Star Star Light Star Bright She’s A Star It’s Written In The Stars Superstar Shine Like Stars Starry Starry Night Star Maker California Stars Co Stars Starry Eyes Baby I’m A Star Starman Lady Stardust Ziggy Stardust The Prettiest Star Black Star Lost Star New Star Stars Are Strong Strange News From Another Star Star Sign GUIDING STAR Star Of Bethlehem Wishing On A Star Thank Your Lucky Stars Star 69 Star Me Kitten Star Sailor Star Shaped My Dark Star Little Star Near Star Pole Star One Bright Star Shooting Star Star Spangled Banner Starmoonsun Your Star Will Shine Star Fucker Morning Star Evening Star Starry Eyes In The Ocean Of The Stars
At this time of year though, one star song shines brightest of all.
Teenage Fanclub – Guiding Star
Guiding Star is the penultimate track on Teenage Fanclub‘s Bandwagonesque and it’s perfect for repeated plays in the run-up to Christmas. It’s ethereal, woozy and melancholic, a dreamy ballad soaked in the strings of sighing cellos – the saddest instrument of all – and brightly ringing, high in the mix jangling 12 string guitars that sound, to these December ears, a bit like sleigh bells.
The triumvirate of songwriters in Teenage Fanclub really began to show their individual strengths around the time of Bandwagonesque; Norman did the uplifting, life-affirming ones – The Concept, Alcoholiday, Raymond did the noisy ones – I Don’t Know and Gerry did the wistful, regretful, heart-tugging ones – chiefly December and Guiding Star.
Time has shown that Gerry’s songs are the ones I probably value just that wee bit more than the others. The benefit of years and years of listening to one of our finest-ever bands still throws up unexpected new things in Gerry’s songs; previously unnoticed fret-spanning bass runs, a nod here and a wink there to a crate-dug 60s sunshine pop obscurio, a rhyming couplet that remained buried for years underneath glorious Fanclub noisepop. He’s a much underrated writer, is Gerry Love.
Guiding Star may be Gerry’s song, but it’s a real band effort in pulling it together. The others give him the spotlight, stepping forward as and when the song requires them. Here comes Norman with those caramelised, high, high, “hey!” harmonies. And here comes Raymond with his pedal board and understated avant gardisms. Those morse code guitar bleeps, firing off little tracers of olde-worlde communication out into the night sky. Stay in touch, they say, you’re my guiding star – you’re my number one.
Then there’s the fuzz guitar in the background, heavily manipulated by Raymond’s slo-mo, divebombing whammy bar, My Bloody Valentine with better manners and cleaner hair.
While all of this plays out, Gerry is singing about Jesus Christ and how he wears his hair and how he walks on air, and the vocal floats magically above the quiet storm below. And then Raymond turns it up another notch and he’s sliding straight into the feedback ‘n sustain solo that carries us to the song’s suddenly fading conclusion. Over and out. Gone.
Wise men used to follow stars. Wise men and women still follow the Teenage Fanclub. Stars of another sort.
Dubiety surrounds the release of Big Star‘s third album, ‘Third’. Was it a true Big Star album in the way #1 Record and Radio City were? Given that the recordings were enhanced by an ever-revolving rotation of session musicians who’d play around the axis of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens – Steve Cropper on the version of the VU’s Femme Fatale, for example, and given that Chilton wrote the lion’s share of the original music, it’s oft been considered the first real Chilton solo album. Studio tracking sheets from the time show references to Sister Lovers (Chilton and Stephens were in relationships with a pair of sisters at the time) which may or may not have been the intended name for the new record, or indeed, a new name for a band far-removed from its original identity. Despite the poor sales of the first two albums though, Ardent were dead keen to market it as a Big Star release and so, with little fuss or fanfare, Third was sent out into the world, Big Star’s ‘difficult’ third album with unfinished songs and little of the sparkling power-pop jangle that dusted the first two.
Big Star – Jesus Christ
Towards the end of side 2 you’ll find Jesus Christ, a mid-paced, straightforward celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. On top of the occasional Spectorish tumbling toms and a honeyed Stax sax break that gives birth to Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, you’ll spot references to angels and stars and Royal David’s City. The song is carried by Chilton’s instantly recognisable guitar style and sound, a welcome relief following the bleak and self explanatory Holocaust that precedes it on the record.
