07/05/2011

Life In A Northern Town


The difference between the north and south of England has long been a theme in literature and art and films: as, for example, North and South, the paintings of Lowry, the film Billy Elliot. Inevitably, pop music came to follow the same path. At its start, pop music was largely a southern/London medium. The Beatles weren’t the first pop artists from the north, or even from Liverpool – the first successful pop artist from Liverpool was possibly Lita Roza in the early 50’s, (best remembered for How Much Is That Doggie In the Window),followed by Frankie Vaughan and Billy Fury. However, the Beatles and the other Liverpool groups that came in their wake shifted - if only for a while - the focus of British pop music from London to the north. After Merseybeat there was a short spate of other towns and cities discovering their own special sound - the ‘Manchester Sound’, with the Hollies, Mindbenders and Herman’s Hermits; the ‘Newcastle Sound’ with the Animals ;the ‘Blackburn Sound ‘ with the Four Pennies. ( This particular bandwagon started grinding to a halt further south with the ‘Solihull Sound’, a sound based on the Applejacks and a tinny organ that sounded like – ding dong, the Avon Lady had come to call).

Mostly, these were pop groups who happened to come from the north but there were a few place-specific songs from that era: Ferry Cross the Mersey, Penny Lane, Gonna Send You Back to Walker (the Animals’ reworking of an American r ‘n b song to reflect an area of Newcastle). However, the idea of a generic ‘The North’ suffered from stereotyping in a way that ‘The South’ seemed to escape. Take the UK Number One in April 1978, Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs, a LS Lowry tribute by Brian and Michael. The lyrics are Grim Up North and sentimental simultaneously and get in clogs, factory gates, northern folk , kids with nowt on their feet and old flat caps, with the artists appearing on Top of the Pops under simulated gas lamps and the dreaded St Winifred’s School Choir angelically singing ‘ally ally o’ in the background (  a possibly deliberate echo of the sequence in the film A Taste of Honey, also set in Salford, where children are heard singing the same refrain). In a clash of romanticism and reality, at the same time this nostalgia-heavy picture of a bygone Salford and Ancoats came out, local group the Buzzcocks were heading up Anti-Nazi League gigs in Manchester and around.

No-one does the whole ‘ northern past seen through rose-tinted glasses’ better than John Shuttleworth, the comic creation of actor/musician Graham Fellows, who first appeared as Jilted John and Gordon Is A Moron about the same time as the Brian and Michael hit. Songs like Shopkeepers in the North are Nice and Dandelion and Burdock work on two levels. They take stereotyped nostalgia to an absurdity – ‘Looking back on better times, when life was good and there was little crime, children played on their pogo sticks and on Saturdays went to the local flicks’ - and gently parody those who really do say ‘I’m talking now of old money’, rue the fact that boys no longer have useful hobbies and recount their day out at a tram museum with an air of slight pomposity. But they also work in their own right - partly because of the intricate little details - as a naive, sometimes poignant, view that ‘it’s nicer up north’.

In 1985 there was a hit by another one-hit wonder act, Dream Academy, also with an apparently generic ‘northern’ theme : Life in a Northern Town. It is a strange song, very oblique and perhaps not about the north at all. The original video accompanying the track was shot in Hebden Bridge, definitely a northern town: a former mill town in the Pennine hills of West Yorkshire and now a haven for artists, writers, New Age-ists, alternative practitioners, a literary treasure trove at the Book Case bookshop and a town once described by the British Airways in-flight magazine as the ‘4th funkiest town in the world’. The lyrics also start off as though placing the song in a northern setting, with the image of a Salvation Army Band and children drinking lemonade. However, by all accounts, Life In a Northern Town was written as a tribute to singer/songwriter Nick Drake, mainly associated with Warwickshire and Cambridge, so the exact meaning of the lyrics remains obscure.

The same reference point of a Salvation Army band had been heard in Blue Mink’s infectious 1971 hit, Banner Man, which was actually not about any place in particular but carried the echo of a Lancashire town. The song is heard in the opening sequence of the film East is East, another film set in Salford in the early 1970’s, and one commentator vividly recalled hearing it on holiday in Blackpool as a child:  “ After a time we came to a cafe. A typical Blackpool cafe which probably almost certainly utilised lard for frying the chips and other 70s pleasures as sausages, bacon and eggs etc and there we sat down while my dad had a cup of tea and I had a hot chocolate. In the corner was a juke box and after a bit of pestering my dad let me put 10p in for us to have two choices. I seem to think he chose them as he knew what I liked and he knew I loved The Banner Man by Blue Mink. The juke box was one where you could see the records (special ones with a much larger than usual hole in the middle) being picked up by an arm, swung over and dropped onto the turntable before the heavy duty juke box needle started on its journey from the outside to the centre and filling the cafe with a such a joyous and wonderful song’ (Tom Gregory, 500 songs).

