Hope you’re not wearing anything too fancy, because we’re about to get dirty.
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Caulty have about as many aliases as Alain Jourgenson. As the Timelords, they cribbed Gary Glitter and the “Doctor Who” theme song. As the KLF, they created gonzo but fluffy techno house tracks, even bringing Tammy Wynette along for the ride on one of them. And while there is a clear connection between “Tardis” and tracks like “Last Train to Trancentral” (which the Blue Man Group made their unofficial anthem), there is absolutely no way that anyone could have predicted what they’d do a mere six months after the massive success of their 1991 album The White Room. The cute, bouncy house songs like “3 A.M. Eternal”? Dead, gone. In their place: the meanest, grimiest rave track to ever crack the Top 10.
“Bolton, Barnsley, Nelson, Colne, Burnley, Bradford, Buxton, Crewe…”
Indeed, you wonder if Drummond and Caulty weren’t sure themselves how the song would go over or what the potential damage would be to the KLF brand as it were, because they resurrected the long-dead moniker of Justified Ancients of Mu Mu to serve as the “artist” responsible for “It’s Grim Up North,” which is seven minutes of pulsing, whistle-blowing menace followed by three minutes of sunshine in the form of a synthesized version of the hymn “Jerusalem” (though you can still hear the steam whistles in the background). Picture a thunderstorm during a tire fire, with the sun finally peaking through the smoke-filled sky for a brief moment once the rain has subsided, and that is what it both feels and sounds like listening to this song.
“Brighouse, Bootle, Featherstone, Speke, Runcorn, Rotherham, Rochdale, Barrow…”
There are no real lyrics to the song … just cities. “Northern scum” cities. Bleak, industrial cities, and having a Scotsman speaking their names adds an extra level of dark humor to it all, as if the song needed anything darker to begin with. Between the guitar riff, the jarringly out-of-time keyboard lick followed by six massive orchestra hits, and the steam whistle, you can feel the dirt start to cake underneath your fingernails before the first kick drum.
“Sheffield, Manchester, Castleford, Skem, Doncaster, Dewsbury, Halifax, Bingley, Bramhall, are all in the North…”
However, to show that they have a sense of humor about it all, Drummond and Caulty put a crawl at the end of the video that says, “The North will rise again.” One listen to this, and you’ll think the North has already formed an army, made this their fight song, and are knocking on your door, torches and pitchforks in hand.