It’s a properly great Christmas tune, uplifting and joyful, yet as far-removed from the normal records that get played ad infinitum in shops, cafes, taxis, bars, wherever at this time of year. Indeed, the only time you’re liable to hear Jesus Christ in the changing rooms at TK Maxx will be from my mouth as I recoil in horror at the ill-fitting shirt from last season’s Katharine Hamnett collection that I struggled to get on and struggled to get off again. Jesus Christ, it was tight. Forgive me father etc etc…
Big Star – Jesus Christ (demo)
Chilton’s demo of Jesus Christ is great. Just Alex and a finely strummed acoustic 12 string, it has all the hallmarks of high watermark Big Star; Chilton’s ad libbed ooh-oohs, cracked, at the end of his range vocals on the high notes and the requisite sparkling jangle. What a great canvas for the other musicians to paint on.
Teenage Fanclub (of course) do a terrific version of Jesus Christ. Released on one of the two CD singles to promote Ain’t That Enough, the lead single from the gold standard Songs From Northern Britain album, TFC were in a rich vein of writing form at the time, firing out guitar-fuelled and harmony-filled songs with ridiculous ease. That Ain’t That Enough was released in June with a cover of an obscure Christmas song as an extra track (the other was a nod and a wink cover of the VU’s Femme Fatale, funnily enough) mattered not a jot. Recorded at perfect head-nodding pace and employing the twin vocals of Norman and Gerry, it’s proper, vintage Fanclub. A heady sheen of fuzzed-at-the-edge electric guitar, a tastefully twangin’ Raymond solo and a heartfelt, sympathetic take on the original make this one of TFC’s best covers.
Teenage Fanclub – Jesus Christ
My job in education has changed in recent years, meaning that nowadays I don’t get to drag my class up to sing a Christmas song in the church. I always liked the challenge of this. It was the one time of year I could put my guitar skills to proper use and I was always on the lookout for a left-of-centre song to tackle. Jesus Christ was one I often considered, but it was forever overlooked in favour of something else.
The arrangement was going to be a full-on Phil Spector epic too; some tinkling pitched percussion at the start, eking out the melody against my plaintive strums, a single voice – probably the quietest girl in the class – singing the opening lines, the whole class coming in on the ‘Jesus Christ was born today! Jesus Christ was born!‘ Then there’s my bit – “MY BIT, BOYS ‘N GIRLS!” – where I do my Alex/Norman run up and down the frets before the second solo voice – this time a boy – “And o! They did rejoice!” brings us back to the whole point of the song.
By the second chorus, the entire group is swaying side to side in time to the guitar’s rhythm. By the third, they’ve added handclaps, like a peely wally west of Scotland gospel choir. They’ve lost most of their self-consciousness by this point too. Jack at the back is still fidgeting with the zip on his school trousers and Chloe, front row and centre, has still to lift her eyes from the rich red carpet in the vestry, but look! One or two of them are even smiling. And I’m in my element, pushing it towards the end.
The chorus is repeated a couple more times before we finish in a blaze of frantically scrubbed acoustics, clashing glockenspiel and rapturous applause from the assembled parents in the pews upstairs. The head teacher, as usual, fails to acknowledge both the effort and the spectacle and we move swiftly on to the next class who shamble their awkward way through Santa Baby to the embarrassment of all in attendance. I miss these times most of all.
Here’s Alex Chilton’s fantastically louche take on TFC’s Alcoholiday. Teenage Fanclub have never hidden their love for all things Chilton-related, but on this tune the gamekeeper turns poacher. He just about steals the show too.
Teenage Fanclub played at Kelvingrove Bandstand last week. It was notable for being their first ‘homecoming’ show since the departure of founding member Gerry Love. Not only was Gerry a fluid bass player and an essential cog in a three-part harmony, he was also the writer of one third of the band’s material. From early highlights such as December and Star Sign, to Radio,Sparky’s Dream and Going Places, Ain’t That Enough and Take The Long Way Round, I Need Direction, Near You and Born Under A GoodSign, as well as Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything right through to Thin Air on most-recent album Here, Gerry’s songs are kingpins in any Teenage Fanclub set.
Arguably, of the band’s three writers, he’s the best. The band’s set on Tuesday was notable for a very large Gerry-sized hole in it and although they’ve chosen to staunchly move forward with the welcome addition of Euros Childs on keys and backing vocals and long-time collaborator Dave McGowan on bass duties, it remains to be seen how things pan out.
