The Magnetic North, a London-based trio of Simon Tong (who played in The Verve and half of Damon Albarn’s projects), Erland Cooper (of Erland and the Carnival) and Hannah Peel, are about to release their sophomore album „Prospect of Skelmersdale“. As its title suggests, the band’s new LP was inspired by Skelmersdale, a place once designated as a new town.
New towns started to emerge in the UK in the late 40s to help alleviate the housing shortages following the Second World War. The next wave of this construction initiative came several decades later and resulted in a bunch of new settlements in West Midlands and Merseyside. One of these towns called Skelmersdale which had been originally developed due to its coal mining in the early 19th century, was reborn in the 60s.
After two more decades under supervision of the special government branch set up for the purpose of creating New Towns, its rapid development succumbed to the Thatcherism policies. Construction works had paused, people lost their jobs, crime and drug abuse started to gain strength.
Around the same time as disciples of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh urged their guru to leave India for the farm in Oregon to build there a community called Rajneeshpuram, British followers of transcendental meditation were moving in the already cheap or even abandoned houses of Skelmersdale. It was 1984 and Simon Tong’s father was one of them. He and other Maharishi adherents wanted to create an ideal village fighting against increasing poverty by means of their meditations.
The idea of setting the album in some particular location isn’t new to The Magnetic North. Their first album was dedicated to the Orkney Islands where Cooper had lived. This time they decided to write from different perspectives: one being Tong’s distant memories of the town he knew from the 80s, and another – Cooper and Peel’s perception of the current state of Skelmersdale.
A pair went there together for some period of time to see the town and to meet locals. One of them happened to own a DVD that had an old promo documentary which was called „Prospect of Skelmersdale“. That’s how the title for the album came about.
„Prospect of Skelmersdale“ sounds nothing like you could imagine. Nothing dark, industrial and brutal. Where others would reflect on the hopelessness of this sort of failed experiment, The Magnetic North saw the opportunity to present the history of the town in a positive light. Using clarinets, flutes and analog synthesizers, the trio made the album – as Tong himself puts it – almost pastoral. In an interview with Rough Trade’s Ben Monaghan, he described his experience writing the album as „finding the beauty in a place, where you wouldn’t necessarily think there was beauty“.