It was a well established fact that one of our writers had to review, feature as well as interview anything Teenage |Fanclub. So Chris Todd would have got on his bike, but London was a little too far and he did not have his puncture kit so the train came in handy. Turns out he gets a mammoth interview with all of the band, ignore some beer soaked antics it had been a long day.
My first stop whilst I was ‘down the smoke’ was to Creation’s new office…Camden, of course. If Hyde Park is the garden of England, Camden is the shit they spread on it. To get out of the tube you have to get into a lift; it was full of miserable bastards and sour-faced gits, then just as the lift doors start closing, a little man, who, with the possible exception of me, is the scruffiest man in the lift. He’s got an odd ginger beard and the first smile I’ve since I’ve been down here, he’s also carrying a guitar. It is Norman Blake and he’s pissed, he’s just been drinking with Jonathan King. BIG Fannies fan, look what he did for the ‘cool’ of Carter USM.
We look for Creation’s new office together and got lost, we ‘hung out’ when we find the office I leave him to do what he’s gotta do, and I do the same, i.e. check out the elixir in the pub opposite.
After sucking my glass dry, I check out what’s happening at ‘the pop inn’ and to see which member of the ‘Club I was going to get.
It’s their last interview of the day and they’re in need of liquid sustenance, so it’s back to the pub with all four members of Teenage Fanclub. All FOUR! The makers of my favourite album of all time and they’re sat around me.
Whilst building bricks in me undies, I try to endear the ‘Club towards me, I tell them their previous album was crap, but ‘Grand Prix’ is a revelation.
“Oh you like it” says an unenthusiastic Norman.
“Hey, hang on a minute. What do you mean about ‘Thirteen?” Gerry butts in.
“Yeah, what do you mean? We’re professionals, you know…well, I suppose we’re professionals, in the sense that we get paid for what we’re doing”, Norman giggles.
Damn, within two minutes I’ve offended the group and I have all four Fannies staring at me.
“Come on, it was f**kin’ brilliant, ” laughs Norman.
Well er, the songs sounded half-finished? The vocals were too high in the mix? I pathetically offer…
“Aye, I suppose you’re right…” Norman agrees, “…the thing we didn’t like about ‘Thirteen’ was that it took a long time to make. We were doing it as we went along and we lost interest in it and that comes across I think, we still play some of the songs, not many though.”
Phew! After avoiding a fall out with the group, onto Brendan O’Hare then, the ex-drummer, did he have anything to do with the new tracks I asked.
“No, he came along to one rehearsal, but we didn’t really do anything” says Raymond, the deep throated one.
” We split up with Brendan when we started to demo this album,” continues Norman.
So why did he leave then?
“He didn’t leave. It’s kinda funny, but Gerry will take it up from here,” says Norman in his fake American accent; whilst leaving Gerry shocked and stuck for words.
“Well…he’s been saying that HE left the group, but actually we left HIM. We got rid of him,” explained Gerry after some thought, “He didn’t seem to be that interested y’know. HE wasn’t too bothered with what happened to the band, so he was out.”
So why did you sack him then? I ask Gerry, who passes the buck to Raymond.
“Why? Why did we sack him…? Erm…”
“He was dyslexic,” Norman butts in,”…and we hate people, who are dyslexic, don’t we…?”
“No, seriously, we didn’t think Brendan was into being in a band and making records, he didn’t psyche himself up to make ‘Thirteen’, even though he knew it was going to take a long time he wasn’t willing to go about it in the same way we were, but it wasn’t a dramatic kind of thing, it just happened,” Raymond explains, giving a serious answer at last.
Was there any bad blood between the group when you recorded ‘Thirteen’ then, as it seemed to lack the confidence of post and present releases?
“Yeah, I suppose,” says Raymond, “we recorded the album straight after a long tour, so we were feeling over ambitious, we were thinking of recording something like forty-five tracks, but we didn’t have anything planned before we went into the studio, so I suppose that’s true.”
“For ‘Grand Prix’,” he continues, “we only recorded the songs that appear on the album, we didn’t record any B sides for singles or whatever, we didn’t want to be bogged down with material and end up getting lost in it, you can forget what you’re doing.”
