Interview: Northside’s Dermo On a Career Of Triumph and Tragedy

By Live4ever - Posted on 05 Jun 2011 at 6:48am

Sometimes a band comes along with a tune that strikes a cord, celebrating that era for the youth of the day. With the single ‘Shall We Take A Trip‘, Northside did just that in the hazy days of 1991 with the feel good, indie/dance cross-over. The album ‘Chicken Rhythms‘ matched the up beat feel of the time, and took the band on a world tour that included an E-laced punch at New York’s Sound Factory, playing quietly at the Moulin Rouge so as to not wake the ‘dancers’, and hitting number 1 in Canada.

Now, frontman Dermo is busy writing and recording with his new band V Thirteen, but took time out to go over the stories behind the songs, shows and events that went into Northside’s ‘trip’ into the world of music, as well as telling us what V Thirteen are all about, and more importantly the personal happenings and tragedies that have shaped the singer’s life.

It’s 20 years since releasing ‘Chicken Rhythms’ with Northside, what have you been up to in that time and what has been the impetus behind starting V Thirteen?

Since ‘Chicken Rhythms’ I’ve been keeping busy and I’m still in music. I’ve done my own radio shows, club nights, gig reviewing and Club DJing (which I still do when the mood takes me) and most importantly carried on writing, saving my ideas and songs along the way. I’ve also travelled around most of the world, experienced a lot and learnt loads too. You’ve caught me at a good time, for me. I started V Thirteen because I’ve got all these ideas for songs and I want to put them out there, I think they deserve to be heard and it’s something I’m really enjoying doing.

I’ve got a pile of lyrics that I eventually want to get through and use, even though I make it difficult for myself as I’m forever writing new ones on scraps of paper and into my phone.

V Thirteen is you and Matt Rynn. How did you two join up and how long have you been writing together?

Yes it’s me and Matt Rynn, we’ve been working together as V Thirteen since March 2011. I’ve known him for two or three years now and when I recently decided I wanted to write and record some new songs I asked him to join me. I called us V Thirteen as it’s the name of a BAD song who are a big inspiration to me.

I knew he was a decent guitar player and musician and he can write. He’s dedicated too which I like because I can be a bit obsessive, but I don’t see that as a problem. We get on well which is very important and we like a lot of the same kinds of music, even though we are like chalk and cheese most of the time. I’m full of ideas and he helps me bring them to life, he takes my original idea and then makes it his own to fit the song. We’re a good team and we understand each other.

On the actual demo recordings, all the guitar work and keyboards you can hear are done by Matt as he’s a much better guitarist than me. I’m happy to concentrate on the vocals, lyrics and arrangements. I wouldn’t want to do V Thirteen without him and he’s my pal, even though he’s a Liverpool fan.

Can you tell me what the sound and vibe of V Thirteen is, and the influences behind it?

The sound of V Thirteen is songs with hooks. We try and make each song sound as though it’s a single, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. We’ll probably experiment more with the sound as time goes by, but definitely keep catchy choruses and melodies as that’s a major part of what we’re both into.

Influences would be, New Order, BAD, Joy Division, Public Enemy, Bowie, Shack, Guided By Voices, Steve Mason, The Velvet Underground, Beck, Love etc – good songwriters and innovators.  I just seem to know how each song we do should sound in my head and then we both work towards getting that result.

I’m a frustrated musician at times because I can hear what’s needed but I can’t play it, so I have to do a lot of ‘singing the instrument parts’ to or at Matt who just soaks it all up, takes it in his stride. He gets it because he can play much more complicated stuff on the guitar. It’s really that simple and enjoyable.

Looking back to ’91 and Northside, what were the highlights of that time and being in the band? Working with Tony Wilson, taking the Manchester scene to the States, I imagine quite a few?

We had some belting times, the New Music Seminar in New York (as part of the From Manc With Love Tour) along with with Happy Mondays, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State etc. Watching Dee-Lite sound check the day before we played in the Sound Factory. The E-laced punch and the massive party in there after the gig, experiencing angel dust for the first time. Touring Japan, Roskilde Festival, where there was 8,000 people in a marquee with banners and air horns to see us and Dala Rock Festival (Sweden and Denmark), European tours, UK tours. Top Of The Pops; we had to mime and Marillion taking it double seriously while their drummer was playing cardboard hi-hats.

Recording the album at Rockfield in Monmouth. Our first gig at The Boardwalk which was sold out by word of mouth and was our first meeting with the late, great Tony Wilson. He was at the back of the room and loved it. Elland Road with the Mondays, Farm, High, La’s etc. Being Number 1 in Canada with ‘Take 5’ and recording demos for our unreleased second album with the very talented Rex Sergeant (RIP) in Suite 16, Rochdale in 1992. Seriously, if we’d have released them demos around that time we’d have blown people away!

My favourite times though was practising in Holland St Sports Centre, Miles Platting to all the kids, pure magic. It’s been knocked down though now which is a shame because I had plans to play there again one day as a thank you. It’s 2011 and I know there’s definitely still interest in the band out there, I’ve had quite a few top gig offers, so when the original line up decide that they all want to work together again to do some gigs and record some new songs then Northside will get busy! I’m sure we will.

‘Shall we Take a Trip’ was a big success and is popular with kids today who weren’t even about when it was released, why do you think it still stands up today?

