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To Bellshill and back

After a series of inspired, but frequently lazy, jam sessions, Teenage Fanclub return with a

proper studio album, strings and all. Singer NORMAN BLAKE tells Alastair Mabbott how they got their shit together.

0 how many great albums have Teenage Fanclub actually made?

There’s no question that they’re a great band three talented songwriters with an unshakeable grip on classic pop melodies; blissful live sets that make even the largest of venues seem like intimate Clubs but only Bandwangest/lie has really captured them at their best.

Their debut, A Catholic Education, brought them fame almost overnight. but the fact that it contained the heart-melting classic ‘Everything Flows’ tends to obscure its essentially scrappy nature. And you can always tell the poseurs among the Fanclub audience. reckons the newly-hirsute Norman Blake, because they’re the ones who say that the contractual obligation fiasco The King is their favourite Fannies album. Dolts. Mind you, it’s got some competition from the newly-released Deep Fried Fanclub. a compilation of tracks from singles that shows them at their laziest and least inspired. The List gave it a decisive thumbs-down last issue. ‘Oh. that’s okay, that’s fine.’ says Norman. cheerily.

The pluckily-named Thirteen. from last year. was where Teenage Fanclub’s rock ran aground. If you go along with popular consensus. that is. By the standards of most white-boy guitar bands, it’s pretty fine. But cracks at the mid-way

point are ominous signs of the total collapse of

the album just as the winning post is in sight. This decline. says Norman. parallels the circumstances of the recording sessions.

‘It took us eight months to make.‘ he sighs. ‘and we were all over the place. basically writing the songs as we were going along. We

didn’t get it together at all. The group was really fragmenting at that point. We weren‘t really playing together. The thing that saved us in a sense was when we toured the record after that. We went to America. Japan and Australia and it was really good. a really successful tour.‘

That fragmentation was arrested by the departure of drummer Brendan O’Hare to his own band. Telstar Ponies. and the arrival of Paul Quinn. ex-Soup Dragons drummer. Norman thinks they‘re a lot more focused now. ‘a lot tighter as a band‘. which is probably the last thing your former drummer would like to hear.

So you thought you‘d got Teenage Fanclub sussed‘.’ Well. their forthcoming album. (self- deprecating pun alert!) Grand Prir. may make you think again. The opening tracks lull the unwary into thinking that it’s Bum/ii'agollmque Part III. with all the familiar elements of the Fanclub sound present and correct. But it soon becomes apparent that the band have broadened their scope considerably.

It’s their most grown-up album so far, with

‘I like The Beatles they are influences, and it they’re really apparent I suppose it’s fair enough.’

more acoustic-based songs and. as the new single Mellow Doubt suggests. a mellower vibe. And in much the same way that the spirit of Big Star was ever-present on Bandwagonesqu. the chord changes and vocal harmonies on Grand Prix betray the band’s love of The Beatles. Norman sounds at his most McCartney-ish on the piano-based ‘Tears'. which also boasts strings. a brass section and the immortal line 'You 're no sucker/So don 't blow it '.

In their maturity. the Fanclub are turning in their most ambitious arrangements. The secret of their new-found professionalism. Norman explains. is that the band took the unprecedented step (don’t laugh) of rehearsing for three months before going into the studio in stark contrast to their previous method. which involved running through the songs a few times before marching

into the studio and recording them. as often as not. in an entirely inappropriate tempo.

Their choice of producer was crucial. David Bianco. who is George (Black Crowes, Jayhawks. Primal Scream) Drakoulis’ engineer. and whom the band met when he was working on Frank Black’s Teenager Of The Year. was trying to establish himself as a producer away from Drakoulis’ shadow. He encouraged the band to put more effort into their arrangements and refused to indulge their lack of discipline.

‘lt was funny, ’cause he’s semi- confrontational. He can give you a hard time if he thinks you can do something better. which we’d never experienced before. But it’s good when someone says. I think you can do that a lot better. and maybe goes in a bit of a huff with you.‘

Does it trouble him that people always seem to talk about Teenage Fanclub in terms of their influences‘.’ No Bandwagonesque review was complete without a reference to Big Star and now. with Grand Prix, they’re bound to have their reverence for The Beatles flung back at them.

‘l’m not really bothered. I like The Beatles,’ he protests. ‘they are influences, and if they’re really apparent I suppose it’s fair enough. But we’ve never intentionally tried to take off a specific Beatles song or a specific Big Star song. We’ve never been sued by Alex Chilton!’

He’s amused that the royalties for the new Elastica single are to be split 60/40 in The Stranglers’ favour. and that Wire are to get a share of Elastica’s earnings too. It makes that whole fuss about Big Star seem pretty small beer

‘Actually,’ says Norman. always in tune with the times, ‘we’re recording a Radio One session and we’re going to do a Wire song, “Outdoor Miner”. That just seems to be the thing to do these days.’ D Teenage Fanclub play The Ferry on Wed 29, The Volcano on Thurs 30 and King Tut’s on Fri 31 (all Glasgow ). Grand Prix is released in May.

18 The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995