Stepping into the ring …. Los Angeles and Northern England
Forget the North/South divide. Whilst the world is supposedly getting smaller, the haves and have not’s debate rages ever more widely, scratched out on endless vinyl miles.
Los Angeles (LA) has always had an undeniable reputation for all things glam. From the quids-in sound of the slot machines to the 1000-watt lights of Hollywood and aspirational wall-to-wall advertising of the Sunset Strip, LA has always been the brightest, slickest, and smuggest kid in the class. This potent combination of excess and glamour perhaps explains the city’s reputation as the ‘Creative Capital of the World’, with many of its population involved in creative industries.
Certainly LA has produced countless big-shooting bands over the years – Megadeth, Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Black Label Society, Tool, and in more recent times the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and DevilDriver. And these are just some of the names representing the colourful mix of genres spewing from the city’s state-lines – the political-ragings of Rage Against the Machine, the punk-antics of NOFX and Reel Big Fish, sleaze-glam of L.A. Guns and Mötley Crüe, and even The Beach Boys. Hey, somebody had to.
More than a million exaggerated-miles away from the Strip itself, comes The Idol Dead – with all the glam of LA and none of the postcode. Hailing from Leeds, in Northern England, The Idol Dead are top-of-the-line glam punk. As the band itself says: “The Idol Dead take all the best bits of their idols, blending them into a glorious eclectic mix.”
Certainly ‘Die On My Feet Or Live On My Knees’ is stacked to the brim with stone-you-dead riffs, punk percussion and lively vocals, but thankfully in a way that still feels fresh all this time since rock n roll first kicked off its booties and pulled on some Doc Martens. The album dips and dives through subject matter and even musical style – most notably in acoustic album closer ‘Ballad of Chico Disco’, which could hold up a Wild West campfire.
The same song can be heard earlier in the album under the name ‘Travelling Man’. Opening with the suspenseful palm-muted rhythm of Volbeat’s ‘Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood’, before descending into one-man’s punk-ballad, it is a different animal to ‘Ballad…’ musically but not in substance. The Idol Dead excel at telling a story in just a few well-hung together lines of music and verse.
‘Lily White’ feels far more menacing – a cut-you-to-pieces hate song, followed by the flip side of the coin in the altogether more kindly inclined ‘Suzi Choo’. Switching between slow and sombre, and heavy and raucous ‘Midnight in a Northern Town’ paces the streets of a typical night out, whilst ‘Question Everything’ bellows with gut-shaking riffs and through-the-floor breakdown. The fast-tempoed ‘Take A Ride’ would be right at home swinging around a sweat-slick pole with notes hanging out of its pants, although may struggle to gyrate fast enough to keep up with the guitar solo. With songs of this calibre, it’s easy to imagine The Idol Dead being scooped up State-side, and yet like those cuddly toy cranes peddled in amusement arcades, to date home market recognition is proving a trickier customer to get a firm grip on.
And yet, do early origins really have all that much of an effect on a band’s prospects? Sure, there are likely to be certain advantages from being located in a city like LA with a long history of rock n roll culture, and industry professionals. Whilst the Rainbow Bar and Grill is a well-known rock hang out where you can rub shoulders (and then apologise profusely) with music behemoths such as Lemmy, when it comes to certain parts of the UK you’re more likely to be the most famous pint-drainer in your local bar.
But Northern England has its own rich history of musical icons, not counting Mel B from the Spice Girls. Def Leppard are from Sheffield, Whitesnake hail from Leeds itself, and The Wildhearts and Venom have paved the way in Newcastle. Even David Bowie has roots in Doncaster, and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson lends an unmistakeable Geordie twang to his high-ranging vocals.
It is also impossible to overlook the success of Doncaster scene-stormers The Black Spiders in recent years. Widely plaudited by the music press and fans alike, The Black Spiders have condensed rock n roll into the kind of catchy sleaze that doctors usually treat with antibiotics, and perhaps opened the doors for a revival of Northern England’s musical heritage.
After all, whilst LA acts as a strong foundation for new and old bands alike, the sheer volume of different genres, and indeed acts that never quite make it, show that the old showman qualities of talent, charisma, and technique still count for more than your address. And let’s not forget that for many of the late, great bands that even today top the album charts and festival spots, busting your ass in tiny venues was the order of the day. What the UK needs is more bands like The Idol Dead, where music is valued over image, and perhaps once again we can tear more than just a Sunset Strip off LA.
Photos by Philip Bramhill