Beyond the shadows of Glasgow
FANCLUB OPTIONAL: “We only ever wanted to make a record,” says Norman Blake (right). “That was success for us.”
Teenage Fanclub singer/guitarist Norman Blake has finally left the unlikely European pop-music center of Glasgow that he helped build. It was a mere generation ago that Scottish singers like Donovan had to pack their guitar cases full of baubles and move to London in order to make it in the music business, but after eight proper albums with the Glasgow-based band (who come to Royale this Saturday), Blake has left the Highlands for reasons that run a lot deeper than music. Like a domestic life. Last year, he relocated to Kitchener, Ontario, with his Canadian wife and family, and now his worries run to things like bees coming out of the bottom of his house.
"It's a bit disconcerting," he says, in a Scottish brogue so thick, you could shave with it. The accent isn't what hits you in the simple sincerity of Teenage Fanclub's music — but you might hear the sounds of summer turning into autumn, the voices of close friends, and maybe even the buzzing of Mother Nature cooking up something a little special.
Now in his mid 40s, Blake is half fanatic and half doctor of philosophy when it comes to the Glaswegian scene where he started the band with Gerard Love (bass/vocals) and Raymond McGinley (guitar/vocals) more than 20 years ago. "Here is me as a teenager listening to the Buzzcocks and all this punk rock, and loving it actually, but not being allowed to listen to any other records because of peer pressure. Then along come Orange Juice [in 1980], and for a start, they base themselves in Glasgow, and they say, 'Well, we don't have to move to London to have a label, we can make records here in Glasgow.' The other thing that they did is that they said, 'We love punk rock and we love the DIY æsthetic, but we also love Chic and Al Green and Sly & the Family Stone and the Buffalo Springfield.' For me, I never really had the opportunity to listen to any of that music, so it was liberating in that way."
Soon after their 1989 debut single, "Everything Flows" (now the opening track on the forthcoming Matador 25th-anniversary box set), the "Fannies" began establishing the special brand of pen-and-paper songwriting that would hit its commercial peak with 1991's Don Fleming–produced Bandwagonesque. Blake remembers exactly how Teenage Fanclub found their voice at a time when classic pop-chord progressions and harmonies were uncool. "Don said to us, 'Look, you guys are good at doing harmonies, and not many people are even doing that nowadays. Everyone is making noise records at the moment.' So basically we took his advice! Don gave us the confidence to focus more on the melody and not so much on the sonic whatever."
: Music Features
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