Open main menu

It's Grim Up North

"It's Grim Up North" was a 1991 single by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs). Its lyrics list towns and cities in the North of England, set to a pounding industrial techno beat and percussion reminiscent of steam whistles. This segues into an orchestral instrumental of the hymn "Jerusalem". The track reached #10 in the UK Singles Chart.

"It's Grim Up North"
The JAMs - It's Grim Up North.jpg
Single by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
Released28 October 1991
Format7", 12", CD
GenreRave[1], techno
Length4:04 (radio edit)
10:03 (extended)
LabelKLF Communications (UK)
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Cauty, Bill Drummond
Producer(s)The KLF
Drummond & Cauty singles chronology
"America: What Time Is Love?"
"It's Grim Up North"
"Justified & Ancient (Stand by The JAMs)"


"It's Grim Up North" was first previewed in December 1990, as a limited edition "Club Mix" with Pete Wylie on vocals.[2] A re-recorded version with Bill Drummond on vocals received a regular release on KLF Communications in October 1991, peaking at #10 in the UK singles chart.

A screenshot from the "It's Grim Up North" video. Bill Drummond is centre and Jimmy Cauty far right.

A recurring theme was drab greyness, representing the dreary, overcast skies of the "grim" North. The original issue featuring Pete Wylie was on grey vinyl, and the same colour was retained for the sleeve of the 1991 release. The video for "It's Grim Up North" was filmed in black and white, and shows The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu performing in the pouring rain. Bill Drummond voices the words into the microphone of a backpack field radio worn by a girl mannequin at his side wearing military uniform and a tin hat labelled "KLF". Jimmy Cauty is shown playing bass guitar. Cars and trucks rush by, leaving a trail of spray because evidently The JAMs are performing on one lane of a road; they are lit by the headlights of several nearby stationary vehicles. As the performance draws to a close, and the strains of Jerusalem can be heard, the slogan "The North will rise again" appears on screen before a closeup of the dripping mannequin is shown.

The sleevenotes further elaborated on The JAMs' inspiration: "Through the downpour and diesel roar, Rockman and Kingboy D can feel a regular dull thud. Whether this is the eternal echo of a Victorian steam driven revolution or the turbo kick of a distant Northern rave is irrelevant. Thus inspired, The JAMS climb into the back of their truck and work."[3]

The single was the first release under The KLF's "JAMs" pseudonym since the 1988 compilation album Shag Times, and was to be the last under that name. The release, with its markedly darker tone, punctuated The KLF's string of upbeat house hits, and it was planned that "It's Grim Up North" would be a prominent track on the ultimately unreleased album The Black Room.[4]

Graffiti reading "It's Grim Up North" had, since the early 1970s, been visible to northbound travellers on a bridge spanning the M1 motorway, and at one point led to a question about "regional imbalance" being asked in the House of Commons.[5][6]

The 1992 single "It's Weird Out West" by Radsonic was an affectionate homage to the track, the list of northern towns being replaced by locations in Wiltshire and Somerset. Only five hundred copies are known to have been produced, although Annie Nightingale did play it on her BBC Radio 1 programme.


"It's Grim Up North (Part 1)" is a 10-minute composition with two distinct segueing sections. The seven-minute first section is a heavy, pounding industrial techno track, over which Drummond lists the names of some towns and cities in the North of England. Between verses, Drummond's distorted voice urgently alerts us that "It's grim up north". The instrumentation is in a minor key and is frequently discordant, featuring synthesised sounds reminiscent of passing heavy goods vehicles and train whistles. Although the underlying rhythm keeps a 4/4 time signature, several instruments keep 3/16 and 3/4 time throughout the track, including a deep second drum line—the "regular dull thud"—which juxtaposes when the 4/4 instruments and percussion drop out.

The second section is a fully orchestrated arrangement of Jerusalem, with the sounds of brass, strings, organs, drums and choir. The instrumentation and vocals of the first section gradually diminish to nothing over a period of nearly two minutes. Following the climax of the hymn, howling wind and crow calls are heard and then fade out.

"It's Grim Up North (Part 2)" is a six-minute reprise of the techno themes from Part 1, without the vocals and orchestra.


