Tuesday, 5 February 2013
NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISS COMMENT
As a child growing up in Lancashire I had fond memories of the 'stick' that exists (still) between Lancashire and Yorkshire over the Wars Of The Roses. This persisted to my student days in Leeds where, working in a city centre pub over the summer, I took great delight in our cricketing triumph over the White Rose. It was only when I looked into the real history of the wars and the central figure of 'crookback' Richard that I realised that the Wars Of The Roses were less Lancashire / Yorkshire than North v South, a situation that has defined large parts of my life for good and bad.
Growing up in Blackpool in the 80's the North / South divide was ever present. We sat watching mobile phone wielding yuppies drinking champagne on the news whilst around us friend's parents lost their jobs and, in some cases, their homes to the ravages of a recession that seemingly didn't touch the South East. But we had The Smiths, The Tube, Brookside and Yosser Hughes. If nothing else, we were being heard and, more importantly, whilst the South East handed us Wham and Spandau Ballet we held the big cards, the cultural powerhouses that would define popular culture for the next generation, The Smiths, Joy Division, Factory Records, The Housemartins and Kitchenware Records. It happened again in the late 80's when the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays joined forces with the Hacienda, our cousins over the Pennines at Back To Basics and Gatecrasher and changed clothes and behaviour irrevocably. And again when Oasis did it in the mid 90s. We may have been poorer economically but we were streets ahead culturally.
Contrary to the efforts (and pr) of the Blair government, the North / South divide has never gone away. From an economic divide it has widened to a cultural divide and seems now to have become so entrenched that the travails of the North's culture are not even worthy of comment. This excellent piece in The New Statesman details the destruction of arts funding in the North East whilst a more trivial example has been playing out on Twitter today.
The shock and disgust of some that The Courteeners should have secured a midweek Number One with their new album is revealing. Empirically, this is a band that can comfortably sell out the MEN Arena in Manchester, an 18,000+ capacity barn whose audience buying one copy each would easily put them in the end of week Top Ten on current sales. This makes such comments ill informed at best. However, it is the deeper conviction that this music does not 'deserve' such exposure that highlights the cultural disconnect between the critical elite and the tastes of 'ordinary' people, especially when such people tend to be from outside of the South East 'hub'.
For the record I used to work with The Courteeners (on their debut album) and saw this story play out in a slightly different context. The band won the inaugral Guardian Album Of The Year award, due almost totally to the efforts of their fanbase in a public vote. The howls of derision from the commentators on the paper's notoriously deranged CiF focused on such obvious targets as 'landfill indie' and 'bloke rock' and leaned heavily on a stereotyped view of the band and their fans as beery, stupid and, crucially, Northern. Like 'hilarious' transcripts of the Gallagher's - 'ey oop r kid, how's it going mi lad' etc - all the posting massive really revealed was their prejudice towards anything that originated or succeeded North of Watford.
So, the tale repeats. It seems appropriate that a Northern band should stand at the top of the charts on the week that the much maligned, critically destroyed monarch from the Middle Ages should return. No crookback King, a victim of Tudor propaganda, the reverberations of the war remained for a century, leading to the rape of the North under Henry VIII following the pilgrimage of grace, a further Northern attempt to have their culture heard and respected by the powers that be at Westminster and in the City. misrepresented by the arch propagandist Thomas Cromwell. As the new rape of the North gathers pace under Thatcher's children it has to be hoped that, in adversity as ever, the North will continue to excel at projecting their limited power to greater levels.