Some points in time:
- 1992: We’ve all been living in London for a couple of years. Most of us are in crummy impersonal house shares but our friends Pete and Jayne are a proper couple. They are renting a beautiful one bedroom flat in the Vale of Health. As long as the funfair isn’t in town, you can see Hampstead Heath from their living room window.
There are three albums that we play to death that year:
If it is late at night, “Screamdelica” gets an airing.
If Jayne is out, then My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” is blasted out so we can enjoy those warped guitars without it grating on her nerves.
And for all other times, it is Teenage Fanclub’s “Bandwagonesque”
- 2001: I’ve been seeing N for six months. It is time for an outdoor gig. Neil Young is playing at Finsbury Park, a short ride on the W7 bus from where she lives. Sounds perfect – some early summer sunshine listening to languorous guitar solos with NY and Crazy ‘Oss.
Only it being June and England, it pisses down with rain. All day. Most of the evening too.
We’ve had the henna tattoo on our arms (aaaahhhh young love) and we take shelter from the rain in the nearest marquee.
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Teenage Fanclub are playing and everything is right with the world despite the British summertime doing its best to destroy our spirits
- 2013: It’s a Saturday night and it is a while since we’ve been habitual Saturday night going out peeps. We are scratching away looking for something to watch on our Netflix list.
There’s a Charlize Theron movie listed. It appears to have good reviews. Her character is a young adult novelist who had headed back to the home town, divorced and alcoholic.
Charline gets in her Mini, pops a tape in the deck and she’s off again (and again):
She wears denim wherever she goes, says she gonna get some records by the Status Quo – Oh yeah!
Says she won’t be forced against her will, says she don’t drugs but she does the pill – Oh yeah!
And we’re down memory lane with our heroine, with one of the best opening couplets in recent times.
Teenage Fanclub have been a significant soundtrack to my adult life. The albums have become less frequent, the themes more grown up and the vocal harmonies slightly deeper. But they are still there.
Last year’s album “Here” maintained the consistently high standards they’ve achieved in the 26 years since their first LP.
The album breaks little new ground but it just delivers the classic components of a Teenage Fanclub LP – gorgeous harmonies, uplifting lyrics and an overall sense of warmth. Their first record in six years, when the output is this infrequent, sees the need for innovation somehow seeps away. It is all about the quality, which is at such a refined level you swear you could be listening to something akin to peak CSNY or Love. The guitar fizz and rough edges of “Bandwagonesque” is long gone but what is been replaced with is deeper and richer.
Fifteen years on from that marquee in Finsbury Park, the band are still a low key but hugely engaging live experience. The use of analogue keyboards, so beloved by their Scottish brethren Mogwai and some Krautrock rhythms bring some variety to the sound. Effectively having three leads singers, Raymond McGinley, Norman Blake and the infinitely youthful Gerard Love, the harmonies get more sure footed as the evening progresses but still retain a quality that is a little less than honeyed. This little bit of grit ensures that the show isn’t too slick and melodic.
The other startling revelation is how well the songs from their less successful LPs such as “Howdy” and “Shadows” integrate into the set, bumping out some favourites such as “Neil Jung”, “Mellow Doubt” and “Alcoholiday” without them being missed. When the crowd pleasers do arrive though they are delivered with energy and vigour. “Don’t Look Down” and “Sparky’s Dream” were triumphs, “Star Sign” rolled back the years. In hindsight, whilst “Bandwagonesque” is perceived as being the landmark LP and “Grand Prix” is their best record, both “Howdy” and “Here” are giving them a run for their money.
As the set drew on, it dawned on me why my appreciation of the band has been been maintained through the years.
Yes, they are approximately the same age as me. We have effectively grown up together but it is the way that they address everyday love songs that is so beguiling, sweet but not saccharine. They have grown and I have grown. “I Don’t Want Control Of You” and “Your Love Is The Place That I Come From” are about adult relationships and families. The songs conjure up holidays on the British seaside, long drives, and wrapping up from the cold with a thermos of hot tea. It speaks to me more than any soporific Coldplay “it’s all going to be okay if we just hold hands and hug” rhetoric. The human quality was emphasised when Norman asked how many episodes of Tom Hardy’s gothic epic “Taboo” were left as he had lost track on tour. A man with IPlayer and decent set of priorities.
As I left the auditorium, the guy next to me was texting his mate on his iphone.
“How was the gig?”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
A quick note about the support. Euros Childs, formerly of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci provided a low key solo piano set at short notice. Not my cup of tea but very accomplished and Blake joined him to provide vocals on his final song.