‘Grand Prix’ is the Fannies fifth album in five years (for anyone who’s interested, it goes like this; 1990 – A Catholic Education’, – all cheap riffs, teenage angst and wet sheets, made by twenty-three year olds; 1991 – ‘The King’ – God-awful instrumental covers album; 1991 – ‘Bandwagonesque’, 1993 – ‘Thirteen’; 1995 – ‘Grand Prix’), can you see the time to hang up your six strings in the future I asked.
“People were saying we were splitting up last year, it was bollocks. We tried to split up but we couldn’t, but splitting up soon?,” Norman ponders, “…Genesis are still going aren’t they?”
So you ARE the new Genesis I say over the howls of derision, “I’m going to leave yer for a painter and I’ll be a solo singer with a tin of paint on top of the piano!,” the ever cryptic Norman shouts.
“I’ll be the cheeky Cockney and you’ll be the shyster maiden,” Gerry giggles.
“I dunno what the f**k I’m talking about,” Norman comes to his senses, “I just write the songs and Teenage Fanclub is the Vee-Hick-Kull for those songs. Yeah, we’re gettin’ older, we can’t pretend we’re f**king teenagers no more. I don’t see why we should split up. Bands don’t necessarily get worse the longer they go on, y’know I hate PInk Floyd and Genesis or whatever – their music’s rubbish.”
Alright, name a good group who are still making good music then Norman…?
” REM maybe,” suggests the man.
So in ten year’s time the Old Fart Fanclub will be in full effect then, eh?
“Hey, hang on a sec, young man, WE WILL NOT BE OLD FARTS”, says a slightly affronted Gerry.
“Well, Raymond, you’ll be forty, so you’ll qualify, eh?, ” cheeky Norman says, “we’ll still call ourselves Teenage Fanclub though, which can be even greater irony,” he continues.
“Yeah, but irony would have gone out of fashion by then though, ” laughs poor Raymond.
“But an even greater irony would be when we’re in an old people’s home and we still get together, ‘Teeeenaaagge F-F-Faaanc-c-cluuuuub’,” sings Norman in the most decrepit of voices, “that would be great.”
Why did Teeenaaage F-F-Fanclub call their new album ‘Grand Prix’ then?
“Well,” starts Norman…
“SHUT IT!” I say as I point my finger at …Gerry.
“Oh shit!,” he groans, ‘it’s back to the old irony, hee, hee, not really, shall I use the stock answer Norman?
“Right, basically, it’s about the energy generation at the Grand Prix…”
Gerry Love, that’s bullshit, isn’t it?
“Aye, ha, ha,” the naughty schoolboy says.
“I suppose we just thought it was funny,” Norman offers, “when it’s released in America, we thought people would call it ‘Grand Pricks’ which is really patronising to American’s I suppose…
“We just thought it’d be funny, ” he continues, “and we had the idea of the car, so obviously they worked together.”
‘Grand Prix’ is wrapped in TFC’s very own racing car. Will you be strumming around the car on stage, Norman?
“Nar, our logos were scrubbed straight off. I’d be too f**kin’ expensive. It’s modernist, situationist, yaah.”
“Conceptual,” offers the piss-taking Raymond.
As more drinks come in, including tea-no sugar for the quiet Paul, Norman tells me his favourite artist is psychperv Jeff Koons.
“I’ve got an uncensored version of his book, without the black strips. It’s excellent, I’ll lend you it,” he says. Ten he tells me and the rest of the group
About where he’s just been; shooting a video review section for ITV’s The Beat with Jonathan King.
“Yeah, creation are gettin’ it together now, they’re having hits, the Boo Radleys, Oasis and you guys are great, top five,” he drawls in an American accent.
Onto favourite tracks, I spoke to a London journo, before the interview who says no one has favourite tracks anymore, surely ‘Fanclub do, as I have mine
‘Going Places’, I say, ‘it gets me right there, baby,’ pounding my beating heart.
“Gerry designed specifically to get you right there,” says the vicious Raymond.
“When we did the demo, it was coming in about here,” says Gerry, pointing to his belly button,
“So we cheered it up a bit .”
What just for me?
