The N.W.R.A.



When it happened we walked through all the estates, from Manchester right to Newcastle.
In Darlington, helped a large man on his own chase off some kids
Who were chucking bricks and
Stuff through his flat window. She had a way with people like that. 
He cussed us and we moved on.

'Junior Choice' played one morning.
The song was 'English Scheme.' (2)
Mine. They'd changed it and did a grand piano and turned it into a love song. How they did it I don't know.
DJs had worsened since the rising. Elaborating on nothing and praising the track
With words they could hardly pronounce, in telephone voices.

I was mad, and laughed at the same time. The West German Government
Had brought over large yellow trains on Teesside docks.    (3)
In Edinburgh, I stayed on my own a few days, wandering about in the pissing rain,
Before the Queen Mother hit town.

I'm Joe Totale
The yet unborn son
The North will rise again
The North will rise again
Not in 10,000 years
Too many people cower to criminals
And government crap
The estates stick up like stacks (4)
The North will rise again
The North will rise again
The North will rise again
The North will rise again
(You are mistaken friend)
Look where you are
Look where you are
The future death of my father (5)


Tony was a business friend
Of RT XVII (6)
And was an opportunist man
Come, come hear my story
How he set out to corrupt and destroy
This future Rising

The business friend came round today
With teeth clenched, he grabbed my neck
I threw him to the ground
His blue shirt stained red
The north will rise again.
He said you are mistaken, friend
I kicked him out of the home
Too many people cower to criminals
And that government pap
When all it takes is hard slap

But out the window burned the roads
There were men with bees on sticks (7)
The fall had made them sick
A man with butterflies on his face
His brother threw acid in his face
His tattoos were screwed
The streets of Soho did reverberate
With drunken Highland men
Revenge for Culloden dead (8)
The North had rose again
But it would turn out wrong
The North will rise again

So R. Totale dwells underground
Away from sickly blind
With ostrich head-dress
Face a mess, covered in feathers
Orange-red with blue-black lines
That draped down to his chest
Body a tentacle mess
And light blue plant-heads (9)
TV showed Sam Chippendale (10)
No conception of what he'd made
The Arndale had been razed
Shop staff knocked off their ladders
Security guards hung from moving escalators

And now that is said
Tony seized the control
He built his base in Edinburgh
Had on his hotel wall
A hooded friar on a tractor  (11)
He took a bluey and he called Totale
Who said, "the North has rose again
But it will turn out wrong
When I was in cavalry
I vowed to defend
All of the English clergy
Though they have done wrong
And the Fall has begun
This has got out of hand
I will go for foreign aid"

But he, Tony, laughed down the phone
Said "Totale go back to bed
The North has rose today
And you can stuff your aid!
And you can stuff your aid!"




1. "North Will Rise Again." This is a rich and baffling song, but it seems to be about an insurrection in the north of Britain, initially spearheaded by "R. Totale" and subsequently co-opted by slimy businessman "Tony."

From "K-Punk" (Mark Fisher):

"But it is the other long track, ‘N.W.R.A.’, that is the masterpiece. All of the LP’s themes coalesce in this track, a tale of cultural political intrigue that plays like some improbable mulching of T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, H. G. Wells, Dick, Lovecraft and Le Carre. It is the story of Roman Totale, a psychic and former cabaret performer whose body is covered in tentacles. It is often said that Roman Totale is one of Smith’s ‘alter-egos’; in fact, Smith is in the same relationship to Totale as Lovecraft was to someone like Randolph Carter. Totale is a character rather than a persona. Needless to say, he is not a character in the ‘well-rounded’ Forsterian sense so much as a carrier of mythos, an inter-textual linkage between Pulp fragments.

The inter-textual methodology is crucial to pulp modernism. If pulp modernism first of all asserts the author-function over the creative-expressive subject, it secondly asserts a fictional system against the author-God. By producing a fictional plane of consistency across different texts, the pulp modernist becomes a conduit through which a world can emerge. Once again, Lovecraft is the exemplar here: his tales and novellas could in the end no longer be apprehended as discrete texts but as part-objects forming a mythos-space which other writers could also explore and extend.

The form of ‘N.W.R.A.’ is as alien to organic wholeness as is Totale’s abominable tentacular body. It is a grotesque concoction, a collage of pieces that do not belong together. The model is the novella rather than the tale, and the story is told episodically, from multiple points of views, using a heteroglossic riot of styles and tones (comic, journalistic, satirical, novelistic): like ‘Call of Cthulhu’ re-written by the Joyce of Ulysses and compressed into ten minutes.

