“In 1991 as his band partied their socks off with Nirvana in the penthouse suite of the Fairmont Hotel, Norman Blake fired a television over the balcony, destroying the Lamborghini below and launching Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque into the stratosphere like a katyusha rocket….The band finished the 90s with album sales in excess of 20 million units before finally breaking up in 2001 to tend to their broken marriages and heroin habits.”
Absolute nonsense of course…Anyone who loves Teenage Fanclub knows that the above scenario may have happened in a parallel universe, but even there it’s doubtful. If it had happened there’s no hope that I would have seen them for the tenth time when they played a wonderful show in Dublin’s Academy on December 2nd. I first saw them when they played Midnight at the Olympia on June 20th 1997. I’d never heard their music before but that night a mate – who’d introduced me to both the Go Betweens and Husker Du – sprung a surprise by bringing me along. He didn’t think there was much risk that I wouldn’t like them.
We watched from upstairs and while I wasn’t doing cartwheels in appreciation – I rarely do – I was impressed. My main memory was the audience reaction at the end of “Don’t Look Back.” It was like a scene from the Muppet Show when everybody stands nodding their heads at the end in appreciation of how good the song actually is.
They’ve played that song every time I’ve seen them and if there’s a track with a better guitar solo at the start, well I haven’t heard it yet – though Johnny Hickman’s guitar break at the beginning of Cracker’s “River Euphrates” comes close.
Yes it would be magnificent if they got their dues and sold millions, if they weren’t so bashful and apologetic before introducing yet another brilliant song…Heck I would also love if Francis MacDonald murdered the skins like Joey Castillo or Chuck Biscuits but that’s never going to happen. There have been numerous pieces written over the years bemoaning their sleepy existence and how they could do with a good old kick up the arse from a thick culchie farmer, but ambition only gets you so far. Would more ambition have improved the stellar set list they worked through the other night?
Most bands are lucky to come up with a handful of genuinely outstanding songs but Teenage Fanclub have produced bucket loads and though the majority come from their brilliant nineties output the albums they’ve produced since then have more than added to their cannon. “I’m in Love” the superb Norman Blake-penned opener on their latest, Here, is very uplifting and proved to be even better live – probably the highlight of the show for me. In all they played for an hour and forty five minutes, which is long for them, but a show without close to ten tracks from Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain just wouldn’t feel complete.
At the opening bars of “Ain’t that Enough” my brother mumbled that it was the track he’d been waiting to hear all night. Whatever about the harmonies on their other songs there’s something incredibly beautiful about how the voices of Gerry Love and Norman Blake work on that track. On the rare occasion that I’ve needed a bit of picking up as I’ve gone through my life “Ain’t that Enough” along with the rest from Songs from Northern Britain usually does the trick.
A big surprise on the night was their cover of the late Grant McLennan’s Easy Come, Easy Go. Gerry Love handled the vocals. I remember listening to that song on my old red walkman as I passed through Llandudno Junction on the way to Euston in August 1993. It has always been one of my faves of his. Just to think that if they hadn’t played it I would never have heard it performed live. What a way to remember one of the greats.
Going to see them is like going to see your mates from down the road. They come around on average once every five to six years, and while it would be nice to see more of them, maybe it isn’t good to sample the genuinely good things in life too often.