Nostalgia about the north, I feel, can be more complex than some other places because the past is often more visible in the present. In an alleyway off Dalton Square in Lancaster there used to be a chemist shop that looked as if it hadn’t changed in a hundred years, with a window full of herbal medicines, little green bottles, ointments and surgical appliances that made your eyes water just to look at them. Opposite was a small sweet shop, run by a man who had been made redundant at the local factory and had used his money to fulfil his childhood dream. Once when I went in, in between serving bonfire toffee and Pontefract cakes he was reading the autobiography of Henry Hyndman, leader of England’s first socialist party, the Social Democratic Federation, and parliamentary candidate in nearby Burnley in the early twentieth Century. The sweet shop man was, I suppose, the modern day equivalent of the weavers and clerks who used to go to the Mechanics Institutes still standing in places like Burnley and Skipton to better themselves. (As a antidote to over-romanticism here, it is worth noting that alongside the Reading Rooms, Temperance Clubs, Esperanto classes and Clarion Cycling Clubs that existed in Burnley at the start of the Twentieth Century there was also a peculiar pastime called ‘smacking’ – hitting each other on the head till one fell down. Maybe it still goes on.).Life in a northern town: you can see it through a multiplicity of prisms but , yes, different from the south.

100 comments:

  1. What a great column this week Geoff!! I learned a LOT.

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  2. Here are the extremely odd lyrics:)
    A Salvation Army Band played
    And the children drunk lemonade
    And the morning lasted all day, all day
    And through an open window came
    Like Sinatra in a younger day
    Pushing the town away, ah

    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    Life in a northern town
    Ah hey ma ma ma

    They sat on the stoney ground
    And he took a cigarette out
    And everyone else came down to listen
    He said in winter 1963
    It felt like the world would freeze
    With John F. Kennedy
    And The Beatles

    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    Life in a northern town
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    All the work shut down

    The evening had turned to rain
    Watch the water roll down the drain
    As we followed him down to the station
    And though he never would wave goodbye
    You could see it written in his eyes
    As the train rolled out of sight, bye-bye

    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    Life in a northern town
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    Life in a northern town

    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Ah hey ma ma ma hey
    Ah hey ma ma ma
    Take it easy on yourself
    Ah hey ma ma ma

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  3. Here is the recent cover version (2007) by Sugarland - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mte9nMEF_WQ - which is a country version sung by U.S. southerners..... and is likely the version Americans are more familiar with.......

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    Replies
    1. NEVER! Those of us Americans who were teenagers coming of age in the 80's will NEVER forget The Dream Academy. They were our favorite then and they remain the favorite to this day.

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  4. Thanks Roberta! Very strange to have a song about a northern town sung in a heavy southern accent by Sugarland!

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  5. Actually, it could be kind of appropriate, Ingrid. I think the U.S. South is the counterpart to the U.K. North in many ways - the overlooked region, fiercely independent from the power-center, more working-class, agricultural, picturesque (and the U.S. North is like the U.K. South - powerful, decision-making, middle-class, etc).

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  6. Oh dear, I thought they were singing about somewhere in Canada all this time!

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  7. I'm from Flint Michigan and when this song came out we had already seen GM close some of its plants. This song resonated for me, as someone from a dying industrial town. I felt like I was from that type of people who lived in the North of England.

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  8. Uhm, is it just me or does that video make life in the North look grim grim grim?

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  9. Belle - it's definitely not just you. This is a great song, but stereotypical to the point of being patronising - everybody who lives north of the Watford gap lives in a poor, grimy, damp, cobbled ghetto surrounded by mill chimneys and gradients of 1:3? Well, It must be great to be southern and be related to the royals and go fox hunting every Sunday morning. I hear Eton College is spiffing - haw haw!

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  10. Huh! It's a shock that this song is about life in a northern English town - I always thought it was about a northern industrial U.S. town and used to picture in my mind a town that might be typical of Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Indiana when I would listen to it! Thanks Geoff!