Normally I’m flying for a week after a Teenage Fanclub show. I’ve seen them enough times to know a good show when I’ve seen it – the Grand Ole Opry show in 93/94, any number of those early King Tuts shows, the Motherwell show when they started with a new one then threw away the evergreen Everything Flows by playing it second song in, the three Barrowlands gigs late last year – and at will I can replay the best of the set in my mind’s eye. Right now I’m replaying Norman doing the Barry Norman ‘Film…’ theme on the piano at the side of the Ole Opry’s stage while Raymond fiddles in vain with an effect pedal. Since last Tuesday’s Bandstand show though, I’ve felt….nothing. Indeed, I woke up on Wednesday and my first thought wasn’t about the gig the previous night. Until now, that’s never happened and I’m afraid it might be a sign of what’s to come.
If they release a killer album, all will be forgotten. If they rely too much on Raymond’s material, it may well signal the decline of one of our best and most-loved bands.
It’ll also be interesting to see how things go with Gerry. Quietly writing and recording at his own tectonic pace, we may well yet get to hear some of those great old Love songs at one of his shows, where they’d sit perfectly between the choicest of cuts from his Lightships project from a few years back. Imagine the scenario of the Loveless Fanclub going on tour at the same time as a solo Gerry, like splintered factions of an indie Drifters. ‘Norman Blake’s Teenage Fanclub‘ versus ‘Gerry Love Plays Your Favourite Fanclub Tracks‘. It doesn’t bare thinking about.
Pre-Kelvingrove, we were showered with full-force, biblical rain. Real 40 days and 40 nights stuff, it threatened to ruin the gig before we’d even left our shelter under one of the big old oak trees that line the walkway up to the Bandstand. When it lessened to a torrent, we made for the venue where we caught almost all of Nile Marr’s set (very good) and pointed out the superstars of Glasgow’s music scene that littered the audience like a hip double page in a Where’s Wally book while we grooved moistly to the DJ’s tunes that blasted from the PA. I hadn’t heard Sonic Youth‘s Teenage Riot in ages – perhaps last at a TFC show from a few years back, now that I think about it, and in the moment it sounded terrific.
Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot
Teenage Riot has that thing where the beginning is all detuned metallic ambience, liquid mercury that’s longer than Thurston’s ubiquitous fringe and with more holes in the backbeat than on the knees of Lee’s vintage 501s. Played loud it really kicks, Kim’s whisper vying for attention with the occasional click of Steve’s sticks. When it eventually gives way to the ragged chuggalugga signature riff it really gets going. Thurston drawls on about Marshall stacks and needing a teenage riot to get him out of bed, like, now, and those twin Fenders clatter away with wonky chorded cool, arch, knowing and slightly smug but ultimately rockin’. It was the perfect tune to play before the ‘Fanclub hit the stage – a Teenage Riot indeed.
Way back around 1990 Teenage Fanclub supported Sonic Youth at the Barrowlands. I remember little of Sonic Youth’s show other than I blame it for the onset of tinnitus I now have, but I remember it fondly for TFC playing an octane-hopped version of God Knows It’s True, a maelstrom of wild guitars and wild hair, wild drummers and mild-mannered men in control. The version they played last week though – second song in, funnily enough – I’ve forgotten already.
As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.
If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.
2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;
An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
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.
I suggested to Brendan that we needed selfies behind the kit and candid snaps of our fab four goofing around in the studio like The Monkees, stories of false starts, forgotten parts and flare ups over wrong chords. He encapsulated the whole rehearsal experience in one genius cartoon.
Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…
Brendan O’Hare is best-known as being one of the three drummers who’ve wielded the sticks and pounded the beat in Teenage Fanclub. Between 1989 and 1994, Brendan’s tight but loose scattergunning Moonisms helped define the early Teenage Fanclub sound; loud, melodic and always just half a beat from falling apart. Fanclub shows at the time were a riot of hair and feedback, false starts and between-song random gibberish. I first caught them live when they supported the Soup Dragons at the old Mayfair in Glasgow in July 1990, a mind-melting 28 years ago. That night they were all the things above and more and I was so taken with them I went out the next day and tracked down a copy of Everything Flows, their recently-released debut 7″.
In the subsequent quarter century and more, I’ve been first in the queue whenever there’s a new TFC release and I can count on the one hand how many times I’ve missed a hometown Fanclub show, mainly pre-internet and back in the day when you really had to have an ear to the ground.
I was fairly miffed, let me tell you, to find out one day that Teenage Fanclub and Alex Chilton had set up at the 13th Note the night before for a wee show.
