Literally just a map of every town in the lyrics to ‘It’s Grim Up North’ by the KLF

Finding images of the KLF is surprisingly hard, but on the right is Jimmy Cauty, one half of the band, playing the Big Chill festival in 2005. Image: Getty.

Where does the north of England begin? The debate has been raging for decades.  But what if I told you the question has already been answered – specifically, by the techno-slash-art project the KLF.

In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute song called “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, listing towns that are “are all in the North”.

If the KLF says it, who are we to argue? I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) – and, ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice, mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

The first thing you’ll notice is that “the North” doesn’t actually go all that far north. Barrow-in-Furness is the only Cumbrian town to appear, and there is not a single settlement in the North East: no Newcastle, no Middlesbrough, no Hartlepool, no Berwick.

By and large, the KLF’s North is the M62 corridor. Rugby league land. Roses territory. Lancashire and Yorkshire, basically. And not even all of Yorkshire – North Yorkshire barely gets a look-in, and Hull is the only East Riding settlement to appear. (At the time “It’s Grim Up North” came out, Hull was part of the unloved Humberside)

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of Cheshire, even though many beyond the Tees sniff at its claims to Northernness. Lincolnshire gets a look in too, with three towns (all part of former Humberside), as does Derbyshire with two. Here’s the full historic county breakdown:

  • Cheshire: 10
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Lancashire: 30
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Yorkshire: 24

Number of places mentioned from each historic county.

It looks like the Red Rose of Lancashire is victorious once more.

But the historic county boundaries don’t bear much resemblance to the modern day ones – especially in the part of the country the song covers. Lancashire and Cheshire have been chopped up, as Merseyside and Greater Manchester broke away; Yorkshire has been cut into four parts; and towns like Barrow-in-Furness and Warrington have been traded from one county to another.

Going by today’s county borders, the picture is a bit different.

  • Cheshire: 9
  • Cumbria: 1
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Greater Manchester: 13
  • Lancashire: 12
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Merseyside: 5
  • East Riding of Yorkshire: 1
  • North Yorkshire: 4
  • South Yorkshire: 4
  • West Yorkshire: 15

Number of places named from each modern ceremonial county.

West Yorkshire comes out on top now, with Greater Manchester and the rest of Lancashire close behind. These are all fairly urban areas (many of the Lancastrian towns are either on the fringes of Manchester or along the M65 motorway around Preston and Blackburn). More rural regions like North Yorkshire and the East Riding are largely ignored.

A few more interesting facts: the northernmost town mentioned is Scarborough, the easternmost is Cleethorpes, the southernmost is Nantwich and the westernmost is Barrow-in-Furness.

If you average the co-ordinates of all the places mentioned, you end up just outside Rochdale Town Centre, which means the town probably has a good claim to being the most Northern place in the North.

The most populated place on the M62 that’s not mentioned is Liverpool, while the smallest place that is mentioned (not including windy Ilkley Moor) seems to be Pendlebury.

Anyway, I felt bad for the towns of the North East and Cumbria that the KLF never mentioned, so in their honour I’ve composed a fourth verse:

Birtley, Whitby, Whitley Bay,

Darlo, Boro, Hartlepool,

Kendall, Keswick, Windermere,

Norton, Stockton, Seaton Carew,

Amble, Alnwick, Berwick on Tweed,

Ripon, Richmond, Redcar, Thirsk,

Manors, Byker, Jesmond, Shields,

Tyneside, Wearside, the Lakes are also in the North.

Should the KLF ever reform, they’re welcome to this. And don’t worry about royalities – I know money’s a bit tight.


 

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Copenhagen puts cyclists at the top of the social hierarchy

A cyclist in Copenhagen, obviously. Image: Red Bull/Getty.

Have you ever wondered why Britain is not a nation of cyclists? Why we prefer to sit in traffic as our Dutch and Danish neighbours speed through the city on bikes?

Forget about hills, rain, and urban sprawl: the real reason we aren’t cycling is much closer to home. It is not just lack of infrastructure, or lack of fitness, the reason that 66 per cent of Brits cycle less than once a year, is because of status.

An obsession with social status is hard-wired into our brains. As we have built a society that relies on cars, the bicycle has slipped to the periphery, and gone from being regarded as a sensible mode of transport, to a deviant fringe-dwellers choice.

Even though cycling to work has been shown to be one of the most effective things an individual can do to improve health and longevity, researcher David Horton thinks that there are a set of collective anxieties that are stopping us getting in the saddle. These include not just an unwillingness to be made vulnerable, but fear of being thought of as poor.

A quick look over the North Sea shows that there is an alternative. Danish culture has elevated cycling to the point of reverence, and the social status of cyclists has followed. As we have busied ourselves building infrastructure that testifies to the dominance of the car, Denmark has been creating magnificent architectural features, aimed specifically at bike users. The Cycle Snake, or Cykelslangen, literally suspends the cyclist above the city, metaphorically elevating the cyclist and creating a sense of ceremony.

In doing so, they are subtly persuading people of all backgrounds to see past their prejudices or fears and take it up as the clearly better choice. This means there are more women cycling, more older people cycling, and more ethnic minorities cycling. The activity is less dominated by comfortably middle class white males: there are cyclists from every side of the community.  

The Cykelslangen, under construction in 2014. Image: Ursula Bach and Dissing+Weitling architecture.

Despite abstract motivations like getting ripped and conquering global warming, it is only when the bike path becomes the obviously better choice that people will start to cycle. It can take years of traffic jams before people try an alternative, but if you make motorists jealous of cyclists, then the tables can quickly turn.

Another way that Copenhagen has done this is by taking privileges normally afforded only to the motorcar, and given them to the bike. The city has ensured that cycle routes do not include blind corners or dark tunnels, and that they form a complete, coherent network, and a steadily flowing system – one that allows cyclists to maintain a reasonable pace, and minimises the amount of times you have to put your foot down.

The ‘Green Wave’, for example, is a co-ordinated traffic light system on some of the main thoroughfares of the capital that helps minimise the amount of cycle congestion during peak times. It maintains a steady flow of cycle traffic, so that there is no need to stop at any point.


Small measures of prioritisation like this one increase the sense of safety and consideration that cyclists experience, making it natural for the citizens of a city to act in their own self-interest and get on their bike.

As well as redefining the streets around the bicycle, the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog positively fetishises cyclists. The tagline “dress for your destination, not your journey” depicts the social fashion life of the cycle lane as a “never ending flow of happy people heading from A to B”. Its writers are  literally making cycling sexy, dispelling the idea that going anywhere by bike is odd, and helping the world to see that the bicycle is actually the ultimate fashion accessory.

So unlike in London, where cycling is still a predominantly male pursuit, Copenhagen sees a more even split between men and women. Not just because they feel safer on the roads, but because culturally they are comfortable with their appearance as part of a highly visible group.

So while our low level of cycling is partly due to our physical infrastructure, it is also due to our cultural attitudes. The mental roadblocks people have towards cycling can be overcome by infrastructure that is not only safe, but also brings old-fashioned notions of dignity and grace into the daily commute.

Of course, office shower facilities might stop cyclists being ostracised, too.