Northern Soul: The Skinny North bids farewell

The North's finest. The Skinny North says a final farewell by asking some of our favourite people, what makes the North so special?

Feature by The Skinny | 10 Jul 2017

For our final issue we spoke to some of our favourite people in the North; the creatives who put on great shows and bring innovation and talent to the region’s most lively venues. These are the cats who’ve made publishing The Skinny North a dream, and who make the great cities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool such vibrant and exciting places in which to live, play and create. We asked them two questions:

1) What makes the North's cultural scene so special?
2) What's your favourite cultural moment during the last four years (i.e. the time in which The Skinny North has been published)?

Here’s what they had to say.

Mark Carlin

Director of Islington Mill, Salford; Don of the peerless Sounds from the Other City

1) I'm not sure I can speak for the whole of the North, but what I think makes Manchester and Salford really work is the fact that they have a lot of the attributes and feel of big cities but they feel small enough to let you make an impact, to get involved, to make a scene around you and help each other make things grow. We are also pretty lucky with the amount of touring shows that pass through here, particularly in music, so it means that there are a lot of avenues for inspiration!

2) Watching clubbers go down on bended knee to be furnished with beer at the bar/pit of The White Hotel. There is something glorious and debauched all in that one action, and it really sums up that place for me!

Jackie Hagan

Fearless poet and stand-up

1) It's adamantly unpretentious and knows that laughing at something doesn't mean we're not taking it seriously.

2) Thatcher dying. 

False Advertising

Kickarse Manchester-based grunge-pop trio

1) It's chock full of different people and personalities who aren't afraid to do things a bit differently, and nobody holds anything against you for trying to do your own thing. Given that we're a band with a few unusual qualities, we certainly feel that our individuality has been welcomed in the North – and that's the attitude that allows the best parts of the scene to be so wonderfully diverse.

2) The exceptional ability of the internet to create culture, and spread ideas and content directly to people has resonated with us the most over the last few years. Whether it was Beyoncé's shock release of her self-titled album back in 2013 with no promotion, Stormzy rising to the top of the charts by forging his own career on a DIY basis, or the miracle of Grumpy Cat. A free and unbiased internet can win everything.

Ashley Kollakowski

Co-owner of Leeds' damn fine Belgrave Music Hall

1) It's difficult to put into words what makes the North so great at the moment. There's the beer thing. How many great breweries are in the North now? Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Magic Rock, Wylam, Track, Marble, Alphabet, Kirkstall, North Brew Co – the list is absolutely endless and keeps growing. Not being biased but there's no-one down south that can touch Cloudwater, Magic Rock and Northern Monk right now. No one. We sell a lot of beer at Belgrave and Headrow House, and from the horse's mouth everyone testifies that the North has always had better beer. No debate needed.

2) It feels in the last few years that so many amazing things have happened up here that to choose one or two events would be unfair. The KAWS exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a real key moment in modern pop culture history; a world famous artist launching his giant sculptures in Yorkshire rather than New York or Paris or Barcelona was incredible. I went to the event and seeing people travelling from Tokyo and San Francisco to bloody Wakefield really brought it home.

Kiri Pritchard-Mclean

Razor-sharp stand-up and member of inspired sketch troupe Gein’s Family Giftshop

1) I'm from North Wales and have lived in Manchester for ten years now, after three years in Liverpool. I feel such an affinity for the attitude up here. Gallows humour, matriarchal families and never feeling like you should apologise for not being part of a wealthy, London bubble.

I think it's hard to ignore the cultural heritage of the North, and why would you want to? The Beatles, The Smiths, The League of Gentlemen, John Cooper Clarke, Caroline Aherne; just incredible, genre-defining people. I think it's because the cultural world is down in London we get left to it up here, which means there can be more room to innovate and it gives you a hunger. There's nothing like feeling like your passion is ignored to light a fire under you. Just try and ignore us.

2) It's hard to pick a highlight culturally but because I'm an egomaniac it would need to be something I'm involved in. In 2015 the Frog and Bucket comedy club – proper Manchester institution and birthplace to hundreds of comedy careers, mine included – turned 20. So, in April of that year they had a big anniversary with loads of amazing acts who've come through the club, top headliners, and me. I remember being insanely nervous, because it's intimidating to try and hold your own on a stage with Dan Nightingale, Mick Ferry and Steve Shanyaski. But, as always, the Frog was amazing, the atmosphere was electric and I remember during my set feeling so made-up that I got to be a part of this amazing scene. And that's all I remember because they gave me loads of free wine and I was sick on my shoes as I got out the taxi later. Proper Northern stuff.

Sarah Perks

Irrepressible art impresario and HOME's director of visual art

1) HOME had a visiting artist last weekend who said: “Wow, everyone around here has a personality!” I think this ties into our spirit, an attitude of 'just get on with it' and not being afraid to have fun or only talk in intellectual clichés!

2) Forgive me please, and regardless of how much you engage with our programme, I think it has to be acknowledged how important the capital building and support for organisations like HOME and Islington Mill is. It is vital that the ecology is strengthened and there’s a variety of places of experience and debate for artists and audiences alike, and during a very tough time politically. It is also imperative that there are places for production and commissioning (and as many as possible) to make Manchester an attractive place for artistic endeavour.

