As drummer Norman Blake’s final fill ended and guitarist Brendan O’Hare’s last chord of the band’s first single Everything Flows faded away, Gerry Love was stripped to the waist. He had flung his bass guitar to the ground. He was on the edge of the stage, emotionally surveying every member of the crowd singing his name. Tears were streaming down his face. He didn’t want to go. He was torn between the decision he made in the summer and the reality of the present. Do I stay or do I go?
Most of this was true. Well, the bits about Blake’s drumming, O’Hare’s guitar and Everything Flow were correct. Blake and O’Hare had swapped instruments part way through an extended coda to their rarely played debut single.
What wasn’t true was Love’s exit. In reality, he waved to the crowd and diffidently and undemonstratively left the stage. No speeches. No group hugs. No tears. This was an ending that was on the band’s terms. Dignified and respectful without a hint of sentimentality.
It was Teenage Fanclub in a nutshell.
Most other bands would have brought the curtain down on this part of their career with a greatest hits set and fireworks. There were no significant hits and the fireworks would have been the mother of all health and safety risks. Even Brendan O’Hare with his clipboard wouldn’t have controlled that particular scenario.
Having missed out on tickets for the middle Grand Prix/Songs From Northern Britain night, I was back at the Electric Ballroom for the final night in the Teenage Fanclub London run. I wrote about the first night here. This was different for a couple of reasons though.
Firstly, this was one album (2000’s Howdy!) with a set of b-sides as opposed to the two LPs per evening sets of nights 1 and 2.
Secondly, this marked the end of bassist, singer and songwriter Gerard Love’s time in the band. I explained the story behind this on my earlier post. I bought the ticket after Gerard’s departure was announced. It felt like something that I wanted to be there for.
Howdy! is a bit of a dark horse for me. I bought it at the time and thought that whilst it was a perfectly pleasant record, it didn’t represent a seismic upgrade of the earlier albums. As the years have gone by, it has become closer to my heart. Whatever rawness that existed on the early Creation LPs had dissipated but not to the point of politeness. The band had slowed down their rate of output. It was three years since their previous LP and it would be five years to their next album, Manmade. I wish more musicians would take this approach, honing their material and only releasing music when they had something worth hearing.
So what did I learn from the third night of TFC’s residency?
- What became evident was that Howdy! is the hidden gem of the Creation years. It is arguably their most consistent and mature album. It best represents the band’s qualities with a consistent level of songwriting and immaculate harmonies. The latter quality was amplified in the live environment seeing the contributions from all of the band members, not just Love, Blake and McGinley. Cul-de-sac was a perfect example of this.
- Having said that McGinley was last night’s star turn. His writing on Howdy! was his best to date and the b-sides allowed his lead guitar playing to expand without the constraints of a running order. Happiness and particularly My Uptight Life were stellar, the latter with a beautiful denouement as the music faded away to leave the band and the audience harmonising “All my life I’ve felt so uptight, now it’s all alright“.
- On the subject of crowd and band singing together the segue from the simplicity of Broken into the closing Everything Flows was sublime and pitch-perfect for the context of the evening. Watching Brendan conduct the audience in a perpetual refrain before stepping behind the kit to perform their debut single was the right way to round things off.
Your heart has been broken again
- The death of the b-side is to be lamented. In an era before stuffing CDs full of 73 minutes of material. it slow dripped the delivery of extra songs in a manner that they could be treasured. The Smiths did it, New Order did it, everyone did it. The quality and the affection for those songs last night showed how these alleged throwaways retain musical and emotional value despite the passage of time.
- Brendan O’Hare is the band’s court jester. Is he available for weddings, funerals and bat mitzvahs?
So where does that leave us?
Gerry’s gone. But the tour showed how former members get brought back into the fold, even on a temporary basis. And life and bands go on. If the Manic Street Preachers can survive the circumstances of Richie Edwards’s departure, then anything is possible. Teenage Fanclub have tours scheduled 2019. The show goes on.
Teenage Fanclub are dead. Long live Teenage Fanclub.