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  11. Chris, I know what you're saying, but I don't think the video is entirely inaccurate.... I used to regularly drive through Hebden Bridge and Todmorden and this video sums up the amazing northern scenery perfectly. For any international readers of Geoff's column, it was filmed in one of the small Pennine mill towns\villages of northern England. If you use Google Earth, locate Manchester, then find Burnley in the north from there you can pretty much draw a box east to Barnsley and Leeds. Almost all of the towns and villages in the 'box' are like this with terraced houses and steep valleys.

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  12. I was one of the kids in the video - the poor little bugger on the space hopper trying to open the pack of Beatles cards in Arctic conditions. Thanks for writing about this song Geoff!

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  13. This song has echoes of Springsteen's "My Home Town"......

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  14. A-Ha ripped off this tune in "Take me On" a bit I think.....

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  15. One of my favourite songs from the 80's. Shame they never really hit the big time fully.

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  16. Nick Laird-Clowes? Kate St John? Gilbert Gabriel? I'm not sure they're typical working class names...... which suggests a parasitic nostalgia here......

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  17. Love the photo you posted - Hebden Bridge in the 1980s?

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  18. This is off topic but I wanted to give you the link to our project at the Huffington Post, to map NYC in songs! - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/01/the-new-york-music-projec_n_352885.html - We have 219 so far mapped.

    Enjoyed your blog!

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  19. The beat and the chant in Jakaranda’s "Never Let You Go," 1998, is unmistakably taken from this song......... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KCDcVcRYrg

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  20. Wonderful, wonderful column Geoff, my favourite one you've written! THANK YOU!

    For other songs that focus on compass points (north, south, east, West), there is:
    LCD Soundsystem "North American Scum"
    R.E.M. "So. Central Rain"
    Jerry Reed "East Bound and Down"
    Tom Waits "Goin' Out West"
    Johnny Horton "North to Alaska"
    The Church "North, South, East and West"

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  21. There is also.......
    South Central Rain (I'm Sorry) - R.E.M.
    The Beautiful South - Welcome to The Beautiful South
    West of the Fields - R.E.M.
    Southbound - Thin Lizzy
    East Side Boys - Martin Zellar
    Go West - Liz Phair

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  22. And let's not forget "Only A Northern Song" - Beatles
    :)

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  23. I could only think of "All the Eastern Girls" - Chapel Club

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  24. Also

    Southern Man - Neil Young
    Once Upon a Time in the West - Dire Straits
    That Western Sky - Dawes
    Girl From The North Country - Bob Dylan
    South of Heaven - Slayer
    Southpaw - Afghan Whigs

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  25. U2 - North and South of the River

    Way Out West - Big Star

    East Boundin' Down - Jerry Reed

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  26. Ooops - for years I thought this song was by Prefab Sprout!

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  27. how about....

    Your Southern Can Is Mine - The White Stripes
    Southside - Moby
    East Bound And Down - Jerry Reed
    Far East Man - George Harrison

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  28. Southern Girls- Cheap Trick
    Driving South-Jimi Hendrix
    Going North- Danielle Thrush
    Central Park West- John Coltrane
    East St. Louis Toodle-oo- Steely Dan
    Back Down South- Kings of Leon

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  29. Grit and poignancy - great song and video (very much in the mode of Billy Elliot, now a Broadway musical, predictably enough.......)

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  30. There are some great northern shots between minutes 3 and 7 in this part of Billy Elliot.....www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS_sXpZczw8

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  31. Thanks for all the suggestions -and for the Huffington Post link to NYC in songs.
    Yes, the photo is Hebden Bridge-circa 1979.
    Fascinating to know you are in the video, Owen! Aren't space hoppers and Beatles cards together an anachronism though!

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  32. Yes but it was not for me to question the artistry of those making the video:)

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  33. I think you are absolutely right about the complexity of nostalgia with regard to the north. Because I agree that parts of a past england are still very much alive. Nostalgia is about yearning for a nonexistent past I think . So this northern life that some romanticise, which did exist and still exists somewhat, isn't really a product of nostalgia.

    Such a thoughtprovoking column Geoff!

