A phrase that gets bandied around a lot when writing about the North East scene is its “rich musical heritage”. Not to denigrate from the success stories of the region as I’m a Sunderland boy myself, but I can’t help but think that the people that get lumped into define the region’s musical history have essentially disavowed themselves from their roots or have had their mark made bigger than it was. As much as I adore Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, you’re more likely to see him at a pro-hunting rally than a miner’s gala. Big things are said about Jimmy Hendrix’s time in Heaton but let’s face it at that stage he was essentially a nobody and probably had no desire to return to this cold northern wasteland. And divvn’t get is started on fucking Sting! Only now, after decades of distance does he have the decency to acknowledge where he comes from but how does he go and do it? He turns it into a money spinning Broadway production about shipbuilding. In this column I’m going to list 3 bands from the region that have been forgotten about that deserve a hell of a lot more recognition than they get.
You might laugh if I said that one of the best British punk records of the original British wave came from a pit village just outside of Durham, but I deny you to laugh once you’ve heard the majesty that is ‘Don’t Dictate’ by Penetration. My dad played this to me on a mixtape he’d made from his own punk vinyls when I was 9 years old and I was entranced by the snarling vocals of Pauline Murray. Everything about this song epitomised the punk ethos. It was a massive, fuck off v-sign to everything that constrains youthful liberty. The establishment. Capitalism. The Patriarchy. All told where to go in 2 minutes and 54 seconds of a blistering aural assault in three chords. If Siouxsie is the queen of punk, then Pauline Murray is the queen mother having released both albums and singles well before the Banshees.
Another band from a County Durham pit village who unsurprisingly had massive radio success in the 80s. Langley Park’s Prefab Sprout were known for their top ten hit ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ but a whole legion of legendary tales can be attributed to the Sprouts. Their first song ‘Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)’ is a wistful love letter that spells out the city of Limoges, where songwriter Paddy McAloon’s girlfriend was living at the time. When recording their third LP they managed to get Stevie Wonder to play harmonica on the track ‘Nightingales’ and story has it that they were actually disappointed by his first attempt and made him record it again. Prefab Sprout were the cream of Newcastle’s Kitchenware, a label that churned out other notable alumni Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, The Kane Gang, and recent indie figures Editors.
It would be unfaithful for me to ignore a band from my hometown, but I’ve decided to eschew the obvious choices of Futureheads and Frankie. Instead, I’ve gone for Sunderland’s contribution to the Britpop scene and the springboard that made Lauren Laverne a star. Kenickie were the perfect antidote to the Spice Girl’s aforementioned and commercialised Girl Power by making raw and angry guitar music. These girls (and drummer Pete) were flippant, irreverent, and completely part of the zeitgeist of the era. Alas, like a lot of the ladys of Britpop (Justine Frischman from Elastica and Louise Wener from Sleeper) they are unfairly treated as a side note to the egos of the boys in bands.