FEATURE: Welcome to the Beautiful North: Why Classic and Modern Music from the North Stands Aside from the Pack



Welcome to the Beautiful North



Why Classic and Modern Music from the North Stands Aside from the Pack


FOR some reason or other…



my mind has been up North; investigating music from the past. I have been flicking through my C.D. collection and reminding myself how good The Beautiful South were – some see them as a ‘guilty pleasure’ in music! I debate the term: can we ever call music, no matter where it originates, as something to be embarrassed about?! The Beautiful South disbanded after the album Superbi due to, quite wonderfully, ‘musical similarities’. The fact, one suspects, they got on well and were doing the same thing over and over meant they went their separate ways – rather than squabble over creative direction and new moves. I miss the guys! Through the years, the band employed three different female singers – Briana Corrigan up until 1992; Jacqui Abbot until 2000; Alison ‘Lady’ Wheeler until the end – and were a rare thing: a male-heavy band that had a female lead; a band, in essence, with three lead voices. I will not go through the entire back catalogue of The Beautiful South – there are other acts I want to bring in – but I miss the witty lyrics of Paul Heaton and the blending of Dave Hemmingway, Heaton and Abbot into that ‘classic’ line-up. The variation and options afforded to the material was great. From the Heaton-led, Abbot/Hemmingway-hummed/sung Dumb (from Quench) to Perfect 10 (ditto) – and that cheeky to-and-fro between Heaton and Abbot – it was an incredible time...


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There was, of course, debate and conflict in the band. Between the heavy drinking of Heaton (and the entire band, one suspects) to the various fall-outs through the years – the Hull band made a huge impact on music. How many of us, realistically, can claim we ‘lost’ our copy of Carry on Up the Charts?! That essential Beautiful South collection is a perfect soundtrack from the band. All the classics are in there! My favourite song from the band is My Book. It is from their sophomore album, Choke, and perfectly blends Heaton’s lyrics and the inventive, always-epic compositions of Dave Rotheray. With some effective “You are!” backing vocals from Corrigan; it is a brilliantly rushing, exceptional track. Not only is it a fantastic composition and piece: the interplay is tight and the lyrics are original and witty (the Soul II Soul-hinting “Back to bed/back to reality” ending…). That entire album is almost as strong as their debut, Welcome to the Beautiful South. The reason I loved/love the band is that they were not the cool, trendy sort who produced big songs without a message or sign of originality. The band wore raincoats, hung around the boozer and one suspects, as a backstage rider, there would be bags of crisps and bicycle chains on the list!

