Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub
The shuffler: Norman Blake, singer-guitarist of veteran Scottish pop outfit Teenage Fanclub. Since forming the band in 1989 and playing on classics like 1991’s Bandwagonesque and 1997’s Songs From Northern Britain, Blake has also collaborated, both solo and with the group, with everyone from the Pastels to Jad Fair to former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euros Childs, with whom Blake currently plays in the duo Jonny In Edinburgh. Teenage Fanclub’s 10th full-length, Shadows, is out this month on Merge Records.
Wire, “Straight Line”
Norman Blake: This is great. I don’t have the name here, but it’s one of the really short tracks from Pink Flag.
The A.V. Club: They’re all pretty short.
NB: Yeah. [Laughs.] This one’s 44 seconds long. Pink Flag is an amazing LP, even if it’s over before you know it. It’s one of the seminal punk-rock albums. All the songs on it are great.
AVC: Do you remember the first time you heard Pink Flag?
NB: The first Wire record I remember hearing is Chairs Missing, the one after Pink Flag. “Outdoor Miner” was the single from that album, and I loved that single. That would have been in 1979 or ’80.
AVC: What did you make of Wire at the time?
NB: It was way more sophisticated than most punk-rock bands. The punk music that I liked then was, like, the Buzzcocks. Those Wire records are very melodic, too. They have these great little songs on them. I’ve actually bought a lot of their later albums after they got back together in the ’80s, but they’re quite different.
AVC: Would you say that Wire or punk in general influenced the way you write songs?
NB: I suppose indirectly. Most of the punk music I liked then was melodic. I think when I started writing songs, I always started with melody rather than making some kind of noise or whatever. That was of more interest to me.
Honeybus, “How Long”
NB: I don’t know if Honeybus was popular in the U.S. It was this British ’60s pop group. It had a big hit with a song called “I Can’t Let Maggie Go.” [Sings.] “She flies like a bird in the sky…” They had a couple of hits over here. This song is on my iPod because I do a bit of work with [Creation Records co-founder] Joe Foster of Rev-Ola Records, and he reissues lots of stuff like this. One of the things we remastered recently is a collection of Honeybus singles. “How Long” is on it, and it’s a really fantastic pop song. I’m not even entirely sure if it was a big hit in the UK, but it’s so incredible. They were fronted by a guy called Pete Dello, and he went on to make his own records. With a lot of these lost classics, I can almost see why they weren’t so popular or successful. They might have only a couple of decent songs. But Honeybus was really fabulous. It’s almost like The Left Banke or one of those things. But you can tell Honeybus is English. There’s just something about it. It has this kind of pastoral aspect, you know? There are also elements of groups like The Creation in there, but they’re more of a pop band. The Creation had a little more of an edge.
AVC: Have you always been into ’60s music?
NB: The first music I was really into was punk rock, because that’s what was happening when I was a young teenager. I loved that. But when I got a little bit older, the Postcard groups came along in Glasgow, and they totally opened my eyes to music. The one depressing thing about the post-punk period was the idea that all the music made before 1977 was irrelevant, which was clearly nonsense. But when you’re young and easily influenced, you may listen to that kind of idea. So along came Orange Juice and said, “The Buzzcocks are amazing. Punk rock is amazing. But so is Al Green and Love and The Seeds and The 13th Floor Elevators.” That’s how I discovered that music, because Orange Juice came along and said it was okay to listen to it. I would go and track down all the bands they always talked about.
AVC: What was it like being in the middle of the Postcard scene as it was happening?
NB: It was amazing. We were asked to play last year with Edwyn Collins. We did a couple of other shows with him, old Orange Juice songs, and it was great. When I first started a band, Orange Juice was the template. I wanted my band to be like them. It was the greatest band around, for me. It was great to see those bands back then: I saw Aztec Camera, Josef K, and later The Pastels, which I ended up joining. That was really the start of the Glasgow music scene.
Kit And The Outlaws, “Don’t Tread On Me”
NB: This is from one of the Songs The Cramps Taught Us compilations, the ones with all the old ’50s and ’60s songs The Cramps covered. They’re amazing. I’ve bought all of them. This is a pretty good one, actually, but there are so many good tracks on these compilations. I’m a 7-inch-single person, so I like to track these down on records. It’s very difficult. I did track one down recently, a single called “Whiplash” by The Shells. It’s a great kind of dance record. It’s really scratched and beat up, but I like to deejay with it.
AVC: You’re a fan of The Cramps, then?
NB: I love The Cramps. The first record I bought of theirs was the “Garbage Man” single. On the sleeve of that record, if you look at Bryan Gregory, he looks as if he’s half-man, half-leather. He looks as if he’s some beast from the underworld. [Laughs.] It’s a good look. And Lux Interior, Poison Ivy… What’s not to love? That’s a proper legend, that is.
Jonathan Richman, “That Summer Feeling”
NB: I love Jonathan Richman. I love everything he’s done. “That Summer Feeling” is one of those incredible songs. The lyrics—“When the teenage car gets the cop down on it, when the flat of the land has got the crop down on it, when the catamaran has got the top down on it”—just unbelievably brilliant, you know? The last time I saw Jonathan was about six months ago, and he just gets better and better. I’ve got this little story: A friend of mine was promoting a show of Jonathan’s, and he came up to me and said, “You’ll never guess what Jonathan Richman’s rider was.” I said, “I don’t know, what was it?” And he said, “The rider was: a glass of tap water onstage at the side of the microphone. That was it.” [Laughs.] It had to be tap water.
AVC: Do you keep up with his newer albums?
NB: Oh yeah. A more recent Jonathan song I love is “My Baby Love Love Loves Me.” He did it live the last time he was in Glasgow, and he had everyone in the room singing for 10 minutes. There were 300 people in this room worshipping at the temple of Jonathan.