How the North West has usurped London as music talent hotspot, with northern acts dominating UK charts

It’s a pub argument that raged even before the Blur v Oasis Britpop battle. Now Northerners have been given “proof” that they really are the best at music.

The North West has usurped the capital as the UK’s music talent crucible as exorbitant prices force young guitar-slingers to carve their careers outside of the metropolis, figures from music body BPI show.

From The Rolling Stones to The Clash, London used to boast it was the breeding ground for great British bands.

Yet, in the past year, nearly two-thirds of the past year’s most successful UK albums were produced by homegrown artists who either grew up or formed their bands in the nations and regions outside of London.

The North West is leading the way, with Liverpool and Manchester accounting for 17 of the top 300 albums by UK artists in the last 12 months.

Glasgow (Chvrches), Birmingham (Laura Mvula), Bristol (IDLES) and Brighton (Celeste) also made strong sales contributions.

While London remains the UK’s grime and hip-hop hot spot, the capital city has forgotten how to rock. Nearly four-fifths of rock albums on the chart (79 per cent) were by artists not from London.

Thanks to bands such as The Wombats and DJ duo CamelPhat, Liverpool has reasserted its musical supremacy in the week that Merseyside’s most famous son, Sir Paul McCartney, is set to headline Glastonbury.

Artists in the nations and regions outside London made up 62 per cent of the chart overall, according to the Official Charts Company data used for the report.

Locations not previously considered pop hotbeds are making their mark on the charts such as Cambridge (Black Country, New Road), Framlingham (Ed Sheeran), Harrogate (Years & Years), Isle of Wight (Wet Leg) and Penboyr (Cate Le Bon).

Sam Fender from North Shields is the year’s biggest breakthrough rock act, with closely-observed songs about life in the area.

The statistics will reignite the historic music rivalry between North and South. The Rolling Stones emerged from the early 60s British blues boom centred around affluent Richmond in south-west London.

Meanwhile, “four lads from Liverpool” were inspired to form the group that became The Beatles after falling in love with the blues and soul records brought to the port city by seamen. The Stones effected druggy cool whilst the Fab Four stormed the world with cheeky Scouse wit.

This regional creative tension produced decades of great music. London inspired The Kinks, David Bowie and The Clash.

Post-industrial Manchester hit back with Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses while Liverpool embraced electronica with OMD and house music with superclub, Cream.

The 1995 “battle of Britpop” pitched working class Mancs Oasis against “mockney” southerners, Blur.

However the BPI figures show a decisive regional split. The cost of renting in the capital, along with a dearth of cheap rehearsal rooms and the closure of grass roots club venues, makes it prohibitive for young people forming bands.

In towns like Wigan however, local indie guitar heroes The Lathums have been able build up a following which translated into a number one debut album on the national chart last October.

The genres which thrive in London instead are those where one person can record a chart-topping track on their own, on a bedroom laptop.

London now has a world-renowned hip-hop/rap scene with Lambeth boasting Dave and Krept & Konan whilst Haringey is home to Headie One, Shy FX – as well as Adele.

Paul Williams, author of the BPI report, told i: “The North has an incredibly rich music heritage based around its tradition of bands from heartlands like Liverpool and Manchester, as well as cities like Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield with groups such as Arctic Monkeys.”

“Glasgow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Belfast are also part of our music landscape and now a new generation of artists from all these locations, with label support, is emerging to add to this incredible legacy.”

He added: “We know that people turn to music when times are tough, as we saw with Covid, and rap and grime have taken a firm hold as part of the popular culture in city Location, not least London and its boroughs.”

UK’s leading 10 music locations in nations & regions outside London (source: BPI based on Official Charts data)

  1. Liverpool
  2. Glasgow
  3. Manchester
  4. Birmingham
  5. Brighton
  6. Bristol
  7. Sheffield
  8. Leeds
  9. Nottingham
  10. Wigan

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