Is there a North vs. South divide in music?

The Shimmer Band

The Shimmer Band

Earlier this month, The Spectator’s Michael Hann wrote about “the music snobby London critics choose to ignore.” Getintothis’ Lewis Ridley discusses the apparent North/South divide in music.

It’s easy to categorise music, and geographical categorisation is often able to describe the type of influence a band might have, so there’s no surprise similar sounds can come out of the same places. But when Michael Hann accused the South of ignoring the music in the North, I had to dig into if that really is the case, and if so, why?

What are the real reasons that indie terminates at New Street? Why are 50,000 people the lucky few in Manchester, but a completely unattainable number for the same band in London? Where has the South been led to ignore what the North has on offer?

One reason I can find from experience is that people in and around the capital are less fond of their away days, when Liverpool and Manchester pack up and head South to follow or to find, London doesn’t. Rarely will a southern accent order at the bar of the Manchester Arena, but when The Stone Roses play at Wembley, the North West scramble for tickets – they’re off.

Perhaps scenesters of the South are too quick for us, Coventry band The Enemy bid farewell last year, Tom Clarke citing that, “there is without doubt less room for bands on the airwaves these days and whereas once acts used to be able to get their big break on a sixth record, in this climate radio and the media is bored of them by their third.” When instant gratification doesn’t come, the new band loses their chance, right?

No, not with The Sherlocks, who’s debut album entered the UK charts at number 6. Hann spoke to Korda Mashall, who signed the band to his label Infectious, “we’d sold 9,800 copies of The Sherlocks as of this morning, I reckon a good 6,500 to 7,000 of those have been north of Birmingham.’

The Sherlocks

The Sherlocks

But they haven’t sat dormant, they’ve sold out shows and packed festival tents on singles and EP’s, the North gave them a chance to grow and develop.

Bristol’s The Shimmer Band have packed venues in Liverpool on several occasions, and their tour posters feature a North/South split that is unusual for a band of their size. Key to this are promoters This Feeling, who span the UK. hosting what Noel Gallagher once described as the best club in the country for future rock and roll stars.

I asked Mikey Jonns of This Feeling what he thought, who believes it’s a two way street:

‘I think snobbery exists everywhere to be honest. I’ve lived in London all my life and seen exactly the kind of snobbery Conrad [Murray] talks about that affects bands like The Rifles, who are from Walthamstow where I’m from, and also affects me. I managed a great new band a few years back, Dexters, they did loads more tickets than many bands getting press/radio, and wrote great tunes, but were working class lads with guitars. They were from London.

I struggle to get press for This Feeling still, after 11 years and with from Noel, Carl Barat and Kasabian support, and it’s still hard. Unless you have ad budget, then it’s a different story, it’s “Hey, you interested in this band/tour?” or “Hey, what’s your ad budget?”

Is that snobbery or just plain economics of how it works? Everyone/thing who’s in NME, it’s been paid for. So if you are in it, you’ve paid for it, it’s not real, does that mean you’re a snob too? It’s far more complex than saying North v South.

“I despise the NME for what they’ve done. They’ve sold out, everything they stood for, their heritage, they’ve sold out to ad spend. Everything is a battle, but I love the guitar bands I book, I love what I do even if it does feel like banging a head against a brick wall a lot of the time. It’s important to point out there are plenty of supporters of new music in London; Steve Lamacq (6 Music), Gordon Smart (Radio X), John Kennedy (Radio X), Mike Walsh (Radio X), Lisa Higgins (The Star), Stephanie May (Head of Music Virgin), Danielle Perry (Absolute Radio), Caffy St Luce (The Zine), Shannon + Cai (Gigwise), Alysha Wood (Spotify), Mat Spracklen (@London), Els Pierce (The Metro), Tim Lovejoy (Sunday Brunch), the Soccer AM lot, Jack Daniel’s, Red Stripe, to name a few. These people love great new guitar music, wherever they’re from.”

