Monday, 5 September 2016

"Here is a sunrise..."

If you don't like Teenage Fanclub, you have no soul. I do believe God once said that. Or David Bowie. Same thing. Even if he didn't, he should have. I remember buying TFC's debut album 'A Catholic Education' when it came out as, despite never hearing anything by them, I thought they were a band I should like. I was 19 - I did things like that. I was disappointed. It was a rubbish record and made little sense to me. Its one saving grace was the opener Everything Flows, but the rest was nonsense.

Nonetheless, I was still interested in them when album number two rolled around. 'The King' was also rubbish, hastily thrown together to use up studio time. To be fair, it wasn't intended to be a proper album as such, and it sounds like it. It had covers of Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive, and Madonna's Like A Virgin plus a load of ramshackle instrumentals.

Just three months later the second album 'proper' came out. 'Bandwagonesque' was an altogether different animal. It had tunes. Really, really good ones. It opened with The Concept, one of the best tracks of 1991 and the one that hooked me. Shame the video hacks off the last three minutes though...

Album number three, 'Thirteen', should have been a huge success given the plaudits its predecessor received. Unfortunately, it didn't do so well. It was what I suppose you'd call a tansitional album. The loud, squally, distorted guitars were on their way out to be replaced by a cleaner, brighter sound. While 'Thirteen' isn't as good a record as 'Bandwagonesque', it did have a few cracking tunes on it. For some bizarre reason, the label decided Norman 3 should be a single. I mean, come on. Not only is it not a particularly good song, but no record named after a band member has ever been a hit, has it, especially one called Norman! In the US, they got Hang On, by far the best track on the whole record.

Possibly because of the poor choice of singles, I'd strayed from TFC by the time 'Grand Prix' hit the shelves in 1995. A guy at work raved and raved about it and eventually persuded me to listen to it. I kicked myself hard for not buying it the day it came out. 'Grand Prix' remains an absolute triumph. Many claim it's the band's best work. The new melodic 60s sound was complete - all shimmering Rickenbackers and three-part harmony vocals; like the Byrds and Big Star all rolled into one. Mellow Doubt is still a song I like to play on my battered old acoustic guitar every so often, while Don't Look Back elicits much happiness and joy when I give it an airing. And in Sparky's Dream, we have one of the finest songs of the Britpop era.

But for me, 'Songs From Northern Britain' eclipsed the lot. When Ain't That Enough was put out as a single in the summer of 1997, I nearly wept at its perfection. To this day, it makes me feel all gooey as I succumb to its beauty.

(I wrote about 'Songs From Northern Britain' back here so I won't repeat myself.)

Since then, it's been a downward slide. Subsequent albums have sounded rather weak and nondescript to me. The songs don't sparkle like they used to and the sound has just lost much of the verve that I loved about the Fannies in the mid-90s. That said, the first single from the band's latest album 'Here' is the best thing they've done for a very long time. Sadly the rest of the album doesn't live up to the same standard.

One interesting point to make about this though: over the years, Norman Blake's hair has been long, then short, he's grown beards and shaved them off again, he's had glasses, then not had glasses, then had glasses again. Raymond McGinlay's hair has slowly ebbed away while drummers have come and gone and, in the case of Francis MacDonald, come back again. But Gerard Love HAS NOT CHANGED. Not one bit. Look at him - even his curly locks are intact. Miraculous. Thankfully, Norman has stopped clowning around in the videos...



  1. I think you're a wee bit harsh on A Catholic Education; I think it the fact that TFC took such a sideways leap in later years means it sort of jars a bit in comparison. If they had released that then broke up, a lot of folk would be writing lots of words in praise of it.

    You're spot on with your assessment of the rest of the back catalogue and 'Songs From Northern Britain' is indeed their best and most enjoyable album.

    Haven't got the new one yet. Will get to hear most of the songs in the live setting first of all as I'm going to the tiny Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh tomorrow night (although an almighty fuck-up by the train operators with engineering works means I'll need to leave around 10.30 pm to get home meaning I'll miss the encores with all the old stuff)

  2. Murray over at Everything Flows raved about the new album in a post yesterday, so I remain in a state of high anticipation - 'I'm In Love' is a masterful pop record. We've discussed 'Songs From Northern Britain' before - their masterpiece (so far).

  3. I'm in the grand prix camp myself. And agree with JC about a Catholic education. Unsung brilliance.

  4. Northern Britain and Bandwagonesque are the ones for me. Nowt wrong with Grand Prix though an Catholic Education has a bit more too it than just Everything Flows. But a song that good would have overshadowed a lot

  5. I hear what you all say about 'A Catholic Education', but it never connected with me - not when it first came out, not when the band was at their peak, and not now. We'll just have to beg to differ.

  6. This is a very nice primer for those wanting to dip a big toe. I like these fellas, but I'm really only familiar with one era. Thanks for widening my scope.