The band I am going to write about in this article have an unusual feature. There are three songwriters in the band, and each songwriter sings their own song. This band is a democracy, and each songwriter is given the same amount of playing time for their songs. These songwriters are Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love, who along with Francis MacDonald, make up Teenage Fanclub. 

Teenage Fanclub were formed in Glasgow in 1989. If you listen carefully to their music, their influences are apparent. The jangling and chiming guitar sound and vocal harmonies owes much to the Byrds, but other influences include Big Star and the Beach Boys. They released their first album in 1990, A Catholic Education. This was hardly the best start to their career. The sound has been variously described as chaotic and noisy. A Catholic Education is very much a band still trying to “find their sound.” It would be kindest to call it a difficult album.

Their second album was The King. It was released in August 1991. This saw the band secure their first entry into the UK album charts. The King reached number fifty-three in the UK album charts.

Thankfully after the false start of A Catholic Education, and to some extent The King, their third album was a vast improvement. Bandwagonesque was released in November 1991, and saw a change in the band’s sound and fortunes. On it, Teenage Fanclub started to refine what would become their trademark sound. Their jangly Byrdsesque guitar and tight vocal harmonies sound started to emerge. The album reached number twenty-two in the UK album charts. So impressed were Spin magazine with Bandwagonesque that the album won their poll for best album in 1991. In doing so, they faced stiff competition. Among the contenders were REM’s Out of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Their next album was released to poor reviews. Thirteen was released in October 1993. The album was named after a song by the legendary Big Star, one of the group’s music heroes and influences. Regardless of what the critics said, the album was a commercial success, reaching number fourteen in the UK album charts. Drummer Brendan O’Hare left the group after the album was released, owing to the oft cited “musical differences.” He was replaced by Paul Quinn, who had been the drummer in another Glasgow band, the Soup Dragons. Incidentally, Thirteen is actually a good album, one that shows the band growing as a group, and refining and honing, their musical style.

Teenage Fanclub’s next album was the album that brought them to the attention of the wider music buying public. Grand Prix was released in May 1995, and the album was critically acclaimed by music critics and fans alike. This was the album that brought the band commercial success, reaching number seven in the UK album charts. The album was full of great songs like About You, Don’t Look Back and Neil Jung. At last, Teenage Fanclub had hit the big time.

The album this article is about was the band’s next release. Tales From Northern Britain was in July 1997. It saw the band build on the success of Grand Prix, and cemented their reputation as one of the UK’s best bands. Like Grand Prix, the album was a huge commercial success reaching number three in the UK album charts. Tales From Northern Britain would be the band’s last top ten album.

Three years passed before Teenage Fanclub would release another album. Howdy! was released in October 2000. By now the band had a new record label and a new drummer. Their previous record label Creation was no more, and the band signed to Columbia. Drummer Francis MacDonald had rejoined the band whilst the group toured Songs From Northern Britain, and would play on Howdy!. On leaving Teenage Fanclub, Paul Quinn would form a new band The Primary 5. Howdy! has a similar sound to previous album Songs From Northern Britain. It is a good album, one I have always liked. However, for some reason, the people who had previously bought Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain failed to do so. The album only reached number thirty-three in the UK album charts.

Teenage Fanclub’s next album was a collaboration with cult icon, Jad Fair, the frontman of Half-Japanese. The album was entitled Words of Wisdom and Hope. It was released in March 2002. This album never even charted.

The band’s final album for their “new” label was Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty Six Seconds, released in January 2003.  This was a compilation of their greatest songs, and three new songs. Ever the democracy, each songwriter contributed one new song each. Again, the new album failed to trouble the upper reaches of the album charts, only reaching number forty-seven.

Man-Made was their next studio album. It was released in May 2005, on the band’s own label Pe-Ma. The band recorded the album in Chicago, the previous year. They enlisted John McEntire of Tortoise to produce the album. This was a departure from previous albums, when the band had produced their own albums. Sadly, the new producer did not help the band to produce a more successful or commercially successful album. The album stalled at number thirty-four in the UK album charts.