I asked Mikey how easy it was for him with This Feeling to transfer music across the country: “Very easy, we’ve got a great scene at This Feeling, a UK wide community; all the bands support each other, as do the This Feeling goers, bloggers, snappers, everyone. It’s taken a long time to grow but’s borne out of love, passion and a lot of talent that, if the zone keeps growing like it is, cannot and will not be ignored.”

Mikey doesn’t agree that the South can be alienated by a Northern band; instead he cites attitudes to missing out major cities on UK tours and plans to keep pushing This Feeling across the country:

‘I don’t think the South feel alienated at all, and to be honest, if a band announce a tour and there’s Leeds and no Sheffield, fans are pissed off there’s no Sheffield. But it’s not always right for a band to do all the places at once, they may be keeping powder dry for next tour, or not as strong in Sheffield or couldn’t get the right venue. My point is, it’s not always what you think it looks like on the outside. I am sure all bands wanna play all over the country, and the world. I wanna take This Feeling into as many new places as possible; we have Plymouth, Wigan, Preston and many more new zones coming.’



So the good old fashioned promoters are the key players in giving bands a platform to travel, but what for an arguably less-accessible genre? Hattie Collins is from i-d magazine and wrote ‘This Is Grime’ in 2016, the definite book on what she calls Britain’s most provocative subculture. Hattie agrees there is a divide in music but it is slowly being removed:

‘I think there is definitely a North-South divide not just in music itself but the surrounding culture. I’m from Birmingham and studied in Liverpool and I don’t think I could do this job as ‘easily’ if I lived in either of those cities. For a long time, grime pretty much ignored MC’s from elsewhere, but over the last few years, that’s not been the case. Now there are artists from Manchester, Birmingham and Swindon (Bugzy, Leshurr. Grim Sickers) and producers from Birmingham like Preditah and Swifta Beater who are playing key roles in the shift and development of the sound, the scene and the culture.

“While the industry continues to be driven very much from London, thanks to the democratisation of music via streaming and YouTube, an Afrobeat artist from Birmingham, Lotto Boyz, are as able to make it as those from the capital, Belly Squad.’

Ditto Music: the Liverpool-based company responsible for Stormzy, Ed Sheeran & more

So there is room for manoeuvre for grime, and as one of the fastest moving genres of the past 10 years one would expect music to continue to travel in all directions.

It has been said, of course, that when you’re part of something you’re ill-judged to comment on it, American writer and academic Jen Otter Bickerdike is originally from Santa Cruz in California, so what of the divide from her point of view? Jen is a self-admitted Manchester obsessive, and it was Manchester’s sounds she heard when she was in the US:

‘As a native Californian, there was something about the attitude and place of the music from that region, from Northern Soul all the way to bands like Cabbage that hits the heart. Maybe it is because California is so beautiful, sunny and we are known for our ‘laid back’ attitude- if you are anything but the picture of this stereotype, it is easy to feel like an outsider, and like you are doing something intrinsically wrong.’

It was The Smiths particularly that were attractive to Jen, though the South has connected with a similar vibe with The Cure:

“I remember the first time I heard The Smiths as a pre-teen, I did not know why, but the music, the lyrics, the entire vibe of the band captured a big part of who I fundamentally was, but could not articulate or put into words.”

Manchester’s musical pedigree is unrivalled, though, and through from Hacienda nights to the present day there remains an attitude that has transcended the North-West:

‘Many of the bands that I love from the Northern share mainly their geographical heritage, there is a specific, hard to put your finger on swagger, melancholy and dare I say hope that many of the artists share, in a totally unique way to any other place in the world.’

The Fall

The Fall

This doesn’t mean that the South hasn’t developed its own style, but the Kevin and Perry scene that has done the rounds on social media following northern gigs such as The Stone Roses’ dates in Manchester is embraced nationwide, a comparative Southern stereotype is seldom seen.

Perhaps the divide stems from the ignorance Michael Hann suggested, or the chip-on-the-shoulder idea that popularity equals poor quality, there are many people that dismiss reality TV in the UK because of its’ popularity, is that the same with new Northern indie bands?

I won’t lose sleep over London not ‘getting’ Northern music tastes, for as long as the North continues to support itself, and This Feeling hitting those that want to be hit with brilliant new music, we’ll be just fine.