Likewise when a work colleague told me he thought he’d have seen me “last night at the Fannies’ show in the Mitchell Library. They played loads of Beach Boys tunes and stuff.”
Or the night when I was mid-way through the Thursday wheezefest that was 5-a-sides and someone asked why I wasn’t at the Edwyn Collins with Teenage Fanclub gig in Mono that was happening right there and then. There was a lot of Falling, but not much Laughing, let me tell you. That was at the height of the TFC message board too. How I missed that, I’ll never know.
Other than that, I think I’ve been at them all, from King Tuts in Elvis costumes to the Pixies support where the stage collapsed after their set and the show was abandoned, to the rootin’ tootin’ Grand Ole Opry – perhaps the finest show I’ve seen them play, the 3 nights at Oran Mor where they aired much of their stellar back catalogue, the umpteen ABC and Barrowlands shows and everything in-between and since.
I used to be dead proud of my unblemished record of having seen the band perform live at least once a year, until Norman’s relocation to Canada and the inevitable gaps in the touring schedule that came as a result. Having said that, I reckon I must’ve seen TFC over 50 times. They’re second only to the mighty Trashcan Sinatras on the old gigometer, and in November I’ll be creeping ever closer to the TCS by adding another 3 notches to that mighty fine tally mark.
Anyway, back to Brendan.
Brendan joined Teenage Fanclub when they formed from the dead ends of The Boy Hairdressers, a band that featured the songwriting talents of Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley. With the addition of Gerry Love on bass, the 4-piece went quickly to the recording studio armed with a handful of Boy Hairdressers’ songs and a headful of giddy ideas. A Catholic Education was the result; an album that provided a decent introduction to Teenage Fanclub. There were noisy tracks – Heavy Metal, irreverant tracks – Everybody’s Fool, loose approximations of melody, fighting for top billing with the surface noise and coming off second best – Too Involved, Every Picture I Paint, Critical Mass and one bona fide meandering classic, that debut single Everything Flows.
On the album, Brendan shared drumming duties with former/future drummer Francis MacDonald but by the next single, the magnificent noise pop of God Knows It’s True, Brendan had made that shoogly drumming stool his own. Just as a wee dog feels the need to pee up a tree trunk to mark his spot, he even stuck his name on the bass drum where most normal bands displayed their logo. Teenage Fanclub are no normal band though. When second album proper Bandwagonesque appeared, three of the principal members were writing material.
Released 16 months or so after A Catholic Education, Bandwagonesque was a few short months away from, yet light years ahead of, the debut. The harmonies that would soon come to define the band were pushed to the fore. String sections and brass parts helped drag it above and beyond the scuzzy indie rock of its contemporaries. Guitars still fizzed and the drums still hammered like a blacksmith on an anvil, but Bandwagonesque was radio-friendly power-pop in excelsius, finishing the year at the very top of the ‘Best Of The Year’ lists ahead of such also-rans as Nirvana’s Nevermind and REM’s Out Of Time. You knew that already though.
Brendan played on the follow-up, Thirteen, the misunderstood forgotten child of the Fanclub family. By the band’s own admission they went to the studio with half-finished choruses and ideas rather than fully developed songs. Not that you’d know if you listened to it. It lacks a bit of Bandwagonesque‘s sparkling punch and Grand Prix, the album that followed, knocks it for six, but as a standalone album, Thirteen is still miles ahead of most other band’s best work. Any album that contains the swooning Norman 3 or the frantic knee-trembling Radio or the Neil Young-isms of closing track Gene Clark is hardly in the ‘duffer’ category. Following the Thirteen tour, Brendan left the Fanclub due to ubiquitous ‘musical differences’ and was replaced by former Soup Dragon and fellow North Lanarkshire guitar band alumni Paul Quinn.
Brendan would join TFC briefly later on; on the 2006 tour when the band played Bandwagonesque in its entirety for the first time, it was Brendan who was brought in on drums. And at those Oran Mor shows a couple of years later, Brendan nearly knocked me over in his haste to get to the stage to join the band for an impromptu – although how impromptu I’m not exactly sure – run-through of The Ballad Of John & Yoko. I suspect he may also have more than a bit-part to play in the Catholic Education/Thirteen shows later on in the year……
With Teenage Fanclub’s back catalogue due for imminent release and subsequent reappraisal I thought it might be quite good to ask Brendan if he’d like to ‘Sophie’s Choice’ the Teenage Fanclub back catalogue and narrow it down to an impossible 6 of the best. His reply was immediate and positive.
