Teenage Fanclub: Caledonia Dreaming

Teenage Fanclub returns with songs of love, hope and redemption

Six years in the flimsy, fickle world of rock and pop is a veritable lifetime. Stars come and go and flame out, trends develop at head-spinning speed, entire cities are razed to the ground and civilizations collapse. Luckily, there are still some constants that remain solid and unchanged, beacons of light and hope in an increasingly dark and twisted world, one of which is the continuing existence of beloved Scottish indie godfathers Teenage Fanclub. The band’s very being makes the world a better place, and now it’s back with a new album, Here. So, what took these guys so long?

“Procrastination! Inertia!” laughs the Fanclub’s Norman Blake from his home in Toronto, where he’s lived for the past seven years. “After the last record, I’d just moved over here, so I guess I just wasn’t back in Glasgow. And after every album and tour, you take time off, which for most bands is a couple of years. We did talk about getting together sooner, but it just didn’t happen.”

Instead, members embarked on a variety of side projects—Gerry Love put out the sparkling Lightships; Raymond McGinley worked with TFC sideman Dave McGowan’s folk group Snowgoose; while Blake collaborated with Joe Pernice and released a psych/pop gem in the form of Johnny with ex-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman, Euros Childs. They then reconvened about two years ago, recording and mixing in Southern France, Glasgow and Berlin. And even after long periods apart, the band appears to have fallen back into it all almost seamlessly.

“Y’know we do,” says Blake. “Because we’ve been doing it for so long! We’ve been together for 25 years now, and the core of the band’s remained pretty much intact. Everything becomes intuitive; we meet up and just slip back into being Teenage Fanclub. So, that’s all pretty easy, to be honest with you.”

Here is very much in the tradition of mellow, late-period Fanclub. Glorious, God-given harmonies? Check. Chiming, ethereal guitars? Double check. Vague sense of autumnal melancholy and contemplation of one’s mortality? Triple check. In the youth-fetishizing world of rock and pop, subject matter such as growing old together, the importance of close friends and loved ones, is pretty much anathema, but it’s an area that the Fanclub keep returning to with a huge degree of warmth and empathy.

“Yeah, but that’s what happens when you hit your 40s: You start to think about that,” says Blake. “I think it’s inevitable if you’re writing about your life experience, you’re getting older; it’s just a fact. It’s about confronting the future, your place in the world; it’s interesting to write about. I mean, we all do it in our heads anyway. It’s just nice to express these thoughts in a song. We’ve always just tried to write about what we know as opposed to some fantastical image or whatever. I mean, we’re never going to be the Peter Pans of pop, trying to act like we’re still 20. Some people do, but it’s a pretty tragic way of making a living, being a rock ’n’ roll musician, when you think about it. It’s like something Mani, when he was in Primal Scream at the time, said to me, which pretty much summed it up. We were playing a festival in Dublin, and he’d been out the night before and was really hungover and it was all these youngsters backstage. And he looked at me and said, “Norman? Rock ’n’ roll? Young man’s game!”

Blake laughs, then pauses. “I know, the clock’s ticking, isn’t it?” he says. “It’s crazy, time just happens, and I’m thinking, ‘What happened there?’ But maybe that’s part of the reason we’ve lasted so long: We never overworked it. Maybe very early on. We did three albums in three years, but after that we just took our time. But it’s been good, it’s been great; we’ve been really, really lucky. I mean, our main objective, when we started the band, was just to release an album; that’s all we ever wanted to do. And we’ve never really had a plan, y’know? One thing’s just led to another.”

—Neil Ferguson