“I think we’re still trying to discover how to write a good song.”
It’s a sentiment which might sound reasonable coming from most musicians, but it doesn’t seem right to hear it from Gerry Love. As one quarter of Scotland’s mighty Teenage Fanclub for nearly 30 years, Love has been personally responsible for writing some of the most beautiful and peerless songs of the times, among them Star Sign, Ain’t That Enough, I Need Direction and Sparky’s Dream. Evidently it’s a craft that he understands far more than most.
To his credit, though, this is something he’s entirely modest about. Speaking exclusively to Northern Soul, Love says: “I don’t think we see ourselves as experimentalists or anything like that. We’re traditionalists, really. I don’t think we’re trying to push boundaries at all. I just think were trying to do something strong if we can.”
This week, Teenage Fanclub released its tenth studio album, Here. It’s true, it doesn’t represent the band setting off in a bold and radical new direction. There are no Spinal Tap-style jazz odysseys here. There’s perhaps some added darkness lurking at the edges, but when you have a such a special way with guitars, melodies, harmonies and love songs, business as usual is definitely the way to go. It’s a glorious record composed of songs you’ll want to spend years getting to know and, in that respect, it’s very much like previous albums – and thank the Lord for that.
It’s been six years since the band released its immediate predecessor, Shadows. In the meantime Love launched his first ever solo project, under the moniker Lightships. He’s perfectly happy to be back as part of a group now, though.
“Doing the Lightships thing made me appreciate the band in a different way than I had before, I think. Although it was good for me to be completely responsible for every twist and turn, I discovered through doing it that I really liked the variety of working with others. I was just used to that idea of different voices on a Teenage Fanclub record, and there’s something nice about that variety that I kind of missed in Lightships. I suppose doing that gave me a lot more confidence going into this new Teenage Fanclub record as well, simply because I’d had to be more active and more responsible than I had been. That was a good learning experience for me.”
The warmth and harmony in which Teenage Fanclub’s songs are steeped always appear to be reflected by the band’s own inter-relations. While many of their 90s contemporaries have long since split up (and then reformed, for good measure and for the nostalgia circuit), the Fannies have always stayed together and kept on going, with core long-term members Love, Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley each contributing a roughly equal number of self-penned songs to each new album.
Are they always such a democratic bunch, though, behind closed doors?
“Well, in any group of individuals there will obviously be different ideas and different opinions,” Love says. “That’s just human nature, I think, isn’t it? But we’ve got on really fine over the course of it and it is a true democracy in terms of how decisions are made about what we do. I mean, if one of us doesn’t want to do something, it’s fine, we don’t do it, and that’s OK, y’know? It’s definitely not been like some kind of sweet story or whatever from the start. There have been issues. But it’s not about what happens, it’s about how you react and how you deal with things, and we’ve always dealt with things well, I think.”
The issue of ‘creative differences’ that has forced so many bands to split doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Fannies.
“No, not for us it isn’t,” reflects Love. “Actually, the fuel in the engine is the music. That’s really the most important thing. The rest of it is just a side-show really.”
Indeed, Love is happy to admit that there are songs by his fellow band members that he’d love to have written. “Oh yeah, of course. Aye, definitely. I mean, back before Teenage Fanclub started, Norman and Raymond were in a group called Boy Hairdressers that I was a fan of, so the thing is for me, I was a serious admirer of Norman’s work before any of this. Norman really is something else. A song like About You for example is a real cracker, I think.”
The band’s three songwriters manage to combine and create a unified, instantly identifiable sound. Perhaps the only major left turn in their career so far has been their second album, 1991’s The King, which was composed of squalling improvised instrumentals and cover versions, and deleted on the same day it was released.
Love says: “I have good memories of making The King, but I have never listened to it since because it’s just a racket, y’know? It’s good sometimes to do that kind of thing, and I’m glad we did it, but I don’t think we’d want to do it again and again because it’s better to play to your strengths a bit. It’s like, if you start off like Lionel Messi, you’d want to go in goals one week or something. But in a way it’s good to know your position and to do it well.”
Undoubtedly, Teenage Fanclub have built a strong legacy, though it’s not entirely clear what it is yet. Love is unsure that they’ve been a direct influence on younger bands.
“I’ve not really heard anybody that sounds particularly like us musically, but if somebody’s just inspired by your presence, as we were, well, that’s a good thing. If you see people from your own town or your own country or your own generation doing something extraordinary, I think that’s inspiring enough. You don’t have to maybe look like them or sound like them. I think sometimes that can be the impetus that changes things. It’s absolutely brilliant if anyone ever has looked at us and thought, ‘If those mugs can do it, we can do it’.”
The band are currently playing a select few live dates to accompany the release of Here, including a sold-out gig at Manchester’s Gorilla, ahead of a larger-scale tour later in the year. Despite the groundswell of affection for their earlier output, though, they’ve usually resisted the anniversary ‘perform the classic album’ tours beloved of so many of their contemporaries, aside from a single pair of 2006 concerts reviving their 1991 classic Bandwagonesque. This resistance to looking back is quite conscious, Love says.
“We kind of reject that self-celebrating thing. We’ve never had an album launch or anything like that. We never celebrated our 20th year in existence. We don’t really have birthday parties and all that. I don’t know why that is, but I just like being in the moment. I like pushing forward, really. I think for us it’s always about the next thing we’re going to do, although the next thing we do might sound like the last thing we did, for us we feel as if we’re in the moment.”
Endless anniversary tours and deluxe edition re-releases can smack of chasing former glories, though.
“Aye, it’s a kind of lap of honour or something. You do that when the race is over, and for us, we’re still in it. It’s a very long race we’re in, but we still feel like it’s not over yet. I mean, you’ve got to make a living, you’ve got to make ends meet, and if people want to do that kind of thing, that’s absolutely fine. But for us, just the way we are as people, we’ve never really patted ourselves on the back, or wanted anybody to pat us on the back. We just want to keep going.”
Here is available to buy now