I’d love to do that. A lot. Very lot.
And so, over the course of a week or so, Brendan whittled an outlandish task down to a definitive half-dozen. Fanclub freaks might be a bit surprised…
I’m kinda uniquely placed to try and talk my way through this but I’ve not written more than 100 words since I left school. In the 17th century.
I’m mad for the intricacies of the songwriting process. What better way then for me to spend some time than by trying to write about one of my very favourite bands and six of their songs?!
The Teenage Fanclub.
I’ll use letters instead of numbers because there’s no hierarchy to this list.
Some songs are perfectly recorded, the band so synchronised that the subsequent overdubs all nestle into the song like the band played it all live.
I’ve no idea how this was recorded but it feels like you’re hung in a hammock, floating within the song, within the mix. Norman leads us, pied piper-esque, towards the most beautiful big set of pastoral doors, kicking them in to reveal the most uplifting synth solo since ever.
I rarely find myself imagining driving to a song but this song IS driving in Scotland. It really just is.
It’s A Bad World
Raymond has a tendency to hide around musical corners and dazzle you as you pass by. I guess I’m saying he’s like a musical flasher, managing to make even the most sensible of timings unusual and quirky. (I’m not sure how the flasher analogy is working on that point.)
This song is so controlled yet so chaotic. The guitar tones allow you to hang on to their arms, either side, whilst the frankly incredible bass playing (and bass sound) plays keepie uppie with your arse. With false ‘Highway to Hell’ moments to boot this one just makes me want to bounce about, happy being a marionette controlled by the maestro’s fingers.
Take the Long Way Round
A beautiful Gerry introduction to his world at the beginning of this song. A hypnotic psychedelic twister of a “previously on Gerard Love” recap allowing you to settle in for the trip.
Jangle sunshine pop like it really should be done. I’m not sure that anyone else’s world is quite like Gerry’s. This sounds like a band having some fucking fun. Why wouldn’t you be? I mean you got Gerry singing about some wistful sunshine hippy shit (I’d imagine), slapping you with a cracker of an indie-jangle chorus.
Wooohoo! Sunshine Lanarkshire-styles. 70’s summer skies break into an impromptu acapella in a bus shelter. Harking back to a time when cigarettes didn’t kill you and you’d almost completed your Panini World Cup sticker book.
For me, it’s a holy trinity within one of the greatest albums of all time.
I’m not sure how long this song is. I always play it twice. It somehow manages to fuse a sombre, plodding nature with an upper layer of melodic loose-o-tronic guitar work.
By my calculations this song is either useless or suicidal if used in conjunction with jogging apparatus. As an example of harmony singing, however, it’s second to none.
I Don’t Care (“Fuck negative Raymond!”)
There’s something really Euro-Glam about this to me. Metronomic insistence allowing for the usual beautiful Fanclub harmonies to float just above the song enabling a trance-like state to occur wherein journeys, and their afterglow, are explained to you. And you understand. Perhaps only briefly.
I know!!! ALL from Songs From Northern Britain. I really do think it’s one of the greatest albums of all time. Sublime.
I Need Direction
For when you need a bit more Gerry sunshine in your life. Bubblegum pop done with the style, fashion and execution of true masters. The chime of the guitar break. The under-shimmer of the Hammond. Holy Tits, Batman, there’s not many musical buttons it doesn’t flatter with its pushing. The apparent effortlessness of the performances on this song are what make it so special for me.
Wow! Who’s going to argue with that? Former drummer picks 6 tracks, none of which he plays on, 5 of which are on the same album. 1 x Norman, 2 x Raymond, 3 x Gerry. It’s a great list. Feel free to add your own chosen 6 in a comment below.
You should probably visit/revisit Gerry‘s Six Of The Best from 7 years ago. You’ll find that wee beauty here.
No writing recently as I’ve spent the past week away on a school residential trip. Well, 4 schools’ trips to be exact. It’s the final hurrah before the P7s leave their lofty position as top dogs of their respective primary schools and enter the local secondary as the smallest fish in a much bigger pond. The trip is organised as a bonding session, as a way of getting to know the chancers and cheek merchants who’ll form your peer group for the next 4 years at least. It was a great trip, all be told, my 6th tour of duty at the same place and, as before, a trip like none of the previous ones. I sat last night like a burst baw, beer in hand and hardly bothering to drink it.
