Sunday, December 5

Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub: ‘My first band was the Spanking Newts’ | Teen fan club


McCormack’s Music Store

I got my parents to buy me a bass, because I admired Paul Simonon from Clash and thought it would be the easiest instrument to learn. McCormack’s was an institution in Glasgow: when the Beatles played the Apollo, when it was known as Green’s Playhouse, the amps came from McCormack’s. I got a cheap copy of Fender Precision and a Wem Dominator amp from there. Going online for the first time was an incredibly visceral experience because it was so loud. I switched to guitar, but after leaving school I didn’t have a job, so I asked if I could work at McCormack’s, which was amazing at 17. I was able to meet the artists who came when they were playing in Glasgow. They told me that John Martyn never paid for his guitar strings, so I handed them over to him and he said, “Thanks, little man!” I got to try the latest synths and the reason I’m good at tuning guitars is because I did it 5,000 times at McCormack’s. I could also play them all day. In those days, Sean Dickson [Soup Dragons], Francis McKee of Vaselines and Duglas T Stewart [BMX Bandits] and I went to the street together. My first band was with Duglas, who I was with at school. It’s completely ridiculous, but they called us the Scourged Merfolk.

The Specials

I was a huge fan of The Clash, but when I was 14 or 15, the Specials seemed even more exciting. I knew this guy was called Juan Martin, who happened to be known as “Joogs”, the tambourine player in Primal Scream. I ran into him the day the Specials played the Apollo just before More Specials came out. He said they were staying at the Ingram Hotel and suggested that we go and try to get some autographs. When we get there [singer] Terry Hall was standing in the hall. We went and he was brilliant, he bought us a Coke and a coffee and we ended up on the tour bus with the band. When the bus came to the venue, someone handed me Rico’s trombone to carry around like a roadie, so I could get into the concert, which was amazing, the kids just went crazy. Glasgow was full of deprivation and poverty back then, and I think that visit inspired Ghost Town. Many years later, I had the opportunity to drive Terry’s son around London in a car with Edwyn Collins’s son. I just said, “Can you thank your dad? I have never forgotten your kindness. “

Skateboard

Glasgow was one of the first cities in the UK to have a skate park. I had a Skuda board, which was made of fiberglass with quite small wheels. The council built the skate park and it didn’t have much more than a couple of bowls and half tubes and a few wobbly sections, but I think they had some of the first skateboarding championships there. Could do some of the tricks. Before they started putting “noses” on the front of the boards, mine had a “tail” on the back, so you could at least flip it. Although it was fiberglass, it was pretty basic, not much better than cutting a couple of skates and gluing them to a piece of wood, but the skateboard was huge at the time. At that age you feel indestructible, but luckily I survived more or less unscathed. The skate park closed after a few years but then reopened and when it happens now it has never been more crowded.

Adam & the Ants performing in Glasgow, 1980.
Adam & the Ants performing in Glasgow, 1980. Photograph: Crumbstick / PA

Ice skating

I also got into ice skating a lot. There was a track in the vicinity of Hamilton, so I started going with a couple of colleagues. You could hang out and there were a lot of girls we were trying to impress. There wasn’t a lot of actual skating, we just stood on blades in the middle and tried to look good, but I got really involved. I got these thick ice hockey skates called Bauer Huggers. I could do cartwheels, spins, and slide down the track if I wanted to. At that time I really liked Adam & the Ants. Their t-shirts and badges were great, and the Dirk wears White Sox The album was fantastic. I have this vivid memory of me skating in a shirt with Adam on it with arms outstretched, trying to impress girls. I’m not sure it worked, but it was fun for a couple of summers and I made good friends.

The science fiction novels of John Wyndham

I saw the movie Village of the Damned starring George Sanders, which is based on John Wyndham’s book The Midwich Cuckoos. So I went to get the books. Got Triffids Day, Chrysalis, Kraken Awakening, Chocky … about half a dozen of them. Until then he had not read books. My parents didn’t read to me because they worked all the time and they were too tired, but in my teens they got me a tape of Jon Pertwee, who played Doctor Who, reading Treasure Island. They would stick it to the side of my bed and let me listen to it. The Wyndham books were a lot scarier, but I think they were quite influential. Margaret Atwood is a fan of The Midwich Cuckoos and you can see that in The Handmaid’s Tale. Wyndham books started my love of reading and the idea that you can really get away with a book. I recently bought a Village of the Damned DVD and it is as iconic as I remembered it. Children have bowl cuts and weird looks. It looks like they would be in an indie band in Glasgow, 15 years later.

Teen fan club, 1992.
Teen fan club, 1992. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Glasgow Record Stores

In the early 80’s in Glasgow there were many record stores, with their own personality. When I was 14 and 15, my favorite was Bruce’s, started by Bruce Findlay, who directed Simple Minds and put on his first single. [Life in a Day] on the Zoom label. If you bought a record at Bruce’s, it came in a red bag that said “Found it at Bruce’s.” I grew up in Bellshill, a satellite city 10 miles outside of Glasgow, and every week I went to the “city” with my partner Gerry Brown. We always went to Bruce’s, but sometimes we went to Listen Records, where Brian Superstar [Taylor] Pastry worked. It was a dark and gloomy store where the boys, always boys, who worked there were more curmudgeons and made fun of you if they didn’t think that what you were buying was up to the task. Then there was Bloggs, which had two stores, Big Bloggs and Wee Bloggs, in the center of town. I buy Blue boy by Orange Juice there, with the sleeve that was hand-colored by the band. The arrival of Virgin Megastore was the death sentence for small stores, but I have very fond memories of doing that circuit of them and perhaps exchanging records abroad. Today’s children do not have that experience. They are definitely missing it.

Teenage Fanclub’s new album Endless Arcade launches April 30 on PeMa.


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