When I was 14 year old trainee indie kid, my favourite thing to do was go to Birmingham to record shop with my mate Trig. I say record shopping, our paper round money only stretched as far as the train ticket and a lowly lunch (always, I seem to remember, a can of fizzy Vimto and a packet of salt and vinegar Disco's crisps), but we did like to look at the records and the cute girls in stripy tights and Mega City Four t-shirts. Though we didn't discuss it, we both hoped to run in to a pop star whilst in the big city, one of Ned's Atomic Dustbin perhaps, or the holy of holies Miles Hunt out of the Wonder Stuff.*
One day, in Birmingham's Virgin Megastore, I was flicking through the 7” singles while Trig rifled through the CD's downstairs. Across from me, on the other side of the rack was Norman from Teenage Fanclub. I knew it was him from reading the NME with religious zeal. He had the trademark long centre parting and Lennon specs and was wearing a dufflecoat and singing along loudly to the Neil Young track blaring out of the PA.**I stood awestruck. It was if George Best or Ghandi was in your local Co Op. I stood and watched him for a while, desperately trying to find something to say to him, but my bottle went so I joined Trig to look at the PWEI shorts upstairs. Later while drinking pop and eating crisps in Victoria Square, freezing in our long sleeve t-shirts (much to the chagrin of our mothers but vital to show off our indie loyalties) I didn't mention the sighting to Trig. It was a little because I knew he would be annoyed I didn't grab him immediately (he would have certainly had the courage to say hello), a little because I thought he wouldn't believe me but mostly because I wanted the moment, the little bit of magic, to be my own.
At that point the only Teenage Fanclub music I actually owned was a cassette compilation which included What You Do To Me. I decided this situation needed rectifying post-haste. I felt I owed it to my new pal Norman to listen to his records properly. So, I consulted a lad in the year above called Kev Walder. As well as being Shropshire's premier expert on Depeche Mode, he was very friendly and happy to assist and advise aspiring indie kids. He told my I needed to get a copy of Bandwagonesque, which had a pink cover and and money bag on the front. I saved my paper round money and bought the cassette from Rainbow Records. It was love at first listen.
Cut to a few later, it's a deliciously hot day at the Phoenix festival. Teenage Fanclub are on-stage and my pal Sam and me are sat towards the back being gamely chatted up by two girls from Newcastle. “You know what I do if I'm enjoying a band?” asks Norman “I like to wave my shoe at them. Can you wave shoes at me?” With that the view to the stage is blocked by hundreds of items of footwear being held aloft. Norman lets go a cheeky grin and tunes up. It's around this time it occurs to me I'm doing one of my favourite bands an injustice by sitting down at the back and need to experience them from the front. I make my excuses to the girls and Sam (who look at me like I've lost leave of my senses) and slalom my way through the people sat crossed legged, avoiding knocking paper cupped pints over, to go to the front. As walk, the sun pops up above the stage and the opening chords of Alcoholiday ring out. This is, by far, is my favourite Fannies song by a mile at this stage and it's the only time I've seen them do it live. There's something magical about it, being young, a little drunk, the mix of sunshine and those lazy, woozy chords. It's some kind of magic and remains one of my all time favourite live music moments.
Meanwhile, the Fannies release increasingly wonderful records and something called 'the internet' gets invented. I'm quite lucky, my dad is the secretary of his union and as such is responsible for sending 'emails' and before we know it we have a brand spanking new computer and a dial up modem. Whilst having all the information in the world at our finger tips is cool, it's actually more fun downloading music by the armful. Soon I'm looking up bands 'websites' and stumble across fans forums or message boards. Interestingly, Teenage Fanclub have their own message board. I decide to enquire within.
This was the period when message boards were at their absolute pomp. The TFC board was crammed with knowledgeable, friendly, funny people from all across the world. It's impossible to gauge how many bands and records I got into through the recommendations of this little on-line gang, everyone of them just as childishly daft about music as me. What I really loved was the sense of community, discussions went outside music and about everything from the mighty to the mundane. It seems daft now but I really felt amongst friends. When one of my favourite posters, a guy called TomTom died it really did effect me. I felt like I had lost a pal and in many ways I had. He was a great man, a total hardcore TFC fan who was funny and daft and lovely. I knew more about him, his loves, his politics, who he and his wife supported in the football and sometimes what he was having for his tea. The shock of has passing was real, as real as it could be for someone you had never met, and the place never really felt the same again.
Sadly, the place went a bit Lord of the Flies. The was (probably still is) Guest setting where people could post anonymously which started off fine, some of the funniest posts were by 'Guesty' but soon it started getting a bit nasty and went out of control. Arguments would rage about football and, being Celtic and Rangers fans, religion and things started to get pretty horrible, with bullying and long ranting drunk abusive arguments being the norm. After a young man we shall call Milla took his own life due to on-line bullying*** is seemed prudent to join the real world again. I'd still pop in occasionally. There was a new LP called Man-Made out and I joined the discussion about how great it was. Someone had asked why the CD came with a card slip case. “Simple” replied Siobhan's Dad “It's for taking to the gig and getting signed”
When the Man-Made tour hit Birmingham I knew I was going to get the card signed. There was that kind of magic in the air. The train was full of excited people off to different shows. My gig was at the Academy 2, and almost comically small venue for such a great band. They didn't let us down though. The gig was incredible, all the favourites off all the albums (no Alcoholiday mind) and the crowd was small (Birmingham can be funny like that) but loyal and everyone had a great time. Afterwards I spotted Norman and marched up with my slip case and Sharpie and even managed a quick conversation while he signed, some gibberish about loving how 'dry' the new record sounded. “Oh” he said raising an eyebrow “thanks” and at that moment Gerry Love walked past and despite clearly wanting to be somewhere else was a darling and signed it too. I practically floated back to New Street Station.
The are bands we listen to when we are happy, those we listen to when we are sad and those we reach out for when something in life goes horribly wrong. There are bands we listen to that make us feel young, bands we miss and bands we hope make another record. To me, Teenage Fanclub are unique in so much they are band I've grown up and grown old with. Whatever has happened in my life, good and bad, big and small, they have been quietly in the back ground sound tracking it all. When it was announced Gerry Love was leaving the group I was quite saddened. Teenage Fanclub are like the sun and the lamp posts outside your front door. They are something you take for granted will always be there.
Happily, the bands aren’t splitting entirely and Gerry did leave us with some wonderful goodbye gifts in the form of the Creation era records being lavishly and wonderfully remastered. When I went to buy the first two (I could only afford to buy two a month , not because I was on paper round money but because I'm a dad now) it was at the end of the first proper summer in decades. I was still deciding which two to get on the way to the record shop when I bump into Kev Walder, demob happy from being let off work early and heading for the nearest beer garden. I tell him I'm off into town to get the new Teenage Fanclub record. “bloody hell” he says shaking his head with grin “nothing changes does it?” And he's right. It really doesn't.
*We never did meet Miles Hunt Birmingham but bizarrely bumped into him Shrewsbury when I was old enough to know better. In a weird twist, Mile's brother (the guy doing the Spinal Tap story in the Welcome to the Cheap Seats video) owns a local record shop.
**Baring in mind I didn't know Neil Young from Neil from the Young Ones at the time, I may have embellished that bit. But it was definitely something male and late 60's/early70's
***It should be pointed out that it was mainly bullying on another site though it a) certainly didn't help and b) makes it no less tragic