The pull of your hometown is magnetic and inescapable. Your memories and beliefs and thoughts are inexorably related to where you came from, and you can’t help but feel a certain partisan pride for the place and its people. As a northern boy, my pride extends to a true passion for the North East and her music.
The North East is mired with preconceptions. We are supposedly a little insular, a little self-obsessed; concerns over our present invariably outweigh our worries about our future. We pragmatically go from day to day in our small forgotten corner of England, sleepy and cold, occupied only by what affects us personally. It’s assumed that we retain a curiously archaic connection to our land and sea. Our mythology is that of the sea and the coal seams and our city, and to us, tradition means everything. The resulting perception of our music is that it glorifies something that no longer exists, a way of life that is long-gone. It is also obsessively concerned with something that excludes anyone who doesn’t live here. Combined, these traits set our music apart, and ensure that, except for a select few, the North East voice never reaches the mainstream audience.
In some respects, such preconceptions might well be true. We certainly have a distinct musical heritage, and are unrelentingly proud of it. Yet although the North is undoubtedly close to our hearts, our emerging talent believes their inspirations stem from farther afield.
“Newcastle made me who I am, but in terms of sound, the rest of the world has bled into my music” says young northern songstress Amy Holford, whose spectacular voice and gritty heartfelt blues silences rooms into dumfounded curiosity. “I’ve found more inspiration from old blues and bluegrass… I feel a bit of a longing to go to America and see Memphis, and places like New Orleans.” The spirit of BB King and Johnny Cash is undoubtedly present in her music; ‘Broken Boy Blues’ is a perfect cocktail of cool seduction and muted threat, but with the blistering acapella of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and the fantastically broody Lianne La Havas stylings of ‘Blood’, Holford exhibits a diversity that typifies the Northern scene. We’re undoubtedly a proud people; we sing in our native tongue, we speak of what we know, and we’re sure of ourselves. Yet we also think as loud and as bright as anybody else, and draw creativity from a multinational diaspora of sound whilst retaining our own peculiarities. This is what makes us special.
Take Vinyl Jacket. Tracks ‘Koala’ and ‘Red Light’ – all whirring cogs, electric skiffle and samba infused melodies – are a sun-kissed dream far removed from the shores of Tynemouth.
Mischievous Sunderland dance-inducers Athletes in Paris combine rhythmic Latin grooves to lusty howls and prickly guitars. Lulu James warps high-octane modern soul with a bold charisma and confidence; the Rope Mirage EP wholly reminiscent of Grace Jones.
While Young Liar generate intricate and beautiful multilayered rock soundscapes, Lilliput make something altogether more gentle; ‘Until’ is simply a sloping and off-kilter piece of loveliness. Most unorthodox of all, Weird Shapes are a disorientating tour-de-force of intelligent, pulsating dancehall indie, and one man garage machine Joonipah creates beats that defy his youth.
Whatever our sound, the music we make is filled with conviction. Lyrically we are totally honest, and live we give our all. As Holford herself believes, “Words can look beautiful on paper, but sound empty if there’s no meaning behind them.” She, as all others, practices what she preaches. Listen to the electrifyingly poignant Eva Cassidy-esque ‘Sunflower’. The sincerity is heartbreaking.
Perhaps it’s inevitable then that with such passion, our music is inextricably connected to the concept of love. I’d assert that northerners are the speakers of a very particular and truthful language of love. Love can be gritty, bad and painful; musically, the north is never afraid to hide the truth. Both Maxïmo Park and Little Comets have specialised not only in blistering tales of adultery and broken romance, but domestic violence and estrangement. Natasha Haws is slowly creating a stir with the alluring whisperings of ‘Stepping Stone’ and ‘Transatlantic’, earnestly lamenting false and distant love. Likewise The Lake Poets, the alias of pure-voiced Martin Longstaff, winsomely references the fears and doubts of star-crossed young lovers in ‘Windowsill’.
Don’t take my words as gospel. I’m guilty, as are we all, of glorifying our hometown and its music. We all hold a near spiritual connection with the artists and individuals who represent us, and can’t help but celebrate them. Yet I genuinely believe the North East suffers a lack of exposure; as consequence, a great deal of brilliance goes unrepresented, and we all remain a little musically poorer. Forgo your preconceptions, go searching, and you’ll unearth far more than mythology.