A CHANGE IS ON ITS WAY – Northside Frontman Dermo Returns With Aggressive New Punk Quartet Time For Action

Hailed for their explosive live shows, Northside were an intrinsic part of the Madchester/baggy scene, which fused indie rock guitars with the dance beats of a flourishing underground rave culture.

Signed to iconic Manchester label Factory, the band’s first single Shall We Take A Trip was promptly banned by the BBC, after the corporation took exception to its frank references to illicit drug-taking, particularly LSD.

They would go on to break the Top 40 with My Rising Star and with Take 5 became one of the few bands to be asked to play Top of the Pops, before the single had reached the charts.

The band split after just one album, Chicken Rhythms, their demise coinciding with the collapse of Factory – owners of the Hacienda club, which had played such a part in spawning and nurturing the Madchester movement.

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Despite their relatively short life, the group are remembered fondly and reformed for a successful tour in 2014.

But for frontman Warren “Dermo” Dermody, Northside was a rollercoaster ride of triumph and tragedy.

At the height of their success, and unbeknownst even to many of those closest to him, the singer/lyricist was battling to overcome the double blows of the deaths of his closest friend Robo and brother Steven, both aged just 21.

Now, back with a vengeance with new band Time For Action, Dermo tells Matt Catchpole about his struggle to mask his inner turmoil from his loved ones and fans.

Thankfully in a much better place emotionally, he talks with great pride about returning to his punk rock roots on TFA’s abrasive debut album Turn it Up! and teases details about his upcoming eclectic solo record.

What made you first decide you wanted to get involved in music?

After listening to and being aware of music in the house and on the radio, from as early as I can remember. I then started listening to more music while at school and from older friends. The next stage was going to see these bands live and thinking, ‘I love what they’re doing, I want to do that too.’​

TFA has a heavier/punkier sound than Northside was that a conscious decision?

Yes. When me and Si (TFA guitarist) started writing the songs together, we decided right from the off that we wanted an high energy, guitar driven sound that was laced with melody and big catchy choruses. Songs that you can sing along to while you’re being smacked in the face by the music. ​

You’re a punk fan – who were your ‘must see’ bands back in the day?

The actual ‘must see’ punk bands that I did see back in the day were, SLF, Charged GBH, Anti Nowhere League, One Way System, Dead Kennedys, Discharge, Abrasive Wheels. It was mainly the second wave of punk bands as I was too young for the earlier stuff. If we’re talking any punk bands that I could’ve seen then you can add The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ruts and The Damned to that list.​

Mod band Secret Affair had a song called Time for Action – is that where the name comes from? Were you a fan of theirs​?

No, the name comes from how I feel about life today. There is so much wrong with the world and it is, time for action. We do what we can by trying to make people aware of how we feel through the lyrics and the music we make and play. Was I a fan of Secret Affair?, no, not really. They were a mod band at the time and I was into punk. I loved their song My World though, and I still do. Great single.​

What inspired the songs on Turn It Up?​

It’s usually a mix of feeling pissed off about something or someone. Anybody who tries to put you down or who pretends to be what they’re not. People driven by money and fame. Oppressors, liars, fakes, ego maniacs, arrogant fools, death, grieving, sadness, good times, observations of injustices of all kinds, suffering. All the usual stuff.​

Punkasuals – TFA are Dermo (vocals), Simon Burton (guitars), Neil Pleasant (bass) and Keith Pleasant (drums)

What’s your writing process? Do you find it easy to come up with a good lyric?

Sometimes I can almost write the lyrics to a song in one go, just flows out of my pen. Or, I have a few good lines that I like that I gradually add to, or I just have a great title and then base the words around that. Or it can be something I overheard or something I read and that gets me thinking. It depends really, all sorts. If I just try and sit down and write something, it very rarely happens, I just get bored and forget about it. I think if you’re an observer like me, you’re constantly gathering material for the juke box in your head and it stores itself away in little files and comes out when it decides it wants to.​

I gather you met Simon the guitarist through Facebook – were you aware of him at all before that?

Yes I did and no I wasn’t. He was a fan of Northside and wanted to work with me. He sent me some ideas and eventually I was ready to do something with him.​

It must have taken some balls for him to approach you like that?​

Yeah. I wouldn’t have. Respect to the lad though. I’m glad he did.​

Northside came up as part of the Madchester scene – did it feel like a genuine movement? Did you like many of the other bands around at that time?​

Yeah at the time, Manchester was the centre of the musical universe for about two or three years. It was a great time to be alive and be involved with it all. I was more of a friend of the other bands than a fan and I’m sure they felt the same way too.​

Did you go to many raves?

