Raymond McGinley talks to us about opening for Nirvana and the Foos, following Tony Bennett and playing in a Swiss gas tank
Teenage Fanclub released their 11th studio album into a void. Not an absence of listeners but an absence of the usual merry-go-round that had greeted Endless Arcade’s ten predecessors. Where guitarist, singer and songwriter Raymond McGinley would usually have been packing his suitcase for a long stint around the world, instead he was sat at home, feeling a definite sense of “What now?”
“We felt depressed,” he tells us across Zoom. “You bring out a new record then you go on tour and that’s kind of what your life is. We’re not a heritage band – we don’t do anniversary tours. But this is kind of like our first anniversary tour.”
Desperate to get anything going, Teenage Fanclub took the first opportunity they could to get back onstage, splitting their rescheduled tour in two. “We tried to keep a handful of shows last year just so we could do something,” McGinley says of their short run in late 2021. “I think we got lucky in a little window when we did them in September. To get out finally and play shows was great. And we even managed to go to Bilbao and do a festival. We’re looking forward to doing a proper tour where you actually have to pack a suitcase.”
That tour starts in April, taking the band on a run around the UK, finally bringing Endless Arcade to the wider country. In advance of those dates, we caught up with McGinley to chat about some of his most indelible gig memories, from opening for Nirvana to following Tony Bennett.
Our first gig was at London ULU on a night with The Pastels, Pale Saints, Ride and us. This would probably been something like November 1989. I remember Gerry [Love, the band’s ex-bassist] broke a bass string on the first song. At the time, we did this thing where everything was tuned down a semitone. It was an affectation we’d got into at the time. So we had to borrow a bass but then the bass was out of tune. I don’t actually remember that much of the gig.
That’s kind of tricky. I mean, there’s two connected things. One of the best was the tour with Nirvana, around 1992 on the Nevermind tour, which was great. That took us to some places for the first time, like Spain, Sweden, Norway. It was great.
And that kind of leads on to the second part. Our first headline show in Spain was in Valencia. I can’t remember the club, but I remember it was a great gig. The only thing we’d done there before was open for Nirvana. We went back and played our own show and we didn’t know how it would do. No one had really bought a ticket and you’re thinking: “Is anyone gonna come?”
It was packed. We opened with ‘What You Do To Me’ and the whole audience was singing at the top of their voices, like louder than the band. That just felt absolutely amazing. I think they did that that for the whole show. And there was no anticipation about it from us and it was the first time we’ve experienced that.
Our US label, Geffen DGC, wanted us to do this acoustic Christmas radio tour. It was in real venues in front of real people who had come to see these shows for free. It was an acoustic tour, just me, Norman [Blake, the band’s other singer, songwriter and guitarist] and Gerry. I mean, it seemed like a hassle but we decided we were gonna do it anyway. We went with two acoustic guitars and a mandolin, like a folk trio. All these other people like The Wonder Stuff had acoustic guitars plugged into like Marshall stacks and pedal boards.
There are two shows that stand out as particularly difficult. We all got ill as well. We were all f***ed in a really bad way. And Norman lost his voice, so he decided to play the drums and me and Jerry were doing the upfront bit. I think it was Providence, Rhode Island, and the audience did not like us at all. We got booed off the stage. We blame them, rather than blame ourselves. I don’t think we were at our best that night, but all I remember is a crowd of people in baseball caps booing us.
Then, in San Francisco, we went on after Tony Bennett, who’d just done ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ in San Francisco. We went onstage after him. Tony Bennett with the Ralph Sharon Trio. They were unbelievable. Then we go on with a couple acoustic guitars in front of 5,000 people. “Who the hell are these guys?!” So that was interesting. It was great to see Tony Bennett actually, he was brilliant. But to follow him in San Francisco, not a good idea.
Possibly inside a gas tank in St Galen in Switzerland. There wasn’t any gas in the tank but it was like a big gasometer thing. It sounded like playing in a gas tank too, but the other weird thing about it was that there were no toilets in the venue. There were some woods nearby, if you felt so inclined. After that, we went to a party and everyone had like black and white makeup on. It was like being in an episode of The Prisoner or something. I remember the flat had a steep set of stairs and we all fell down the stairs at various times through the night. Funny the things you remember.
The biggest might have been with the Foo Fighters at Old Trafford a few years ago. And that was great actually. The only downside with those stadium shows when you’re the support is the sea of people looking at you, wanting you to go away. I seem to remember someone shouting out from the crowd: “Are you Dave Grohl’s grandad?” He’s not that different in age [McGinley is 58, Grohl is 53]. But it was great to see Dave again because we hadn’t seen him since we played with Nirvana years ago. He is the nice guy he appears to be and it was great to be on that show.
I don’t know if we’ve done a gig in a phone box. Probably some really small record store in-stores. We’ve had some sparsely attended shows. I remember playing in the window of some bar in Philadelphia in 1990 with Uncle Tupelo. That was the first time we met those guys, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. I think there might have been ten people there possibly. But I think some of them may have just been regulars.
The Teenage Fanclub tour starts 4 April in Sheffield, followed by shows in Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Norwich, Bath, Brighton, Portsmouth, Belfast and Dublin. Find tickets here. Endless Arcade is out now.