27 November 2016 at The Glee Club, Cardiff
After seeing Teenage Fanclub back in September in London, I decided that I would definitely go and see them again when they toured their new album Here later in the year. So, I went along to Rock City in Nottingham and stuck to the floor having a lovely time last week.
My friend Rob Morgan had been to see them the night before in Cardiff and as I like to have other people write for the site, I asked him if he fancied doing a review of the show. He did, and here is it!
“Teenage Fanclub? Isn’t that a bit normal for you, Rob? I mean, I’ve heard of them for a start, but I must admit I didn’t know they were still going…” Those were the words of my sister in law as I departed for the gig on Sunday night. She had dropped by for a cup of tea so I took that as a good chance to escape. After all, this was the second time I had seen Teenage Fanclub this Autumn – I was lucky enough to see their opening gig of the season in Bristol in September, just before their current album Here was released. At that point they seemed tentative, not filling the set with new and unfamiliar songs from the album, playing mainly the classic material available within their rich back catalogue. How would they have changed a few months on – after the critical acclaim for Here had it receiving the best reviews for a Teenage Fanclub album since the late 90’s. I was about to find out.
First though were the support act Spinning Coin, a new four piece from Glasgow. They have a single Albany / Sides available now and an album due for release on Geographic Records in the new year, and it promises to be a good one. On record Spinning Coin channel the warm fuzz of Galaxie 500 in a reverb soaked haze, live they are more in your face, tunes that are short and sharp, tempos changing here and there, songs sung by the two lead singer / guitarists giving a good variety of sounds and emotions. I met up with them later, they seemed very shy but pleased to be getting the exposure. Worth keeping an eye on.
Of course, Teenage Fanclub go one better than Spinning Coin – they have three lead vocalists to spread the load, three distinct voices and styles of songwriting and styles of presenting themselves. Over to the right Gerard Love looks pretty much the same as he did back in the mid 90’s, he hangs back by his bass amplifiers when not singing, taking in the music and providing the rock solid basslines. Over on the right Raymond McGinley looks like a physics teacher, plays guitar like an angel and barely acknowledges the crowd, only speaking once to say “thanks” after one of his songs towards the end of the set. Meanwhile in the middle, Norman Blake swap guitars after almost every song (it’s a tuning / capo thing) and beams with the smile of someone who still can’t believe his luck to be playing these fantastic songs in front of a crowd who love them.
There’s a strange camaraderie about a Teenage Fanclub gig. The crowd treats the band like old family friends, engaging in conversations with Blake, shouting out requests (sadly neither Discolite or Broken got played, though Blake did consider the latter), welcoming them back to Wales and more. A lovely atmosphere in an intimate venue – no pushing, shoving, crowd surfing, maybe we’re all too old for that?
But what of the gig itself? Oh, it was lovely, absolutely lovely. Teenage Fanclub have relaxed a little since September and are more comfortable playing songs from Here, half of the album was played. The set alternates between the three singers – the order goes Blake to Love to McGinley if you are interested – so Blake will sing Start Again, Love follows with Sometimes I Don’t Believe in Anything, McGinley follows with Hold On then back to Blake… it is a true democracy and a chance to hear the three distinct voices in harmony. The new songs fit in well with the classics in their catalogue – The Darkest Part of the Night is easily the equal to I Don’t Want Control of You, Hold On is the kind of hopeful jangle that fitted into Grand Prix, maybe with a little less emphasis on the fuzzbox. On the other hand, they can still pile on the layers of guitar noise – particularly when fifth member David McGowan gets out from behind his keyboards and straps on a guitar, such as on Starsign and I’m in Love. When they all come together for traditional encore closer Everything Flows, the noise is ecstatic and Blake’s grin spreads even wider as he turns on some strange contraption to make his guitar into an absolute noise monster. But before that, the audience is treated to a set list of classics – Ain’t That Enough, About You, The Concept, Verisimilitude all get a grand reception and the crowd singing – alongside treats from their more recent albums like Baby Lee (from 2010’s Shadows album) and It’s All In My Mind (from 2005’s Man-Made album). There is even a rare playing of My Uptight Life from Howdy!, a song with such an emotional clout that Blake admits “I’ve got something in my eye there…” afterwards.
In all, a blissful evening then. Teenage Fanclub are definitely still going, and still going strong. Long may they continue – and don’t take so long to return to Wales next time!