Northside > NME 11 May 1991

It's Dim Up North - Northside interview in 11 May 1991 New Musical Express
Northside (l-r Timmy Walsh, Cliff, Paul Walsh, Dermo); photo credit: A J Barratt

It's Dim Up North - Northside interview in 11 May 1991 New Musical Express

Tune those baggy-pipes and dust down those checked shirts ... NORTHSIDE, whipping boys of the Manchester scene, are heading for the Big Country on their latest single, 'Take Five'. DELE FADELE meets another band who don't like the Manic Street Preachers. Side-angle lens: A J BARRATT

In November 1989, Manchester's Free Trade Hall opened its doors to a host of spivs, reprobates, ecstasy-casualties, groovy people and businessmen, unwittingly becoming the focus of a new youth movement in the process.

While the Stone Roses were striving for deity-status three train-hours away in London's Alexandra Palace, Happy Mondays were doing what comes naturally: partying 'til they puked in those opulent surroundings prior to going on stage. The beginnings of the so-called baggy cult were apparent here, in the loose-fit clothes favoured by sizzled men and women alike, and in their hedonistic appreciation of dance music.

Meanwhile the journalist, on assignment, found himself particularly distracted by one of the support groups: Northside.

He was struck by their aloofness, by vocalist Dermo's wigged-out dancing and tambourine attack, by the propulsive rush of the songs, the attention paid to 'space' and the undertow of gloominess evident in the descending minor-key basslines. He was also sufficiently blown away to later claim that these uppity youngsters were continuing Joy Division's journey to the edge of the unknown and resting on a plateau of glaciated emotions.

In 1991, Dermo has the perfect explanation for why they seemed so melancholy at what was, after all, only their second gig.

"Cliff, our bass player, was completely shit-faced. That's the bass always seemed to go duur duuur duur-durr. Everything was working perfectly at the soundcheck - we had good grooves - but after sitting around for 12 hours with bottles of Stella Artois staring you, saying what the fuck are you gonna do then?', you just give in, don't you? Maybe that's why Joy Division sounded like that - 'cos Peter Hook was always drunk."

Huddled around a crazily shaped table in Factory Records' boardroom, Walt (drums), Tim (guitar) and Dermo heave a sigh of relief when the journalist tells them Manchester is off the agenda. Even if the shockwaves still reverberate from that historic gig, the 'scene' itself has fragmented and splintered in a hundred directions and doesn't really exist as an entity any more.

Which is all for the better, as Northside are suspiciously on their guard this afternoon. Left to them, they'd just repeat the mantra "we're just doing what we wanna do" and screw the consequences. Possibly they've got absolutely nothing to say, more likely they're too repressed to express their real feelings in such an artificial situation.

Outside, the newspaper headlines all scream 'Manchester Drug War Latest', as the dealer in-fighting that's turned some parts of Moss Side into a no-go zone - except for armed policemen - offers up another brutally hacked corpse. But I'm ignoring the prevailing winds and almost begging Northside to promote their new product.

The single, 'Take Five', recently caused consternation in the NME offices for, as one wag put it, "daring to sound like Big Country". In truth, it's probably more Keith Richards after an amphetamine bout linking up with a muscular R&B vibe while Dermo repeats certain catchphrases, but there's no denying that this will finally put them on Top of the Pops.

"What do you mean Top of the Plops?" asks Dermo, grinning.

"I hate cameras," Tim adds.

"Ideally we'd like to play live on TOTP, but the BBC won't allow us I'm sure," Walt dives in "We'd feel a bit awkward miming, and it would show when you've got a big fucking camera stuck in your face, you're sat there looking stupid playing cymbals made out of cardboard.

"We've watched it and laughed at the plonkers on it for years and now we're going to look like plonkers".

But how did Northside travel this far into the mainstream? From day one, when Cliff started the band and dragged Dermo in, there was interest. At first limited to the surroundings of their council estate abodes - where rumours spread faster than quicksilver flashes - by their third rehearsal, Tony Wilson (Factory's boss) was on the case... before they'd even played a gig. So one can understand why there's some resentment, or, as Tim puts it, "people waiting to see us fall", because they haven't taken the accepted route. But the rough 'n' ready, vaguely dancey textures of their first two singles, 'Shall We Take A Trip' and the Top 40-huggging 'My Rising Star', have proved that there's more to Northside than determined laddishness.

They've built a steady fan-base by playing live - their favourite pursuit - and are hankering after the big dreams of Technicolour America, where they'll tour in August. Walt is fully aware though, that "the only way to break America is by touring non-stop for at least six months, possibly more. The lack of real success over there for The Charlatans, Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses is because think that by playing both the East and West Coast they've done their duty, and that's not the case. We're not going to get some big management company behind us, we've got our circle of friends and helpers and we don't want any outside interference.

Northside are almost nonchalant about their current standing. Dermo says his life hasn't changed very much and he still just writes about the way he sees the world. Tim notes that they're still going through a learning process musically, and is wont to drift off at tangents and into muso-speak. The forthcoming debut LP is foremost on their minds for, as Walt says, "it's make or break time".

Frustrated by the lack of rants and insights into their working methods, I try another tack - silly question time. You don't use many 'big words' in your songs, do you, Dermo?

"I slow down after seven letters".

Tim: "You don't use big words in everyday life, do you?"

This might sound far-fetched but, drawing a parallel between what you do and what rappers do, even the most uneducated rapper and scours books for impressive words.

Tim: "Well, they like fucking with your mind, don't they? 'I'm better than you' and all that."

Walt: "I'm into all that, enough to know that there are loads of different categories of rappers. There are those that fuck with you and there's people like Ice-T who just says what's on his mind, and what's going on in his surroundings. But you're right, there are some rapper who just blow your mind, sit down and eat a dictionary and you don't know what he's fucking saying."

What sort of things would you avoid writing about, apart from politics, which you say is too involved and complicated to deal with, without putting up a front or pretending to know more than you actually know?

"Death and things like that," chips in Dermo.

Walt: "Depressing things."

"How can you sing about death?" asks Tim

But some people make a living from blowing death out of all proportion. Check out those Florida Death Metal cats ...

Dermo: "But that's bullshit, complete rubbish. It's the first thing you can think about, death."

Tim: "We're not a death trip."

Dermo: "Leave the wrists alone."

Northside are quick to insist they're very optimistic, although Dermo goes slightly pale when I enquire as to why there aren't many love songs in their canon. Naturally, we discuss the fact that they've somehow avoided being seen as a Factory group, and the conversation slips into how people are much more open-minded these days, compared with those at the turn of the last decade who'd only listen to Joy Division, New Order and Echo And The Bunnymen or, worse still, those misguided souls who tried to collect every individual Factory artefact.

Dermo is convinced that they're doing something new and worthwhile, admits to loving Minder on TV, and says that anyone who compares them to Happy Mondays hasn't seen 'em live or listened for themselves and is just blindly following what's been (inaccurately) written about them. So what bothers him at the moment?

"The way a lot of indie music just sounds the same. Everyone's going on this big Ride noise thing, there aren't any individuals anymore. Oh, and by the way, Manic Street Preachers are crap. Who wants to burn out at 25? We're going to be around for a long while yet."