The Third Leader: Northern song

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The Independent Online

Some of us are not so much surprised by the musical dominance of bands from the north-west of England as puzzled that the country's music capital doesn't receive more recognition.

You hum it, the north-west plays it, and always has. The Mersey Sound, Madchester and after: the world's most important musical waterway is, excuse me, not the Mississippi but the Manchester Ship Canal. Much is made of American music arriving via Liverpool; we don't hear enough about the reverse trade. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, no less, acknowledges the debt of Astaire and Kelly to clog dancing, the product of the beat of the Lancashire mills.

Other traditions? Thomas Beecham, William Walton, Kathleen Ferrier, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and Simon Rattle: all Lancastrians. Further back, Warrington's Thomas Dallam, the musician and instrument maker, so impressed the Sultan of Turkey with his organ, which could play by itself, that Ottoman trade routes were opened to Elizabethan merchants, an early example of the wide commercial popularity of north-western music.

Whence the muse? Well, this is the home of England's Celts, native, adopted and often fatally romantic. Others, of course, will mention the need for escapism, and the climate's conduciveness to indoor practice. They also claim the music can have a depressing quality. I refer them to the recently late Freddie, of the Dreamers, or, indeed, to Wigan's uniquely cheery sultan of the ukulele; the clincher, though, is Liverpool's first gold disc: Lita Roza's "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?". All together now!

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