Wednesday, 5 October 2011

REWIND: the story of Northern Uproar

The story of Northern Uproar is one of many highs and lows, a great British rock n' roll tale with lots of interesting twists and turns.

The popularity of the 90's Britpop scene opened the gates for many British guitar bands to make their mark on musical history, and in 1995 four teenage lads who hailed from Heald Green, Manchester decided to form their own group. Consisting of Leon Meya (vocals/bass), Jeff Fletcher (guitar), Paul Kelly (guitar) and Keith Chadwick (drums) the band became known for their energetic live shows at The Roadhouse in Manchester, which soon earned them the attention of the NME and Melody Maker. Northern Uproar were still in their teens and hadn't released any material yet, but that didn't stop a bidding war amongst record labels desperate to sign this hugely tipped young act. Eventually it was Heavenly Recordings who snapped them up, and with the record deal in place Northern Uproar decamped to Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth to record their debut album.

They shared a love of Guns N Roses and The Clash with Welsh legends the Manic Street Preachers, whose frontman James Dean Bradfield produced the tracks that made up the band's debut album, along with Manics producer Dave Eringa. The enjoyably lively debut single 'Rollercoaster' only just missed out on the UK Top 40, going in at Number 41. But the public who weren't aware of the Uproar's spiky rock n' roll didn't take long to catch on, as the next single 'From A Window' made its impression on the UK charts and earned them a Number 17 hit. Full of wide-eyed excitement, rattling with optimism and running on a wave of punky guitars, 'From A Window' was the group's biggest hit and a perfect taster for their first album. Word soon spread that there was now another exciting Britpop band from Manchester, and the local media were certainly willing to document this, as Northern Uproar made several appearances on Granada TV's 'Tonight' programme, and this was just the start...

After appearing on Top Of The Pops and becoming Melody Maker cover stars, the band's popularity stepped up a gear. Frontman Leon even found himself the subject of tabloid press attention due to rumours of a relationship between him and 80's pop singer Sinitta. But music was what the band lived for, and the youthful energy of the next single 'Livin' It Up' continued their chart success, climbing to Number 24. This was followed by the release of the Bradfield/Eringa produced self-titled debut album which was released in April 1996 and went in at Number 22. 'Northern Uproar' successfully captured the giddy excitement of the Britpop years, the sound of four young men in their teens having the time of their lives. Much of the album demonstrates the harder edge that set them apart from the rest of the Britpop set, while also bearing catchy pop melodies. Amongst the rousing rock 'n roll excitement of 'From A Window' and 'Kicks', there were also the more reflective moments, like 'Moods' and the brilliant 'Waiting On', thoughtful numbers that shone with a laddish charm. Also present with its acoustic guitars and strings was 'Town', which was to be their next single (it reached Number 48 in the UK charts). Still in their teens and with a handful of chart singles to their name, the band's success had come so quickly and must have been somewhat overwhelming. Recalling the glorious Britpop years Leon remembers "Lots of great memories. It was a moment in time. We were very young and it was a bit of a blur. Wouldn't change a thing though... We met some amazing people, toured the world and played some top places".

After touring the UK and Japan in 1997 the band set about recording their second album. The first taste of this record was the stunning single 'Any Way You Look', a brass-touched indie anthem which saw the group's songwriting progessing to a higher level, reaching Number 36 on the UK Singles Chart. Following appearances on 'TFI Friday' and a number of other TV shows, the band even found themselves sat on the 'This Morning' sofa talking to Richard and Judy. But again it was the music that mattered most and the group's second record was taking shape. The album was released in 1998 and entitled 'Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today', displaying a bigger and more polished production sound and a move away from the punkier elements of the first album. Many of the tracks are representative of the typical Britpop sound with brass sections, strings and superbly written songs that demonstrated more intelligence and a degree of maturity, like the second single to be taken from the album 'A Girl I Once Knew' (which reached 63 in the singles chart). Stone Roses-esque riffs, early Beatles melodies and perfectly crafted pop tunes were prominent as the band were growing up and gradually discovering all sorts of different music from the past. 