Despite the fact that you’re most definitely very responsible for these children 24 hrs a day, every day for a school week, and you’re in their company from the moment the first early riser surfaces (6.00am was this week’s record, though it was no later than 7 on the others), until the last laugh has echoed down the dormitory corridor at 11.30pm, it is a very enjoyable week. My personal highlight was yesterday morning when we went out as a school group and sped across the Firth Of Clyde on a handful of speedboats. A pod of dolphins had followed our procession and at one point, one of the dolphins swam alongside one of the boats. The kids were able to lean overboard and touch it, much to their delight (and the disappointment of the others who’d found themselves on the ‘wrong’ boat).
The instructor driving the boat asked me if we’d prefer to go and see the seals next or head further round and push the vessel to the limits of its speed. “Can’t we do both?” I was thinking, although I replied, “Whatever you think’ll be best….the kids’ll enjoy either.”
“Easy come, easy go,” came the reply.
And with that, an earworm was born. And it’s been my earworm ever since.
As it turned out, we did do both; we zipped across the top of a blustery channel before thrillingly and somewhat dangerously sharply turning 270 degrees to head for the rocks where the seal colony lived. My knuckles were white but I had GW McLennan’s tune spinning in my head as we headed for the seals. “I see my friends on fire….I might even have struck the match,” And there they were, playing up to the nautical tourists like well-trained zoo animals, the wee ones appearing and disappearing from the water, heads like black Labradors, the big fat one seemingly slobbed on the highest rock until we floated closer and it belly flopped into the oily sea. “You gotta take the moon from the trees, you gotta hide it in your room…”
We then turned again and our skipper edged forward into full throttle. There was an audible gasp for breath as the speedboat hit light speed, children gripping just that wee bit tighter than before. And still that tune played in my head. Weird! “You gotta hold it til it burns, you gotta make it easy come, easy go…” Even a sudden, unexpected mouthful of salt water couldn’t stop it.
When I got home last night, and the children and missus had been kissed and hugged and the dust had settled on the stories to tell and the washing had been put on and the case returned to the loft and the beer was in hand, the next thing I did was reach for Teenage Fanclub’s recent version. It was spun to within an inch of its life for about 40 minutes, one play after another, until my mind was rested. It’s a great version; faithful to the original, delivered by Gerry and wrapped in honeyed harmonies from Norman.
Sadly, no studio version remains available in mp3 format. You’ll need to have a copy of the fairly limited ‘I’m In Love’ 7″ if you want to hear it in all its warmly-produced glory. There is however, a rather good live version doing the rounds, recorded at last December’s Barrowlands show.
Teenage Fanclub – Easy Come, Easy Go (Live at Barrowlands, 3.12.16)
As a studio version, it could sit very easily on any of TFC’s stellar albums, especially last year’s ace ‘Here‘ LP. It could also sit nicely on a Lightships release, should Gerry decide once again to step away from Fanclub duties and go solo for a bit. He’d certainly be made very welcome to do so.
Indeed, Easy Come, Easy Go was the product of a solo record to begin with. Grant McLennan’s first output since the split of The Go Betweens (they’d reform briefly a decade or so later, before McLennan’s untimely death) was the Watershed album. It’s a record I’d never heard until I backtracked from Teenage Fanclub’s b-side and heard the original for the first time. In all honesty, The Go Betweens, as pleasant and melodic and literate as they are, didn’t really do that much for me. I appreciate them ‘n all, I just wasn’t crazy about them. For this, see also Belle & Sebastian. But I digress…. A solo record by someone from a band who I thought were just OK was never going to be high on my list of ‘must hears’. More fool me.
GW McLennan – Easy Come, Easy Go
I dare say it’s a terrific LP, packed full of Antipodean jangling pop, although as I’ve reasoned above, it needs proper investigating before I’m fully qualified to really say so. In its original form, Easy Come, Easy Go sounds exactly like a Teenage Fanclub track even if, when it was written in 1991, the Fannies were still favouring Marshall stacks over Fender Twin Reverbs and were more akin to fuzzy Ravenscraig rockers than the Bellshill Beach Boys they were still to become. Certainly, Watershed as a whole and Easy Come, Easy Go in particular are clear influences on the TFC sound. And for that I really should sit up and take more notice.
