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Its Grim Up North - Why Is It So Hard For Unsigned Northern Acts To Make It?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010 Written by Adam Simpson
Its Grim Up North - Why Is It So Hard For Unsigned Northern Acts To Make It?

Being an unsigned band is not an easy task. Financial issues, working around full time jobs and studying, or just getting a gig. The list of problems are endless and groups often have to do everything themselves. Management, promotion, photography, web sites, whilst still trying to play and write good music.

And all this comes with no guarantees, even the fact that you are a fantastic group, with a good fan base and a huge online following means nothing. Getting that elusive record deal is a lottery and only a few lucky ones ever receive the winning ticket.
A quick look at MySpace will reveal the vast number of unsigned acts out there all aiming for the same goal and a huge number of these groups are pretty good.

The problem becomes magnified once you travel Up North. All the big labels, promoters, venues etc are all based around the big smoke of London. So how does a Northern band make it? I talk to some aspiring Yorkshire bands to find out if it is 'Grim Up North.'

Manchester is thankfully still a region with huge musical interest and a music venue on nearly every street corner, however the heights that Manchester achieved musically during the 80's and 90's and the Madchester years are a distant memory. Travel along the M62 though into Yorkshire and the issue is extremely grim. It is 'Grim Up North.'

There have obviously been some huge acts to come from the Yorkshire area over the years, The Human League, Embrace, The Housemartins, Corrine Bailey Rae, The Pigeon Detectives, Arctic Monkeys, Reverend And The Makers, The Kaiser Chiefs and Shed Seven to name but a few, however how many of these acts have made it since the turn of the millennium. Not many. So why is it so 'Grim Up North'?

Stereoboard.com digs a little deeper and spends some time with some unsigned and upcoming bands from the Yorkshire region to get their take on why it is 'Grim Up North.'

Its Grim Up North - The Littemores

The Littlemores

The Littlemores are a fine example of a group, who should definitely be on the shelves of HMV, rather than playing small gigs restricted to their local area and financing their own EP releases.

The 4 piece are as fresh and exciting as any band on the scene right now and indeed for a few years now. Having won this year's Battle Of The Bands in York and building themselves a decent following in the city the group now need to spread their wings and show the rest of the UK and indeed the world what they have to offer.

The Littlemores new EP, Idle Idols II is a fantastic collection of eclectic toe tappers which impress from start to finish. The group's mixture of indie, punk, ska and mod music presents the listener with an intoxicating blend of very unique and diverse music, which is given a real lift by the addition of trumpets and accordion and the thoughtful, gritty lyrics and vocals which everybody can relate too.

As a live act the group are fantastic, their energetic sets are full of life and youthful spirit as the group jam through their set yet play as tight as seasoned pros.

I speak to the group, who are Conor Hirons, vocalist and guitar, Kai West, bass, Jack Williams, drums and Ben Crosthwaite who plays the trumpet and accordion to get their take on being a Northern band.

The group know that they need to expand their audience to take the next step. Conor explains. "We are planning on getting out of York and playing in Leeds and the rest of Yorkshire and then hopefully a national tour and maybe even a visit to the East Coast of America." To fulfil this commitment the group will have to take a year out to do this but they are determined enough and want to succeed enough to make that sacrifice.

"It will take a lot of promotion and perseverance but that is part of being in a band and we are not afraid of hard work."

Financially, being in a group is tough. When the group started, they found their bass amp in a skip and bought their drum kit for ten pounds.

"We have spent many nights wrapped up in duffle coats with fingerless gloves, rehearsing in a freezing garage, but not for one minute are we complaining. We like the idea of earning what we achieve."

So do the group feel that being a Yorkshire group hinders them?

"Being a Yorkshire band does hinder us, we feel it is harder to get noticed. The music scene where we live, in York, is not fantastic and we know we would probably one day have to move to a bigger city such as London or Manchester, where all the A&R guys are."

The group are proud of their Yorkshire roots and tell me they have a lot of fun gigging to the Yorkshire crowds but they are aware that even though the London scene is much larger, with more competition, there is a much bigger chance of getting noticed there.

"We will always stay connected to our Yorkshire routes though, we will without doubt stay close to our Yorkshire Heritage in the way The Cribs have."

The group's ultimate dream, like most bands in their position, is to make music for a living. Like most musicians though they would carry on even if that never happened because they enjoy it so much.

"Seeing somebody at a gig sing your lyrics back to you is an amazing feeling and it's always nice to meet new fans who have taken the time to come and see you play."

The Littlemores brilliant EP, Idle Idols II is due out on the 30th July and they are hosting a headline set and club night at Fibbers in York to celebrate this as well as 2 festival sets which the group earned, when they won the Battle Of The Bands. 1 at The Galtres Beer Festival on the 28th August and another at The Moor Music Festival on the 12th to 15th August.

Its Grim Up North - Secret Sirens

Secret Sirens

The 'Secret Sirens' are a pop duo from Leeds, consisting of singer, songwriter and keyboard player Narelle Frances and multiple instrument player Andrew Siron.