They were a normal, working-class crew who wanted to bring their mix of sardonic, witty lyrics and eclectic music to the masses. I wonder whether that could ever come from a southern band?! One could argue there have been some interesting, humorous bands from this neck of the woods – none that spring to mind! Humour, intentionally or not, was always part of the band’s mix (Dave Hemmingway’s dancing in the video for You Keep It All In reminds me of an octopus have an enema removed after a heavy night on the booze!). From their 1989 debut to the tenth album in 2006 – the band covered so much ground and won legions of fans. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot record together as a duo - but the days of The Beautiful South are long-gone. Their demise makes me yearn for a band who can produce solid-gold hits that address normal life – albeit it, with a cheeky, and often murderous, twist. One can imagine Heaton penning songs in a pub somewhere in Spain; inspired by various lines and modestly getting the songs into the notebook (the thought of the led writing on a laptop is too much to take!). I am not suggesting all new bands lack humour and the same dynamic as The Beautiful South: the point I am making is they were intrinsically northern and, compared to their southern rivals; they had something extra and wonderful. Other northern bands that got under my skin were Oasis, Pulp and The Smiths. I need not go into the history of The Smiths but, like The Beautiful South; so much wit, intelligence and pathos came from the songs – I often see Heaton as a more popular and likeable version of Morrissey.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The legendary Manchester band only released four albums (studio) but, in that short time, managed to lay down their marker and transform the industry. They are a band who exult so much influence in the present time. Morrissey and (Johnny) Marr remain one of music’s strongest songwriting duos – Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray one of the most successful and underrated. The Smiths departed from the average and formulaic ideas of their peers and brought listeners into the real world! I wonder whether the always-evident economic and social gap between North and South means these bands stood the test of times. Stories of pub romance and council estate dreaming held weight because the authors actually LIVED that life. They resided around people hanging washing on the line and chatting over the wall. That may sound a bit 1960s-Coronation Street but among the gossip and idle chats were roots and honesty. Songwriters living in those communities were affected by the personalities and modest climates. Southern artists, in the 1980s or whenever, had the same struggles and lifestyles but, the wider the gap became; that reflected in the music industry. When the 1990s brought us legends like Pulp and Oasis: the disparity between the Northern realism and Southern escapism cemented. Southern belles like Blur could articulate a way of life one might expect to see in the North: the London/Essex equivalent was not nearly as vibrant, witty and accessible as, say, Oasis’ attempts.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The Gallagher brothers shook music up and were, in my view, the last big band to unite the masses and create a genuine fever! The boys are recording solo material but, in the same way, I hanker after The Beautiful South: millions want another chance to see Oasis record and perform. Liam seems keen to get that going: Noel is more reserved and realistic (the arguments and rifts that broke the band up will come back). Pulp, on albums like His ‘n’ Hers (1994), Different Class (1995) and This Is Hardcore (1998) brought their version of intellectualism and social observation to the untrained bodies. It is no coincidence songs like Disco 2000 and Common People are decades-enduring masterpieces: the lyrics speak to people and, with fantastic compositions and choruses, go a lot further than most of the Pop tat being tossed around during that period – many would argue the songs are stronger than most music produced today. Again, like Oasis, The Smiths and The Beautiful South; the honest cocker Jarvis was a master at one-liners and those ripe, perceptive views. I am not sure whether Jarvis Cocker is recording solo material soon but, once more: Pulp are a band we need to see back in music! It might be tied to their Yorkshire backgrounds – although Cocker spent some time in London and the band did not solely stay in the North – but (Pulp’s) music spoke to those who needed direction and understanding; it was vastly different to southern-made music and the mainstream ‘best’. Listen to Different Class and every track sounds urgent, anthemic and essential.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One can throw in The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays into the mix. Both bands were packed with type-A personalities and those whose egos stood out-front. The Ian Brown-led Stone Roses crafted two brilliant albums and, like The Smiths, affected millions in a short spirit. The experimentation and colours of Happy Mondays compelled a generation and makes me wonder: where are the modern equivalents?! Many claim music has changed in such a way we can never reclaim that glory and produce bands that have the same aesthetic. Others say there is wit and originality in modern music – it is integrated more finely and responding to market tastes and trends. Adverts push technology and making life as ‘easy’ – simple for idiots and lazy buggers – as possible. Music, in a sense, is adapting to that and using more technology; becoming easier to understand and more impactful. Having a modern-day Pulp or Stone Roses might be impossible! Even now, as music moves on and grows, I am still seeing divides between North and South. Perhaps the wealth and housing gap has started to close but you cannot argue against the fact the wealth and opportunists remain in the South. Great northern newcomers like The Orielles (Yorkshire) and False Advertising (Manchester) show there is the same sort of invention, originality and spirit burning in the North.


IN THIS PHOTO: False Advertising

Bands like Shame and IDLES are talking about the same themes as The Beautiful South and The Smiths – only, they are based in the South and living in a very different world. I love the artists we have now but there are few bands who rival the cheek, honest and humour of those great northern legends. I still think the best innovation and originality comes from the North – Yorkshire and Manchester still leading the charge – but there is that demand for a certain something: ingredients and aspects missing from the modern industry. I listen to a gem from Oasis or Pulp and wonder whether we will see their like again. Arctic Monkeys might be one of the last ‘older’ bands still in operations that mix the wit and humorous side of life with spot-on observations of life and vivid, wonderful characters. I still gravitate, when I require something special and unexpected, towards the North and the artists coming from there. I am not sure whether it is that way of life and the manner in which they approach life – it has that extra kick and burst of life. Some of the best Indie artists of this time are performing in the North - and more eyes and ears should be directed that way.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have every faith we shall see some breakthroughs and returns to the past (when it comes to witty bands who can balance emotions and ideas) but music has shifted a long way from the past. It is not a coincidence, as things get harder and more stressful; I gravitate towards the northern bands that made such an impression on me. There is still that ignorance of the North and the music coming from there. Many overlook Scotland and the brilliant artists who have come from there. We overlook Yorkshire and the brilliance brewing; the strong bands of Greater Manchester and what’s happening around Cheshire and other parts of Northern England. I will leave it there but wanted to throw a message out to the music world and ask whether we can revitalise a brand of music I associate with the North. Throw in more humour and those Paul Heaton-like songs; the anthems of Pulp and The Smiths with the baggy charm of Happy Mondays – the acid of The Stone Roses and some classic-day Arctic Monkeys. There are more people than me who desire that kind of sound: I struggle to find this kind of brilliance and relief in the modern scene. There are brilliant northern artists around but, still, they are being overshadowed in favour of their southern rivals. History has shown what wonders have come from the North: getting out of the London-focused quagmire could open eyes and minds to the fabulous artists, past and present, from…



THE beautiful North.