibility. No,no, no – I don’t love that anymore. So it may well have been a while before I could be bothered to listen to it. It was certainly after lots of people had believed the hype. [But Flavor told me to not believe and you tend to do as Flavor says] So it was with a sense of knowing about these lads that I hit play – and I was pleasantly surprised at first. Hadn’t thought that it would appeal – but found myself returning to lines – of sentiments and situations that resonated with realness as I remembered ‘cuddles in the kitchen just to get things off the ground’. Clearly within this cacophony of guitar – all mastered LOUD was a band with a heart –and a band with an attitude you could just about respect. Young lads, making young music for young people. It is not hip to bluster in on someone else’s scene. But that first album – as it was these songs were the authentic ones – the demos you know – the ones given away – at gigs - as the myspace world made bands an all of that – but these songs became that angry Arthur Seaton two fingered salute to all the [my] generations trying to claim them as their own. As I said I don’t want to be part of a [music] scene – heavy on the [music] scene – but the Monkeys [see what I did there] were pretty much creating it with each strum of their guitars.

But whatever people say about that album that is what it is not. It is Northern though. And some tunes just capture that spirit – that bleakness you get from darker nights and cheap lager. I once saw a kid just dragging a curtain rail around – it was like twenty feet and he was about 5 ft – and he was dragging it around – I think he was going to school. But there’s a certain romance with all of that – not sentimental – more brutal. Like Loach’s Kes or Meadow’s England. Of bigger lads and chances and nods and winks and Rugby club dances. There’s a simplicity and a mockery that I love in the lyrics on that album and it reminds me of being there. Of course now ruined by Emma’s brother mentioning George Formby as ‘Bet you look good on the dancefloor’ came on. So all I have in my head on hearing is a ukulele or banjo working class caricature – strumming tunes with wild abandon.

It is clear the North will [not] rise again - not in ten thousand years.

But I do like it.