An Interview With: The Northern – Making garage rock cool again

HEAD to toe in grayscale uniform like a sleek, modern take on ‘50s teddy boys, Glasgow rockers The Northern like to keep things simple, clean and high octane.

As I scrambled down a pothole-laden gravel path to meet them at their rehearsal space, just outside of Glasgow, everything about the place personified what the East Kilbride band portray. Dark, dingy and dirty, on the banks of the White Cart Water in the middle of an industrial estate is where the gutsy, riff-led sound of The Northern is cultivated.

Frontman Calum Campbell appeared from the darkness, swinging open a gargantuan green gate and welcoming me into their modest studio space where drummer Steven O’Neill sat silently swigging a bottle of beer and charismatic bassist Ewen Cameron explained that the band feel they are only just finding their feet after two years together.

“That first gig two years ago now was the first time we’d actually wrote at all, we’d written riffs but actually sitting down and writing the full structure of a song was new. Like the lyrics, we were shiteing ourselves everyday about them! Hopefully now we’re getting closer to a Northern sound.”

Drummer O’Neill (23) shed some light on the frantic beginnings of The Northern – a band trying to revive a garage sound they believe has become unfashionable.

“We had a gig booked for the February, we hadn’t rehearsed in December and we’d just sorted the name out. Then from January to February we wrote a full set of nine songs, which is ridiculous. Half of them are not anywhere near the set anymore.”

The trio are (L-R): Steven O'Neill (drums), Calum Campbell (lead vocals, guitar) and Ewen Cameron (bass).
The Northern are (L-R): Steven O’Neill (drums), Calum Campbell (lead vocals, guitar) and Ewen Cameron (bass). Photo credit: Cameron Brisbane.

The trio started life as The Aviators formed out of Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride, later becoming a four-piece under the guise of The Northern. They parted ways with guitarist Stuart Pollard earlier last year, who had been drafted in after frontman Campbell (23) broke his hand. The reserved leader of the band believes it was the right decision.

“We thought we could do with the extra part in the band and over time there was too many different musical ideas, we weren’t on the same wavelength. We were forcing ourselves to put guitar parts in that we don’t really need, so in that respect we don’t miss the extra guitar.”

The streamlined version of The Northern has led to a cleaner, tighter sound and support slots for ‘90s legends Reef and local heroes The Fratellis at Glasgow’s O2 ABC. Cameron (22) concedes they were nervous for the Reef gig last summer, but that the experience relaxed them and allowed for them to soak it all up during The Fratellis follow-up in December.

“This time we were a lot more excited and just wanted to get out there. We’re all big fans of The Fratellis so it was absolutely quality, I still get a buzz when I think about it. It was good because it was a really young crowd, everyone was getting right into it and really responding to us big style.

“Just daft things make the bigger venues special, like you can see right to the back rather than just one or two rows in front of you. You’re looking for people you know and assessing the wee pockets of space going ‘fill, fill, fill’ then onto the next one! Watching the crowd when The Fratellis were on was a kick up the arse, we were standing there going ‘that’s what we want’. That’s your drive.”

The Northern will headline King Tut’s New Year’s Revolution on January 10. Frontman Campbell is pleased with how The Northern are growing in stature alongside the likes of The Van T’s and Lucia Fontaine within a blossoming Glasgow music scene.

“The bands that are headlining this year, we’re all into them and we’re going to see some of them. We’re all playing the same circuit and to see so many local guys progressing with you and playing that same stage it’s encouraging. It’s nice to know we belong in amongst that.

“We’ve been writing a lot so we’ve got a nice fresh sounding set, there’s a few songs we’ve been working on for a while. Everything’s more polished, we’ve had more time to work on things and we just want to get it out there.”

The Northern supported The Fratellis at the O2 ABC in December (Photo credit: Andrew Laing).
The Northern supported The Fratellis at the O2 ABC in December. Photo credit: Andrew Laing.

Bassist Cameron is also looking forward to bringing their energetic live show to the iconic Glasgow venue they have always so desired to play.

“As The Aviators we always wanted Tut’s, but could never get it. It was our first goal when we started the band, Tut’s will always be a place we’re in love with.

“We’re enjoying things a lot more, our live chemistry is much better and hopefully that shows out the front. Sometimes my playing takes a bit of hit when I’m jumping about daft though, I mind our first gig I head butted Calum didn’t I? Burst his nose!”

Cameron talks about his love for East Kilbride predecessors like Aztec Camera and The Jesus and Mary Chain. There is now a new generation of talent emerging out of East Kilbride, with The Northern firmly taking their place in the scene alongside the likes of Declan Welsh, Kelvin and The Lapelles.

“A few people have said that it’s strange that so many bands have emerged from East Kilbride, but when you think about it it’s a compliment because there’s nowhere to play here. We hope that, like the ‘80s new wave bands, the whole Glasgow scene is talked about in 20-30 years and there’s a following that we’re a part of. There’s definitely the bands there to have something special.”

The Northern are particularly close to The Lapelles, having grown up playing on-stage together from local battle of the bands competitions to sold-out shows. The Lapelles frontman Gary Watson sadly died last year at the age of 22, Cameron recalls a story from the time they played Glasgow School of Art as teenagers.

“Even back then when Gary was 14-15 he was a show man, from an early age he was meant to be in front of a crowd. He brought everyone together, it was just the type of guy he was, he made everyone smile. Despite how sad it is, in his short life he done some amazing things. It will never not be weird, I don’t think you can listen to the music without thinking about Gary.”

Campbell agrees with his bandmate that Watson’s talent was truly special.

“They would’ve went on to become one of the biggest Scottish bands with the stuff that they had, even the early tracks they’ve not released, his capability with song writing was just amazing. He just grabbed you, those hooky choruses and you were like ‘wow!’”

The Northern are planning for a head-turning, breakthrough 2017 with a debut EP in the pipeline after a succession of hard-hitting, full throttle singles. The lads also harbour ambitions to play the Barrowlands and pop their festival cherry before the year is out.

“We want to be 100% behind a group of songs that we can put out and believe in. I think we’ve got the experience now and know what we want from the band in terms of sound. I feel like we’re more equipped to actually do that now. We’ve got the right people around us to push for this.

“It’s tough financially, but see at the end of the day to walk out on to a stage like King Tuts or ABC everything just comes together and you think this is why we’re doing it. There’s nothing like it.”

The Northern will headline King Tut’s New Year’s Revolution Glasgow on Tuesday 10th January.

Tickets available here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s