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  34. Aaah, the doggy in the window - I still sing that to my kids:) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LpgmQ5ZAro - although my 4 year old did recently query why there wasn't any kind of sign with the price of the dog (it would make the pet shop owner's life a lot easier if people stopped asking how much the doggie costs.....:)

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  35. The BBC version of North and South is WELL worth watching, if you haven't - it's all on Youtube in parts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN58WAmuuqI

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  36. A good point about the doggy in the window! Apparently Lita Roza hated the song and never sang again once it had been recorded.

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  37. In case anyone isn't sure about the Lowry reference, his paintings are like this - http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Arts/Arts_/Pictures/2006/11/16/lowry.jpg - which is a representative one of the North of England.....

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  38. Geoff, I think you would enjoy the recent novel by Gordon Burn, "The North of England Home Service", which is about the topographical shifts and attendant social ramifications caused by the collapse of heavy industry in the North East. It goes beyond the kind of binary opposition that you too are resisting in this column - the golden past vs the tarnished present. Although it does critique heritage-era Britain, Britain as Retro Land, unable or unprepared to find a new self to be. Here is the link..... http://www.amazon.co.uk/North-England-Home-Service/dp/0571219373

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  39. Geoff, I have to say, this is the most wonderful description of the North of England I've ever read - you truly do possess an uncanny ability to see through both romanticism and cynicism and find a true heart of a place:
    "In an alleyway off Dalton Square in Lancaster there used to be a chemist shop that looked as if it hadn’t changed in a hundred years, with a window full of herbal medicines, little green bottles, ointments and surgical appliances that made your eyes water just to look at them. Opposite was a small sweet shop, run by a man who had been made redundant at the local factory and had used his money to fulfil his childhood dream. Once when I went in, in between serving bonfire toffee and Pontefract cakes he was reading the autobiography of Henry Hyndman, leader of England’s first socialist party, the Social Democratic Federation, and parliamentary candidate in nearby Burnley in the early twentieth Century. The sweet shop man was, I suppose, the modern day equivalent of the weavers and clerks who used to go to the Mechanics Institutes still standing in places like Burnley and Skipton to better themselves."

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  40. Oh God, not the dreaded St Winifred’s School Choir......... I remember in an earlier column we agreed that they ruin all the songs they participate in :)

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  41. Here's the film "A Taste of Honey" that Geoff mentioned (set in Salford in the 1950s) - worth watching! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_LPdk3vj8E

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  42. I feel like this is definitely where I got my impression of the North of England from.... (Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnRX6_Txpaw - both the song lyrics and the paintings. I agree with your assessment of its problematic sentimentality Geoff but I also like the fact this is a pop song about paintings! Not sure people do such intellectual things in music anymore......

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  43. I was in the St Winifred’s School Choir in the 1980s. We had no choice about the songs we sang in.

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  44. Also, thanks for mentioning Hebden Bridge:) You probably don't remember but I mentioned in an earlier comment on another column that I used to live there and had been trying to think of a song about it. And you found a song with a video shot there! Thank you:)

    Songs About Places Readers: I think Geoff does requests!

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  45. Yes, I remember the Hebden Bridge comment.
    Thanks for the book link, Laura-another one to get off Amazon!

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  46. How odd - several comments seem to have vanished, including links to other references!

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  47. Blogger (the Google service powering blogs) went down yesterday - no one was able to post new content and anything posted for 30 hours previous got deleted. It is back up now and apparently Blogger is restoring the missing content (including comments) piece by piece. So hopefully it will come back.

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  48. Yes, I've been wanting to post a comment on there with a link but I'm going to wait until it all seems like Blogger is totally back to normal so I don't lose my comment!!!

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  49. Hey again! Thanks for mentioning another Blue Mink hit (Banner Man), not just "Melting Pot" from your column in April:) That's a great memory by Tom Gregory you quote.

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  50. Thanks for mentioning the Hollies. Any chance of a column about one of our songs? Someone on here yesterday in the comments says you might be up for doing requests, although I can't find that comment now. How about Memphis (http://www.hollies.co.uk/albums/stay.htm#Memphis)? Or Transatlantic Westbound Jet (http://www.hollies.co.uk/albums/out_on_road.htm#Transatlantic%20Westbound%20Jet)?

    We still tour, come and say hello if you're at a gig. We'll be in the UK in late September and in October - www.hollies.co.uk/tour_2011.html.

    Tony (Hicks)

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  51. Geoff, did you ever read Mersey Beat? That was the name of my magazine, founded in '61 in Liverpool. It was the inspiration for the name "Merseybeat" to describe early 1960s UK northern rock music. The mag came out every fortnight. I meant the title to suggested the copper's beat (the area where he is on duty) but it also came to mean a musical beat. It ended in '65 when I got bought out.

