A Night With Meme Rap Geezers The Northern Boys
In a world of desensitization and saturation, it’s genuinely hard to be properly speechless anymore. All it takes, apparently, is a sweary rap single by three retired teachers from the north of England. “Don’t wanna fall in love, I just wanna get fucked,” Norman Pain of the Northern Boys raps to open debut single “Party Time,” a song which went viral on YouTube and TikTok last year and has launched the most unlikely of careers. Ray, alongside Patrick Karneigh Jr (AKA PKJ) and a man simply known as Kev, rap about taking unholy amounts of drugs, shagging, and their aging bodies.
Part of the Sindhu World collective – also home to fellow viral elderly British rappers Pete & Bas – the Northern Boys deal in shock value, both in their existence as a trio of men in their seventies as well as their jaw-droppingly brazen and profane lyrics. “Do you wanna make love to a sad old man?” goes the hook of “Party Time,” distilling their odd but alluring appeal.
Across their four songs so far, they have taught us about consent (“Can I spaff on your booblays? Feel free to say no”) and mental wellness (“I’m not used to these kinds of mental health issues, I just wanna live in a church and find peace upon my brain”), and rode for the trans community (“One time for the ladies / One time for the men / One time for everyone in between, yeah you’ve gotta love them!”), with bars outlandish and hilarious enough to become staple in-jokes of friendship groups. Lyrics go from vulgar (“Wank myself with a single finger, Captain Hook”) to hilarious (“Having a gangbang to Jackson Five”) to weirdly moving and vulnerable (“Do you want a back rub? / Do you wanna die? / Do you wanna catch up? Do you wanna cry?”).
At the dingy EartH venue in Dalston, east London this weekend, the Northern Boys stepped into the real world at the final date of their first big tour of the UK. The show was less a gig and more of a messy University club night. Bachelor parties started mosh pits to Limp Bizkit songs before the show began, and the between-song banter was pantomime-worthy. It’s always a gamble bringing something formed from virality and the internet into an IRL environment, but the whole tour sold out and there appears both fascination and adoration towards these three entirely unselfconscious men from a thousand feral Londoners all less than half their age.
Some people dull enough to turn three old blokes rapping about drugs into a conversation about authenticity have argued that the Northern Boys are simply a marketing exercise, and that their lyrics and raps are written and sung by others. Any idea of the trio not being rap fans was rubbished when PKJ and Norman opened the show with a pair of solo sets, performing truly terrible music very earnestly, and though the miming accusation is largely accurate, it feels deeply unimportant to the overall enjoyment of the band. During Patrick’s set, he spoke with genuine excitement about Snoop Dogg having heard his song, before singing solemnly about his late twin brother Roy Karneigh.
As is often the case, the funnier and more outrageous something is, the more disarming it can be when the serious stuff hits. About a minute into their video for new single “Sexy Train,” the music cuts and you see Norman throwing up outside London Euston train station. A message then pops up to reveal that he was rushed to hospital during the video shoot and doctors found liver damage and a serious blood clot. A few seconds later though, he’s back in the same spot, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and rapping “hop, skip, jiggle my prick!”. The genuine precarity of these guys’ existence makes their lyrics both more touching (“I feel ill, but I know it’s not my time,” Norman raps on a solo track) and hysterical (“I’ve gotta make love slow ‘cause my leg’s in a brace,” says Patrick on “Sexy Train”).
Kev, meanwhile, suffers from dementia (“He says hi and forgets he met ya!” Patrick raps on “Sexy Train”) and his entire role in the band is to wear a suit and (gran)dad dance as his mates sing about sticking their dicks into salsa. One of the things that brings Kev back to himself, his bandmates said during the show, is dancing the jive, so two girls are brought on stage to shuffle and twirl with their internet hero. He looked absolutely delighted.
By the time the short set finished, a film director who is over from LA to make a documentary about the Northern Boys was topless on stage, Patrick was wearing a skirt, the lyric “call me grandad ‘cause I fucked your nan” has become anthemic, and everyone in attendance was far less inhibited than when they arrived. In an exceedingly miserable time to exist in the UK – the reasons are too plentiful and depressing to list – witnessing this trio living their absolute best lives, “raising a glass to the gays and the bi’s and the trans and the girls and the big bald men” and embracing their demise, whenever it may come, feels genuinely meaningful. This is how retirement planning – and life, really – should be done.