Later this month Gerry Love will make his first live outing since he and Teenage Fanclub went their separate ways in 2018. The singer-songwriter talks to Fiona Shepherd about how it all ended and his hopes for new group Lightships ahead of their Great Western Festival gig
There was much consternation among fans of jangling melodic pop at the news that bassist Gerry Love was to leave Teenage Fanclub at the end of 2018 after almost 30 years with this much cherished band. Love was a founding member of the Glasgow via Bellshill group and one third of an ace songwriting axis alongside his co-frontmen Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley. For many ardent fans, Love’s upbeat yet bittersweet offerings, from Sparky’s Dream to Ain’t That Enough, represent the pinnacle of the Fanclub craft.
A rather phlegmatic statement was issued by the band at the time, announcing that Love would not be performing on a 2019 tour of Japan and the Antipodes “or any other shows beyond those we are playing this year…the band wish Gerry all the best in his future musical endeavours.” Love released his own more conciliatory statement describing the situation as “as amicable as it can possibly be... I feel very lucky to have met Norman and Raymond all those years ago. Good innings.”
A year on from his departure, Love remains philosophical about the turn of events, which hinged on his unwillingness to fly halfway round the world without a new Teenage Fanclub album to promote.
“You can’t put it in a nutshell – he left, they sacked him. It wasn’t like that,” he says. “It was quite a sophisticated, complex thing which has got different dimensions. I don’t feel I was the victim, I had a part to play in it. As much as I like touring and being in other countries, it’s the getting there that kills me. I do it when it’s necessary but I’m anxious about flying – once you lose connection with the earth I start to panic.
“But the default position for our band was that if somebody doesn’t want to do something, we don’t do it – that’s why we’ve lasted so long. So all of a sudden this tour became like an iceberg. The future that I saw for the band and the future that Norman and Raymond saw was different. “The only thing that bugs me is the narrative that I left the band. That’s not the way it was. It was a disagreement that turned into a dispute that turned into a stand-off that turned into a solution that suited neither party. Any collective only exists at the point of agreement and diversity has served Teenage Fanclub well over the years. Three different ideas of how to approach music provided a broad palette but then you take it into a business context and diversity causes problems.
“I can take it on the chin. It wasn’t as if there was a punch-up or an argument, there was really no discussion on the whole business from day one until the end. I’ve spoken to you more about this up to now than I’ve ever spoken to Norman and Raymond about this ever.”
The silver lining for the fans was that Love’s final shows with the group were a series of gigs celebrating the classic albums of Teenage Fanclub’s years on Creation Records, from Bandwagonesque to Songs From Northern Britain, which reunited the group with their previous drummers Brendan O’Hare and Paul Quinn.
“That was an emotional reunion,” says Love. “It wasn’t pure nostalgia, you’re actually in the moment with someone again. Brendan’s fairly unpredictable, so the sideshow of his dealings with his rehearsal schedule created light relief. Though I didn’t like the dramatic idea that they were my last shows, it was the perfect ending, if you could ever choose it. All of us together again for a brief moment.”
Since then, Love has been enjoying his routine in Glasgow, taking on modest projects here and there, including mentoring local indie band The Plastic Youth in the studio and remixing Estonian group Pia Fraus.
He has no plans to perform his Teenage Fanclub songs in the short term; instead Love is reviving his side project Lightships, working up ideas for a follow-up to 2012 debut album, Electric Cables. At the time, Lightships was an opportunity for Love to try out mellower material and layered arrangements, as well as to switch from bass to lead guitar.
“It had to be a different approach,” he says. “I definitely intended to make a quiet record with different textures. Now, it’s a shopfront for all my songs.”
While Teenage Fanclub continue to tour with new member, Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Love’s Lightships band – including Teenage Fanclub’s Dave MacGowan on guitar and Belle & Sebastian’s Bob Kildea on bass – are set to make their live return at the Great Western Festival, a multi-venue all-day festival taking place next weekend throughout Glasgow’s West End. Love is characteristically sanguine about the first live show of his post-Teenage Fanclub career.
“For me this isn’t the push, this is just an opening of a door,” he says. “I’m inclined to have things in my head too long, so it just allows me to make things more real. I don’t want to give anything away at this stage, for me it’s just a case of crossing the line and running about the pitch for a few minutes and going back off and being ready for the next season. That’s the way I see it.
“I honestly thought I’d be doing the Teenage Fanclub thing until I’m in an old folks home. I’m not saying it’s like an enforced mid-life crisis but obviously when you’re 50 years old and you think you’re going to do something all your life and then the story changes, there is no map. I’ve got a total blank page and sometimes that’s terrifying and sometimes that’s the most exciting thing in the world.
“I don’t know if in the future there will be more things for me to talk about or if this is the last thing I’ll ever do – I could fade into complete obscurity next week. But I’ll continue to roll the dice with music and see where it goes. What else am I going to do? I’m too young to be a lollipop man right now.”
Lightships play the Great Western Festival, Glasgow, 23 November, www.tgwfest.com