    You can read some of the original articles here if you're interested: http://www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/archives/index-articles.shtml

    Thanks for the great column.

    Bill

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  52. I was at one of the anti-Nazi rallies you mention Geoff, the Rock Against Racism in Manchester in July 1978. There were about 30,000 people there, and we saw Steel Pulse, Buzzcocks, Exodus and China Street after a massive Anti Nazi League Rock Against Racism march through Manchester. Here are some pictures I took:
    http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/alex-park-78-panorama.jpg
    http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/anl-78-alx-crowd-800.jpg

    We chanted:
    "all you Fascists bound to lose, I said, all of you fascists bound to lose:
    Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
    You’re bound to lose ! You fascists:
    Bound to lose ! "
    (Woody Guthrie)

    Cheers - Peace!

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  53. Thanks for the Merseybeat archive link.
    Thanks for comment, Madeline-I had forgotten how good Banner Man was till I heard it again recently.
    I had thought about the Hollies,Tony, but the places in the columns are all places I have been to and I haven't been to Memphis! I suppose Boulder to Birmingham is the USA Birmingham. Btw, you are mentioned in the column on Manchester in an anecdote about meeting someone who used to be in the Dolphins on a train.

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  54. Geoff, I have to ask, if that British Airways in-flight magazine described Hebden Bridge as the ‘4th funkiest town in the world’ then what were numbers 1, 2 and 3????

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  55. Oh god, my own father (and his brothers) are very much like this: "those who really do say ‘I’m talking now of old money’, rue the fact that boys no longer have useful hobbies and recount their day out at a tram museum with an air of slight pomposity". Those bloody tram museums. Why do we still 'ave 'em?

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  56. Here are the very funny John Shuttleworth / Graham Fellows songs that Geoff mentioned:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI7o-FJM8f4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIkMxXnKJfU

    And I agree that behind the parody and mocking of nostalgia and sentiment, there is real affection for the region here.

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  57. There is a sequel to East is East coming out this year - "West is West" - it looks funny! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UePZga3wAzE

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  58. I had never heard of a Newcastle Sound or a Blackburn Sound - very cool! Here's a link to some really cool info and photos about The Four Pennies, put together locally in Blackburn, in case anyone is interested: http://www.cottontown.org/page.cfm?language=eng&pageID=4995

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  59. For another addition to the "Manchester Sound" there is Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979). Plus I guess technically the Bee Gees were part of the original Manchester Sound too! And Freddie and The Dreamers. I always thought that particular explosion of popular Manchester bands in the 1960s and 1970s might have something to do with Top of the Pops being recorded by the BBC at this time in Manchester.

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  60. Wonder if Geoff is working on a run of songs about the North now:) If so, I vote that Manchester gets another week! I loved the Marie Laforet one you wrote about. And London has had several appearances in the column, so I think Manchester deserves another! Here are some possibilities........

    The Spinners - "Flowers of Manchester"
    The Times - "Manchester"
    Lionrock - "Snapshot on Pollard St."
    Lionrock - "Wilmslow Rd."
    Ian Brown - "Longsight M13"
    Doves - "Northenden"
    Doves - "M62 Song"
    Davy Jones - "Manchester Boy"
    Elbow - "Station Approach"
    Elbow - "Forget Myself"
    Elbow - "Great Expectations" (About the 135 Bury-Manchester Bus Route)
    Gomez - "Whippin' Piccadilly"
    Mint Royale - "From Rusholme with Love"
    Oasis - "Round Are Way"
    Oasis - "Half The World Away"
    Pomona (folksong) - Music hall song
    The Fall - "Cheetham Hill"
    The Fall - "City Hobgoblins" (Queen Victoria is a large black slug in Piccadilly Manchester)
    The Fall - "Fit And Working Again" (Reception room, Victoria Station)
    The Freshies - "I'm in Love With the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk"
    John Shuttleworth - "You're Like Manchester"
    The Smiths - "Rusholme Ruffians"
    The Smiths - "Miserable Lie" (What do we get for our trouble and pain but a rented room in Whalley Range?)
    The Smiths - "Suffer Little Children" (Oh Manchester, so much to answer for; about the Moors murders)
    The Smiths - "The Headmaster Ritual" (Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools)
    Aidan Smith - "Song for Manchester"
    The Stone Roses - "Mersey Paradise" (seeing as it runs through South Manchester)
    The Stone Roses - "Daybreak" (from Atlanta, Georgia to Longsight, Manchester)
    Joyce (singer) - "The Band on the Wall"
    The Beautiful South - "Manchester"
    Ewan MacColl - "The Manchester Rambler"
    Hair soundtrack - "Manchester"
    Take That - "Mancunian Way"
    The Courteeners - "Fallowfield Hillbilly"

