As the band gets ready to revisit their Creation Records years across three very special gigs, we catch up with founding member Norman Blake to reminisce
Teenage Fanclub's mix of jangling guitars and fuzz rock helped define Scottish indie and forge links with the American grunge scene. The band are getting ready to play a special three-night stand at the Barrowlands to celebrate those formative years and to mark the re-release of their most beloved albums from their days at Creation Records. Each gig will see them revisit a specific time period, playing two full albums from start to finish. Night one is songs from 1991–93 (Bandwagonesque and Thirteen), the second shows covers 1994–97 (Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain), rounding off with 1998–2000 (Howdy and a special b-sides and rarities set). Vocalist and guitarist Norman Blake takes us on a trip back through time as he recalls the highs and lows of the Creation years.
How did you first hook up with Creation Records?
I'd always known Alan McGee through Bobby Gillespie [from Primal Scream]. He wanted to know what we were up to, we said 'we want to make another record'. So we headed down to Amazon studio in Liverpool and he started paying for the recording session. We had no contact at all, in theory we could have made that record and said 'Thanks for paying, Alan,' and shopped it around. That was the kind of label Creation was. Creation had Primal Scream's Screamdelica and Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Bandwagonesque all being made at the same time. Alan and Dick Green [Creation co-founder] had to remortgage their house to pay for it all, you can't imagine a record label doing that now. Fortunately for everyone, the records were successful and the company went from strength to strength from that point.
Did it feel like you'd stepped up a new level when Bandwagonesque came out?
You find yourself on Saturday Night Live and think 'How did that happen?' It's amazing how quickly it happened, six months later and we're playing shows with Nirvana on their Nevermind tour. We just took it all for granted, we just enjoyed it, we had no expectations, we had ambitions to make great records but no ambition to be famous.
How was the Nirvana tour?
They're all nice people. Kurt [Cobain] was such a nice guy, he had his problems obviously, but he was a decent guy and it's tragic what happened. They were great live, an amazing band, we had a lot of fun on that tour. It was amazing to witness that phenomenon the way that it went from nothing to this massive thing and I don't think Kurt enjoyed that aspect of it, he couldn't handle it.
Teenage Fanclub have become synonymous with Nirvana it's impossible to read an article without them being mentioned.
We'd known them from before. I met Kurt for the first time with Eugene Kelly on the Bleach tour. Nirvana were playing Edinburgh and Kurt had asked The Vaselines to reform [to support Nirvana] I was there when they first met, I was the third person in the room. We met Krist Novoselic and he was like "nice to meet you Eugene, Kurt's upstairs in the dressing room." So we went upstairs and Kurt was wearing really heavy eye liner and he looks at Eugene and goes "wow I can't believe I'm meeting Eugene Kelly, I'm such a big fan." and that's where their friendship started, I witnesses that not knowing what was going to happen next.
There's also a famous quote where Kurt calls Teenage Fanclub his favourite band but I've never been able to find the source of that quote, do you know where it comes from?
He never said it because we weren't even his favourite band from Glasgow [laughs], that was the Vaselines, he did like us but you'll never find the source of that quote because it doesn't exist. The Vaselines were the band that he loves, they covered, I think, four of their songs, Eugene still gets the odd cheque for royalties.
You also played Reading festival for the first time this period. How was that?
Festivals are great fun from the musicians point of view, you just turn up and play, there's no sound check no faffing around, you just do it then have a couple of beers with your friends back stage. And at that stage I'd want to watch a lot of the bands, it was exciting, getting in for nothing and getting paid for it.
Bandwagonesque had amazing reviews but how did it feel when the critics laid into follow up Thirteen?
I think a big part of that was myself and Gerry [Love, TFC bassist and vocalist] did an interview just before that album came out talking about how it hadn't been a very good experience making the record. I think we just went down the rabbit hole recording it. We should have taken a break after touring Bandwagonesque but we went straight in, so it was just a torturous experience. I think what we were unhappy with was the experience, not the music, but we learned a lot from it.
Drummer Brendan O'Hare left and Paul Quinn (The Soup Dragons) joined. Did that have an effect on the band?
You change one individual in the band and the dynamic changes. It's not better or worse it's just different, Paul had a different style, a heavier hitter and a really solid drummer.
Do you remember playing the first T in the Park in 1994?
I remember it being about three miles from my mother's house so that was nice. I went back to my mum's for a cup of tea. I remember it quite well, Katrina [Mitchell] from the Pastels played keyboards with us for the first and only time. If I'm not mistaken, Crowded House played that night. I met Neil Finn, he was a nice fella.
How did you feel going back into the studio after the critical mauling of Thirteen?
After what had happened with Thirteen, we had a plan, we knew the songs we wanted to record. We had about 16 songs and that's all we recorded. We brought in a guy called David Bianco, who sadly passed away a few months ago, who we'd met through Frank Black [Pixies] and he came in as producer, he was really enthusiastic and did a great job on that record [Grand Prix].
We recorded at the Manor Studios in Oxford, it's where I met my wife. Krista was the housekeeper there, so that was a very pleasant experience for me.
Did that momentum roll into Songs From Northern Britain?
I think both those records go together in a way, it was a continuum, there's a similarity in style, it felt like a very smooth transition from one into the other.
Creation was the epicentre for Britpop after signing Oasis. How do you think TFC fit into the Britpop story?
We played with Pulp quite a bit and did shows with Blur and Oasis. We knew all those guys but we never felt part of anything, it was just a phrase invented to sell the NME. That idea of the return of the swinging 60s was a load of rubbish. Our part in that: peripheral [laughs].
What do you remember about recording Howdy?
I feel it's a bit neglected. By that point, Creation had gone, Alan McGee called us midway through, saying 'Just to let you know we're going to stop the label but keep recording and either Sony will put this out or you can just take the record and put it out yourself'. Sony decided to pick up the option. Unfortunately by the time it was released, we didn't know many people there and they didn't really know how to promote the band. It's just one of those things, but we're happy with the record, it's got some great songs on it.
Did it feel like the end of an era?
It did. Creation were prepared to lose their homes to put albums out. It was a great little place, we'd go into the office after a show – Alan's teetotal these days but around Bandwagonesque he'd be like 'Come round, I'll send for some beer' – then seven hours later there'd be a total party going on, people popping ecstasy left, right and centre. It was a real motley crew but there were real characters working there.
Teenage Fanclub –The Creation Years, Barrowland, Glasgow, Mon 29–Wed 31 Oct.