“It’s Saturday night in the Barrowlands! Where else would you rather be!?!” asks Norman Blake to the partisan home crowd. He’s greeted with a huge cheer. Aye, this gig had all the makings of a classic; a much-loved band, a new album currently hovering around the higher echelons of many ‘Best Of The Year’ lists, a back catalogue of killer songs and social media ablaze in the days running up to the show with desperate pleas for any spare tickets for the home-town gig in The Best Venue In The World (us Barrowlands stalwarts are fiercly protective of our venue – on the right night, there’s nowhere else like it on the planet). With the exception of the Trashcan Sinatras, I’ve seen Teenage Fanclub more times than any other band. From King Tuts and the Grand Old Opry to the SECC and back again. In Motherwell. In Edinburgh (more than once, too). Supporting Neil Young and Pixies. I’ve been to numerous TFC shows in all manner of places. I think last night was my 43rd show, and as such, I’m fairly well qualified to judge a Teenage Fanclub show. So why did I leave the gig slightly (just slightly, mind) underwhelmed and a touch (just a touch, mind) disappointed?
It certainly wasn’t due to my brief conversation with minor pop celebrity Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits. “Will you be doing a wee turn later, Duglas?” I ask, nodding in the direction of the stage. “I might be having a wee turn later, but I won’t be doing one, no…”
Maybe it’s where we chose to stand. Years ago I’d have made my way to as close to the front as possible, fingers crossed that I would still have 2 shoes on by the end of the gig. More recently, at the back, on the wee lip that borders the sprung dancefloor has become a favourite spot for middle-aged short arses like myself, but when the only spot that remains happens to be slap bang in the middle of the main thoroughfare for the bar, by the 3rd song in I was wishing I was that gung-ho Barrowlander of old. I would’ve gone for it too, but I was wearing reasonably new desert boots and I didn’t want to risk it.
Nope, it wasn’t that. Despite the flow of people (who goes to a gig to spend their night walking parallel to the stage while staring at their phone for most of the night? A debate for another time…), I had a perfect view. Slightly stage right, facing Gerry and looking across the top of the audience’s heads.
Maybe it was the choice of songs. The setlist was strong – a decent mix of new material (5 songs from the new LP) and a choice selection from the Fanclub’s stellar back catalogue, including band perennials Star Sign, Ain’t That Enough, Sparky’s Dream, I Don’t Want Control Of You, and The Concept, songs that between them have a combined age of half that of the Rolling Stones, but still sound as fresh as they day they were first commited to vinyl.
‘Borrowed’ from the Teenage Fanclub Fanclub Facebook page. Credit where it’s due.
Nope. Nothing wrong with the songs they played and how they sounded. Is there any finer sight in music than when the three principal members of Teenage Fanclub step up to their mics and sing as one? No, there’s not. The vocals sounded really terrific. The Concept, with it’s big 70s soft rock outro sounded fantastic. Fanclub-tastic, even. And the opening one-two of Start Again followed by SometimesI Don’t Need To Believe In Anything was perfect, the latter’s Harper’s Ba-ba-ba-ba-zarres and woah-wo-ohs and sudden stop particularly thrilling to these ears. Elsewhere, Raymond’s rediscovery in the joys of the whammy bar were put to good use, with liberal sprinklings of divebombing twang on the newer material. At one point, he and 5th Fanny Dave indulged in a spot of beautiful twin axe attack harmonising guitar, which had me shouting “Thin Lizzy!” to no-one in particular. The reserved crowd even risked a spot of dad dancing during Don’t Look Back, at that moment the Barrowlands momentarily transformed into The Best Venue In The World.
My complaint is two-fold. Firstly, much of the set was badly structured. Norman changed his guitar after every song which meant that while long-term guitar tech Guitar George wandered on and off with the Gibson or the Casino or the Mustang, the others shuffled around with silent tuners and little in the way of audience interaction. The Ramones could’ve played a whole set in the gaps between the songs.
The order of the songs was wrong too. A Norman song followed by a Gerry song followed by a Raymond song, and so on. Nowt wrong with that of course. With 3 top-class songwriters in the band, this is probably the most democratic way to do things. But it’s the Raymond songs I have a problem with. For me, always the weak point on the albums, they fail to cut it live too. They spoil the flow. Upbeat. Upbeat. Downbeat. Upbeat. Upbeat. Downbeat. Just as you’re getting into it, here comes another introspective Raymond jangler. Or a guitar change. Not even the honey-coated harmonies from Norman and Gerry could rescue things. It was great to hear the long-lost Verisimilitude again, with Norman’s guitar elevating it to greatness. It was even fine to stick My Uptight Life in the middle of the set, sandwiched between the chugging rush of It’s All In My Mind and The First Sight, one of the new album’s highlights. But these songs were played instead of others, not as well as.