The pair have had some modest success, having worked together previously and between them have had some indie chart success and some Top 10 remixes of their tracks in the Commercial Club Charts in various musical past lives. They have also performed at Karen Millen's house and played alongside acts such as Corinne Bailey Rae, The View and The Pigeon Detectives.

The group have generally found working in the north to be a positive thing. Hailing from Leeds, which has a pretty good music scene and a massive university scene. They have also found the facilities on offer to be very good and offered at reasonable rates and the local media to be very supportive.

They do however see the drawbacks associated with being up north and away from the Capital. Getting any action in London can be difficult as event promoters shy away from offering gigs in fear of low turnouts for the gigs. Narelle explains further.

"It definitely is harder to get noticed up North as all the A&R and big record execs are primarily based in London. You've got to really push to get yourself noticed which means being your bands 'biggest fan' and using every spare minute you have in plugging it, gigging, writing material and just getting out there and noticed!"

They point out also at the difficulty of getting noticed by a label, when you are away from the capital, having to rely on independent labels.

"Obviously there is less funding for marketing and promotion of your material, so you're not always going to get mainstream commercial success from that, but then some people don't always want that! It also means you probably have to keep some kind of day job as well, as you don't get those illusive cash advances!"

The groups take on pop music is very refreshing and offers fans much more than the here today gone tomorrow top 40 successes which the music business seems to rely on these days. The duo are exceptionally talented lyrically, vocally and musically and are another Yorkshire act who's material should be filling the shelves of record stores with their unique blend of memorable pop music.

The group are releasing their single Black Heart on September 6th and will be releasing an EP later in the year.

Its Grim Up North - Katie and the Questions

Katie & The Questions

Katie & The Questions are a group formed in North Yorkshire, when songwriter/musician Ian had the idea of putting together a girl-group that could sing power-pop songs and harmonise like they meant it. After a few false starts the current line-up was formed with Claire, Laura and Vicky, who provide the harmonic quality vocals of Katie and the Questions.

Katie and the Questions are backed by the excellent 'Answers', a four piece backing band, which draw on a range of experiences across all types of music: Including Ian who is the chief songwriter and keyboard player for K&Qs, having worked as a session musician and band member with a diverse number of groups and bass player Clive who has opened for some outstanding acts over the years, including Otis Reading, Booker T & the MGS, The Who, Status Quo, The Faces and many others.

Katie and the Questions play a pulsating brand of powerpop, new wave and punkpop which they want people to dance to when they come to one of their shows, not stand staring at their feet.

There's a real buzz going on for the band right now, with over 11,000 fans having signed up as 'friends' at their MySpace web page in the last few months. The band are also planning a small UK tour later this year and are currently in the recording studio working on their first EP due for release towards the end of October with an album to follow at Christmas.

With all this in mind, why are the group failing to get the attention they richly deserve, is it a case that they don't cut the mustard? Well having seen the group perform live I doubt that very much, perhaps it is the fact that the style of music they play is not in keeping with the current trends, but again, lots of acts fall into this category and still have success. Perhaps it is simply the fact that they have yet to be seen by the right people. A point typified by this very article. Is it the fact that the group are a Northern act, performing around the groups home town, has hindered them from the interest of labels and promoters who are based in London. It is an argument that could continue forever without a clear answer, but what is clear is that the group have lots of potential and placed in the right place, at the right time, who knows?

Its Grim Up North - The Humour

The Humour

The Humour are a Wakefield rock quartet. They played Download Festival this year and have also had the backing of some big names in the business with the likes of Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden championing them and lots of air play from Kerrang Radio and XFM. Yet the group are still struggling to go to that next level and become full time professional musicians.

Having seen the group live and listened to their EP there is no doubt in my mind that The Humour have the talent and drive to take that next step, so why are they struggling?

I spoke to the group's charismatic front man James Taylor to get his take on things and whether he blames being a northern act on their troubles.

"Being in a band up north automatically makes it difficult on many levels in my opinion. Unfortunately not that many 'rock' outfits have made it from up north over the past 10 years; therefore there is no scene or group to catch on to. Over other parts of the country there are huge bands rising and taking all their friends/bands with them, you have the infamous Welsh scene, starting with Lostprophets, Funeral For A Friend. Because of these 2 bands becoming huge in a short space of time, interest in the South Wales scene got bigger and from this bands like, Bullet For My Valentine, The Blackout, Kids In Glass Houses and Attack Attack were given a chance at the limelight. Then there's the Surrey scene, with You Me At Six taking bands such as We Are The Ocean, Futures and Young Guns up with them. With the northern scene there are only Glamour Of The Kill who have managed to break out from up north in the rock scene."

So what does James think about the gigging scene available to acts up north?

"With regards to gigging, good venues are few and far between. If you were to head down to London you can stumble upon 5 or 6 fantastic venues in Camden alone, such as the place where we're from Wakefield, the only decent venue has just been shut down, the venues don't make as much money up here and of course labels, booking agents, publishers etc all reside down south, and trying to persuade them to come see you up north is almost impossible."

So all in all, do The Humour believe that it is 'Grim Up North'?