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  61. You may like our (Dario G) remix of "Life in a Northern Town" from 1997, "Sunchyme"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY2OFztWiuY

    Paul S.

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  62. Blimey, Dream Academy were a weird band weren't they. Here is their followup to Life in a Northern Town! - http://www.youtube.com/thedreamacademy#p/u/4/-fLVCswP_P4

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  63. Geoff, for more West Midlands groups of the 1960s - or the "Solihull Sound" as you put it - please see my website: http://www.brumbeat.net/index.htm. For example, as well as the Applejacks, other Brumbeat bands were:

    TRAFFIC
    THE MOODY BLUES
    THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP
    THE FORTUNES
    THE ROCKIN' BERRIES
    DENNY LAINE AND THE DIPLOMATS
    THE UGLYS
    JIMMY POWELL AND THE 5 DIMENSIONS
    CARL WAYNE AND THE VIKINGS
    THE IDLE RACE
    PAT WAYNE AND THE BEACHCOMBERS

    I agree there was an overall reliance on the "tinny organ that sounded like – ding dong, the Avon Lady had come to call" but there was also some good music in there. My full list is here: http://www.brumbeat.net/bandindx.htm

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  64. Fellows has also recently created the character Brian Appleton, a rock musicologist and media studies lecturer from a college of further education in the Newcastle-under-Lyme area although originally he hails from Selly Oak in Birmingham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y44J9PIpHf8

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  65. I agree with Mariana - Oop North is subject to very similar stereotypes (both negative and positive) as the Deep South in America.

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  66. Hi Geoff, I think one of the comments that got deleted was mine. It was just thanking you for mentioning Hebden Bridge (I had told you in an earlier comment that I used to live there). And I was impressed that you managed to find at least a video shot there, if not a song about the town.

    Since then though I also wanted to ask for the title of the autobiography of Henry Hyndman that you mention, to read it - is it the book called A Record of an Adventurous Life (1911)?

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  67. That smacking people round the head game sounds nightmarish!!

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  68. I totally recommend the film "East is East" that Geoff referenced: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfoqUY0KwfQ

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  69. Geoff, I think one my comments got deleted too........ I was just saying how much I loved your really nuanced description of the North - so insightful. The best description of the North of England I've read:

    "In an alleyway off Dalton Square in Lancaster there used to be a chemist shop that looked as if it hadn’t changed in a hundred years, with a window full of herbal medicines, little green bottles, ointments and surgical appliances that made your eyes water just to look at them. Opposite was a small sweet shop, run by a man who had been made redundant at the local factory and had used his money to fulfil his childhood dream. Once when I went in, in between serving bonfire toffee and Pontefract cakes he was reading the autobiography of Henry Hyndman, leader of England’s first socialist party, the Social Democratic Federation, and parliamentary candidate in nearby Burnley in the early twentieth Century. The sweet shop man was, I suppose, the modern day equivalent of the weavers and clerks who used to go to the Mechanics Institutes still standing in places like Burnley and Skipton to better themselves."

    And since then I have tried REALLY HARD to understand what John Shuttleworth / Graham Fellows is singing about, but every word requires translation, if I can even decipher its sound from the unfamiliar northern accent:) It's one of those times where I need to accept DEFEAT!

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  70. Here's a little map I made that explains perceptions of the North/South!

    http://i.imgur.com/MdZ8u.jpg

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  71. Geoff, thought you'd enjoy my article about "northern soul" - http://www.noclass.co.uk/northensoul.html
    Rowan

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  72. Shuttleworth also did a great series where he tried to find out if it really is "Nice Up North" (http://video.sky.com/tv/related/17313/It%27s%20Nice%20Up%20North%20With%20John%20Shuttleworth or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wscAmw0u2-o). Followed by a series called "Are Southerners Softies?" - http://tv.sky.com/john-shuttleworth-in-southern-softies

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  73. This is a really great obituary for Lita Roza who died in 2008 - apparently, on "Doggie in the Window" she "resolutely refused to include it in her live shows, observing that it should be on a Lita Roza Sings Rubbish album. When told it was Margaret Thatcher's favourite song, she retorted: "Well, I suppose she had to like something!" :)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/aug/18/2

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  74. I think The Full Monty shaped a lot of people's image of the North (a grimy industrial steel landscape stuck in the 1940s). As well as Billy Elliot. And Last of the Summer Wine.

