A fortnight ago, the debut album by a young British guitar band entered the chart at No. 6. You might have expected to see this pored over with some interest by the press, for whom the search for the New Arctic Monkeys, the New Oasis and the New Smiths has long been a matter of urgency. Instead, you will scour the daily newspaper arts pages in vain for mentions of the Sherlocks, and you won’t fare much better looking at the specialist music magazines. According to the self-anointed tastemakers of British pop, they might as well not exist.
That’s because the Sherlocks are representatives of a growing trend in British music: the straightforward indie rock band who are hugely popular in the north — the north-west especially — but whose fame falls off a cliff the moment you get south of Birmingham. ‘We’d sold 9,800 copies of the Sherlocks as of this morning,’ Korda Marshall, who signed the band to his label Infectious, told me earlier this month. ‘I reckon a good 6,500 to 7,000 of those have been north of Birmingham.’ You can see the relative levels of popularity when you look at the group’s upcoming tour dates: their show at the 2,600-capacity Manchester Academy is long since sold out; there are still tickets available for their London gig, at Heaven — which holds 1,000 people.
This divide is a real thing. A couple of years ago, I asked Spotify to hunt through its data to see which music was most popular in which of Britain’s big cities, going by its streaming figures. Indie rock was most popular in Newcastle, followed by Manchester and York. The only place south of Sheffield paying any attention was Brighton. Punk and metal were overwhelmingly northern genres, too, with the south preferring hip-hop and R&B.