TEENAGE FANCLUB FEATURE
pathy in the UK. Out of the peripheral urban Lanarkshire it came, underachieve- ment as a way of life for the (non) aspirant rocker. The procedure was all mapped out for the twenty or so (non)-illuminaries who came out of the Bellshill Fertile Crescent: Get a Pastels or Dinosaur Jr T-shirt, play in several bands, swap your drummers a couple of times, form ‘fun’ groups who become better than your ‘serious’ combo, play a series of ramshackle gigs, sign to Creation for a couple of months, fade into obscurity, swap personnel again, grow your hair long, you can’t go wrong . . . Such is the unceasing pattern of life for these people. a rhythmic ebb and flow that has been going on since, oh 1985 at least.
Sojust where did Teenage Fanclub make their big mistake? Somewhere along the line, this slack easy-going self-deprecating foursome strayed from the well-trodden path of couldn’t give a toss failure. Their last album Bandwagonesque sold 200,000 copies in America, and more pertinently was a collection of assured meaty pop vignettes with nary a weak track. After the typical Bellshill laziness of their Catholic Education debut (a couple of strokes of genius padded out with empty- headed riffmg and unformed compositions). and the disposable contractual obligation drabness of The King, Bandwagonesquc was dangerously close to Success with a capital $. Right now there’s little doubt that Teenage Fanclub are by some distance Scotland’s Best Group — whatever that means.
Which seems kind of scary for Norman Blake. The closest thing you’ll find to a frontman in this overtly democratic bunch (they all sing on occasion, they all crack feeble ifengaging gags, and swap instruments often), Blake is doing his best to confound expectations that Teenage Fanclub are about to become a big deal.
‘I don’t know why things should change,’ he says, sipping Red Stripe with a white wine chaser backstage after a gig in Oban that was a palpable demonstration that Teenage Fanclub most certainly weren’t about to go all slick, professional and detached. ‘We are happy staying in Glasgow. We don’t aspire to be pop stars, we just want to make loads of LPs. Nothing huge. People in America got carried away after the Nirvana thing. Gary Gersh the A and R guy who signed us had also signed Nirvana. They sold 9 million so there was this
idea that if they pushed the Fanclub we could maybe sell a million or whatever. I hope that’s died down.’
Which presumably would allow the Fanclub foursome to get back to what they like best. ‘We all drink in the Griffin,’ he says, ‘with the other groups who all know Stephen Pastel. It’s fairly incestuous.’ Slight understatement there Norm. ‘OK, I sang on the new Pastels record. But that’s good, they’re friends and I like their music. I don’t really feel an affinity with many other groups in this country. Maybe My Bloody Valentine and a few others. but not many.’
It’s to America that Teenage Fanclub and their legion of contemporaries, imitators and fellow travellers gaze, with a slavish adoration for anything related to seminal Seattle grunge label Sub Pop. Teenage Fanclub’s debt to Big Star (early 70$ Yank losers fronted by Alex Chilton, a kind of Memphis Vic Godard) has been mentioned on tediously numerous occasions, but the Fanclub sound owes as much to the perkily daft melodies of Jonathan Richman or even the Beatles as it does to any bunch of transatlantic cool noise-merchants.
IT WAS the Americans who latched on to their appeal first though, much to the UK’s shame and Blake’s bemusement. ‘Our first record over there was on this independent label this guy had started up attached to this fanzine called Conﬂict which is really inﬂuential. Don’t know whether it should be but it is. So he started raving about us in this fanzine, and that’s how we took off in America, and it was partly the Scottishness as well.’
The band’s Caledonian roots seemingly proved irresistible to the Stateside indie-kids much as an earlier bunch of moptops’ Scouse charm had wowed the teenyboppers. ‘The Americans think it’s charming 1 think,’ says Blake. “You’re Scaddish”, they’ll say, “is that next to Holland? Do you guys speak English?” lt’s bizarre, but it’s helped us in some ways. We were invited to the New Music Seminar in New York. We got this mad Aer Lingus flight, said we were going on a holiday because we didn’t have work permits or stuff. We got there, slept in this guy’s office, went down to Times Square to pick up the
‘Right now there's little doubt that Teenage Fanclub are by some
distance Scotland's Best Group - whatever that means.’
security laminates and got this “Wow Teenage Fanclub, you guys are really cool, everybody’s talking about you” stuff. This crazy buzz had been created. We did a show at CBGB’s the next night and it was sold out, completely packed. We probably weren’t even that good but we got all these mad reviews.’
Equally mad reviews followed in the UK, although the London music press tended to flog a rather less affectionate image of Scots loose in the capital. ‘lt’s almost a cliché,’ says Blake. ‘1 think there were a lot of misconceptions that we couldn’t play and we drank a lot. We are still fairly ropy sometimes but we’re not that incompetent. When we first played in London it was at the Falcon in Camden, this tiny dive. After the soundcheck there was nowhere to go so we just sat in the pub and got drunk from about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So by the time we got on stage we were fairly well gone. But we werejust a tiny band down for a laugh more than anything. Of course it turns out there was a guy in the audience who wrote a review talking about these drunken Scots and their jocularity, which we found fairly offensive actually. We had to live that down at every gig we did and we don’t drink before we play now. You can’t do it, for me it’s physically impossible.’
That said, Teenage Fanclub haven’t made too concerted an effort to censor the pissing about. The onstage banter and joshing a-plenty, usually led by drummer Brendan, is all very amiable. but further evidence that these guys aren’t exactly over-blessed in the ruthless ambition department. Then again perhaps their laid-back languor is the secret of their success. An unquestioned talent for writing life-affirmineg infectious three-minute paeans to Metal Babies, Alcoholidays, Star Signs and Radios hasn’t yet been dulled by their aw-shucks attitude. Maybe they’re more calculated than Blake’s letting on.
THEIR NEW album, scheduled for release in September, is the result of a painfully long spell in the studio, four months at Cheadle Hulme in Manchester (where the computer
consoles reputedly got more attention than the ’
mixing desk) and a similar spell in Glasgow.
‘We don’t like to work that way,’ Blake admits. ao-
The List l6—29 Julyiétn 11