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  75. Wonder if there is a "Blackpool Sound" (Jethro Tull and their song "Up The Pool"? Little Boots?)

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  76. I think the Beatles did really shape the idea of a North/South divide though. Remember in A Hard Day's Night, Ringo skips out of the studio to roam London on his own - when a policeman shouts at him for hurling a brick in the river he shouts back "Southerner!". Meanwhile the band's manager frets on Ringo's potential misdeeds, what with his being "released on the unsuspecting South".

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  77. I reread Orwell's thoughts on the North and South after reading your column this week Geoff - here is the excerpt in case you want it: http://georgeorwellnovels.com/essays/north-and-south/

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  78. There is also the Pet Shop Boys song "Sexy Northerner" - about dispelling the negative stereotypes of Northerners as being all about "football and fags".

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  79. I think for some people, this is where the image of northerners comes from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eDaSvRO9xA

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  80. I liked this column a lot. As a northerner, it's challenging to explain to people that we can celebrate our culture while hating it when others invoke it (brass bands, flat caps, whippet racing, wrinkled stockings, beef dripping).

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  81. Oh God, the St. Winifred's School Choir!:) Always mangling whatever song they are part of!:)

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  82. Here is the song "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" that Geoff mentions - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnRX6_Txpaw - I agree it reinforces stereotypes but it's also kind of cool that a pop song is about paintings; not sure you get that kind of intellectual song writing so much anymore.

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  83. Here's the film "A Taste of Honey" that Geoff mentions......
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_LPdk3vj8E

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  84. I love Lowry. Here are some representative paintings by him, in case anyone is interested: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Arts/Arts_/Pictures/2006/11/16/lowry.jpg

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  85. I was in the St Winifred's School Choir. We had no say in the music we sang.

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  86. Wow, I guess Blogger is finally restoring all the comments! Although some are now anonymous, and I'm pretty sure, for example, that the Lowry link was originally Camille. It also hasn't restored mine. Oh well! Mine was just a book recommendation: "The North of England Home Service" (www.amazon.co.uk/North-England-Home-Service/dp/0571219373). It is about the topographical shifts and attendant social ramifications caused by the collapse of heavy industry in the North East. Like your column this week, it challenges a simplistic binary opposition between a golden past and tarnished present. It does critique heritage-era Britain, Britain as Retro Land, unable or unprepared to find a new self to be.

    Also, an additional/new comment, Geoff, I'd like to learn more about adult education history like the Mechanics Institutes. I had no idea that such things as Reading Rooms, Temperance Clubs, Esperanto classes and Clarion Cycling Clubs existed in Burnley around 1900. Is there some kind of history book about this you'd recommend by any chance?

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  87. I think the problem is that very few cultural producers live up North (i.e. the people who commission and fund TV shows and music videos). So that creates all the stereotypes - all the Expect urban stories about poverty, murder, working-class struggle, unemployment, wife-beating and alcoholism, and countryside stories about farming, murder and old men having humorous adventures. There may well be trouble at t'mill. Everything will be gloomy, grey and, socially and culturally, barely out of the 1930s (or, if you're lucky, the 1970s).

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  88. I was curious too about the other "funky" towns in that British Airways magazine so I looked it up:
    Daylesford, Australia
    Tiradentes, Brazil
    Burlington, Vermont
    are all officially "funkier" than Hebden Bridge. Now, I've only been to Burlington of those, but it is very very unfunky!

    I also found the whole article, which I'm pasting. As you will see, the "funky" aspect of Hebden Bridge seems heavily based on how many lesbians live there. Of course, one could argue that lesbians are inherently funky. But I imagine most lesbians might find this a stereotype (myself included), a bit like presuming gay men are all "fabulous."

    Fascinating though!

