Quest for Northern soul

Paul Morley The North
Paul Morley The North

What exactly it is to be a northerner is something that music journalist and broadcaster Paul Morley has long pondered.

And now he has committed his musings to a book, The North (And Almost Everything In It, which is part memoir and part social history.

Morley was born in the South but since moving to Stockport at the age of seven has thought of himself as a northerner, even though he has been based in London for his adult life. He says he is not entirely sure what that means but he knows it to be an absolute truth.

“I am not saying the North is a better place,” he says, just that it has been hugely influential. The book recounts his own life interspersed with facts (gleaned on the Internet, he is happy to own) arranged around different dates.

There is, of course, the question of where the North begins. Being from Stockport and therefore Cheshire (although he points out his neck of the woods, Reddish, was once in Lancashire) people have been known to question what he knows about the North.

“Stockport was the centre of my North,” he asserts.

As a result he lists various formative influences or “heroes” ranging from LS Lowry and the Stockport Viaduct to Lancashire batsman Harry Pilling and the 1969 Manchester City cup-winning team. Eventually music was to be the big thing.

“There was a melancholy moment when Harry Pilling was overtaken by T Rex and you realise you are losing your early influences,” he says, “and that’s part of growing up as you shift your interests. I knew hearing the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall that music had claimed me and that this boy from Reddish had somehow been part of cultural history.”

He went off to the NME in London but the North became increasingly important in music. “After the Sex Pistols northern cities established a musical identity of their own.

“Sheffield was very much part of that and interestingly the former industrial workshops proved ideal for the creation of music. the architecture and character of the city represented from the Seventies and I got to know Cabaret Voltaire, ABC, Human League and the British Electronic Foundation.

“It was part of the essential northern underdog character and Warp have carried that on. It’s that attitude of don’t ignore us,just because we are not in your eyeline, we are are just as important.”

At almost 600 pages The North is quite a tome. “ wanted it to have some heft to be as solid as a viaduct and feel as though there are lots of bricks in the construction of my statement.”

– The North by is published by Bloomsbury at £20 and Paul Morley eill be talking with Sheffield Telegraph cartoonist Pete McKee at an Off the Shelf event at The Foundry, University of Sheffield Students’ Union on Saturday.