Record Mirror hailed the original club version as "the hardest rave track of the year" and as "one mind-blowing mental onslaught".[7]

In awarding the 1991 release "single of the week", NME said: "The Scotsman [Drummond] picks over the place names with gruesome relish, the backing track pummels and tweaks, blasts and buffets him round the furthest God-forsaken reaches of this demi-paradise, this land of kings, this sceptred isle, this England... A thing of feverish, fiendish irreverence and conceptual genius...".[8]

In a 2007 article on songs about northern England, The Guardian described the track thus: "It's Grim Up North, by a pseudonymous KLF, wrongfoots the listener. A deadpan catalogue of northern towns, recited over rainy-motorway techno, suddenly blossoms into a rendition of Blake's Jerusalem, as if arriving at some socialist rave utopia.".[9]

In 2005, Freaky Trigger placed it at number 81 in their list of "The Top 100 Songs of All Time," with the one writer for the webzine saying: "This record is ten minutes long (exactly). On it, Bill Drummond reads out the names of (approximately) 70 towns in Northern England over a berserk techno backing, containing bursts of train sounds and robotic squeaks. He explains that they are all in the North. For the final three minutes, this competes with a synthetic orchestra playing ‘Jerusalem’, and the track finishes with the cries of some crows. It’s not a fucking joke. It’s the best British single of the 1990s."[10] In 1999, the website's founder Tom Ewing also included the song at number 75 in his list of the "Top 100 Singles of the 1990s", saying:

"Maverick and compelling, “It’s Grim Up North” may be some kind of tongue-in-cheek tribute to the glory of the North, and if that’s the intention it works. As a Southern jessie born and bred, I’ve put it here for two reasons. Firstly it makes for a gorgeous sound. Bill Drummond’s delivery is syllable-perfect, reciting the history-steeped placenames like a great psychogeographical spell; the music which backs him up is restless and grand; the segue into the hymn is funny, audacious and surprisingly powerful. But secondly, “It’s Grim Up North” is a document of one of pop’s most individual bands at their imaginative peak. It boils down to a man in his late 30s, and a mate, doing exactly what they want to do, without fear or compromise or cant, and getting it into the Top 40 to boot. And that makes this not only an excellent single, but a genuinely inspirational one."[11]


All locations are in the north of England, predominantly in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Scarborough is the furthest north of the towns mentioned, and the furthest south is Nantwich. The full list of locations are found in the lyrics, announced by Drummond.

First verseEdit

"Bolton, Barnsley, Nelson, Colne, Burnley, Bradford, Buxton, Crewe, Warrington, Widnes, Wigan, Leeds, Northwich, Nantwich, Knutsford, Hull, Sale, Salford, Southport, Leigh, Kirkby, Kearsley, Keighley, Maghull, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Oldham, Lancs, Grimsby, Glossop, Hebden Bridge."

Second verseEdit

"Brighouse, Bootle, Featherstone, Speke, Runcorn, Rotherham, Rochdale, Barrow, Morecambe, Macclesfield, Lytham St Annes, Clitheroe, Cleethorpes, the M62."

Third verseEdit

"Pendlebury, Prestwich, Preston, York, Skipton, Scunthorpe, Scarborough-on-Sea, Chester, Chorley, Cheadle Hulme (could also be interpreted as the equally valid Cheadle, Hulme), Ormskirk, Accrington, Stanley (could also be interpreted as the football club, Accrington Stanley F.C.), Leigh, Ossett, Otley, Ilkley Moor, Sheffield, Manchester, Castleford, Skem (Skelmersdale), Doncaster, Dewsbury, Halifax, Bingley, Bramhall, are all in the North."

Formats and track listingsEdit

"It's Grim Up North" was originally released as a limited-edition one-side promotional 12" on 17 December 1990. Reworked with Drummond's vocals, the track was given a European single release on 28 October 1991.[2] The CD single track "Jerusalem on the Moors" comprises the orchestral arrangement of Jerusalem, beginning alongside a fadeout of the industrial techno instrumentation. The single's formats and track listings are tabulated below:

Format (and countries) Track number
1 2 3 4
One-sided 12" promo single (UK) (limited edition of 350) O
7" single (UK, Germany, Denmark, Belgium), cassette single (UK) p1 p2
12" single (UK, Germany, Denmark, Belgium) P1 P2
CD single (UK, Germany, Denmark) p1 P1 P2 J


  • O - "It's Grim up North" (original club mix) (8:38)
  • p1 - "It's Grim up North (Part 1)" (radio edit) (4:04)
  • P1 - "It's Grim up North (Part 1)" (10:03)
  • p2 - "It's Grim up North (Part 2)" (radio edit) (3:37)
  • P2 - "It's Grim up North (Part 2)" (6:13)
  • J - "Jerusalem on the Moors" (3:04)


  1. ^ "Spirit of Ecstasy - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b Retrieved 21 June 2006.
  3. ^ [1] Archived October 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ [2] Archived July 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ [4] Archived October 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ [5] Archived October 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ [6] Archived March 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Dorian Lynskey. "Readers recommend ... Songs about northern England". Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  10. ^ "top 100 songs of all time - FreakyTrigger". Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  11. ^ Ewing, Tom (12 September 1999). "75. THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU – "It's Grim Up North"". FreakyTrigger. Retrieved 7 January 2017.