    From http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/news/news05/17.html -

    "Once, coal barges would glide through this lively, newly upwardly mobile town. Now, it is inhabited by home workers, media types and academics who can't afford a place in Leeds and Manchester. It is also the self-confessed lesbian capital of the North; according to one website (so it must be true), heterosexual women are outnumbered six to one by their Sapphic sisters.

    With its cool liberal, lesbian credentials, it is appropriately stacked with organic cafés and delis, tempered by servers who are exponents of that chrming, "speak as I find" northern bluff. Even the Laughing Gravy (The Birchcliffe Centre. Tel: 44 (0)1422 844425) in the basement of an old chapel serves just one mouth-watering veggie menu every Friday or Saturday. Take it or leave it.

    Independent shops thrive here - the quirkier the better - and a particular favourite is the The Old Treehouse. Inevitably, the Trades Club (Holme Street. Tel: +44 (0)1422 845265; www.tradesclub.info) hosts regular alternative and, of course, world music gigs. Moyles Hotel (New Road. Tel: +44 (0)1422 845272), as well as a good place to stay, is a hive of contemporary music and poetry gigs and, naturally enough, has a well regarded organic restaurant

    Ted Hughes lived in the area, and his first wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried in nearby Heptonstall. Anyone can book on to a creative course at Lumb Bank, Hughes' old house and now an Arvon Foundation creative writing centre (tel: +44(0)1422 843714; www.arvonfoundation.org).

    It is easy to keep fit in Hebden Bridge, thanks to fabulous mountain biking and walks in the surrounding Pennines. For less strenuous fat-burning, there are brisk strolls along the canal, as well as packhorse trails to follow. If you're a keen rambler, book into Latham Farm (tel: +44(0)1422 843800), a listed building on the edge of the moor along the Calderdale Way.

    Sheila Tordoff, editor, Hebden Bridge Times We're a Funky town? I'm not surprised - it's a very lively, tolerant place. We've got a wide spectrum of people; lesbians are a thriving part of the community, and we attract an intellectual element. They all seem to spark off each other. Hebden Bridge has always had a reputation for being arty-farty, and since the 1930s has been seen as a bit off-the-wall.

    Things to do? Our cinema holds themed evenings. When they showed Titanic, we all did fancy dress and drank iceberg cocktails. We take things just a little bit further here."

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  89. I don't think ANY of those towns deserve to be on a "funkiest city" list! Except maybe the one in Brazil. Here is my list (and I haven't been to all these places, but they are my top list to visit and ALL ARE FUNKIER THAN ANYWHERE IN VERMONT!

    Tangier
    Valencia
    Ghent
    Chiang Mai

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  90. I agree that the "funkiest town" list is a bit eccentric. Here is mine (and I am only basing this on places I have been outside of England!):
    Portland, Oregon, USA
    San Francisco, California, USA
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Istanbul, Turkey

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  91. For me it'd have to be Berlin.

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  92. I would put down a tie between Sydney and Tokyo.

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  93. I never visited any of them, but the "funky" cities on my dream list are: Antwerp, Chicago, Lisbon, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Warsaw and Zurich.

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  94. New Orleans is about as funky as it gets.:)

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  95. Nashville. Funkiest city, hands-down.

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  96. What a sudden flood of comments! To answer some!:

    re Josie,Henry Hyndman wrote a couple of books -the other one was just called Reminiscences. It had a great quote - "The Labour Party has been a great disappointment to me but then I never thought it would not be " (This from 1911!).

    Re Martha, yes, I am not surpised you are a bit flummoxed. A jasper is a regional word for a wasp, which made him drop his bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, so he couldnt get his deposit back!

    Re Laura, a couple of books might be A Ragged Schooling by Robert Roberts -growing up in Salford before WW1 - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragged-Schooling-Growing-Classic-Slum/dp/1901341011

    or Landscape for a Good Woman by Carolyn Steedman-about her ancestors in Burnley and around.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Landscape-Good-Woman-classic-non-fiction/dp/0860685594/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1305365985&sr=1-1

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  97. Thanks Geoff! I will get hold of those books.

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  98. Thank you Geoff! I'll get the Reminiscences book - or actually, it looks like at least in the U.S. you can read his autobiographies online for free:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=8XNDAAAAIAAJ&
    http://books.google.com/books?id=6E5JAAAAIAAJ

    Google Books is a little pieces of the new adult education world I think (all the digitized, free books).

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  99. I thought I would put this link up as a reminder of the great body of work by Madeline Bell and Blue Mink

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9yirCFgblk

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