“We’ve been rock stars,” says Norman Blake, 50. “What a shame!”
His day job might involve being one of Teenage Fanclub’s three main songwriters and de facto frontman, but today, with the help of some YouTube tutorials, he has a new ambition. He’s installing a kitchen sink, and all he wants before having to leave for the band’s tour is to have running water and no leaks.
“There’s no money in the music business any more, so maybe I should’ve been a plumber?” he deadpans.
Blake now lives about an hour outside Toronto, with his Canadian wife, Krista, and daughter.
He says he and Krista (they met when the band were recording their 1995 album Grand Prix; Krista was working as housekeeper in the manor house studio they were using) decided to move to give their daughter a chance to connect with the Canadian side of her heritage, as they’d lived in Glasgow for her first 14 years.
Teenage Fanclub, or the Fannies as they’re affectionately known, formed in 1989 and released their debut, A Catholic Education, the following year. Something of an anomaly in their catalogue, it wasn’t until their second and third albums, The King and the seminal Bandwagonesque, that they really found their signature, jangly sound.
But for the arrival of Oasis to their record label, Creation, obliterating everything in their path, they might have seen out the Nineties as one of the UK’s best-loved bands, releasing a handful of modern classics such as Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain. They toured with Radiohead and Nirvana — Kurt Cobain regularly referred to Teenage Fanclub as the best band in the world. Liam Gallagher went as far as calling the Fannies the second best band in the world, “second only to Oasis”.
Blake looks back on those days with fondness. “We had a great time in the Nineties,” he continues. “Touring with Nirvana, we were genuinely witnessing a phenomenon.”
The band’s forthcoming album, Here, is their 10th. It follows six years after previous record Shadows, which in turn came five years after their eighth, Man-Made. Prolificacy is not a word one could associate with Teenage Fanclub, then.
“We honestly didn’t know after Shadows if we’d make another,” says Blake. “We know we would only make a record if we were all feeling it, and if we have the material to do something of quality.
Here is a beautiful album, full of the Beach Boys-esque harmonies and jangling guitars the Fannies are so known for. There’s a breezy quality, which probably belies just how difficult it is to make something sound this effortless. “That’s just what happens when you play with a group of people for such a long time,” says Blake. “It all becomes very intuitive, and we don’t think about it too much.
“Our sound has developed, but we’re not a band that changes radically from album to album. We’re still using the same guitars and amps we have for years and years, yet we have carte blanche to do whatever we want. We’re in a really good place — we’ve never made a ton of money but we take a wage from the band, we’re happy with what we’ve achieved and we’re all very grounded as people.”
- Here, is out on September 9