Northside were the last great band signed to Factory Records. There I’ve said it. Many may disagree, only remembering their debut Shall We Take A Trip (still an indie disco floor filler) or mis-remembering the Central Station designed sleeve (it’s a plum, the apple was on the second single).
Formed in the Blackley and Moston areas of North Manchester in the early part 1989 by friends Cliff Ogier (bass) and Warren ‘Dermo’ Dermody (vocals), the core duo were joined by Paul Walsh (drums) and Michael Upton (guitars – although he was replaced by Tim Walsh).
After months of intense practice, Northside made their live debut at Manchester’s Boardwalk in September 1989. It sold out by word of mouth, in part due to the buzz that the band’s first demos, recorded at The Cutting Rooms, part of Abraham Moss College had made. The demos had received many plays on local stations Piccadilly Radio and KFM, Stockport. Their 3rd gig, November 1989, has gone down in folklore, as a power cut hit, they were supporting Happy Mondays at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. Frontman Dermo entertained the crowd until the show could go on.
Over the next few months, Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson courted the band before finally signing them in early 1990. He wasted no time, quickly getting them into the studio to record 2 of the tracks from their demo tape, Shall We Take A Trip and Moody Places.
The double A-side 12” only single was released on 2 June 1990 (a 7″ version was produced but never made it past the promo stage, the majority of these being used as frisbees from the high rises of the local Miners Estate). With its opening line of ‘L-S-D,’ and the hidden in plain sight message, ‘Answers Come In Dreams,’ it was promptly banned from national daytime radio. Moody Places had actually been and band’s choice for the lead track but they were overruled by the label. Instrumental mixes of both songs were picked up by local television for use on Granada Soccer Night, and would remain a staple for the next couple of years. The single reached 50 on the national chart.
Follow up, My Rising Star was released in late October 1990 and saw the band break into the Top 40 at 32 with a video filmed on top of Manchester’s Arndale Centre. This also featured an unplanned cameo from the local police helicopter on account of the fireworks being set off. The track itself had been premiered earlier in the year as it had featured the celebrated Granada Television documentary Madchester – The Sound of The North which featured a lengthy profile of Northside and offered a live ‘rehearsal’ performance of the track at Holland Street Sports Centre, Miles Platting.
1991 started well for the band. They were riding the crest of a wave, having seen the previous year out with sold out UK tours as well as trips to the USA and Japan. Northside were invited to open the Great British Music Weekend in January at Wembley Arena. A never to be repeated event broadcast live over three nights on Radio 1 featuring the likes of Happy Mondays, James, Wedding Present, The Cure and Ozzy Osbourne. Despite pleas from the station not to play Shall We Take A Trip, the band started with this number, causing the live broadcast to stop for several minutes!
Unfortunately, 1991 would prove difficult for Factory Records, who would be bankrupt by the end of the following year. The label had been supported by sales of Joy Division/New Order releases/rereleases and Happy Mondays but were constantly haemorrhaging cash due the latter’s prolonged studio sessions and the weekly expense of keeping the Hacienda, which was in the grip of Manchester’s underworld, and Dry Bar afloat.
At the same time, there was also a shift in music tastes and fashion. The ‘baggy’ and acid scenes, which had begun around 5 years earlier on council estates across the country and hyped up by the media were on the wane. No longer were New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Inspiral Carpets, The High guaranteed front pages of the Music Press as numerous metal and grunge bands from the United States began to receive a push. It is worth remembering that unless there was a scandal, bands didn’t appear in the national media so they were limited to Sounds, NME, Melody Maker, Select or Vox. Groups didn’t enter the mainstream consciousness until Liam Gallagher dared to change his haircut around 1995.
The third single, Take 5 was released in late May and hit the UK Charts on 1 June 1991, The same day that the band played with Happy Mondays, The Farm and the La’s at Elland Road, Leeds. With its ‘64-46-BMW’ refrain lifted from Yellowman’s Nobody Move, it was well-received, but due to a barcode cock-up the band were robbed of a higher chart position on its first week of release, entering at 41. By way of an apology, Northside were invited to make their Top of the Pops debut, despite being outside of the Top 40 (the first band to ever be given the honour).
Released simultaneously by Geffen on the other side of the Atlantic, Take 5 was one of the last British pop songs to perform well on the American modern rock radio stations before grunge took hold. Take 5 actually spending a lofty week at No 1 in Canada, before being deposed by the Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Chicken Rhythms was released on 17th June 1991, produced by Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and engineered by Cenzo Townsend. It was recorded in January and February at The Windings, Wrexham, Amazon (now Parr Street Studios), Liverpool, and Rockfield in Monmouthshire and featured the bands live set (which had already actually been released on a Live VHS the previous year to capture the pre-Christmas market).
Featuring 10 tracks on vinyl and 11 on CD (My Rising Star being the extra track) the album received mixed reviews. Vox perhaps the most generous and aware, recognising that the band were maturing and whilst undoubtedly fitting in with the ‘Madchester’ sound, they’d come along way from Shall We Take A Trip. They made the point saying, ‘it almost sounds like a different band’. Q magazine almost begrudgingly called it “surprisingly durable” whilst Melody Maker were less kind. The album reached No 19 on the National Album Chart.
Despite what the media said, the album has endured. At the time you could say the singles stood out above the other songs, but with repeat listening you’ll find a very consistent album. Tour De World will have you dancing, as will the bass-led Funky Munky and almost instrumental Yeah Man with its freak out guitar. The nasally delivered A Change Is On Its Way could potentially have been an influence on a young singer from Burnage. My personal favourite track over the 30 years, Wishful Thinking, positivity shimmers and still captures the magical feeling of a perfect day where anything is possible.
With the benefit of hindsight, the backlash had been coming, a number of writers harshly referring them to dog shit on Shaun Ryder’s shoes, but the truth is Northside were a band growing up in public. They were being compared to groups whose members had been honing their craft for much of the previous decade. If anything, the press who pigeon-holed them weren’t willing to listen and allow them to grow, refusing to hear the eclectic influences in the mix such as Stiff Little Fingers, reggae and Pink Floyd.
Tony Wilson knew they were different, explaining in 1995, ‘Northside were a stunning live band, Dermo was the only person in Manchester not trying to be Ian Brown’. Unfortunately, whilst demos were recorded for the 2nd album, it remains unreleased. Factory were wound up. The fourth single was allocated a catalogue number (FAC338) but would never be recorded ‘officially’.
It’s a shame, as anyone who has been fortunate to hear tracks such as Freak Circus; Pleasuredome; Temptation or Mr Brown would agree there were some absolute gems amongst them. I’d suggest if it had seen the light of day it would have moved the band away from the Madchester tag, in the same way that Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish distanced them from their pseudo baggy label of Leisure.
Northside may have been a band in the right place but at the wrong time. One things for sure though, despite media opinion there are many hardcore fans that remain to this day.
As the saying goes; ‘if you know, you know’.
Chicken Rhythms has been re-released twice on CD (but never reissued on vinyl) since 1991. Released by LTM in 2006 as Chicken Rhythms and Extras and 2014 as Shall We Take A Trip – The Factory Recordings 1990-1991. The latter is still available here.
For more insight into the characters, times and places check out for Colin Gibbins book Manchester Music and M9 Kidz here.
Dedicated to memories of Tim Walsh, Neil Dermody, Steven Dermody, Alan Robinson, Nick Owen and Kirsty Hannah (nee Andrews).