CULT CLASSIC: TEENAGE FANCLUB- TALES FROM NORTHERN BRITAIN.
Cult Classic: Teenage Fanclub-Tales From Northern Britain.
There aren’t many Scottish bands have enjoyed the longevity and commercial success that Teenage Fanclub have enjoyed over the past four decades. Scotland’s Kings of jangle pop have been together for thirty-one years, released ten albums and toured the world several times and are still going strong. However, like many bands before them, it took a couple of albums before they established their “sound.”
This coincided with Teenage Fanclub signing to Creation Records where they enjoyed the most successful period of their career. The Creation Records Years began with 1991s The King and ended with their Tales From Northern Britain in 1997. It was their most successful album in Britain but failed to find a wider audience in North America and Europe. For Teenage Fanclub it was case of what might have been as a new chapter began in their career. Their story began eight years earlier in 1989 in a small town not far from Scotland’s musical capital, Glasgow.
For those unfamiliar with the geography of Scotland, Bellshill, is a small town twelve miles from Glasgow, where Teenage Fanclub were born in 1989. The nascent band emerged out of Glasgow’s C86 scene, and had been inspired by West Coast bands like The Beach Boys and The Byrds. Another major influence on Teenage Fanclub were Big Star, who Teenage Fanclub would be later be compared to.
Unlike Big Star, Teenage Fanclub was a quartet, whose original lineup featured guitarist Norman Blake, lead guitarist Raymond McGinley, bassist Gerard Love and drummer Francis MacDonald. From the early days of the band, Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love who were Teenage Fanclub’s three principal songwriters shared lead vocal duties. That was the case when they came to record their debut album A Catholic Education for Paperhouse Records.
A Catholic Education.
Just a year after the band was founded, Teenage Fanclub released their debut album in 1990. A Catholic Education would later be described as a quite un-Teenage Fanclub album. The music was dark, harsh and peppered with cynicism and controversy.
Most of the controversy stemmed from Teenage Fanclub’s decision to turn their sights on Catholic church. For a band from a city divided by religion, that was a controversial move, and one that could alienate people. What made the decision to “attack” the Catholic church, was that Teenage Fanclub prided themselves on being apolitical band. The other surprise for a band who admired The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Big Star was the sound of A Catholic Education.
For much of A Catholic Education, Teenage Fanclub unleashed a mixture of grunge and heavy metal. The only hint of what was to come from Teenage Fanclub was the Norman Blake penned Everything Flows. It was a glorious slice of power pop and something that Teenage Fanclub would return to later. Before that, A Catholic Education was released on June 11th 1991.
Before that, critics reviewed A Catholic Education. Reviews of the album were mixed, and very few critics forecast the critical acclaim and commercial success that came Teenage Fanclub’s way. When A Catholic Education was released by Matador, the album failed to even trouble the British or American charts and was an inauspicious debut from Teenage Fanclub.
Just two months after the released of A Catholic Education, Teenage Fanclub returned with what was meant to be their sophomore album, The King. However, to some, The King was a quickly assembled collection of tracks.
The tracks that became The King had been recorded once Teenage Fanclub had completed what would be their third album, Bandwagonesque. Teenage Fanclub recorded nine tracks, including covers of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. Norman Blake remembers the recording: “One night we all got completely wasted. … and we said, “Let’s make a LP overnight. We’ll just improvise some songs and do some covers and cobble it all together”
Once The King was recorded, Teenage Fanclub hoped this would allow them to discharge heir contractual obligations to the US label Matador. This plan could have backfired.
Teenage Fanclub owed Matador an album, and as long as Matador accepted The King, then they had fulfilled their contractual obligations. The only problem was there was a possibility that the album could be rejected, if Matador didn’t believe the album was off a certain commercial standard. Fortunately, they didn’t despite the covers of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive.
Nowadays, Teenage Fanclub deny any and all allegations that the album was an attempt to their contractual obligations. The band said that the loose, spontaneous and improvised nature of the album was the influence of producer Don Fleming. However, back in 1991 The King was a controversial album.
The King wasn’t exactly Teenage Fanclub’s finest hour, but despite this, Matador released the album stateside in August 1991 and deleted the same day.
Meanwhile, The King was released in Britain by Creation Records. Teenage Fanclub believed that the album was a mid-price limited edition of 1,000. However, the label passed 20,000 and sold them at full price. This some critics thought was optimistic.
Reviews of The King weren’t favourable, but despite this, Teenage Fanclub’s sophomore album reached fifty-three in the UK charts. This was ironic as very few critics thought that The King would even trouble the charts. Teenage Fanclub had the last laugh.
Now signed to Alan McGhee’s Creation Records, Teenage Fanclub like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, delivered the completed version of Bandwagonesque. It had been recorded at Amazon Studios, Liverpool, between the ‘9th’ April to the ‘12th’ of May 1991. Bandwagonesque featured twelve songs which saw Teenage Fanclub come of age musically.
