Life In A Northern Town

Album: The Dream Academy (1985)
Charted: 15 7


  • Dream Academy members Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabriel wrote this song, which is dedicated to the singer Nick Drake, who was 26 years old in 1974 when he died of an antidepressant overdose which may have been suicide. His work was very influential to many British musicians and songwriters, and his legend grew after his death.

    The song was not specifically about Nick Drake, as some suppose, but merely dedicated to his memory. Laird-Clowes recalled to Mojo magazine in a 2011 interview: "The song was created in a Southgate bedsit where Gilbert Gabriel had a room. We wrote it while sitting on a floor. Just two guitars - one nylon strung with just three strings on it, while the other was the same guitar that was on the cover of Nick Drake's Bryter Layter. We had the idea, even before we sat down, to write a folk song with an African-style chorus. We started it and when we got to the verse melody, there was something about it that reminded me of Nick Drake, who I had been turned on to in 1972 by Roundhouse DJ Jeff Dexter. It was Jeff who first informed me what a brilliant record Bryter Layter was. He claimed, 'I know where that guitar is and one day we'll get hold of it.'

    I was working at the RCA record factory in Ladbroke Grove at the time and bought Nick Drake's guitar for £100. When the single was completed I dedicated it to Nick."
  • "Northern Town" started life with a different title. Laird-Clowes told Mojo that he had befriended Paul Simon at one point and the two stayed in touch. He recalled: "I played him the song and he asked, 'What are you going to call it - 'Ah Hey Ma Ma Ma?' I told him that we intended to name it 'Morning Lasted All Day.' 'That's no good,' he said and so I came up with 'Life In A Northern Town.' which he thought was a great title."
  • The song's subject matter was inspired by the time Laird-Clowes spent working on a music TV program that was produced in the north east England city of Newcastle. He recalled to Mojo: "The lyric emerged because I was an early presenter on The Tube and Geoff Wonfor, who went on to shoot The Beatles Anthology series, showed me the long lines of people unemployed and the shipyards that were closed down. That's what 'Life in Northern Town' is really all about."
  • David Gilmour from Pink Floyd helped produce The Dream Academy album with Nick Laird-Clowes.
  • Dream Academy's record label didn't want to release this song, they felt it needed more drums. The band refused and it became a worldwide hit.
  • This was covered by country acts Sugarland, together with Little Big Town and Jake Owen on the Sugarland Change for Change Tour. Their performance was played live at the 2008 CMT Music Awards and this rendition began receiving airplay on country radio. Three months after debuting on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it entered the Hot 100 listing. This represented the first Top 40 chart entry for both Little Big Town and Jake Owen.

Comments: 14

  • Sandy from New YorkYes, in 1963..( really the Winter of ‘64).... it did seem like the world had “frozen”.... I was a kid.... I remember that feeling exactly... but the Beatles rather rescued us from it.... at least to a 12 year old.
  • Tania from Brisbane, AustraliaWhen I was a kid living in South Australia, I was convinced the opening line was “Salvation Army of Adelaide”, and that the song itself was about Alice Springs, a largely aboriginal populated town/city in the Northern Territory of Australia. Still not sure why I thought that lol

    Oh, and I don’t know that I could imagine the song with a heavier drum sound!
  • Jb from TxThis song was played at my cousin's funeral as it was his favorite.
  • Bill from UsA girl with long blond hair wearing a band uniform while playing an oboe makes me want to bang on a kettle drum any day. The video for this song was huge, the song is so cool, even if so sad.
  • Hannah from Gustavus, OhI remember the first time I heard this was on the episode of King of the Hill with Buckley's angel...Buckley was a jerk but this song made me cry when it came on. That was a well-made episode.
  • Brian from Boston, MaGreat song , great melody.Reminds me of high school
  • Karen from Manchester, NhAs much as I love the original, the SL/LBT/JO version just gives me goosebumps! When they break into those harmonies...fantastic!
  • Mike from Syracuse, NyI saw Little Big Town perform this song a few nights ago, and they absolutely electrified the Syracuse War Memorial when they did it. Great cover of a great song by a great band. Another classic song lives on...
  • John from London, United KingdomA nice enough song, but if it is a tribute to the late great Nick Drake you'd never fathom it from the lyrics, which name-check Frank Sinatra, John F Kennedy, and the Beatles but not Drake, or for that matter any of his songs. However, the lead singer could be his twin brother.
  • Kevin from Memphis , TnThis is now being covered by country acts Sugarland, Little Big Town, and Jake Owen (and a great version if I do say so!)
  • Angie from Jacksonville, FlThis was used in a third season episode of "King Of The Hill", where Luanne was visited by her boyfriend Buckley's angel.
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiTheir record label thought it needed more drums? I can't picture this being a percussion-heavy song at all. Good thing Dream Academy had more sense than that.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThis song is very ethereal...a timeless classic.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesVocalist and oboeist Kate St. John was also a member of The Dream Academy. Best known for singing TV themes in the UK, she was intorduced to Nick Laird-Clowes (ex-host of the UK music show 'The Tube) by David Gilmour, who co-produced the album. The vocal chant from "Life In A Northern Town" was sampled by Dario G on his 1997 UK No.2 hit "Sun Chyme". "Life In A Northern Town" was The Dream Academy's only hit in the UK, however they were quite big in America, where they had further chart entries with "The Edge Of Forever" and a cover of The Smiths' "Please Please Please Give Me What I Want Want Want" (both used in the hit 1986 film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" starring Matthew Broderick), "The Love Parade", "Indian Summer" and a cover version of The Korgis' 1980 classic "Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime".
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