Critics seemed to prefer 'Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today' to the first album, one review prasing it as "a striking leap forward", but as Britpop was moving further away from the mainstream the album didn't fare as well commercially. Radio stations and television were no longer as willing to give airplay to indie music, as most British guitar bands now found themselves confined to 'The Evening Session' and 'alternative' radio shows. This meant that the singles from Northern Uproar's excellent second album weren't given the exposure they deserved, and went largely unnoticed by the mainstream public. As they ran into money difficulties the band issued another single 'Goodbye', which was to be their last. They returned to Manchester to begin work on a third album but in June 1998 the band were dropped by Heavenly Recordings. In an attempt to resolve their worsening finacial situation they sold their recording studio but began work on an EP, which never materialised. By June 1999 things hadn't improved and Northern Uproar decided to call it a day.

Leon returned to Spain where he was brought up by his Father before moving to Manchester aged 5. Whilst in Spain he immersed himself in the country's musical culture and began playing in a group with his uncles, but moved back to England briefly to become a hairdresser. But during these years Leon continued writing music, and along with couple of other Northern Uproar members recorded a track called 'Stealing Time' but under the name 'The Hooligans' as the band didn't want any music industry pressure or press attention. Then in 2004 Leon and guitarist Fletcher reunited and played two Manchester gigs under the Northern Uproar name, playing a mixture of old classics and newly written material. 

Then in 2006 Northern Uproar officially reformed, but minus Paul Kelly and Keith Chadwick who were now full-time parents. Instead Leon's cousin Noel joined on drums and the band temporarily operated as a three piece until the arrival of Chris Gorman, who first played with the band back in 1996, standing in when Jeff broke his arm before a gig. The band toured and began work on a new album. The result was the third record 'Stand And Fight' which was released in 2007 on the independent label Tiny Rebel. The album demonstrated a tougher, harder edge and emphasised the band's punk influences and love of hard rock. The songs had a strong air of defiance and captured the sound of an unstoppable band who were now simply living for the music they loved and not worrying about any commercial concerns or music industry nonsense. 

A UK tour followed the album, as well as a number of festival appearances in Spain and a few shows with The Coral, who invited the Uproar after singer James Skelly met Leon on Channel 4's 'Transmission' show. By this point Alex Stubbs had joined on drums, and the band went back into the studio to record more new material, most of which has remained unreleased. As Leon explains: "We didn't really have an interest in 'pushing' the stuff we'd recorded for a while. The music industry is enough to make anyone sick after a while. But we wrote and played regardless. We love it". The band went quiet for a few years as Leon moved back to Spain, and a lot of people assumed they had once again split up. But this was not the case, as the band recorded two new tracks in early 2010.

In May 2011 the band were asked to headline the 'This Feeling' Britpop night at The Vibe Bar in London. The band agreed and played a storming set to a sold-out venue packed full of Northern Uproar fans belting out all the old classics. Realising that they were still loved and respected the band decided to re-launch themselves. Leon appeared on XFM speaking about plans to release more new material and the possibility of more live shows. The band then performed at the 'AAA Shaun Ryder + Friends' exhibition by the Manchester based Photographer Karin Albinsson, as well as playing to a sold out crowd at Manchester's Sound Control, as special guests of Noel Gallagher-associated band Proud Mary. These live performances seem to have rejuvenated the band as they work on their fourth studio album, which apparently has a heavy "rock n roll feel" but also a degree of "shade and light". The new album is being funded via the PledgeMusic site, where fans can contribute towards the costs of making a record and reap some rewards in the process. The band no longer care about scoring top 20 hits or being the toast of the music industry, as Leon explains: "The aim is to deliver an amazing album to the people who want it. We get asked at every gig when there's gonna be new stuff, so it's for those people!"

"It was always about the music, the rest is smoke and mirrors... and overpayed A and R men. Our reasons for doing this haven't changed since we started age 12. 'Cos it's a fucking amazing way to live, making music with yer mates, and playing it at high volume!"

Official biography written by Ben P Scott

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