Teenage Fanclub: Bands need to tour to survive – there's no money in streaming

With their 11th album out today, Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley tell Richard Purden about well-known label mates, fear of flying and trying to get home to Glasgow

Glasgow alt-rockers Teenage Fanclub
Richard Purden

SINCE forming in 1989 Scottish band Teenage Fanclub have released 11 long players, with their latest, Endless Arcade, released today. They recorded five of those on Alan McGee’s iconic Creation Records, sharing the label with bands such as Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis.

In America, they were also label-mates with Nirvana, enjoying a close association with the band, who arrived in Belfast to play the King's Hall in June 1992. As support act on the Nevermind tour, they witnessed the Seattle three-piece become a worldwide sensation.

“It’s always good shows when we play Belfast,” he band’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Norman Blake reflects. “The last time we played there was at an outdoor festival and we first played there with Nirvana. It was amazing to witness that phenomenon – we knew them as a smaller band and then we did the European leg of the Nevermind tour, people were going crazy and as the tour progressed it just got bigger and bigger.”

Both bands shared a similarly dishevelled aesthetic abetted by noisy pop values.

2021 also marks 30 years since the release of Teenage Fanclub's breakthrough LP Bandwagonesque, which was voted by US music magazine Spin as ‘album of the year’ ahead of Nevermind.

Blake's fellow singer/songwriter and guitarist Raymond McGinley reflected on the time. “Nirvana were great guys, this was all before it became a bit too much for Kurt; they were still enjoying being in the band at this stage. That tour was the first time we went to places like Spain, Norway and Sweden. People still talk about those gigs as cultural events. After the tour, I went back to my parent's four-up council flat.”

It was from here that McGinley commandeered the family phone and conducted the band’s business.

“I suppose it didn’t occur to me that we couldn’t deal with that stuff and it was great. Maybe it was something to do with that previous generation in [the historically working-class Glasgow area of] Maryhill but my attitude was ‘Yeah, come ahead, we can do this! My mum would say there was a call for you from New York or LA and it would be [former Geffen records executive and Nirvana manager] Gary Gersh.”

Endless Arcade follows the band’s top 10 2016 hit album Here but it is also their first without co-founder Gerry Love who departed from the group in 2018 after a reluctance to tour due to a fear of flying.

“Bands need to tour” explains Blake. “Even big bands. This is where they make their money now. There’s no money in streaming, you need a million streams to make anything. I know that vinyl sales have picked up but it’s nowhere near what it was 30 years ago so you need to go out and play.

"Gerry didn’t want to do that anymore which is fine but everyone else wanted to keep going, making music and touring so we quickly decided that’s what we wanted to do. We have to go on the road and that’s why it’s so frustrating at the moment.”

Endless Arcade’s lead-off track Home indicates Blake’s extended return to Scotland. He has lived in Canada for over a decade but was in Glasgow mixing the band’s album when the first lockdown began.

“A few people have said how Endless Arcade suggests the pandemic but the ideas about trying to get home and isolation were all written before. You never know what you are going to write; usually, I try to write more personally about my life outside the band.”

Blake’s routine has found him cooking for his parents and trailing through the Scottish countryside: “I’ve discovered some incredible walks in the Motherwell area. The River Calder is at the foot of the hill where my folks live, I’ve never been minded to go there before.”

Restrictions have also meant he hasn’t seen friends for some time, his last outing being a catch-up with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite.

“It shows you how much time is passing, I’ve not seen any pals since the summer when I met Stuart and we were chatting about how tough it’s been to make ends meet without live shows and they are a popular live band. I’m sure we’ll be out on the road at the same time soon.”

The band’s tour has now been delayed twice and while they hope to play dates this September, their rescheduled Belfast date won’t be until next April.

Our conversation turns to the recent release of the Alan McGee biopic Creation Stories. Teenage Fanclub released five albums on McGee’s label during the 90s.

“They always got behind us,” says McGinley “Alan and Dick Green spent their own money and took a risk on bands like us and Primal Scream which is amazing, the money didn’t start rolling in until a bit later when they signed Oasis.”

Norman Blake remembers Liam Gallagher inviting the group to hear the latest album by their Creation label mates.

“We were recording Songs From Northern Britain and we could hear this loud noise coming from downstairs. One day Liam [Gallagher] comes up and invites us down to listen to the album [Be Here Now] and have a beer.

"They had brought a PA system into the studio where usually you would have a small set of speakers. Liam proceeded to do a little show, singing along with a pretend mike and dancing about while throwing around some air guitar during the playback.”

McGinley says Creation were an important label for a lot of bands.

"I remember when Creation was winding down, Alan told us what was happening but he said: ‘Finish the record, Sony might want to pick it up but if not it’s no sweat you can have the album. It turned out well but no major label would put their own money in; they wouldn’t take the risk.

"There was a time when Creation was ridiculed by the mainstream music press and regarded as a bit of a joke label but Alan certainly had the last laugh.”

An irreverent sense of humour, while not taking the industry or themselves too seriousl,y has been a boon for the band. There’s been no shortage of ridiculous experiences that Blake and McGinley look back on with some fondness, such as the time Little Richard was introduced to them at the Hyatt Hotel in LA, taking Norman Blake’s hand and announcing: "Teenage Fanclub from Scotland. Cool!"

“It was a real moment for a couple of boys from Bellshill and Maryhill,” Blake confirms before McGinley adds: “In terms of ridiculousness, we did this acoustic tour in 1993 and it was like a promo thing with Norman, Gerry and myself in the US. We had to come on after Tony Bennett and his trio in San Francisco. He had just performed I Left My Heart In San Francisco and we had to walk past this phenomenal legend with a viola and a couple of acoustics thinking: “Aye, try following that!”

:: Endless Arcade is released today.

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