Frontman, Norman Blake, sheds light on the band’s 34-year career
On 22nd September, Scottish band Teenage Fanclub will release its 13th studio album, Nothing Lasts Forever.
“You start to lose count,” says Norman Blake, one of the band’s founders. “The fact that we’re still doing it 34 years after the first one is amazing.”
So what can we expect from this latest offering?
“If you like our music you’ll recognise what we’re doing, it’s familiar territory. There are no radical departures but hopefully, lyrically, people can relate to the songs. Certainly, people of a certain demographic will because a lot of the songs are about mortality in many ways. I think that’s just a reflection of where we are as people because when we write songs, we tend to write about the world and our place in it. It’s our take on life.”
Co-incidentally, there is a recurring theme of light streaming through the album.
“Myself and Raymond write songs for the band and we discovered that three or four songs referenced light. There’s only so much imagery that you can use to try and express a feeling or an emotion and in a way light and dark and shade are terms that can be used to express a lot of emotions. Maybe that’s part of why they keep cropping up in the songs.”
Light also played a part in the making of the video for the single ‘Tired of Being Alone’, this time, in the form of a lighthouse.
“We happened to be playing a show in Norway in a place called Egersund… and I was aware of the Vibberodden Lighthouse. We needed a video for the song and we also knew that our friend and photographer, Donald Milne, was going to be there too. So we had this amazing location to try and capture something, it’s quite a stunning landscape.”
Indeed it is. In fact, it’s worth watching the video for the scenery alone. The same can be said of the video for the lead track, ‘Foreign Land’, albeit for a different kind of backdrop.
“We filmed it at the Mausoleum in Hamilton. Built by the Duke of Hamilton, it was to be his final resting place. His descendants were entombed there as well. It’s not too far from where I grew up and I was aware that they did tours. It’s amazing inside, so we got in touch… and they hired it to us. It’s quite incredible. It’s a really beautiful building, really ornate.”
(Norman tells me that the remains have since been moved and buried in a different place. He also recommends a tour if anyone is ever in the area.)
When it came to recording the new album, the band chose a more familiar location.
“We recorded it in Monmouth in a place called Rockfield, a famous studio where ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was written. We became really good friends with the family who run the studio… a guy called Kingsley Ward. It was the first residential studio in the world in the early 70s. It’s an environment that’s conducive to making good work so we like to go back there from time to time.”
I ask Norman if he has a favourite track on the album.
“Yes… I wish could remember what it’s called!”
He laughs at his own forgetfulness then fills the silence while he searches for the track listing.
“It’s the last track on the LP. It was written by Raymond… it’s a lovely song, there’s just something special about it for me.”
Raymond McGinley was joint founder of Teenage Fanclub and shares the songwriting responsibilities with Norman.
“It’s called ‘I Will Love You’,” Norman finally confirms. “It has a slow build but the lyrical sentiment’s amazing and musically it develops in a really nice way. I think it’s a great way to close the album.”
He admits that modesty prevented him from choosing one of his own songs but his admiration of this particular track is genuine. As is his affection and respect for his fellow bandmates Frances MacDonald, Dave McGowan and Euros (pronounced Erros) Childs.
“You have to get on with each other,” Norman says when I ask about the band’s longevity. “It’s good if you’re all happy campers and everyone’s in a good place.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to Teenage Fanclub’s success than happy band members, as Norman concedes.
“I think maybe not over exposing yourself and not trying to do too much too quickly. Also, you have to really pay attention to try and make sure that you can make good albums. It sounds really obvious but that’s where it all starts. We’ve been lucky over the years, we’ve had really good reviews and I think that’s because we spend a lot of time working on records. You have to do your best to write good songs.”
The line-up has changed more than once since the band’s formation in the late 80s but Norman still has some fabulous memories from those early years.
“We got to do some amazing things. We played at CBGBs in Manhattan. We toured with Nirvana on their Nevermind Tour across Europe. It was amazing to witness that phenomenon… it really mushroomed as the tour progressed. It was good to hang-out with those guys and watch them play. My favourite memories of touring are working with other bands. We toured with Radiohead on their OK Computer Tour as well in America. Again, witnessing a kind of phenomena, it was really exciting.”
Being able to travel so much is, Norman admits, one of the biggest perks of the job.
“You get to become a bit of a globe trotter if you’re lucky, and we have been lucky. We’ve been to Japan ten times, maybe more. We’ve been to Australia. It feels like a privilege to have been able to do that. It’s been fun.”
And 34 years on, is it still fun?
“When you’ve been doing this for as long as we have, you still really want it to be fun. It would be awful if it was a slog, but it’s not, we’re still as thrilled and excited to make new records and tour. It’s still as exciting as it was the first time to see the vinyl with the little grooves in it.”
Norman is equally excited to be returning to Glasgow on 5th November for a gig at Tramway Theatre. Perhaps not the most obvious of venues?
“When you tour, you tend to end up playing the same venues. So we thought it would be nice to play somewhere a little different. We did a couple of theatre shows in our last tour and we really enjoyed them. And the other thing is… everyone can see what’s going on. If you’re in a theatre, everyone can get a decent view. And the sound tends to be really good in theatres.”
With 13 dates in the UK alone, in addition to gigs in Europe, Hong Kong and Australia, I can’t help but ask if the physical side of touring is more of a challenge these days.
“The older you get when you tour, you look after yourself a bit more. When you’re younger you’re more hedonistic and you can take it. You still get an adrenalin rush when you play.When you’re older, you take it more seriously and become more professional because you just burn out if you don’t. And you’re travelling to all these great cities… you’ve got a great opportunity to go and have a look around so you should take it.”
Talking of great cities, Norman shares a special memory from a trip to LA.
“Back in the early days, maybe 1993, we were in Los Angeles staying at the Hyatt Hotel. We had an American manager at the time and were standing in the lobby with him. I looked over at the elevator and saw Little Richard. Our manager said: ‘I know him, do you wanna meet him?’ We were introduced… Little Richard turned round to me and he shook my hand vigorously and said: ‘Teenage Fanclub from Scotland? Coooool’. That was quite something. He was on tour with Buddy Holly, he started rock ‘n’ roll, so that was amazing.”
Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll… Teenage Fanclub has been labelled with various different genres over the years. I ask Norman how he would describe their style of music.
“That’s the $64,000 question! I suppose it’s melodic rock music, or, without being too pretentious, you could call it pop classicism.”
Call it whatever you like, it works!
For tour tickets: www.teenagefanclub.com/live
For a tour of Hamilton Mausoleum: