TEENAGE Fanclub will play The Leadmill, Sheffield on April 8 and Leeds Beckett University the next night on their rescheduled 2022 tour.
By then, almost a year will have passed since the April 30 release of the Scottish indie favourites’ tenth studio album, Endless Arcade, preceded by the Norman Blake-penned single I’m More Inclined.
Fellow songwriter Raymond McGinley says: “When we first starting talking about getting songs together for a new album, Norman said, ‘I have one ready to go now!’ and that was I’m More Inclined. He played it to us, we loved it, and that got us started on the whole thing that became Endless Arcade.”
Endless Arcade is the long-awaited follow-up to Here, the 2016 album that brought Teenage Fanclub their first British top ten entry since 1997. The new record has all their familiar tropes: melodies are equal parts heart-warming and heart-aching; guitars chime and distort; keyboard lines mesh and spiral; harmony-embossed choruses burst through, like the sun on a stormy day.
Affirmation that even if we were not living through extraordinarily troubling times, who better than Teenage Fanclub to assuage the mind, body and soul and to confirm that all is not lost in this world.
In the 1990s, the Scots crafted a magnetically heavy yet harmony-rich sound on classic albums such as Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix. This century, Man-Made, Shadows and Here have documented a more relaxed, less “teenage” Fanclub, reflecting the band members’ stage in life and state of mind, and now Endless Arcade slots snugly alongside.
The new album walks a beautifully poised line between melancholic and uplifting, infused with simple truths. The importance of home, community and hope is entwined with more bittersweet, sometimes darker thoughts: insecurity, anxiety, loss.
Such is life, but the title track suggests: “Don’t be afraid of this endless arcade that is life”. “I think of an endless arcade as a city that you can wander through, with a sense of mystery, an imaginary one that goes on forever,” says McGinley. “When it came to choosing an album title, it seemed to have something for this collection of songs.”
So how did the band set out to explore this Endless Arcade? “The process is much the same as it always has been,” says McGinley. “In 1989, we went into a studio in Glasgow to make our first LP, A Catholic Education. Francis [Macdonald] starts setting up his drums, the rest of us find our spots around him and off we go.
“Thirty years later, Francis is setting up his drums in Clouds Hill Recordings in Hamburg. A few hours later, we’re recording the first song. We don’t conceptualise, we don’t talk about it, we just do it. Each of us are thinking our own thoughts, but we don’t do much externalising. We just feel our way into it.”
Dave McGowan has been “feeling his way” into the band’s sound since 2004, mainly on keyboards and guitar, but the past two years have seen him take over on bass, his primary instrument, after the departure of founder member Gerard Love in 2018.
Although Euros Childs has played and sung on record with the band previously, Endless Arcade is the first time the Welshman has featured on keyboards across a whole Teenage Fanclub album.
“We were very comfortable with each other in the studio,” says Blake. “I think some of the playing is a bit freer and looser than on recent albums. Dave and Euros’s playing is amazing, and Francis on drums is really swinging.
“The whole process of making this album was very invigorating. Everyone in the band contributed a lot and the song arrangements came together really quickly. Everything felt fresh.”
Childs suggested they use his friend Huw Evans, alias musician H. Hawkline, to design the sleeve. “It’s amazing. We absolutely love it!” says McGinley.
A preview from the album came in February 2019 with McGinley’s Everything Is Falling Apart, an online single released at the outset of a six-month tour and now a highlight of Endless Arcade.
Is everything falling apart? Yes, but the song was written long before Covid-19 took up unwelcome residency. McGinley’s inspiration was neither political nor social, but more, “the entropy in the universe, the knowledge that everything eventually decays,” he explains. McGinley says relax. Or rather, “Relax, find love, hold on to the hand of a friend”.
Fortunately, Endless Arcade was all but finished by the time the first lockdown was announced, bar the odd tinker under the engine hood. Now, it seems timely, given how everyone had to stay home under lockdown strictures, that the album starts with Blake’s composition Home, although it was chosen in part on account of its opening line: “Every morning, I open my eyes…”.
Blake’s search for “home” could be literal – after all, he has been living in Canada for the past ten years – yet it is figurative too. Like his other Endless Arcade songs – The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, Warm Embrace, I’m More Inclined, Back In The Day and Living With You – his words on Home are etched by loss and yearning.
“Without going into too much detail, the last 18 months have been challenging for me on an emotional level,” he admits. “But it’s been cathartic channelling some of these feelings and emotions into song.”
In contrast, McGinley’s songs – Everything Is Falling Apart, Endless Arcades, Come With Me, In Our Dreams, The Future and Silent Song – are philosophical and questing. As he sings in The Future: “It’s hard to walk into the future when your shoes are made of lead”, but he will still try “and see sights we’ve never seen”.
In Teenage Fanclub’s own near-future, already they are planning another new album, given that they cannot tour the one they are releasing this spring until September’s shows in Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow.
Teenage Fanclub release Endless Arcade on April 30 on their own label PeMa.