"With no scenes to tag along to if you're not 'indie' and no industry awareness going further than Birmingham it is looking very grim up north. But the way we see it, these bands who get these easy chances, only seem to burn bright for a couple of months, so you know that if things do start happening and you're a northern band, you know it's for real, and not just some hype forming because you live in a certain area. Being in a band up north automatically makes it difficult on many levels in my opinion. Unfortunately not that many 'rock' outfits have made it from up north over the past 10 years; therefore there is no scene or group to catch on to."

So perhaps it really is 'Grim Up North'!

The Humour are an act doing a little better then most in the Yorkshire region, but even with good reviews, a strong live following and thumbs up from people like Bruce Dickinson, they still struggle to hit the big time. There is no doubt that they have the talent, so perhaps it is simply a case that the Northern scene is holding them back.

The groups new EP, which was released earlier this year is a brilliant collection of rock tracks and definitely worth checking out.

Its Grim Up North - The Red Chevrons

The Red Chevrons

The Red Chevrons are an indie band, based in the small town of Pickering, outside of York. They are like many, a very good group struggling to take the next step forward and follow their dream to become professional rock stars.

Having been together for 3 years, although with a line up change last year, the group are determined enough that they have never considered giving up, however they are frustrated by the lack of opportunities coming their way. Unlike a lot of groups, they have managed to break out of their local vicinity and play some gigs elsewhere, most notably 12 Bar Club in London and twice at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, a venue made famous by The Beatles. They do however mainly play in and around York and West Yorkshire.

Although the group have broken out of Yorkshire briefly, unfortunately they were met with a common problem, a pretty empty venue in London, indeed the group managed to fill a coach with loyal fans and pack The Cavern Club, The Red Chevrons do hope that their return to The 12 Bar Club on the 27th July will attract more fans and give the group the opportunity to win over some new followers.

The group have like most other groups been very busy, sending emails and demos to various record labels and promoters, but generally they find that such people ignore them, which is a real shame, they have however signed to an independent label to release one single and an EP. The label are based in Milton Keynes and found the group on MySpace, as opposed to viewing any of their live performances.

I recently saw the group support Ash at The Duchess in York, the groups set was brilliant and went down really well with the large crowd. Speaking about the event, Jamie Painter, the bands bass player said:

"It was definitely our biggest gig to date. There were over 400 people at the venue, and we were the only support band, so the place was full when we were on stage. The buzz that you get looking out across a room full of faces is unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced. We got to meet the band afterwards, and they were nice guys, which topped it off."

The ultimate dream for The Red Chevrons is to play at festivals over the summer and watch thousands of people sing along to their tracks, but they are realistic guys and know that it will take a lucky break to make this happen. I wonder why the group feels they have to turn to luck for this to happen. Jamie explains.

"It is demoralising, when you see some of the rubbish bands that have come out of London and been signed. There are so many great bands in Yorkshire that I feel record labels are missing out on because they are not willing to travel up here and come and experience the bands playing live."

The groups single, All's Well That Ends Well was released in May, it is for sale on iTunes and Amazon, their EP, Foolproof is due for release shortly and will be available to download.

Its Grim Up North - Ciruc Envy

Circus Envy

Circus Envy are an alternative-folk band based in Hull, East Yorkshire. Featuring a line-up of primarily acoustic instruments, they add a traditional sensibility to their intricately crafted harmony-led modern songs with use of bouzouki, mandolin and cajon.

Their EP "A New Dawn" is released nationally on 16th August, distributed by Genepool/Universal and the band are also to commence a nationwide tour in October 2010.

I speak with the group to find out why they are not pushing their act to the next level.

"We have found that being based in Hull can cause problems logistically - we are located at the end of a motorway, bounded by the North Sea on one side and the River Humber on another. There are no great centres of population until you get to Leeds and York. This isolation means that Hull doesn't enjoy the surrounding feeder towns that allow bands in, say, Manchester or London to draw on fans from the surrounding areas. The limited opportunities to play in the local area mean that for developing bands it can be hard to build a sufficient reputation to move outwards into other towns and cities."

The situation it seems is as dire as first thought, this issue of unsigned acts failing to get a decent shot is not resigned to Yorkshire or the North, however you certainly hear of a lot more Southern bands making the transition from being a good group, to a good professional group.

Something needs to change, but who has the answers, I certainly do not.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though, all the groups realise that with a lot of hard work, commitment and a lot of luck, there is always a chance and there are some people offering groups in this position a chance. Source TV and Factory are currently recruiting unsigned acts to apply for a televised battle of the bands type competition hosted at FAC251, in Manchester with the winner promised a record deal. Unfortunately though these opportunities are few and far between.

I am sure things will change, the music industry has seen slumps before and it always comes back stronger then ever, perhaps another Brit Pop or Punk scene is just around the corner, I hope so anyway. What is apparent though is that unfortunately it is 'Grim Up North', even though the quality of the music is as high as ever with many brilliant groups in the area. This article has only scratched the surface in unveiling the regions bands who are doing all they can to grab that lucky break and become professional acts.

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