Teenage Fanclub released their ninth studio album Shadows, in May 2010. The album was well received by music critics. Spin magazine included it in its list of the forty best albums of 2010. Shadows followed a familiar pattern each. Each group of three songs is written and sung by Love, Blake and McGinley. This album saw a new member officially join the band. David McGowan joined playing keyboards, guitars and slide guitar. He had been part of the band for a number of years, before being credited as a member on the album. Even with the additional of a new member, the album only reached number thirty in the UK album charts.

That is the story of Teenage Fanclub’s career so far. It is a career that has seen them produce nine albums, and tour the world many times. They are a fantastic band to see live, one of my favorite live acts. The album this article is about Tales From Northern Britain, is not just one of their greatest albums, but one of my favorite albums, and I will now tell you what makes the album so special.

Tales From Northern Britain begins with Start Again. This is a great way to begin the album, as Teenage Fanclub are in full flow. The sound is big and loud. Vocals and guitars sit at the front of the mix. Start Again is a song about regrets, and having said things that you wish you had not, and how it is never too late start again. It is a good track to start the album, and shows the band maturing from their previous album Grand Prix.

If Start Again was a good song, it’s surpassed by the next track, Ain’t That Enough. This is a track that has both fantastic melodies and catchy hooks. It features tight harmonic vocals and Teenage Fanclub’s almost retro guitar sound. There is a sweetness to the vocals, and the drumming on the track plays a huge part in making this track the great one it is. Ain’t That Enough is not just one of this album’s best tracks, but one of Teenage Fanclub’s greatest tracks.

The sound changes on the next track I Can’t Feel My Soul. Out go the tight vocal harmonies, and it is very much a lead vocal performance. The band’s style changes too. They really kick loose, and the sound is much nearer to there like sound. It is almost a vintage rock sound. Guitars riff and scream, drums pound, the bass throbs and there is even some feedback. It is a different side of the on this album, one which I like. 

I Don’t Want Control of You begins with the sound of birds cheeping and a banjo playing. Then the Fannies roll their sleeves up, and dust off that glorious sound they have by now perfected. What follows is three minutes of musical magic. Guitars chime, vocals are sweet and harmonic and the rhythm section of bass and drums provide the perfect backdrop. This is vintage Teenage Fanclub. Glorious.

The quality keeps on coming, the next track Planets, is also a thing a beauty. This is a slower track, with a very laid back feel to it. The band play acoustic guitars and the vocals are soft and sweet, the lyrics gentle, with a lovely sentiment. On the track, the band are joined by a string section, which takes the track to another level. It takes the track from a good track, to a great track. Planets shows another side to Teenage Fanclub, one that we don’t see very often.

After the lovely track, Planets, the band up the tempo on It’s A Bad World. This track has much in common with I Can’t Feel My Soul. The sound is less arranged, much more free. One person sings lead vocal, and the and the rest of the band can concentrate on providing a brilliant backing track, that is melodic and packed full of hooks. The guitar solo on this track is absolutely top drawer, it’s loud, clear and has just a tiny bit of feedback. Although It’s A Bad World has much in common with I Can’t Feel My Soul, It’s A Bad World is a much stronger track.

Take the Long Way Around starts with a big sound, one that sits right at the front of the mix, and surrounds you, the sound envelopes you. This is Teenage Fanclub indulging in some power pop. Their influences are very much apparent here. Big Star and The Byrds spring straight to mind. Later in the track when you here the close harmonies, The Beach Boys’ influence is apparent too. The track is both loud and big, but also has a gentleness to it when you hear Teenage Fanclub harmonizing. It really is yet another great track from this great album. Tales From Northern Britain really is a snapshot of a band at the top of their game. 