“Aye, we wanted to get you right there”, Raymond laughs pointing to his manhood.
“Which one’s ‘Going Places’?” asks a confused Norman as Gerry sings it to him.
“Aye, that’s a good one, isn’t it Chris? That’s one of Gerry’s,” he says, pointing to the guilty party.
Yeah, I know that, I can tell your voices apart too, I say.
“Some people can’t. I think it’s easy to tell our voices apart,” Norman agrees.
The way I see it is this, I sat as I point to Raymond, ‘You sound like you’ve just smoked ten spliffs of the finest Pakistani Black and your throat’s feeling sore, then everyone points to Raymond and laughs at him. He slams his glass down and voices his protests.
“Everyone thinks I’m a drug’s baron, listen Chris, I don’t smoke ANYTHING AT ALL!”
Right, you Norman, you sound smooth and sweet, but slightly pathetic…
“What, like Elton John Billy Joel? Gerry’s the punky one,” says smilin’ Norman.
No, he’s not, Gerry’s the…
“Gerry’s a bit of a rebel, you know, go on, Chris, what’s Gerry?” Norman requests.
“Yeah, what am I?” asks Gerry, anticipating another diss in his direction as his amazing deep blue eyes and savage smile burn the inside of my head.
‘Gerry’, I say, ‘you sound like a miserable bastard, the one who starts crying into the microphone.’
“Aye, that’s about right, I was close to tears many times in the studio,” says Gerry over bellows of laughter and non-stop Cure songs on the jukebox.
So to round up Gerry, you’re Ian Curtis, Noram’s Barry Manilow and Raymond’s Keith Richard’s – a f**kin’ Supergroup, or whaaat!?
“No,” Norman disagrees, “we’re all Richard’s, you’re Keith, I’m Cliff and Gerry, who are you?”
“Viv,” suggests Raymond.
What about Little Richard(s) I ask?
“We’ve met Little Richard. That guy’s brilliant,” Norman proudly announces.
“We were staying in the Hyatt Hotel in LA and he lives there and our manager at the time managed Living Colour as well and they recorded with him, so our manager said he could introduce us to him, okay!” His eyes beam. “He went over and went ‘hey, I’m Jim Grant, y’know I hooked you up with Living Colour…?”
“Oh yeah, I remember you,” squeaks Norman in a hilarious American accent, “yeah, I’m with these guys Teenage Fanclub, they’re from Scotland’. Little Richard says, ‘Tiiinage Fanclibbb, from Scotland? Coooolll!’ ”
Anyway, to my original question, what are your fave’s on the album?
“Mine are….,” starts Raymond, “Paul, PAUL, I want Paul to answer one.”
After much thought, he says, “…’Sparky’s’, ‘Say No’….”
“Choose one of mine, yer f**ker!”, shouts Norman.
“Mine are…,” starts Raymond, ” ‘About you’, verismilitude’, ‘say no’.”
Er, why, I ask?
“I wrote them. Really it’s ‘Don’t look Back’.”
“Oh I was gonna say that,” Norman whines.
“In general, it’s a good album from start to finish. People don’t make albums like that anymore, it’s song-based. Most people record four singles and tracks to go round’em, we haven’t,” he shrugs.
So, there’s more singles to come, eh? What about ‘Going Places’ for the Christmas number one?
“Juuurrst for you,” says Raymond and Gerry in unison.
Fair enough, what about the lyrics, do you just write about girlfriends or do you touch on other subjects?
“We don’t just sing about girls,” an offended Norman replies, “Like, ‘Tears’, is about Alan McGee. I wrote it at a time when Alan was drinking too much and taking too many drugs and if he wasn’t careful he could’ve lost what he has, that’s what ‘you’re no sucker, so don’t blow it’, means.”
“It’s actually a play on words,” he went on to explain, “the first line is: ‘There’s no future, so don’t fake it,’ and I think Alan was turning into Malcolm McLaren, so I thought that was funny at the time…”
“We do write quite a few songs about relationships and people we know though,” Gerry agrees.
“We’d write songs about getting drunk, but we don’t drink enough. We’d write songs about drugs, but don’t take ’em…’I went down the pub, had seventeen pints, went for a curry and fell asleep'”, sings Norman.
