It’s grim down south, or so it seems. Tear away a Caledonian from his homeland and drop him amidst London’s less salubrious quarters and the call of home may well get him in the end. On a mission for immortality, Grim Northern Social front-man Ewan McFarlane trawled the Camdemonium for a good few years, with guitar over shoulder, before it finally got him in the end. “I’d been living in London for about six or seven years, not been doing my health any good either. I’d been in a band down there and everything went to pieces basically. I decided I was going to just move home and start all over again. I had the idea of the name of the band before I’d even met the band as such.”
Whilst his previous experiences had been laced with liquor and a fug of noxious fumes, maybe it was the cool Celtic air, but this new outfit, whose other members then numbered zero, were to take a slightly more puritanical work ethic on board. The Grim Northern Social were going to live a little less like Rock & Roll stars in a bid to be sober enough to actually be able to be Rock & Roll stars. “In previous bands, we all grew up together, so we all loved it each other, but I don’t know if we respected each other. We just took the piss a wee bit.” Out with the partying and in with a work ethic, ably assisted by his wife (and manager) Jo, they set about turning the Social into a three dimensional proposition and recruited a band. What with this newly determined approached to scaling the Eiger that is getting a record deal, things fell into place remarkably quickly. “We rehearsed for about thirty hours a week, until we felt as if it was worthy of taking it out and letting people hear it live. I think we played our first gig in March 2001 and we knew they (One Little Indian) wanted to sign us the following March.”
Now if only the drugs czars could latch on to that ‘get clean, get signed’ premise, then they may be onto something. As Ewan unsurprisingly believes not being obliterated on industrial strength chemicals can do wonders for your career. “I wasn’t taking much as shit to be honest with you, I had a clearer head, I had a good woman to spur me on and the guys in the band are totally reliable, which is very, very hard to find as well in the music business.” With a foothold finally in the record industry, he takes social things a little easier these days. “We all enjoy a beer and I enjoy a smoke and we have the odd night of debauchery maybe a few times a year, but it’s nothing compared to what it used it be like.” In retrospect, the reasons previous bands imploded are probably relatively easy to unravel, if not actually remember. “I was never ever going to make the mistakes I made before. I used to be the type that’d not turn up to rehearsals at all, never mind coming in half an hour late. I’d then go play a gig the next night without rehearsing. It was crazy!”
Fully rehearsed and with a happy, healthy collective behind him, things then soon started to snowball. With Jo McFarlane firing demos to everybody that she could think of, the band soon appeared at industry showcase ‘In The City’ in Manchester. If the label execs were jostling for a position, for once the band may have been able to empathise. “It was a mad one. I think the stage was built for two acoustic guitars and we went on with a drum kit, two guitars, bass, keyboards and a big rack of stuff... so it was like the worst squashed gig you can ever imagine, but there was a certain vibe about it an it went down well. People started taking note from that point.”
Whilst One Little Indian started listening intently to the demos and limbered up to talking contracts, they were also reaching the attention of some equally important ears. With another demo tape dispatched, the Grim Northern Social were finding themselves increasingly few reasons to live under such moniker. Whilst only a year or so back, Ewan had hit the high road back home, tail between legs, their next date for the diary was supporting Elvis Costello. “We just knew he was playing at the Edinburgh fringe festival and basically took it upon ourselves to try and get a support, because he never had one at the time. Jo sent some demos to him and the man had a listen himself says ‘yeah, sounds great, you’re more than welcome to come and support us’ and it was a great experience. First of all, you’re playing with Elvis Costello who is a fucking god and secondly, you’re playing in front of a couple of thousand people which when you’re a band the size of us, to play to a couple of hundred people is a big deal.“ So on the precipice of success, did Mister McManus inspire them with words of grizzled wisdom or Churchillian resolve? Did he hell! “We never even met him! He never met us, because supposedly he doesn’t like to meet anybody before his gigs because he’s focusing on his gig blah blah blah.”
Despite the lack of Costello guidance, The Grim Northern Social’s eponymous album hits the stands in September, all written, performed and produced by The Grim Northern Social. After blighted attempts to bring in outside help, Ewan dismissed them to go it alone with GNS musical maestro Andy Cowan (on keyboards) and their engineer. “We went into the studio with producers for the first single, which was a song called ‘Honey’. It was two guys called ‘Bird & Bush’. They’ve done all the Stereophonics stuff. The guys were great, but we felt that it didn’t put across what we wanted to put across. We wanted more of a live feel. We’ve got a studio up here anyway and we do all the production anyway, so we thought why don’t we do it ourselves?” And after nearly a decade of trying to be a Rock & Roll star, time wasn’t wasted cutting his first disc. “We started making the album in June and finished it in June. We were under a lot of pressure. I think it took something like seventeen or eighteen days.” Perhaps Ewan works that little bit better under a bit of urban pressure.