When people suggest to Norman Blake he might benefit from a hobby, the guitarist and co-vocalist from esteemed Scottish alternative rock band Teenage Fanclub tells them he already has two: buying guitars and making records.
“My hobbies intersect with what I do to make a living, which is an incredibly fortunate thing for me,” the chatty 52-year-old says. “I can’t even imagine how terrible it would be to play in a band if you didn’t love everything about it.”
Teenage Fanclub recently parted ways with co-founder Gerry Love.Credit:Mushroom
The flipside of that conviction is the band has to keep moving forward. In August, Teenage Fanclub parted ways with co-founder bassist and co-vocalist Gerry Love, who with Blake and guitarist Raymond McGinley was one of three singer-songwriters in the band. Love was no longer able to fly to shows, such as the group’s forthcoming Australian tour. The decision was made between friends, but still proved difficult.
“It’s perfectly amicable, but it’s going to be different,” Blake says. “We have to do these shows if we want to continue as a band that makes records and tours. We went back and forth for a few months but there was no way around that. It’s sad Gerry won’t be there and it will take time to get used to that, but the band will go on.
“There’s been no vitriol or fisticuffs. We’ve always done things in our own idiosyncratic way. We’ve never been massively successful, but we’ve always got by on our own terms and we’ve always been able to make another album and then go out and tour it. We want to keep doing that.”
Love is playing a final series of shows with Teenage Fanclub in Britain next month, celebrating the reissue of five of their key albums, including the power-pop riffs and bittersweet Big Star harmonies of 1991’s Bandwagonesque and 1993’s Thirteen. Even with his time counting down, some elements of band life haven’t changed.
“We have a rehearsal later today, so we’ll get into the room, run through the songs once, and then stand around gossiping for a few hours,” says Blake, who commutes between the band’s long-time base in Glasgow and the home he shares outside of Toronto with his Canadian wife.
The loss of Love, a year shy of Teenage Fanclub’s 30th anniversary, has Blake looking back. He remembers their ramshackle beginnings, when the band’s debut album, 1990’s A Catholic Education, was financed by the £150 McGinley made by selling a washing machine and dishwasher an elderly neighbour willed him, or their first trip to New York the same year, when midway through their gig at the legendary downtown venue CBGBs the band asked if anyone in the audience could put them up for the night.
“When I was 20, I thought 40 was ancient, but the older you get the older the ancient people get,” Love says. “It’s still exciting to do this, but the only way to make money as a musician is from touring because no one buys records anymore and the revenue from streaming is miniscule.”
Teenage Fanclub’s recent album, including 2016’s UK top 10 success Here, was released on their own label, and self-sufficiency has become a virtue. The group manage themselves and load their gear in and out of shows, and not just because their roadie of 25 years, George Borowski, is 68. Still, there’s room for a little humour.
“Maybe one day we’ll get back together with Gerry for a tour of Japan,” Blake jokes. “It worked for Spinal Tap."
Teenage Fanclub play the Corner Hotel, Richmond, on February 12 and 13, 2019; and the Metro Theatre, Sydney, on February 15. Tickets are on sale from frontiertouring.com
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