From what we can glean, Totale is at the centre of a plot – infiltrated and betrayed from the start – which aims at restoring the North to glory (perhaps to its Victorian moment of economic and industrial supremacy; perhaps to some more ancient pre-eminence, perhaps to a greatness that will eclipse anything that has come before). More than a matter of regional railing against the capital, in Smith’s vision the North comes to stand for everything suppressed by urbane good taste: the esoteric, the anomalous, the vulgar sublime, that is to say, the Weird and the Grotesque itself. Totale, festooned in the incongruous Grotesque costume of ‘ostrich head-dress … feathers/orange-red with blue-black lines/…and light blue plant-heads’, is the would-be Faery King of this Weird Revolt who ends up its maimed Fisher King, abandoned like a pulp modernist Miss Havisham amongst the relics of a carnival that will never happen, a drooling totem of a defeated tilt at Social Realism, the visionary leader reduced, as the psychotropics fade and the fervour cools, to being a washed-up cabaret artiste once again."



2. "Junior Choice," originally titled "Children's Favourites," was a BBC radio program that played requests from "children of all ages." The show aired, in one form or another, from 1954 to 1984.  


3. Dan points out that Berlin's U-Bahn (subway) system indeed has, and has long had, yellow trains.


4. This line also appears in "C'n'C-S Mithering" from the same album.


5. The temporality of this section is, probably intentionally, very hard to follow. The speaker, Joe Totale, has not yet been born, and he is speaking of the future death of his father, R. Totale XVII. The younger Totale seems to drop out of the narrative at the point where Smith says "shift!"


6. "RT XVII" is later called "R. Totale." In the following lyrics to the earlier song "In My Area," we learn that Totale's first name is "Roman":

I am Roman Totale XVII
the bastard offspring
of Charles I and the Great God Pan. 

As for "Tony," according to gedge:

"I always imagined that 'buisiness friend' was based on Tony Wilson (co-founder of Factory Records and manager of the Manchester nightclub The Hacienda). I don't know if Wilson and Smith had any kind of relationship, but the confident and condescending tone of the character in the song does remind me of Wilson.


7. The Lyrics Parade has "besom sticks," with the following note: "A besom is a long handled broom with the head made out of pieces of twig lashed together." However, after close listening and much discussion on the Fall online forum, I have concluded that it is "bees on sticks," which is the lyric reproduced in the second Fall lyric book from Lough Press. The heraldic emblem most closely associated with Manchester is a worker bee, which appears on the city's coat of arms, as well as on the University's sealand on the logos of various businesses associated with Manchester (including Boddington ale); thus, "bees on sticks" could refer to a flag or banner, or possibly a cudgel with the city's symbol affixed or emblazoned upon it. At the forum, the besom's most eloquent defender is Grudge Natch, who gives us the following, admirably plausible, explanation:

It's besom!

But out the window burned the roads

This reminded me of ground workers or navies laying roads with boiling hot tarmac (asphalt) which brought me to..


Putting on and spreading the asphalt does not take so long as might be imagined - six or eight men will cover 100 yards of walk, 6 feet broad, in about three hours. After spreading, the walk is then rolled with a heavy roller, two men pulling it slowly along, and one going behind sweeping the asphalt off with a besom as it sticks to the roller, whose duty it is also to wash the roller at the end of each journey. After being rolled for an hour or two until it is middling firm, the walk will be ready for sprinkling with the spar or gravel.

Many Scots and Irish men moved to England particularly London to find work as ground workers. They are the drunken highland men on the lash in Soho after a hard days graft. 

It continues from the industrial theme of the trains on Teeside docks. Besom was still used to clean the roller in the 80's (even now?) as it was from 1901 when tarmacking was invented.

In this context the North rising again is referring to the plentiful work and good wages available for manual labourers at the time harking back to the industrial age of the empire.

However, it seems to me that the uprising described in the song is a violent conflict, and not primarily an economic boom or industrial rennaissance; furthermore, MES clearly seems to say "bees on sticks," particularly on the version from A Part of America, Therein, where there is a short but distinct pause between syllables, and there it does not sound at all like "besom" to my ears at all. In contrast to the many Fall lyrics that seem to make no sense at all, here the problem is that either construal of the words has a more or less plausible explanation; it's feast or famine, I suppose.


8. The Battle of Culloden was the final conflict in the Second Jacobite Rising, an attempt to put the Catholic Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie," also known as "The Young Pretender") on the throne of England and Scotland. At Culloden, Charles' forces were defeated by the armies of the Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland (also known as "Stinking Billy"). This episode also figures in the lyrics of "Backdrop," which is in many ways a sequel to this song.  


9. Again from K-Punk (see note 1): "Although Grotesque is an enigma, its title gives clues. Otherwise incomprehensible references to 'huckleberry masks', 'a man with butterflies on his face' and Totale's 'ostrich headress' and 'light blue plant-heads' begin to make sense when you recognize that, in Parrinder's description, the grotesque originally referred to 'human and animal shapes intermingled with foliage, flowers, and fruits in fantastic designs which bore no relationship to the logical categories of classical art'.

