Why Scotland and the North is the music capital of the world

You only have to name drop The Beatles, Oasis, Biffy Clyro and Doves to know that Scotland and the North of England is home to music royalty. From guitar aces to show-stopping frontmen, we’ve produced them all. And unlike any other part of the UK or any other area of the world, our musicians are proud to be Northern. Think of the Arctic Monkeys or Maximo Park, who sing proudly about their hometowns in their regional accents. Think of the fact that Liverpool was named ‘City of Pop’, because so many Number Ones came from just that one region.


If you ask Shaun Keaveny - BBC Radio 6 music presenter, funnyman and new music bloodhound - why he thinks that Scotland and the North is the music capital of the world, he’s bound to start off with some sort of joke (on this occasion, he does his best RP accent and jokes that you can’t get a decent flat white in his hometown Leigh). But unlike most lines of conversation with Shaun, it gets serious quickly. Because music in Scotland and the North is no laughing matter. It’s in our pubs and nightclubs, our schools – Shaun thinks it’s even in our blood.


A legacy is born

Music in Scotland and the North is in the soil, Shaun tells us. Why? Well, because of the influx of rock-n-roll in the ‘50s to the Northern docks, of course. If we were to trace the roots of Northern music, Shaun thinks we should start there. It made the North diverse, it made it turbulent…it made it fun. From the ‘City of Pop’, music disseminated across the region and in each distinct city, different musical identities were born. And from there, the Northern and Scottish music scene bred acts as diverse as The Smiths, Primal Scream and Moloko.


But it didn’t have to stick. What made music take to the North so well was the people. Shaun credits Scotland and the North with being full of incredible folk – crucially, with great drive and work ethic. ‘There’s a great legacy of working class spirit and spit and sawdust’, he says. And that means that even in an industry as competitive and downright hard as music can be, Northerners will always prevail.


Passion in our DNA


There seems to be some truth in it. Scotland and the North always was – and always will be – fecund ground. After all, with the legacy of bands from the Beatles to Joy Division, there’s something in the air. Every time you set foot in a dingy bar or battle of the bands pub night, you might just be about to witness something special. And everyone knows it.  


That’s another thing we’re proud of. The Northern ability to not only produce great music, but to also be a part of it. Because what’s a song without anyone to listen to it? And the Northern fan base has never been one to shy away from an opportunity to get involved in bass-pumping, heart-stopping, thought-provoking music.


Shaun recounts the Stone Roses’ 2012 Heaton Park gig. A massive celebration of the band’s homecoming, the gig had a huge impact on the entire region - not just the people in the crowd. ‘The reaction was literally traffic-stopping. The M60 was completely gridlocked,’ Shaun says. ‘The whole region was brought to a standstill by four guys, coming back together.’ Here was a homecoming tour that ignited a passion that you would just never see in the rest of the country – there was excitement and anticipation that captured an entire motorway.


Even the live music experience is different in the North. It’s not just something to do on a Saturday evening – it’s an occasion. ‘If you go and see Foals in Liverpool, instead of London, it just goes off,’ Shaun says. ‘It doesn’t do that in other parts of the country, because there isn’t the same enthusiasm.’ It’s a part of a culture, an identity.


It’s why we’re home to such world class music venues. And we’re not just talking about the big arenas here - there’s a treasure trove of amazing gig venues across the region, from Barrowlands in Glasgow, through to Trades Club in Hebden Bridge and Casbah in Liverpool. Gigs are clustered together, to the point where it’s hard to choose which one to go to. But wherever you choose, there’s guaranteed enthusiasm to be swept up in.


The back-up track

And that love for great music doesn’t just stop with the boys and girls who play the instruments and their adoring fans in the crowd. The North has a history of world-class broadcasting talent – and it’s only set to get better. With the world-famous BBC site in Salford and many of Shaun’s own BBC 6 shows being broadcast from the media hub in Lancashire, there’s no doubt that Northern appreciation and promotion of music is as strong as ever.


Within 30 seconds of us sitting down, Shaun mentions Bolton-born Mark Radcliffe and Merseyside veteran Stuart Maconie, who have both worked across almost every BBC Radio station going. Then there’s Mary-Anne Hobbs (Garstang, Lancashire) and Lauren Laverne (Sunderland), Clint Boon (Oldham, Lancashire) and Guy Garvey (Bury). The list of Northern broadcasting talent goes on. And it serves to prove that promotion and appreciation is as important as the music itself. Following in John Peel’s footsteps, Radcliffe has put new alternative bands centre stage to champion new music, whilst Garvey, Laverne and Boon are musicians themselves.


The BBC is certainly full of Northern stars, but it’s not just the big guns who make the music scene what it is. It’s also independent stations like Revolution FM and Key 103 that are jam-packed full of brilliant, fresh broadcasting. These stations ensure that music culturally reverberates in the area and keep the long-standing tradition of innovation alive and well.


And that’s where the Where Next Project can also come in, Shaun says. He’s working with TransPennine Express to help find the next big thing in Northern music – whether that’s the latest band, singer, DJ or radio star. Just as TransPennine Express want to propel the region forward, Shaun is looking for the next Arctic Monkeys, the next Noel Gallagher or even, dare we say it, the next Shaun Keaveny.



So if anyone again ever questions as to why Scotland and the North is the music capital of the world, just say to them ‘how long have you got?’ You could say it’s because of the sheer amount of talent we’ve grown over the years. You could say it’s because we’re home to the City of Pop, or because we promote the freshest broadcasting. Or you could say that music has taken root in Scotland and the North because of our passion for it. Because music is a part of our culture. Because we’re all proud of it. We’ve got one hell of a legacy, but we’re also excited about the future. And now Shaun has joined the Where Next Project to find the next generation of Northern music – after all, we know that Northern talent is ripe for the picking.

Shaun is a Where Next Project mentor, providing advice and inpiration to the next generation of broadcasters and musicians. Find out more about our current crop of future stars here.


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