The band formed after meeting at the City of Sunderland College, with Ross Millard and David Craig having already been in a band together before meeting the Hyde brothers and Peter Brewis. They initially used the Sunderland City Detached Youth Project building to rehearse in, with Millard and Brewis both working there and able to secure the spaces.
Peter Brewis started as the original drummer, but didn't last long, being replaced by lead singer Barry Hyde's brother Dave. There seemed no lasting animosity between Brewis and the band, and indeed Brewis went on to form his own successful band, Field Music, with his brother David.
The decision on which Hyde brother would play what seemed to be made from an early age - according to an interview with 4Music on Channel 4, Dave had been given a golden guitar as a youngster, only for Barry to take it to learn to strum his first chords. Dave was forced therefore to move onto playing drums.
The band, along with certain other bands in the mid-2000s indie rock explosion (including fellow Northeastern Englanders Maximo Park, from neighboring Newcastle) became known for singing with a strong regional accent. Barry Hyde explained this in a 2005 interview with the Daily Telegraph: "It was always something that used to frustrate me. Bands would come on and say, 'Hello, we're so-and-so from Bishop Auckland, and this is our song called [at this point he adopts a phoney mid-Atlantic drawl] 'I love you baby'. All of a sudden that person on stage – this character you're about to listen to and try and understand – has replaced his honest voice with this absurd half-English half-American twang." Speaking of the reaction to his distinctive vocals initially, he says. "Initially it got us attention because of the sheer audacity of it, then people started using it as a way of making us second-best."