Thom Isom

One third of inventive Liverpool collective Deep Hedonia; designer extraordinaire, formerly of The Skinny North

1) Deep Hedonia started back in 2012, just a year before The Skinny North. When you look back that far, it’s safe to see why the North’s cultural scene is so special. Its capacity to produce so many artists, producers and musicians is pretty inspiring. Looking back at one of our first shows is a great example of where all this talent can end up.

It was back in 2013, and we hosted a show at the old Drop the Dumbells gallery on Slater street. The line-up was a mixture of mates and up-and-coming producers from Liverpool – most of whom were just starting out. Bantam Lions, Lunar Modular, Tomasu and Deep Hedonia co-founder Kepla all delivered live sets. Since then, they’ve all gone on to pretty big things:

Bantam Lions went on to work with Scenery Records, which then released his first full length album Short Stories in late 2016. Scenery Records might be no more but they’ve now started a new label, Four Triangles, who are repping some of Liverpool’s best new producers. James Rand of Lunar Modular has set up shop down in London now, and his new project, God Colony, is showing promise; they’ve just finished an audio-visual series with NTS Radio. Tomasu later presented his live set at FutureEverything in 2015 and DJs throughout the city today. Kepla has had a busy few years, collaborating with Quantum Natives records and supporting Fis and William Basinski around the UK. Alongside all this he continues his work with Liverpool based Iranian MC Farhood – well worth a look in!

2) My favourite cultural moment: car on the dancefloor #COTDF13 [an event at Liverpool LightNight were Deep Hedonia literally brought a car on to Static Gallery's dancefloor]


Indie-pop trio from Chester and our favourite peas since Bird's Eye

1) We love our home in the Northwest! We all grew up in more southern areas of the country but have been here for nearly 10 years. For us, the Northern cultural scene feels very supportive and very positive. There doesn't seem to be any weird rivalries or jealousy from other bands that you sometimes get in London, and that's especially so here in Chester. All the local bands support each other and help each other grow, whether that's rocking a t-shirt, going to all the live shows or sharing news on social media; we're all friends! And for us, to be accepted in Manchester, Liverpool and North Wales is just so lovely. It's one big happy family showing London that we're here and we're working bloody hard.

2) Fave cultural moment in the last four years? For us it's appearing at Manchester's A Carefully Planned Festival in 2016. It's that brilliant festival that links us with The Skinny North. We were featured in issue 40 a couple of times. That festival is indeed Carefully Planned and it was so cool being a part of it. We played to a max cap audience at Soup Kitchen and the response blew us away. We're now great friends with Matt Boycott Garnett [ACP's founder and promoter] and that show gave us the opportunity to become part of the gang in Manchester.

Dave McTague

Tireless promoter with Mellowtone and director of One Fell Swoop

1) I don't know what makes the North's cultural scene so special; it's a glorious melting pot of all sorts of things. I like the fact it's a bit rough around the edges, and there isn't the sense of entitlement – and by default the complacency – that often comes with a capital city. The urban centres here may not have the numbers or concentration of artists you find in the capital, but there's a hunger, an aspiration, authenticity... and the rents are cheaper and there are some amazing spaces and amazing people, making it a fertile breeding ground for exciting new ideas. And besides, all the best bands are from the North!

2) My favourite cultural moment of the last four years was actually just last week: the celebration for Africa Oyé's 25th Anniversary. The biggest and best Oyé yet! Seeing people of all ages, all colours and all backgrounds coming together in Sefton Park, and the British summer even made an appearance. Lots of smiles, no trouble. Good vibes and good times. With what's going on in the world at the moment it was a much needed and most refreshing event; an inspiring and magical weekend.

Simon Fogal

Simon Fogal: director, I Like Press; drums, I Like Trains; man about town, Leeds

1) The gritty North. Over four years ago, we had a fairly different culture picture to the one we have now – so much has changed in my city [Leeds] in the last year, never mind the last four. Through various conversations it appears that some folk still have these myths that the different cities in the North are competing on a culture level. This may be true on some cultural activities, such as sport, but what makes the North’s culture scene so special is the chance to work together, to offer a helping hand and for cultural collaboration. It is a lovely thing.

2) Having been involved in numerous amazing cultural moments, from Beacons Festival in the field to Live at Leeds to the inaugural Leeds International Festival, the one that sticks out the most is Leeds Indie Food. From concept to running three years solid and being a true celebration of independent food and drink, it is the one that has had the most challenges and therefore the most rewards. Over 20,000 people have attended a range of its events, from dining experiences, pop-up restaurants, wine fairs, beer tours, exhibitions, talks and much more. It helps shine a light on an industry some take for granted and tries to encourage people to try something new. It is quite hard to comprehend the difference it has made to Leeds too, with other city events trying out similar ways of working.

Alex Clifton

Director of Storyhouse and best smile in Chester

1) The people. We're all ace!

2) Seeing 350 school children open Storyhouse and transfer thousands of books from the old library to the new one was pretty extraordinary. But the rise of the Barnaby festival in Macclesfield has been an awesome highlight: its spirit of creative anarchy and community celebration is wonderful. They make street art, theatre, storytelling, dance, science, music, crafts all available on the streets, community centres and private homes of Macclesfield.

The Skinny North: The Final Fling, featuring Peaness and Patty Hearst, 14 Jul from 7pm, Islington Mill, Salford. Free entry – RSVP via Facebook