It’s always bittersweet listening to a band who are no more. A feeling which is multiplied further when realising that said band never actually managed to record and release an album. The hope, expectation and promise are extinguished with the little material that is left, gaining priceless extra resonance. These are some of the feelings which came over me as I listened to a collection of demos and basic recordings left behind by The Northwestern, originally posted in December last year on limited download, and now posted permanently for posterity on Bandcamp last weekend as a gift to their dedicated and extremely passionate fans.
The Northwestern were formed in 2007 by Sam Herlihy and Simon Jones, both formerly of Hope of the States. Hope of the States were, in their own right, an incredible band who burned ever so brightly for a short period in the mid noughties. They made the kind of expansive, idealistic and ambitious rock that gave them a unique quality among their peers. HOTS’ debut album, 2004’s ‘The Lost Riots’, remains one of the best British albums of the decade. One of the things which made them particularly special was their intensity, and the sheer devotion it inspired. Their split, following second and final album, ‘Left’, was keenly felt. A chasm had developed in the musical lives of everyone who had invested so much in the band.
The Northwestern emerged in to the world in 2009. They were a completely different band to their predecessor. The sound was more direct and yet looser. The spirit of Hope of the States remained. As they toured small venues and released their debut recordings on a very small scale, you could sense the same sort of devotion was building again. Sam Herlihy has that special knack of writing songs and melodies which instantly connect. However, almost as quickly as they arrived, the band went silent. Years went by and nothing was heard from the group until an announcement that they were no more. The two core members, Herlihy and Jones, seemingly ground down by the unresponsive, tortuous rigours of the music industry. Or, as Jones puts it, the intention was to make an album before ‘life got in the way’.
The songs they posted on Bandcamp as a collection of demos and tracks that might have made their debut are an intriguing, and at times heartbreaking, collection of heartfelt guitar pop. There’s a nagging sense that this band could’ve gone somewhere. They were a band people could’ve fallen in love with. Alas, we are left with just memories and feelings of what could’ve been. These recordings are well worth a listen for anyone with even a passing interest. The members may go on to make more music in the future, but that is a very distant and perhaps unlikely proposition.
Of course, the world is littered with bands who never fulfilled their promise, who quickly departed leaving only fragments of beauty and records which have taken on mythical status, like artefacts to be treasured. Some disintegrate like Young Marble Giants, break up for completely unknown buildings like Life Without Buildings or simply fade away in the case of My Vitriol. We are still waiting for their second album twelve years after the first, but at least they made one. The Northwestern’s legacy may be minutely brief, but to the people who followed them closely, they were a band who could’ve been your life. Music can be heartbreaking in many ways, but the pain of ‘what if’ is perhaps the strongest.