Grotesque, then, would be another moment in the endlessly repeating struggle between a Pulp Underground (the scandalous grottoes) and the Official culture, what Philip K Dick called 'the Black Iron Prison'. Dick's intuition was that 'the Empire had never ended', and that history was shaped by an ongoing occult(ed) conflict between Rome and Gnostic forces. 'Specter versus Rector' ('I've waited since Caesar for this') had rendered this clash in a harsh Murnau black and white ; on Grotesque the struggle is painted in colours as florid as those used on the album’s garish sleeve (the work of Smith's sister)."



10. Sam Chippendale was a real estate agent who put up the Arndale Centres, the first big shopping malls in Britain.


11. Dan makes the Scotland connection: "Worth noting that Friar Tuck is a character in Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe. Tuck is depicted in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh." The tractor is a little more intractable, so to speak. 



Comments (23)

Lee Thacker
  • 1. Lee Thacker (link) | 12/08/2013
Regarding these lines:
A man with butterflies on his face
His brother threw acid in his face
His track shoes were screwed

I'm pretty sure it's 'tattoos' not 'track shoes', the butterflies on his face (tattooed) getting screwed up by the acid. I also remember Bernard Sumner commenting/quoting on how hilarious he thought this lyric was in an interview long ago.

Great site!
  • 2. dannyno | 08/07/2014
Lee Thacker is correct: it's "tattoos were screwed", not track shoes
Joseph Mullaney
  • 3. Joseph Mullaney | 06/08/2014
I'm pretty sure it's `she had a way with people like that'.
Joseph Mullaney
  • 4. Joseph Mullaney | 06/08/2014
Also before 'look where you are' I can hear a muttered `you are mistaken friend'.
Adam O
  • 5. Adam O | 29/08/2014
I could swear that I hear "cavalry" instead of "cabaret". As far as vowing to defend all the English clergy, " cavalry" makes more sense. Not that the more sensical option is always correct, but what would cabaret have to do with defending anyone except for Sondheim fans?
  • 6. bzfgt | 21/09/2014
That's really convincing, Adam, I'll have to listen to it.
  • 7. bzfgt | 21/09/2014
It's hard to tell but I like it better, I'll go with it for now.
  • 8. dannyno | 19/11/2014
"When I was in cavalry
I vowed to defend
All of the English clergy"

Makes me think of Oliver Cromwell....
  • 9. dannyno | 22/12/2014
Beesticks/bee-sticks are also used in artificial pollination, for example of brassicas:
Max Williams
  • 10. Max Williams | 07/01/2015
I think that "cabaret" makes as much sense in context as "cavalry", ie not much. But it does sound more like "cabaret". In the Chicago Tuts live recording he sings "I've been in cabaret, but I ain't seen the light till today" for this line. I'd thought previously that it might be "calvary" which does at least pertain to the clergy but still seems weird. I vote "cabaret".
Hugo Lane
  • 11. Hugo Lane | 16/05/2015
For what it is worth. Since first listen after buying "Grotesque" back in 1982 I always heard it as "cavalry," but always assumed it was meant to be Calvary.
  • 12. Paul | 13/08/2015
I always thought it was 'but he, Tony, laughed down the phone'.
  • 13. bzfgt | 25/08/2015
OK, Listening to it now. One thing I noticed, "away from sickly blind," not "grind"...
  • 14. bzfgt | 25/08/2015
Yes, "Tony." Definitely.
  • 15. dannyno | 20/12/2015
"He built his base in Edinburgh
Had on his hotel wall
A hooded friar on a tractor"

Worth noting that Friar Tuck is a character in Walter Scott's novel "Waverley". Tuck is depicted in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh.

If you're looking for connections between friars and Edinburgh, this would seem to be a plausible one. But a friar on a tractor? No idea.
  • 16. bzfgt | 23/12/2015
I changed it to Ivanhoe as that's the novel your Wikipedia link identifies as having the Tuck character. Let me know if this is in error.
  • 17. dannyno | 23/12/2015
Yes, sorry, that got a bit mangled. "Ivanhoe" is one of Scott's Waverley novels, and that's what I had meant to say.
  • 18. duncan | 17/08/2016
it's "teesside", please. two Ss. fab site otherwise.
  • 19. bzfgt | 25/08/2016
Got it, but I assume you're not correcting the capitalized first letter? And thank you!
  • 20. dannyno | 08/04/2017
"The West German Government
Had brought over large yellow trains on Teesside docks"

Berlin's underground train network has long had yellow trains...
  • 21. dannyno | 14/06/2017
From the Grotesque press release:

A long tale, supposedly objective. In which J. Totale describes the death of his father - a very personal thing - but necessary and to the good. R.T.XVII has a heart attack on the last note.
  • 22. gedge | 08/08/2017
I always imagined that 'buisiness friend' was based on Tony Wilson. I don't know if Wilson and Smith had any kind of relationship, but the confident and condescending tone of the character in the song does remind me of Wilson.
  • 23. duncandisorderly (link) | 02/09/2017
another vote here for tony being anthony h wilson, dead these ten years & still missed, co-founder of factory records & also a well-known tv presenter in the north-west.

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