Given this was the 2nd-last night of the tour…in the Barrowlands…in front of family, friends and the long-time faithful, I expected a Did I Say, or a Broken, or a Radio, or a God Knows It’s True with Brendan back on drums, or….. y’get the idea. So many great songs at their fingertips and the band chose to sludge the set up with a wee handful of mid-paced clunkers. And ditto for the encore. Here was the band’s chance to turn the years back and remind us why on their night they’re untouchable. Instead, the 4 song finale was like the rest of the set; two classics bookending a couple of set fillers. As great as the wee Grant McLennan cover is (it’s a cracker) and as soaring as the magnificent Everything Flows undeniably is, that’s why I’m feeling slightly let down this morning. Just slightly, mind. Maybe you’ll get a different set at the ABC tonight. Unusually for me, it’s a Fanclub show I can’t make. I hope it’s a cracker.
In the early 90s, there was no finer sight in music than when the three frontmen from Teenage Fanclub stepped up to the mic as one and filled the room with honey-coated harmonies that surfed across the top of their ramshackle fuzz. Lest we forget, in the year that saw both REM’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind released and racking up gazillions of sales, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque sat proudly at the top of Spin Magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year‘ list. And rightly so. Bandwagonesque is classic Fanclub; a welding together of God-sent melodies with a clanging calamity of sweet-sounding guitars. To achieve the overdriven sound that defines much of the album, the band had the amps turned up as loud as they would go, put behind a closed cupboard door and close mic’d up. The effect is a cobweb-dusting thing of beauty, but you knew that already.
On account of their ability to conjure a slightly wobbly three-part harmony out of thin air, fans of the band renamed them The Bellshill Beach Boys. Lazy writers at the time were less generous, waxing lyrical about the band’s obvious debt to the three Bs – The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star.
This was the first time I (and I suspect many others) had ever encountered the names ‘Big Star‘ or ‘Alex Chilton‘ and the hastily re-released #1 Record/Radio City twofer that followed on the heels of Bandwagonesque confirmed that Teenage Fanclub had indeed tipped their hat in the particular direction of their 70s idols. Other bands are guilty as charged when it comes to blatant sticky-fingered plagiarism, but Teenage Fanclub were clever enough not to steal whole songs, lock, stock and barrel from Big Star. The overall mood though of Bandwagonesque, from the mid-paced strumming and guitar sound to the uplifting melancholy that sticks itself to many of the tracks (The Concept is essentially a sad song, but it’s sky-scrapingly magnificent. Likewise, December and Guiding Star) is very Big Star. Nowt wrong with that of course.
Bandwagonesque remains an early high point in a discography embarrassingly rich in high points. Will the new album ‘Here‘, released in just over a month, have the same impact? Going on the strength of the lead single I’m In Love, with its trademark harmonies, fancy chords and Thin Lizzy-ish guitar solo, the early indications are good, but let’s remember that Bandwagonesque was released a quarter of a century ago. That Teenage Fanclub are still releasing records to an always-appreciative audience is fine in its own right.
Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub would play a few shows together. They also released a limited single via the NME, where Alex was backed by TFC on one side, and TFC were backed by Alex (kinda) on the other. At some point or other, (I’d like to imagine it was during the sessions for the NME single, though we’ll maybe never really know), Alex and TFC ran through a gloriously ragged live take of Bandwagonesque‘s Alcoholiday.
Alex Chilton – Alcoholiday
The track is credited purely to Chilton, but if you listen carefully between the clanging chords and underneath Alex’s world-weary, 30-a-day Marlboro-coated voice, you’ll be able to make out Norman Blake’s ooing and aahing backing vocals. It’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps even more beautiful than the original….
Teenage Fanclub – Alcoholiday
Teenage Fanclub have also dipped more than a toe into the extensive Chilton back catalogue. An early US-only single from around the time of Bandwagonesque saw them zip through a brilliant version of Free Again, replete with a kazoo solo, a key change and seemingly, the kitchen sink.
Teenage Fanclub – Free Again
Free Again is a post Box Tops Chilton three chord boogie that would first see the light of day on 1977’s The Singer Not The Song EP, from a period in time when no-one seemingly gave a damn about Alex. Given the shambolic mess that made up the EP, this was also a period in Chilton’s life when he seemingly didn’t give a damn about folk either, but that’s another article for another day.