Just when you think this album can’t get any better, it does. When you hear Winter you will realize straight away that this is a great track. No it isn’t a great track it’s a brilliant track. Sorry, wrong choice of superlative. From the introduction to the outro, Winter is pure pop perfection. It has everything you want in a Teenage Fanclub track. Sweet and tight, vocal harmonies, guitars that jangle and chime, drums that are the heartbeat of the track, sitting proudly at the forefront of the track. On Winter, the vocals harmonies are similar to the Beach Boys, the guitars pay homage to The Byrds. Quite simply, Winter is an absolutely outstanding song.

The problem any artist or group have when they have included a brilliant track on an album, is how do you follow it up? Teenage Fanclub have taken the problem by the scruff of the neck, and put I Don’t Care as the next track. It’s a good track, one that has a big, bold, sound, and is the quickest song on the album. Although not of the standard of Winter, it is a perfectly good track, one many groups would be proud to have written and recorded. The song is sung well, and features a good performance from the band. Yet again, they cut loose, showing the sort of energy and enthusiasm  that they display concert. 

After climbing their own mountain in the early stages of their career, trying to establish their career, it is fitting that the next song is entitled Mount Everest. The song has a dark sound and feel to it, the guitars sounding almost broody. Don’t be fooled though. Once the song opens out, the darkness disappears. It is like dawn breaking. Although not a joyous and uplifting track, it’s a good strong track, one that sees the trademark tight vocal harmonies present. Throughout the song, there is guitar solo that is reminiscent of something you would find on an old Neil Young album.

The penultimate song on Tales From Northern Britain is, Your Love Is the Place I Come From. It begins with vocals and acoustic guitar. This is a lovely laid back song, one that sees the band playing gently, very much within themselves. The lyrics have a lovely sentiment, and are about the way you feel when you are love. Your Love Is the Place I Come From shows a very different side to the band, one we don’t see often. If each time they show this side, they produce such a good song, I for one, say show this side more often.

The album closes with Speed of Light. Unlike any other song on this album Speed of Light starts with a drum solo. Again, the band’s musical heroes have influenced this track. Listen carefully, and you can hear Big Star and The Byrds. There is real East Coast influence on this track. Teenage Fanclub have taken all these elements, and added their own twist to it, to produce the sound we all know and love. On Speed of Light they give a brilliant performance. The vocals, as ever, are tight harmonic and sweet. Guitars jangle and chime, paying homage to The Byrds. Drums pound rhythmically, giving the track a backdrop and towards the end, a piano plays, providing just something extra, something that takes the track to a higher level. A great song, to end a great album.

Twelve tracks lasting a mere forty three minutes, about the time it takes to escape from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Teenage Fanclub’s home city. It is forty three minutes of pop perfection. This to me, was Teenage Fanclub’s greatest album. Grand Prix was good, but this is even better. Throughout the album, each song is of the highest quality. There are no poor songs or filler, just twelve great tracks. It took Teenage Fanclub fifth albums to get to the quality of Grand Prix. Songs From Northern Britain was their sixth album. They were no overnight sensation, they spent years learning their craft, recording singles, EPs’ and albums and many years touring to refine and perfect their sound. What saddens me is that after this album, the band never achieved the same success. Their albums never sold as well, the highest an album would reach was number thirty in the UK album charts. After Tales From Northern Britain, they kept producing brilliant, melodic, music. For some reason, their days of top ten albums and huge commercial success were over. This album for me, was the greatest moment in their career. if you have never heard Tales From Northern Britain I would recommend that tomorrow, you visit your local record shop and pick up a copy. While you are buying it, why not get a copy of Grand Prix to keep it company. These two albums are the best the band ever produced. Each contains some wonderful music. After one listen you will be hooked, you will find yourself buying their back catalogue, and regret not discovering this great band before. All I can say it’s better to have discovered Teenage Fanclub late than never. Standout Tracks: Ain’t That Enough, I Don’t Want Control of You, Planets and Winter.


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