Went to loads from around ’88-91 then it all ended for me. It became everything I didn’t want it to be. Everything seemed diluted and it wasn’t ‘our special secret’ anymore. ​

The success of Northside was marred by tragedy including the death of your own brother Steven – was it difficult to get up for shows when there was so much sadness and turmoil to deal with?​

Yes of course it was. I never spoke about how I was feeling publicly at the time, it was private to me and I tried to mask how I was feeling, constantly. My best friend had just killed himself in front of me 12 months earlier too and internally I was in absolute turmoil. I turned to beer and got into it in a big way for years. We’re doing great, we’re all buzzing, everything is happening for us, but privately I’m in pieces. I never let anybody know how I truly felt, not even my nearest and dearest. I didn’t want to spoil it for them, why would I? I wanted everybody to be happy and just put my mask on. It was the worst thing I could’ve done looking back. Should’ve somehow let it all out…I can tell when I listen to the vocals on our songs, my spark had gone out…. I think you’re the only person who has asked me about this, the other being John Robb {Journalist and frontman with punk band The Membranes}. I’m glad I can talk about it now. I still miss them every single day and always will.​

Northside were known for their live performances – do any particular shows stand out?​

I always loved playing live and still do. Barrowlands in Glasgow, Club Quattro in Tokyo, Sound Factory in New York, Wembley Arena, Leeds Irish Centre, Coventry Tic Toc, Powerhaus in London, Manchester Academy. There was loads! But my favourite was in Northampton. Trip had just been released. It was a tiny venue but everybody in there was absolutely bang into us and what we were doing. They were insane, climbing on the ceiling and going fucking mad. I knew it was special that night, I felt like one of them in the crowd. I wanted to be one of them in the crowd. Anyway, we started with Trip and the PA cut out, then came back on, so we started again and it cut out again! The place was going absolutely crazy, tables going over, madness in the area!. And then it came on again and we played my favourite ever gig that night. We were really tight as a band and everybody in the room were with us. That was my favourite.​

You appeared on Top of the Pops – can you remember who you were on with? What did the BBC producers think of you?

We were on with Marillion and they were tuning their guitars in even though everybody was miming. WTF? It was great because it was TOTP and you grew up as a kid watching it and seeing some of your favourite bands on there. But I couldn’t take it seriously as they wanted us to mime Take 5 so we did, very badly! We just took the piss. They hated us, looked down their beaks at us, thought we was Norvun Scum, which still makes me laugh.​

Northside split up around the time that Factory went bust – do you think you might have stayed together if the label had survived?​

Possibly. We were only kids at the time, had no idea about the business and what really goes on. We just wanted to play, write and record. Oh and the travel, women, booze and drugs were great too. But seriously, we should’ve just took a break. Then got ourselves back together as a stronger unit. But sadly that never happened.​

What was Factory like as a label to work for?

For me personally, I loved them. They were the coolest label going and they gave us 100% artistic control and let us write and record at our own pace. The financial agreement we had with them too was great. We were treated like part of the family by each and everyone involved with the label. I will never forget that​.

Do you think Steve Coogan did a good job of portraying Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People?​

Yeah he played the part very well. I loved Tony, he believed in us. He had many layers, with a heart of gold and the vision to understand everything that was going on around him and then create something new constantly. We need another Tony-like figure now more than ever, but nobody could ever replace him.​

Norvun Scum? Northside = picture by Kevin Cummins

How much did you know about the state of Factory’s finances – did you realise it was in trouble?​

As I’ve said, we were kids at the time and to be honest money wasn’t that important to us, well it wasn’t to me. We were on the coolest label, in the middle of the music capital of the world, doing everything we wanted and looked the part too. We paid ourselves a weekly wage and it felt like it would go on forever…Obviously it didn’t. Only towards the end did we start to see the financial cracks but it was too late by then. The receivers were in and the end was around the corner.​

What’s the state of the Manchester music scene at the moment? Any bands you’d suggest we check out?​

Manchester has and always will  have a vibrant music scene, it’s in our blood. Yeah, check out, Callow Youth, Narcissus, Dirty Laces, The Any Numbers are all making great songs and keeping the Manc spirit burning.​

You toured the UK with the original Northside line-up in 2014 – are you done with that band now or will you play together again?

I get asked this a lot. Truth is, I’d like to do something for the fans, who have always been fantastic and stuck with us throughout. But it’s not just up to me, it takes four people to want to do it and I can’t speak for the rest of the band. I don’t think it’ll happen again though, which is a shame.​​

You’ve got some gigs coming up – will it be all TFA material or will you throw in a couple of Northside songs?​

Time For Action is a different band. We write our own songs and only play them.​

What’s next for TFA? Are you working on another album?​

We want as many people as possible to hear our debut album Turn It Up! Hopefully they will. We will continue writing and recording next year.​ I also have my debut solo album nearly finished. That should be out early next year on Eromeda Records.

Tell us more about your solo record – what sort of music can we expect to hear?

The styles of music on it ranges from electro to strings, very song based but with unusual arrangements. Funky in parts, strange sounds, vocal harmonies and beats. Lyrics about, unity, mistakes, murder, imagination, secrets, fantasy, narcissists, regret, hope, honesty, jealousy, nostalgia, mystery, isolation, truth, happiness, understanding and tales of the unexpected….That kind of thing. I’m hoping for it to be out before the end of this year, but it’ll probably be at the start of next year.

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