It’s Grim Up North FAQ's

Why?
How?
Tell me about the places listed in the lyrics?
Is it really Grim Up North?
Why these places ? Why not others?

Why?
“It’s Grim Up North”, as well as being a jokey catchphrase about the awfulness of Northern England, is also the title of a record released in 1991 by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, another incarnation of the KLF. The lyrics consist of a list of towns and cities and other features of the North of England. This list is different in different versions – the longer version “It’s Grim Up North (Part 1)” is the one used here. I was born and brought up in one of the towns mentioned, and I am also a fan of the KLF. I remember seeing an internet discussion about how the towns listed were all on the M62, and I didn’t think they were, so I thought I’d map them out to check.

How?
MS Powerpoint, and a variety of printed and electronic map sources.

Tell me about the places listed in the lyrics?
There are almost 70 of them. Most of them are towns and cities, with one obvious exception, the M62 motorway. Most of them are in the old counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire, with several in Cheshire, and a handful in Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. Identification of some of the locations is a little complicated, for various reasons (one being singer Bill Drummond’s strong Scottish accent).
Some of the tricky ones include:
Leigh
There is a town in Lancashire called Leigh, but for some reason Leigh seems to appear twice in the list. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious alternative.
Oldham, Lancs
This is clearly Oldham, but the “Lancs” for Lancashire is included to help the rhythm of the lyrics.
Scarborough
This is referred to as “Scarborough on Sea”, but Scarborough is practically never referred to like this, despite being by the seaside, so I have just shown it as Scarborough.
Cheadle Hulme
The rhythm of the lyrics at this point make it possible that this is actually a reference to two separate places, Cheadle, and Hume, but I have assumed that Cheadle Hulme is being referred to.
Accrington
This is referred to as Accrington, Stanley, and the lyrical rhythm suggests that it could be a reference to two separate places. There is actually a place called Stanley in the North of England, but it’s far to the north of all of the other places in the song – it would be off the top of the main map shown here. I think it’s obvious that this is a reference to Accrington Stanley, a famous football club, and so I have simply mapped Accrington.
Ilkley
This is referred to as Ilkley Moor, an upland area close to the town of Ilkley, and I am just showing Ilkley.
Skelmersdale
This is a difficult one. I think the vocals sound like “Skerne” and there is a tiny hamlet in East Yorkshire called Skerne, which would be within the area of this map. But it’s so small that I don’t think that could have been what they meant. The general assumption on the internet seems to be that this is actually “Skem” which I understand is a local abbreviation for Skelmersdale, and as Skelmersdale is much larger than Skerne, I’ve gone with that.

Is it really Grim Up North?
Yes and no. Parts of this region are often thought of as grim. But some of these towns are decidedly not grim, such as York and Chester. Also, although this area is often thought of as the North, there are actually large parts of England that are further north than this, not to mention Scotland.

Why these places ? Why not others?
I don’t know. Most of the places are reasonably well known, but some (such as Kearsley, Leigh, Maghull and Ossett) are not at all well known. And there are plenty of other much better known places in the region that could have been mentioned, but have been left out. These include Altrincham, Batley, Birkenhead, Blackpool, Blackburn, Bury, Lancaster, Liverpool, Pontefract, St Helens, Stalybridge, Stockport, and Wakefield.