Just like previous albums, songwriting duties were split between the band members. Raymond McGinley wrote I Don’t Know and Norman Blake penned The Concept, What You Do to Me, Metal Baby and Alcoholiday. Meanwhile, Gerard Love had written December, Star Sign, Pet Rock Guiding Star and Is This Music? Gerald Love then joined forces to write Sidewinder, while the only track credited to Teenage Fanclub was Satan. These twelve tracks would find Teenage Fanclub maturing as songwriters and musicians.
When it came to choosing a producer for Bandwagonesque, the partnership of Paul Chisholm, Don Fleming and Teenage Fanclub returned. They were responsible for an album that stood head and shoulders above Teenage Fanclub’s two previous albums, Bandwagonesque.
On Bandwagonesque Teenage Fanclub’s trademark ‘sound’ began to take shape. It had been influenced by The Byrds and Big Star. Byrdsian, jangling guitars were joined by close, cooing, harmonies and a melodic fusion of indie rock and hook-laden power pop. Seamlessly, though, Teenage Fanclub could switch between laid back and melodic to a much more powerful, rocky sound. This would find favour with critics and record buyers.
Before Bandwagonesque was released, critics had their say on the album. For once, critics were in agreement, and there were no dissenting voices. Bandwagonesque, critics agreed, was one of the finest albums of 1991. No wonder, with songs of the quality of The Concept, What You Do To Me, Star Sign, Alcoholiday and Is This Music? For Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque was a career defining album. Spin Magazine went further, and named Bandwagonesque its best album of 1991. Things were looking good for Teenage Fanclub.
Especially when Star Sign was released in August 1991, and reached number four on the US Modern Rock charts. Meanwhile, Star Sign stalled at just forty-four in the UK. The followup The Concept, a rocky anthem, reached a disappointing fifty-one in the UK, but reached number twelve on the US Modern Rock charts. Teenage Fanclub’s music was finding an audience in America for the first time. Maybe Teenage Fanclub’s third album would find them cracking America for the first time?
That was the case. When Bandwagonesque was released on 19 November 1991, it reached number twenty-two in the UK, and 137 on the US Billboard 200. Teenage Fanclub it seemed, were going places.
Having toured Bandwagonesque, and enjoyed their newfound fame, eventually, Teenage Fanclub’s thoughts turned to their fourth album. This they would name after a song by one of their favourite bands.
Unlike most bands, Teenage Fanclub wasn’t reliant on one or two songwriters, and every member of the band was contributing songs. That was the case with their fourth album, Thirteen, which was named after a song by Big Star.
The four members of Teenage Fanclub had all contributed songs for Thirteen, with Gerard Love writing Hang On, Radio, Song to the Cynic, Fear Of Flying and Gene Clark.Norman Blake’s contributions were The Cabbage, Norman 3, Commercial Alternative and Ret Liv Dead, while Raymond McGinley wrote 120 Mins and Tears Are Cool. Drummer Brendan O’Hare’s only contribution to Thirteen was Get Funky, which like the rest of the album was recorded in Glasgow’s CaVa Studios.
When work began in October 1992, Teenage Fanclub had decided to produce Thirteen themselves. They had co-produced their first three albums, so felt ready to make the step up. The only problem was, it took six months to record Thirteen. This was quite unlike Teenage Fanclub who usually recorded albums quickly. The problem was they were missing a co-producer.
Teenage Fanclub had previously employed a co-producer, who acted as a sounding board for the band, and would’ve also ensured they didn’t spend too long honing, polishing and perfecting the tracks on Thirteen. That’s what seemed to have happened, and eventually, Thirteen was finished by April 1993. This left six months before the album was released.
Prior to the release of Thirteen, critics received their advance copies of the album, and to say they didn’t like the album was an understatement. Critics seemed to loathe the album and reviews of Thirteen were scathing. That’s despite songs of the quality of Hang On, Norman 3, Radio and Song to the Cynic. For Teenage Fanclub this was a huge and crushing blow.
At least when the lead single from Thirteen, Radio was released in August 1993, it reached number thirty-one in UK. The followup Norman 3, was released in September 1993, but stalled at just fifty in the UK single’s charts. This was another disappointment for Teenage Fanclub.
Despite the disappointing reviews and failure of the single Norman 3, Teenage Fanclub’s fortunes were set to improve when Thirteen was released in October 1993, and reached number fourteen in Britain. This meant Thirteen was Teenage Fanclub’s most successful British album. The only disappointment was that Thirteen failed to trouble the US Billboard 200. However, this wasn’t the only disappointment for Teenage Fanclub.
