The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Is This Music? Norman Blake's Favourite Albums
Julian Marszalek , July 28th, 2021 13:06

From the overlooked influence of Throbbing Gristle to an enduring love of The Velvet Underground, via Broadcast, The Rolling Stones and more, Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake picks the thirteen records that shaped him

Photo by Donald Milne

Not even the forecast of rain can dampen Norman Blake’s spirits for what’s to come after this interview. “It’s going to be our first time in the beer garden, so I’m taking my umbrella with me!” he says cheerfully. “I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be great fun, I’m sure.”

Indeed, such is Norman Blake’s sunny disposition, that those with a fondness for a flutter would do well betting on the rain coming off second best. But then again, that’s always been the way for Teenage Fanclub. Since the turn of the millennium they’ve returned every five years or so. It’s akin to hearing from an old friend, a catch up down the pub to see how things are. These are records that act as a marker of where you are with life, a process that began with the intimate and personal themes of romance and the passage of time that characterised 1997’s Songs From Northern Britain. Subsequent releases have proved to be both reflective and joyous, and the return of Teenage Fanclub is as comforting as snuggle on the sofa or a bacon sandwich with brown sauce on a cold winter morning.

“In a way, that’s how we think about making records,” says Blake. “They capture a moment in time and they’re a reflection of ourselves, and our lives and the world and our place in it. It’s been that way for quite a number of years, so maybe that’s why you can relate to them in that sense.”

And so it is with their new album, Endless Arcade. Their strongest collection of songs in almost a quarter of a century, gorgeous soaring melodies, goosebump inducing harmonies and chiming guitars are offset by personal and professional break-ups. Not that this should be viewed as a concept album.

“We never discuss the lyrical content and never really discuss the musical content,” explains Blake. “We just get together and start playing. I suppose after such a long time working together, it’s pretty intuitive. Everyone is sensitive and aware of the best way to compliment the songs.”

He continues: “On previous albums back in the day, whoever wrote the song would direct things a little, but on this record – even though it was me and Raymond who’ve written the songs – we’d come in in the morning and if it was me, I’d play a song on the guitar and then people would just start working out their own parts there and then. And then we’d arrange it together as a group of musicians. So that’s the way we do it now. We have faith and trust in each that what we do is going to be complimentary and it seems to work. We enjoy working that way.”

It’s a safe bet that the working methods have changed Chez Fannies, not least as the main structure of the band was altered with the departure of co-founder, co-vocalist, songwriter and bassist Gerard Love who left after a disagreement over touring schedules. But as Blake points out, the new-look Teenage Fanclub has been gestating for some time.

“On this album, it’s Dave McGowan on bass and Francis Macdonald on drums and they’ve been playing with us for a long, long time,” says Blake. “The new element that’s come to the band is [former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci singer-keyboardist] Euros Childs, but we’ve had a band together [Jonny] for a long time, and he’s also played on some of our past records. He’s a part of the family too. It’s very intuitive and we don’t have the preamble at all.”

He adds: “When Gerry announced that he was leaving the band, we did those shows based around the Creation Records re-issues, so it wasn’t like there was some kind of instant split. We actually worked together for another few months, so we’ve made the transition into our new selves. It’s been really smooth. We’ve done about 100 gigs post-Gerry, so for us it’s kinda been business as usual. We’re just getting on with it.”

And speaking of getting on with it, let’s delve into those 13 albums that currently make up Norman Blake’s Baker’s Dozen…

Teenage Fanclub's new album Endless Arcade is out now via PeMa and Merge. They tour the UK in September, with tickets here. To begin reading Norman Blake’s Baker’s Dozen, click the image of him below