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A tour through Bandwagonesque and more, with Norman Blake and co

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BANDWAGONESQUE
CREATION/GEFFEN, 1991
A perfect mix of distortion and melody that wowed music fans on both sides of the Atlantic

BLAKE: We put the first record out, did a lot of touring. Then we went over to the US and played the launch night of Matador Records at CBGB. We met Sonic Youth and their producer Don Fleming there – we asked Don if he’d be up for recording the band. Later, Don was listening to rehearsals and he said, “I notice you guys can do harmonies, but you never do, why not? Because no-one else really does that.” At that point, everyone was trying to be noisier than everybody else, so Don kind of steered us down this more melodic route.
LOVE: Although we might like a lot of noisier music, you’ve got to express yourself in the most natural way you can. You can probably try to be a duck, but if you’re a swan you’re a swan, you know? Once you put harmonies on things, it softens them. I don’t think we could have shied away from that, and I’m glad we didn’t.
BLAKE: By this point, we’d worked out that everyone could write, so there was less of a burden on one person to come up with all the ideas – in theory, you should come up with a better pool of songs to choose from. To this day, we split all the royalties; even though we have separate songwriting credits, all the money goes to everyone.
LOVE: Norman was up and running, he’d been writing songs for many years. I’d started trying to crawl with songwriting, but through meeting Norman and Raymond I maybe began to learn to walk a little through Bandwagonesque. I’d written an instrumental called “So Far Gone”, and I was encouraged to put some words to it. It was a starting point, and then I was working towards the song “Star Sign”.
BLAKE: I don’t think any of us are massively prolific as songwriters. None of us would be coming into the studio with 15 songs or whatever.
McGINLEY: I remember Alan McGee coming to visit us at Amazon Studios, and he was like, “You’re all set up!” He thought it was a bit strange that we were recording together.
BLAKE: I remember being impressed by the quality of the equipment, and playing a lot of table football. We’d have a BLT every morning, too! We were drinking Newcastle Brown at the time; we must have got a deal on it or something… We also recorded The King during that session. That was an album within an album. It was really just to entertain ourselves – the idea was that Creation would press up 1,000 of them and it would just be this boutique thing that would appear and disappear. But they ended up printing maybe a few more thousand than we expected.

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THIRTEEN
CREATION, 1993
This awkward, more experimental effort, criticised by the press and band, has aged well

BLAKE: This is a warped record? I think we were pretty warped at the time, to be honest with you! We’d found ourselves on tour in the US and not really stopping – we were on the road constantly, and experiencing all sorts of madness. We started Thirteen with too many ideas, but they were all fragments, nothing was finished.
McGINLEY: We wanted to do something that wasn’t ‘Bandwagonesque II’, but we didn’t really lose ourselves in the moment. But at the same time, we probably had a good laugh making it, too – probably too much of a laugh.
LOVE: We amassed this mountain of songs and it was like, “Ah man, what do we do here to finish it?” There’s a lot naivety on Bandwagonesque, which makes it kind of charming, but Thirteen was a bit more bruised by the experience of engaging with the music industry, which was like a whirlwind.
BLAKE: We recorded a lot of it in Glasgow, but then we realised it was probably better to get out of Glasgow because we couldn’t really focus, there were too many distractions for us. So we ended up down in Cheadle Hulme at Revolution Studios and we finished it there. Myself and Gerry did a couple of interviews when it came out where we said we weren’t very happy with it – not a good idea… In retrospect I think we were just burnt out. It was nothing to do with the record.
LOVE: Some of the press wanted to have a go at us because of [the success of] Bandwagonesque or something – but we threw petrol on the fire by saying, “Ah, we don’t like this record,” which was really stupid.
BLAKE: I kind of copped out a lot on Thirteen [songwriting-wise], not resolving songs [like “Norman 3”]. I was listening to it recently and thought, ‘Fucking hell, this goes on a bit.’

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