After the release of Thirteen, drummer Brendan O’Hare announced he was leaving Teenage Fanclub and The usual “musical differences” were cited. Paul Quinn, the former Soup Dragons’ drummer was drafted in to replace Brendan O’Hare. Despite this, it was was a worrying time for Teenage Fanclub,.There was one small crumb of comfort though.
In February 1994, Hang On was released as the third and final single from Thirteen. It reached number nineteen on the US Modern Rock charts. Little did Teenage Fanclub realise that it was the last hit single they would enjoy in America.
Although Thirteen had been the most successful album of Teenage Fanclub’s career, the scathing reviews hurt. They had spent six months recording, honing and perfecting Thirteen, and to make matters worse, Brendan O’Hare had left the band. This was a testing time for Teenage Fanclub, as they began work on their fifth album.
For the new album, thirteen songs were written. Norman Blake wrote “Mellow Doubt, Neil Jung, Tears, I Gotta Know and Hardcore Ballad. Gerard Love wrote Sparky’s Dream, Don’t Look Back, Discolite and Going Places, while Raymond McGinley contributed About You, Verisimilitude, Say No and I Gotta Know to what would become Grand Prix.
Recording of Grand Prix began on the ‘5th’ of September 1994, and by then, Teenage Fanclub had decided to employ David Bianco as co-producer. He became their sounding board over the next month spent recording at The Manor, Shipton-On-Cherwell. Just over a month later, on the ‘9th’ of October 1994, Grand Prix was complete. Little did they realise they had recorded one of their finest albums.
When critics heard Grand Prix, they were in no doubt, the album was a minor classic. It veered between melodic and melancholy, became ruminative and rocky. Grand Prix literally oozed quality, with About You, Sparky’s Dream, Don’t Look Back, Neil Jung and I’ll Make It Clear showcasing Teenage Fanclub’s considerable musical skills. They seemed to have been stung by the criticism of Thirteen, and returned with the best album of their career.
When Grand Prix was released on May 29th 1995, it was a hit on three continents. In the UK Grand Prix reached number seven, becoming the most successful album of their career. Elsewhere Grand Prix reached sixty-eight in Japan and fifty-seven in Australia. Teenage Fanclub were now one of the biggest indie bands in Britain.
Songs From Northern Britain.
What made the rise and rise of Teenage Fanclub all the more incredible was that they had only been formed in 1989, since then, they had released five albums and and were popular across the globe. Everything was happening fast for Teenage Fanclub, who were ready to record a new album by 1996.
Just like previous albums, the band’s songwriters got to work. Norman Blake wrote Start Again, I Don’t Want Control of You and Winter then cowrote Planets with former band member Francis MacDonald. Gerard Love penned Ain’t That Enough, Take the Long Way Round, Mount Everest and Speed Of Light. Raymond McGinley played his part writing Can’t Feel My Soul, It’s A Bad World, I Don’t Care and Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From. These songs were recorded at some of London’s top studios with co-producer David Bianco.
Some of Songs From Northern Britain was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, while other sessions took place at AIR Studios. Other sessions saw Teenage Fanclub head to leafy Surrey, and Rich Farm Studios. Eventually, after recording at various studios, Teenage Fanclub had completed their sixth album, which was released in summer on the ‘29th’ of July 1997.
Songs From Northern Britain which was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Britpop movement, saw Teenage Fanclub pickup where they left off on Grand Prix. It was another album of carefully crafted songs, including Start Again, Can’t Feel My Soul, Don’t Want Control of You and I Don’t Care. Despite an album that was variously cerebral, defiant, hook-laden, joyous, melodic, mellow, playful and reflective critics were undecided. Some loved the album, others loathed it. Rolling Stone which had been supportive of Teenage Fanclub, set their sights on the band. Not for the first time, were Rolling Stone left with egg on their face.
When Songs From Northern Britain was released. It reached number three in Britain, and became Teenage Fanclub’s most successful album. In Australia, Songs From Northern Britain reached number seventy. Elsewhere, including America, Teenage Fanclub continued to be a popular live draw. However, they sold more albums in Britain, than anywhere else, where the Creation Records years were drawing to a close.
The Creation Records was when Kings of Jangle Pop, Teenage Fanclub, released the best music of their career. This began with Bandwagoneque, which musical magicians Teenage Fanclub pulled from their hat. While Thirteen was an album that failed to win over critics. Grand Prix and Tales From Northern Britain were both minor classics. Teenage Fanclub left Creation Records on a resounding high.
Twenty-three years later, and with the benefit of hindsight, Teenage Fanclub released the finest music of their four decade at career at Creation Records. This includes Bandwagoneque, Grand Prix and their Creation Records’ swansong Tales From Northern Britain a hook-laden cult classic with anthems aplenty which is the perfect introduction to Scotland’s very own Kings of Jangle Pop, Teenage Fanclub.
Cult Classic: Teenage Fanclub-Tales From Northern Britain.