The Unlikeliest Lads

Any Way You Look Single CoverAny Way You Look Northern Uproar Heavenly Records Released: May 1997 Highest UK Chart Position: #36 Available on: Tomorrow, Today & Yesterday

You, at the back. Yes, you. Stop laughing. This song is brilliant.

After the success of Blur, Oasis, and Pulp in 1994, the record labels scrambled to sign up all the guitar bands in the country, hoping to find the next stars of the scene. By 1995, the charts and radio were full of these bands, bands which would have been lucky to get a hit on the independent charts a few years back. Northern Uproar were one of these; four Manchester teenagers that looked as if they had your eye on your car stereo rather than a band with a long Top 40 career in front of them . After an initially-positive response in the music press, they were vilified, and were portrayed as a symbol of all that was wrong with Britpop. It didn't help that their singles and first album were mediocre and highly derivative, borrowing all the bad parts of Oasis and none of the good. After a few hit singles and a fairly successful first album, they disappeared in 1996, and nobody noticed.

In May 1997, without much fanfare, they released Any Way You Look, the first single from the James Dean Bradfield–produced second album, Tomorrow, Today & Yesterday. And it's fabulous.

While the rest of Britpop's vanguard were off recording six minute epics, Northern Uproar came back with a pop song that just crept over the three minute barrier. It wastes no time in getting started: clipped horns announcing the beginning, and then right into the song. From out of nowhere, a tight guitar starts up, stolen straight from the Funk Brothers themselves. It's almost as if the group spent the latter half of 1996 in Detroit, jacking up Motown grooves and leaving behind the battered remains up on blocks; a Motor City - Moss Side cultural exchange. Leon Maya, the singer, begins a moment after the backing track, and if you were familiar with Northern Uproar's previous work, the difference is astonishing. He still sounds unmistakably Mancunian, but there's a confidence behind his voice that just wasn't there on the previous records. The lyrics are in the Sally Cinnamon/Just My Imagination mould; unrequited love writ large. Nothing spectacular, but the lyrics only exist to feed into the chorus, which, with its stomping horns and soaring vocal, is again lifted from Motown.

But it's at 2 minutes 19 seconds that the song unleashes its final surprise, where it leaps over the line from being good, and becomes a classic. For the final minute, the song just repeats "I've never been this lonely" over and over again, the singer overlapping himself, and the rest of the band supplying Beach Boys-style harmonies. All this from a band that a year ago you wouldn't have trusted to sing Roll With It on a karaoke machine. The love song disappears; it's now about the band itself. Hacked to pieces by the press, the laughing stock of Britpop, this is a heartfelt plea for them to be taken seriously, that this is their last chance for success. The ending is a little obvious, as the backing track and horns stop one after the other, leaving the final few repetitions of "I've never been this lonely" to stand by themselves, but it works very well. And once it's over, you want to return back to the beginning to make sure you didn't imagine it, checking the sleeve just to make sure the shop didn't give you the wrong CD by mistake. But it's not; the four chancers from Manchester have finally come of age.

Any Way You Look failed to make much of an impression on the Top 40, the second album flopped, and their final two singles failed to chart.

Leon Maya is now a hairdresser.