Because it’s a great song that we made with a catchy chorus and a killer bass line. It’s simple and to the point, like all the best songs. It was made to reflect the times and people I was living with. Ian Broudie did a great production on it too. I remember a young deaf girl at the time, she told me she could actually feel the vibrations from Cliff’s bass on ‘Trip’ and she was made up about it, how cool is that!

It resonates with kids too because it mentions drugs which most youngsters experiment with and/or are intrigued with to some extent. I wrote the lyrics in poem form with loads of references to ‘tripping’ such as, ‘flashback to your days of youth’ and ‘time means nothing I can smell the trees’, that kind of thing. I liked the idea of the well known story behind the inspiration of Lennon’s ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and LSD. So “answers come in dreams”, the chorus of ‘Shall We Take a Trip?’, gives us the initials A.C.I.D, which was my own take on this. It was my nod to his great lyrical genius and way of thinking.

Of course I’m not comparing myself to Lennon, although I can write a mean lyric myself (laughs). I love the idea of child-like innocent minds and adult drug culture having some kind of mutual meaning. ‘Trip’ is full of double entaunders and I love word play and the English language.

When you wrote it did you imagine the trouble with the lyrics and the BBC banning it, though they did eventually play it 2004 on the Marc Riley Show?

Well the BBC did ban it, but I think it helped us in some way; if you’re like me and something’s banned you want to know why – you want to hear it, you want to see it and so did a lot of other people, that’s why it was good for us too and I prefer it that way. We were invited to play the Brit Awards at Wembley which was broadcast live simultaneously with the performances of the bands. So of course we started with ‘LSD’, it would be rude not to, and 15,000 kids rushed the stage singing along. They were having the time of their lives and so were we, they can ban us but they can’t take people’s love for the tune away, ever. Marc Riley knows the score, good on you mate.

‘…Trip’ was the big tune on ‘Chicken Rhythms’, so was ‘My Rising Star’, as well as my fave Northside tune ‘Moody Places’ What was your fave tune from the album and why?

My favourite tunes ‘Moody Places’ – looking back now, I think not putting it on the album was a mistake – and ‘Tour De World’. ‘Moody…’ because again it’s got one of the best bass lines ever, right up there with ‘Public Image’ and ‘Ceremony’. It’s a great song and I like the subject matter too. It’s about hope and trying to stay strong when it seems everyone around you is slowly going down.

Is it alright to ask about the dedication to your brother Craig on the back of the album? He was a pretty handy boxer wasn’t he?

I have a brother called Craig who was a professional boxer yes, and a very good one at that. I have another brother younger Dean, who’s a fine artist and did the inside sleeve of the album when he was 16. If you’ve not seen it, it’s a pregnant cartoon of mother nature who’s about to give birth to Northside. I got the name for the album from that drawing as he’d wrote ‘a little chicken rhythm involved’ on it.

But you’re talking about my other brother Steven. He died aged 21, twelve months after Robo did who was also only 21. It’s still a very sore subject for me and is still difficult even though it’s over 20 years ago. They both died in tragic circumstances. I dedicated ‘Shall We Take a Trip?’ to both of them, you can see it on the reverse side of the record cover. So many young people that I was close to died around the time we were in the band between 1988-’92. On one hand we’re young, buzzing, in a band, going round the world living the dream, and yet I’m in absolute turmoil at the same time.

The way the music is happy on the record compared to what I can now tell are sombre vocals speaks volumes to me. The words are mostly about hoping for hope in desperate times, which was my way of trying to cope with how I felt. We did ‘Trip’ in London and the day I came back, I think it was around the time of The Strangeways Riots as I remember going down there, I could see our Craig coming towards me in the corner of my eye, I was chatting to two girls about how happy we were to have made a record.

Our Steven had problems for a while and I just knew what Craig was going to say. He said: “It’s Steven he’s dead.” my heart stopped, my head popped and I legged it to our house to comfort my Mam and Dad. I was only just coming to terms with Robo’s death, I never mentioned any of this at the time in the press, in interviews or anything, I thought it was private. Maybe I should have. Maybe it would have helped me to come to terms with it earlier, but the thought of telling the world about my darkest moments didn’t seem right to me, so I lived with it and decided there and then to wear a brave face because I didn’t want to bring anybody else down who was around me.

What about the Manchester music scene today, you’re a pretty big supporter of up-and-coming bands in the city aren’t you, what’s been catching your attention music wise?

Yes, I’m always open to new music. In the radio shows that I did I would invite bands into the studio to record live sessions and chat with them, give them a platform to promote themselves and play their new demos etc. I think it’s important to stay open to your musical surroundings or you can be in danger of dying in your own plastic palace of yesteryear. The Jesse Rose Trip, Danny Mahon, Girl Peculiar, The Peyote Cult, Frazer King, No Tokyo, Humanizer, Dirty North, The Janice Graham Band, Where’s Strutter?, Peri Scope, Loop Aznavour, The Dead Tapes, Supajamma, The Tapestry, The Naughtys and The Minx are a few of the recent bands/artists that I’ve heard that are making great music.

What’s the plans for V Thirteen this year, studio and gigs?

We plan to carry on as we are, writing and recording on my 8 track at home for now, then do some gigs to finance the recording of the album. We’re getting great responses to the two demos we’ve done and put out so far, and people are asking us when we’re doing gigs, which is always encouraging. We’re building up a steady fan base already which is growing with each release.

V Thirteen on Facebook

(Carl Stanley)

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