Life in a Northern Town

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"Life in a Northern Town"
The Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town.jpg
Single by The Dream Academy
from the album The Dream Academy
Released March 1985 (UK and World)
November 1985 (USA)
Recorded 1984
Genre Baroque pop[1]
Length 4:19
Songwriter(s) Gilbert Gabriel
Nick Laird-Clowes
Producer(s) David Gilmour, Nick Laird-Clowes, George Nicholson
The Dream Academy singles chronology
"Life in a Northern Town"
"The Edge Of Forever"

"Life in a Northern Town"
"The Edge Of Forever"
Audio sample

"Life in a Northern Town" is a song by British group The Dream Academy. The song is the lead single from their self-titled debut studio album The Dream Academy, released in 1985. The song was written as an elegy to British folk musician Nick Drake, who died in 1974,[2][3] and the single's record sleeve includes a dedication to him. The song was written by band members Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabriel, and was produced by Laird-Clowes and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

The single reached number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1986. It is their highest-peaking chart single in the United States,[4] the UK,[5] and Ireland.[6]

Original version[edit]

The Dream Academy released the original version in 1985 as the first single from their self-titled album.


The lyrics include references to English singer-songwriter Nick Drake,[3] who suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life and often reflected those topics in his lyrics. Gilbert Gabriel, a member of the Dream Academy and co-writer of the song, has also said that the inspiration for the tune came from his experience at Dartington College of Arts.[7] Drake died of an antidepressant overdose in 1974 at the age of 26, but his music has influenced songwriters and guitarists long after his death.[8] He was best known for sombre pieces composed on his favourite instrument, the guitar, and The Dream Academy intended the song as a tribute to Drake.[3]

The song, which took a year to record, also includes elements of classical music, an "African-esque" chant (which was later sampled by dance duo Dario G for their track "Sunchyme" and more recently by the duo Tritonal [9]), and hints of psychedelia.[7] It is in the key of E major with a main chord pattern of E-Amaj7-E and a vocal range from B3 to E5.[10]

Music video[edit]

Two different music videos were made for the song. The first was made in 1984 and filmed in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, England. It was directed by Tim Pope.[11] The second was filmed in 1985 and was directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams.[12] It was filmed in and around Newcastle upon Tyne with some scenes filmed in Manchester in the UK and in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States, using footage of the now-closed LTV Steel and Duquesne Light facilities. The video featured footage from one of their first TV appearances, on The Tube.

Track listing[edit]

7" Single

  1. "Life in a Northern Town" - 4:17
  2. "Test Tape No. 3" - 5:01

12" Single

  1. "Life in a Northern Town" (Extended) - 5:19
  2. "Test Tape No. 3" - 5:03
  3. "Life in a Northern Town" (7" Mix) - 4:14
  4. "Poised on the Edge of Forever" - 3:32

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1985–86) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 4
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[14] 7
Ireland (IRMA)[15] 9
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[16] 15
US Billboard Hot 100[17] 7
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 7
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[18] 2

Sugarland cover version[edit]

"Life in a Northern Town"
Song by Sugarland featuring Little Big Town and Jake Owen
from the album Love on the Inside
Released 2008
Recorded 2007
Genre Country
Length 4:14
Label Mercury Nashville
Songwriter(s) Gilbert Gabriel
Nick Laird-Clowes
Producer(s) Byron Gallimore

The song was covered in 2007 by the country music duo Sugarland, along with Little Big Town and Jake Owen, on the Sugarland Change for Change Tour. A live performance from 2007 was made into a music video by Becky Fluke for the network Country Music Television.[19] Although not officially released as a single, this rendition received airplay on country radio, debuting at 57 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart dated for 5 April 2008 and reaching a peak of 28. It also peaked at 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 based on downloads.

This performance was included on the Deluxe Fan Edition of Sugarland's 2008 album Love on the Inside[19] and on Capitol Records' late 2008 re-release of Little Big Town's 2007 album A Place to Land. In addition, it was nominated for Vocal Event of the Year at the Country Music Association awards,[20] Best Country Collaboration with Vocals at the 51st Grammy Awards,[21] and Vocal Event of the Year at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music awards.[22]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2008) Peak
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[23] 53
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[24] 28
US Billboard Hot 100[25] 43

Other versions[edit]

  • In August 1988, Roger McGuinn performed the song on the television show Nashville Now.
  • In 2014, Chris Collingwood, lead singer of Fountains of Wayne, released a cover version of the song on the multi-artist compilation album Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion.[26] Philip Price and Flora Reed of the indie rock band Winterpills provide backing vocals on this version.
  • Dario G also sampled the African style chant in "Sunchyme". Released in September 1997 as the lead single from the album, Sunmachine, the song reached the top 5 position in many European music charts. It also topped the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the United States following its release there in May 1998. In the United Kingdom, the song peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart.[27]
  • In 2005, Rick Springfield did his version of the song on The Day After Yesterday, an album of all covers.


  1. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "The Dream Academy – Artist Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  2. ^ Monger, James. "The Dream Academy | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 September 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c James McNair (26 March 1999). "Apprentice to the stars". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  4. ^ "The Dream Academy". Billboard. Billboard. 
  5. ^ "Dream Academy". Official Charts. The Official UK Charts Company. 
  6. ^ The Irish Charts - All there is to know. IRMA Retrieved 28 June 2016.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b Randolph Michaels (2005). Flashbacks to Happiness: Eighties Music Revisited. iUniverse, Inc. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-595-37007-8. 
  8. ^ MacDonald, Ian. "Exiled from Heaven". Mojo Magazine, January 2000.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "'Life in a Northern Town' sheet music". Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  11. ^ " - the Dream Academy - "Life in a northern town [version 1]"". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  12. ^ " - the Dream Academy - "Life in a northern town [version 2]"". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). St. Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 96. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.  N.B. the Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between mid 1983 and 19 June 1988.
  14. ^ "Canada peak". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Search for Irish peaks". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  17. ^ "The Dream Academy Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  18. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 82. 
  19. ^ a b "Sugarland Adds "Life in a Northern Town" to New CD". CMT. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  20. ^ "Stars Shining Over CMAs". Great American Country. 11 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  21. ^ "Alison Krauss, Robert Plant Score at Grammys". Great American Country. 4 December 2008. Archived from the original on 9 December 2012. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  22. ^ "Academy of Country Music nominees". Academy of Country Music. 11 February 2009. Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  23. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  25. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  26. ^ Life In A Northern Town | Curry Cuts
  27. ^ "Sunchyme - full Official Chart History - Official Charts Company". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 

External links[edit]