There are things I want to do, goes the opening line on Teenage Fanclub‘s evergreen Alcoholiday. But I don’t know if they will be with you…
When, back in April, the greatest band of the last 25 or so years (and I’m up for a fight if you disagree) announced a run of shows to mark the re-release of their Creation Records era, only the quickest off the mark were fortunate to bag the recession-friendly season ticket deal. The rest of us – myself included – had to make do with the scramble for individual tickets, a moderately costly affair when taking into account the surprising but welcome “me too!” from both Mrs POP and daughter. Night 2 was the wallet-buster for me, but as it would turn out, a priceless one also.
What was initially billed as a celebration of the band’s glory years turned into something else entirely when, out of the blue, founding Fanny Gerry Love announced he was leaving the band. Social media was filled with tear-soaked declarations and outpourings of grief. The world briefly stopped spinning on its axis. Candles were lit. Posters torn down. Records (yer original Creation pressings, natch – those re-releases were still in production) were spun. The only thing missing was a digital book of condolence. It seemed that Teenage Fanclub fans were just Take That fans in denim and desert boots. “Gerry! No! How could you?!?” scans just as easily as “Robbie! No! How could you?!?” does it not?
The three shows were marvellous. I say this as a veteran of Teenage Fanclub shows since 1990. They were right up there as some of the best TFC shows I’ve seen; King Tuts dressed in Elvis impersonator gear around Christmas of ’91, the Grand Ole Opry show in ’97 (?) and the Bandwagonesque revisted show from 12 years ago where, as they did this week, they played 2 excellent sets on the same night.
The triptych of shows this week featured Bandwagonesque and Thirteen on Monday night, Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain on Tuesday before Howdy! and a set of rarely-played b-sides brought the proceedings to a clanging close on Wednesday. Five albums played in chronological order plus a set of Fanclub curios. 75 songs all in, as Norman announced before the final song on Wednesday. It’s no wonder that the bulk of the crowd was made up of the same folk each night. This was more one big gig with a few hours sleep between sets than 3 individual shows. In football parlance, Monday night was the first half, Tuesday the second, with extra time on Wednesday.
The re-released albums have seen much reappraisal for the old stuff. Thirteen in particular has gained real favour amongst the band’s faithful. Originally considered a mis-fire between the long-haired riffing on Bandwagonesque and the classicism of Grand Prix, it’s now seen as the equal of those early albums, the second one in in a 4 album run the equal of Bowie, The Beatles and all the very best. Played hot on the heels of a fizzing Bandwagonesque – highlights undoubtedly being a trippy Star Sign, the world-weary heavy sigh of Alcoholiday and a crystaline Guiding Star that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Velvet Underground And Nico – the tracks from Thirteen fired and fizzed, little napalm bombs of amped-up pop. Back on drums for the night, band jester Brendan O’Hare mimicked a heart attack as he worked his way into the count for the frantic knee tremble of Radio. Escher and Fear Of Flying ramped up mid-set proceedings, 1800 sillhouted heads bobbing in time to the steady throb coming from the stage. It’s the set closer though that sends everyone home on a high. Gene Clark has steadily become the hidden gem in the Fanclub’s stellar back catalogue; a chugging, riffing Neil Young workout named after The Byrds erstwhile maverick with Raymond McGinley pulling sounds from his guitar that J Mascis would willingly give his strumming hand for. To paraphrase Nigel Tuffnell, it’s all about the sustain, man.
Night two was more of the same. If early TFC is the sound of a band skirting around its influences in an attempt to nail a definitive sound then Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain are the Rubber Soul and Revolver of the band’s ouvre; essential, defining and destined to still be spinning centuries from now. Everything; the playing, the singing, the writing stepped up a gear. “It’s the album where we started using capos, for fuck’s sake!” relays Norman as the band ease their way in to Don’t Look Back, a song that has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Don’t Look Back manages to be both melancholic and uplifting, Gerry’s lamenting vocals giving way to terrific three part harmonies from Blake, McGinley and a moonlighting Francis MacDonald who’s given the drum stool to Paul Quinn for the night while he augments the swell of sound from the stage with all manner of keys and stringed instruments. Is there any finer sight in music than when the principal members of Teenage Fanclub step up to their respective microphones and let forth their honeyed tones? Clearly, that’s a rhetorical question. A massive, riffing Neil Jung and a killer Going Places are the pick of a particularly bountiful first set.
When they return twenty minutes later – on paper this would appear quite a short break but the Fanclub demographic – more Middleaged Manclub – is such that the queues for the gents’ is longer than the solo on the aforementioned Neil Jung and mild panic sets in until needs are met – the band launches into what is arguably their finest sety of songs. Start Again. Ain’t That Enough. I Don’t Want Control Of You. Planets. Take The Long Way Round. Speed Of Light. It’s an obscenely rich set of songs, expertly played as faithfully as the recorded versions. By the end of night two I’m emotionally drained. My ankles are also the size of average-sized Ayrshire smallholdings, again another side effect of the Middleaged Manclub and given that I’ll be back for the next night, a self-inflicted by-product of attending three shows in a row.
Howdy! has also benefited from positive reappraisal. It signals the band’s autumnal years, where pace slowed, hair regressed and the comfort of a trouser was more important than the cut of the trouser. Love’s songs (again) may well be the pick of the bunch. I Need Direction with its spiralling riff and Hammond-heavy break. Near You‘s electric frug. The Town And The City, all woo-whoos and 60s sunshine pop. A groovy Cul De Sac that points the way towards Gerry’s Lightships project. Every one a crucial component in making the set as enjoyable as the previous two nights, something I might’ve considered impossible had I not been there.
It’s the second set that has the Fanclub fanclub all in a tizzy. It’s the only set of the shows that remains a mystery, so when they emerge and ease into Norman’s misty-eyed Did I Say, expectations are high for a set of rarities, curios and lesser-played gems from years gone by. No-one is disappointed. Long-forgotten b-sides Thaw Me, The Shadows, Some People Try To Fuck With You and a terrific The Count (where, in classic Fanclub style, the band members struggle to end it together) all pop up, totally unexpected and greeted like returning heroes. He’d Be A Diamond flies past, a sugar-coated rush of pop harmonies and ringing guitars. Then we get Broken. Stuck on the b-side of Ain’t That Enough, Broken was a track that waited patiently for the world to catch up. It’s a simple song. Wistful guitar plays out the melody. The band yawn and stretch and feel their way into it. Norman repeats the same line over and over and over and over again until the band fade out to silence. The Barrowlands crowd continue singing softly until Norman smiles and we stop. It’s now a folk song, our song, the unofficial anthem on the night when Gerry played his last Glasgow show. Brendan is in tears. His heart has been broken again. We get one more song – the 75th – and Gerry leads the band through a ragged rousing take on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Older Guys, Norman providing enthusiastic woo-hoo-hoos above Raymond’s effortless Fender bending.
Suddenly it’s over. House lights go up slightly. The crowd cheers for more. The stage crew appears. Lights go down. The crew hang back. Whispers of Everything Flows and God Knows It’s True find their way between the bootstomps and cat whistles. Guitar George cuts across the stage carrying Gerry’s bass. He stops stage centre and shrugs apologetically. The crew come on and start dismantling equipment. The lights go up. There are more than a few boos, directed at whoever decided there’d be no encore, be that the management, the promoter or the band themselves. A slight tarnish on what was an extraordinary set of shows. To use football parlance again, everything but the penalty shoot out but a brilliant home win.
Teenage Fanclub – Broken