Teenage Fanclub: Norman Blake’s 5 Life Changing Albums

teenage_fanclub_1200Kurt Cobain once supposedly called them “the best band in the world,” while a slightly more sober Liam Gallagher ranked them as merely “the second best band in the world” (after Oasis, of course).

tfc_hereIn either case, Scotland’s own Teenage Fanclub is well worth knowing. Surpassing waves of slacker rock, Britpop and power-pop while managing to influence numerous generations of indie bands despite their cult status among connoisseurs of classic pop music, TFC is one of the most celebrated, cherished and simultaneously overlooked U.K. bands of the last 25 years.

Though they could easily rest on their laurels, ‘the fannies’ are back at it again with their first new album in six years, one already praised by critics and fans alike. Here has been described by as Uncut as ‘maybe their best this millennium; a triangulation of mature soppiness, mitigated contentment and indelible tuneage.’ Meanwhile, Pitchfork points out how their music has evolved over the years as a long and stable love affair propelled by intimacy, comfort, and shared admiration, describing the album as ‘a series of quiet revelations, the kind of thoughts you have in moments of clarity, surrounded by people you love.’

Teenage Fanclub emerged out of the town of Bellshill, near Glasgow, flourishing in the local jangly indie scene alongside wonderful bands like BMX Bandits and The Soup Dragons. Their noisy album debut, A Catholic Education (1990), is commonly considered a predecessor to the coming grunge craze.

tfc_bandwagonWith their breakthrough album Bandwagonesque released just a year later by way of Alan McGee’s legendary Creation Records things really started to come together for the band. Immediately praised upon release for its exceptional take on power-pop (think The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Big Star), Bandwagonesque was to be found atop many of the year’s best of polls, with Spin Magazine even placing it ahead of landmark albums like Nevermind, Loveless, Out of Time and Screamadelica at #1.

Though they didn’t achieve the same commercial success with their underrated follow-up Thirteen (1993), TFC were far from history. Grand Prix (1995) and Songs From Northern Britain (1997) stand as pillars not only in their catalog, but also in the annals of ‘90s pop music. In the years since they have continued to explore new terrain, evolving as a band while still staying true to the formula of classic and elegant pop craftsmanship. Working with cult icon Jad Fair (Words of Wisdom and Hope, 2002), Tortoise’ John McEntire on Man-Made (2005) and flirting with various styles within their loose framework over the years, the band in question is still very much alive and well and potent as ever.

Here is described as a record that embraces maturity and experience and hugs them close while expertly consolidating nearly three decades of peerless songwriting amongst the band’s three founding members: Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love. Long story short, Here marks but another victory for a seasoned act that’s still considered a cult band despite the fact that they ought to be rightfully praised as pop kings.

We invited main spokesman Norman Blake for a round of our series 5 Albums That Changed My Life.


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clash_ropeThe Clash:
Give Em’ Enough Rope (1978)

I could have picked anything by The Clash but this was the first record that I bought with my own money. Brilliant songs and it still sounds incredibly fresh and relevant.

painful_yolatengoYo La Tengo:
Painful (1993)

We toured with Yo La Tengo when this album was released 23 years ago. Very fond memories of hearing these songs every night on the tour. We ended up covering “I Heard You Looking.” Yo La Tengo are still good friends.

Chairs Missing (1978)

Wire were the most idiosyncratic band plying their trade in the UK in the late 70’s. There is no one quite like them and their music is instantly recognizable. They could be abstract and angular on a song like “Another The Letter,” and then write the most sublime pop song in “Outdoor Miner.” Brilliant album.


del_shannon_home_awayDel Shannon:
Home & Away (1967/2006)

Recorded in 1967 but unreleased until 1978. Produced by Andrew Loog Oldham. Del’s best and most interesting album, and completely overlooked at the time. I suppose they thought that at 33, Del was past his best. Loog Oldham’s orchestral arrangements are beautiful as is Del’s voice.

kinks_village_greenThe Kinks:
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

Ray Davies is a master songwriter and this is his masterpiece. Brilliant melodies with great lyrics. Nuff’ said. If you’ve never heard this album, do yourself a favour and purchase a copy immediately. God save the Village Green.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Opprinnelig publisert på read.tidal.com, september 2016

Half Japanese: Jad Fair on 5 Albums That Changed His Life


— If you want it to be fast, play fast. If you wanna go slow, go slow. That’s all there is to it, it’s that easy to play guitar. Some people worry about chords and stuff, and that’s all right too. There are all kinds of music in this world.
— Well, you do need chords in order to plug the guitar in, but that’s pretty much it.

