I’ve always thought of myself as northern. I grew up in the seaside town of Morecambe, Lancashire — a place in which it rains, every day, at about half past three — and like millions of others in England, have shaped an identity around that great, powerful word “north” (even if it’s not always easy to articulate exactly what that means). Although I now live in London, I still say I’m from the north; a vague, semi-mythical area just beneath Scotland and above the midlands. But does the north as a distinct cultural entity really still exist in 2017? And, if so, what is it? And where is it?
This week is an attempt to figure out exactly what it means to be northern. Just as it’s clear that northern identity has changed since the EU Referendum made apparent the sheer breadth of divisions across Britain in 2016, I also know that my north will be very different to, say, Paul Flynn’s, who has shared his memories of growing up gay in Manchester in the 80s, or Meme Gold, who features as part of Kamila Rymajdo’s brilliant piece on NTS’ new Manchester branch (featured in the Darina Mohammed shot image above). To that end, we haven’t attempted to be exhaustive in our coverage, but we have tried to be exciting and uplifting — hopefully it will be for those of you in the south of England too.
Throughout the week we’ll be visiting Blackpool and it’s incredible DIY art scene; stopping off in Liverpool to pay tribute to the city’s movie heroines of the 1980s; and catching up with Hull and its breathtaking year as UK City of Culture 2017. We’ll learn about the record label broadcasting a new music show out of the disused Granada studios; get introduced to the seditious queens using drag as a political weapon in Manchester and meet our Music Class of 2018, made up exclusively from artists outside the capital. We’re immensely proud that many of these pieces have been done by excellent writers and photographers based in the north: testament, if you didn’t know it already, to the awesome creative power that lies just above the M25.
We’ll also be speaking to Adam Murray and Lou Stoppard about their landmark North: Fashioning Identity exhibition, which opened at Liverpool’s Open Eye gallery earlier this year and will be making its way to London’s Somerset House on 8 November. Demonstrating the tentacular reach of northern culture — and the influence it’s had on artists as diverse as Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh and Jeremy Deller — it will be accompanied on i-D by specially created artwork from Adam’s Fashion Art Direction students at Manchester School of Art. As you’ll see from the standard of projects submitted, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have the next generation of northern powerhouses involved.
Before all of that though, I’ll leave you with a funny story. I told my Dad we were doing a week about the north on i-D and he replied — with all the mordant humour of a man who has supported Middlesbrough Football Club for 60 years — “You’re never in the bloody north.” I suppose that’s the point. Although I no longer live there, it’s still something I cling to, something I defend, something that continues to light up my senses like a greasy chip butty. As Morrissey once said, “You’re southern — you wouldn’t understand. When you’re northern, you’re northern for ever, and you’re instilled with a certain feel for life that you can’t get rid of. You just can’t.”
i-D, NOVEMBER 2017.