I never said I’d be consistent, did I?
Having bemoaned the fashion of bands playing the classic albums in order, here I am signed up for two evenings of the Fannies Creation label albums. I have to confess that if I had managed to get tickets for the Wednesday gig, I’d have done all three of them:
- Tuesday: Bandwagonesque and Thirteen
- Wednesday: Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain
- Thursday: Howdy and assorted b-sides
So why did I do it? Why did I pitch up to hear the Teenage Fan Club (aka Fannies aka TFC) play, knowing exactly which song was going to follow each other?
Well firstly, these albums are incredibly close to my heart. I wrote affectionately about TFC when I saw them tour 2016’s Here LP. They are a band that I keep coming back to. Melodic and warm, they are a balm to the soul in these troubling times.
Secondly, they are always good value live. It is so rare to see a band who have three different songwriters yet blur the boundaries between who writes and sings which songs. Each has a distinct character, but together there is a combined sound that is distinctly Teenage Fanclub. Yes – it is informed by classic guitar tropes but this really is the sound of young Bellshill. It the suburban Glasgow scene updated to those bands got married, had kids and the kids headed off to University.
Finally, this is the end of an era for the band. They’ve had a churn of drummers and keyboard players but the three songwriters (Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love) have been a constant. Love has had enough of the international touring and the disruption that brings to his domestic life. In August, he announced that these gigs would be the last he would play with the band:
I flew around the world last year and it’s not something that I would want to do too often in my life. I equally didn’t want to stop anyone from making a living and so it’s completely acceptable to me that the band and crew are able to go ahead with the tour.
I didn’t leave the group and I wasn’t kicked out, the idea of this tour eventually became a fork in the road and we have just agreed to go our separate ways. It’s not ideal for any of us but it’s as amicable as it can possibly be.
Change is natural and constant and I completely welcome it. All I can say is that I feel very lucky to have met Norman and Raymond all those years ago.
So the Thursday Camden show was the last opportunity to see the three frontmen playing together. It also was the Howdy night which has become a secret favourite of mine as the years have passed.
Before we deal with the present, let’s revel in the past for a moment. Dig those haircuts. The one length centre parting, rocking a look that straddled the Atlantic from Glasgow to Seattle, via the Black Country grebo scene. You could substitute a Fannie into the Wonder Stuff or Pop Will Eat Itself and no one would blink. Raymond is clutching an offbeat Fender guitar, possibly a Jazzmaster. The kind of thing that Sonic Youth were tuning to one chord and bashing the living daylights out of using a drumstick. Stripy t-shirt – check. Leather jacket – check. Harrington bomber – check. Plug in that Boss Distortion pedal and we’re good to go.
So thirty years on, what did I find out from the first night in Camden:
- That despite having more metronomic drummers since Brendan O’Hare left his presence on the evening created a huge sense of fun. He may not be the most accurate of percussionists but his slightly sloppier approach suits the early material. His witty asides broke the ice (after coming back on for the second set, he commented that the support band were bloody brilliant). There was a particular chemistry between him and Norman. He really is a force of nature although I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with him, given his energy levels.
- Whilst Starsign, the Concept and What You Do For Me was the clear crowd pleasers, the gentler and more nuanced nature of Alcoholiday and December were the more accurate signposts in retrospect of what was to follow when the Creation years moved on. The former was just gorgeous. Has there ever been a more heartbreaking use of the F-bomb in a song?
- Watching Gerard Love was fascinating. It occurred to me that this would most probably be the last time that he played these songs with his bandmates. He was composed throughout, a wry smile acknowledging the applause at the end of the songs he led. The crowd clearly were emotional though, with cries of “Don’t go Gerry.” But this is the end of a thirty-year stint with his colleagues as a musician, longer as a friend. They went to school together and are still appear to bumble along amicably. He wouldn’t be human if there were huge conflicting emotions. If there are, they weren’t evident on the first night.
- Thirteen was viewed as a bump in the road on the back of the near-universal acclaim for Bandwagonesque. Performed live now, I could see why. When Thirteen is good, it is brilliant – the first four songs from Hang On to Norman 3, Fear of Flying. However when it doesn’t hit the heights, for my money it falls quite a way short, such as Song to the Cynic and Tears Are Cool. I thought that seeing them live with the energy that brings would change my mind, but it didn’t. Thirteen still feels like it doesn’t quite scale the heights of other Creation releases. Grand Prix got the show back on the road.
I’m skipping the second Grand Prix/Songs for Northern Britain night. Check back in for a post on Thursday’s night’s gig, the last ever with Gerard Love in the band.
It may be emotional.