Jad & David Fair on playing guitar,
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (1993)

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half_japanese_lionsDiligently recording and releasing unique music since the mid ‘70s, Half Japanese is an American outsider music institution, one that represents the true embodiment of cult heroes.

With Hear the Lions Roar (Fire Records, 2017), their 16th full-length studio effort to date, the underground icons have once again garnered widespread critical acclaim, celebrated for conjuring that same urgency and vitality first heard on record four decades ago.

Of the band’s most recent work, NPR states: “[The album] bolsters that Half Japanese tradition, with 13 diverse, attention-grabbing tunes that rival the band’s ’80s classics such as Charmed Life and The Band That Would Be King. Amid hard-riff jams, swinging ditties, lovelorn ballads and other catchy gems, Jad persistently breathes life into the Half Japanese repertoire, once described by his brother as ‘monster songs and love songs.’”

The Half Japanese story could easily be titled ‘songs about monsters and love.’ Brothers Jad and David Fair first started out playing as Half Japanese when their parents relocated from Michigan to Uniontown, Maryland in the 1970s. Half Japanese was then born in their bedroom in spite of the fact that the Fair brothers had little to no idea about how exactly to play their instruments. Instead, they enthusiastically hammered out homemade tunes peppered with humor, energy and innocence, with lyrics frequently concerned about horror flicks, monsters, tabloids and women.

It’s been said that they were heavily inspired by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock. As such, and as a direct equivalent to Pollock’s form of action painting, Jad and David Fair relied more on their raw thirst for creation rather than on their technical shortcomings. They are rightfully considered to have spearheaded both the lo-fi and D.I.Y. movements, thereby foreshadowing a great deal of what the indie rock scene would come to explode in the ‘90s.

half_japanese_gentlemenThe band’s official recording career began with a characteristically ambitious triple album, 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts (1980), later chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 most influential alternative albums of all time. Over the years, Half Japanese have faithfully released music at a tremendous pace, as Half Japanese, as solo artists and in numerous additional collaborations. And aside from David Fair, who handed over the duties to his brother in the early 1980s but has made occasional guest appearance over the years, the band features the same members who have been at Jad’s side since the late ’80s and early ’90s: John Sluggett (guitar, keys, timbales), Gilles-Vincent Rieder (drums, percussion, keys), Jason Willett (bass, keys), Mick Hobbs (guitar, glockenspiel).

They’ve never come close to breaking into mainstream but have consistently followed their own artistic vision all along, enjoying support from bands they’d influenced like Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and, of course, Nirvana. Kurt Cobain ranked them among his very favorites, chose them to open for Nirvana on the In Utero tour and was even wearing their T-shirt when he died.

Proudly to introduce the latest work from these underrated art-rockers with a round of 5 Albums That Changed My Life, answered by the one and only Jad Fair.


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‘It’s difficult to choose the 5 albums that had the biggest impact on me,’ admits Fair. ‘There are so many albums that I’ve played over and over and over again. The five albums I chose are…’:

The Stooges:
Fun House
(Elektra, 1970)
I grew up in Michigan and I thought I was in the best place in the world for music. We had The MC5, Motown and The Stooges. I bought Fun House when it first came out and played it more than any other album I had. I loved its energy. I think it’s a perfect album.

shaggsThe Shaggs:
Philosophy of the World
(Third Word, 1969)
I was given a cassette tape of Philosophy of the World in 1977 and was blown away by it. The music is great and the lyrics are sweet and pure. I was surprised to later find out that The Shaggs always used music sheets. Two years ago Dot Wiggin released a new album and asked me to do the cover art. I was thrilled to do it.


The Modern Lovers:
The Modern Lovers
(Beserkley, 1976)
I first heard about The Modern Lovers in 1974. Interview magazine had an interview with Jonathan Richman. The interview struck a chord with me. He was doing what I wanted to do. I bought the Modern Lovers album in ’76 and loved it. Everything about it is spot on. Jonathan is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. Excellent times ten.

daniel_hiDaniel Johnston:
Hi, How Are You
(self-released, 1983)
Half Japanese had a tour of the U.S. in 1986. At a show in Austin Daniel Johnston’s manager Jeff Tartakov gave me a tape of Hi, How Are You. While on tour we played it more times than any other album. Daniel is an amazing songwriter. I started writing to Daniel and was able to record with him in 1990. I’m so lucky to have Daniel as a friend.


Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band:
Trout Mask Replica
(Straight/Reprise, 1969)
My brother David had all of Captain Beefheart’s albums. Trout Mask Replica is an album I immediately flipped for. The Magic Band had a sound all their own. It was like nothing else I had heard. The blues roots were solid yet they took it to another level. The musicianship is top-notch.

Bjørn Hammershaug