A future hit me thinks.
“Yeah, that’s our new angle, no one sings about getting pissed, it’s all about heroin, ‘yeeeaaah, this is a song I wrote when I was f**ked up’,” the ferociously funny Norman says.
“But we, believe it or not, don’t drink that much even though we’re sat in a boozer, this is a renaissance, we never drink when we play.”
“Apart from tonight,” Raymond interjects.
“And as for drugs, we’ve done E an’ all that,” Norman reveals, “I’ll admit it now, HERE, I’ve taken E, mate.”
“And I’ve taken heroin, I f**kin’ have!”, Gerry lies.
“The man in the beard takes DRUGS! Norman Blake – Junkie!” Raymond cackles.
Knowing what the Fannies know as far as their instruments are concerned, are they embarrassed by their earlier attempts at sophisticated guitar-based pop music, do they still listen to ‘A Catholic Education’ or ‘Bandwagonesque’?
“It’s like looking in the mirror,” Gerry muses.
“It’s odd when people say their proud of their new records,” Norman ponders, “you’re supposed to be proud of your kids, we like what we’ve done in the past. I remember reading about the guy from Suede…Brett, and he said his favourite album was theirs…oh aye, I think that’s a wind up.”
Yeah, but surely when you’ve taken time to create an album of songs you MUST think that it’s better than anyone elses’s album?
“Yes, but you never listen to your own records, that’s all bollocks – the best album of the year. Y’know it’s boring. Everyone says that, ” Raymond snarls.
Alright, if you’re not listening to ‘Grand Prix’ what are you listening to, eh? EH?
“Genesis, Val Doonican, Gerry Rafferty, Shakin’ Stevens, I’m part of the rock and roll element,” straight-faced Gerry continues his list, “…Matchbox, whatsisname?, Alvin Stardust.”
“I’m in love with a German Filmstarrr, I once saw in a movie, ha, ha, the Vapours, Adam and the Ants,” says Norman, “no actually, I think that stuff’s a load of shite.”
“Sex Gang Children, Brigandante, Anti-Pasti! I prefer Onion Pasti”, Paul gets in on the act as it all gets boisterous and the shrieks of laughter get louder.
“Van Der Graff Generator, Pier Hammils, old stuff only, the Zones, Europe, Dirk Wears White Sox, er…all that crap Bowie stiff, everything apart from ‘Hunky Dory’, the rest were shite,”
Norman admits as the rest continue their piss taking antics.
“The solo albums from all three members of Genesis, Mike and the Mechanics, er…Tony Bank’s account, ha, ha, Mike Oldfield, Jarre, erm, Yes, The Masonettes, Ultravox, er…everything on Creation. Need anymore?”
NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOO!
So, with the interview turning into a (highly enjoyable) farce, I decide to get futile.
Norman, that beard….why? It looks like your f**kin’ chest hair’s gone crazy…
“Well, actually, Chris, it’s hair transplant that went wrong! The beard I had for ‘Bandwagonesque’ was a prototype. I’m a member of the Beard Society, it took me three years to perfect.”
No, surely it signifies that fact that you’ve grown up, or some bollocks like that?
“I actually grew it because my girlfriend told me to, but after what you just said I think I’ll shave it off. Oh dear, I hope we haven’t talked too much rubbish….Have we been talkin’ too much rubbish?”
Oooh no, but here’s the last one…
“Lima…the capital of Peru,” Gerry interjects. During one of ‘Grand Prix’s’ finest tracks ‘Discolite’, Gerry sings ‘when a DJ plays your tune, is there a light inside your moon?’ So Gerald Love, when a DJ plays your tune, is light inside YOUR moon?
“Ho, ho, there is.”
“It’s actually: ‘when a DJ plays your tune, is there air inside your balloon?’ he sung it wrong.”
Then my time was up, the curtains were drawn, the world fell out my bottom and I, hey maybe you too are now a fully-fledged member of the no, not fan club, FANCLUB.
Interview Chris Todd
Creation Records Part 1: Re Hab Fab 1983 – 1995
Creation Records Part2: Supernova Nights 1995 – The End
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