Live Review

The New Mendicants, Mono, Glasgow

Norman Blake might have moved away but with songs like these he’ll always be welcomed back warmly.

Photo: Michael Gallacher
Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub fame doesn’t live in Glasgow anymore. Since marrying a Canadian, he resides in Ontario, about 40 miles from a fellow musician also brought to the country via matrimony, Joe Pernice (of Pernice Brothers). The pair began a low-key collaboration in a Toronto tavern and are now finishing up a tour playing a selection of songs from their impressive back catalogues as The New Mendicants.

Together they make for a slightly avuncular pair, trading banter and filling out the stories behind their songs –opener ‘Follow You Down’ was born of a session rejected as the soundtrack to a film adaptation of their mutual friend Nick Hornby’s novel Long Way Down. Its gentle harmonies are Blake and Pernice’s stock in trade, as effective in their own songs as on covers of favourites like The Zombies’ anti-war ‘The Butcher’s Tale’.

Teenage Fanclub B-side ‘Dark & Lonely Night’ is followed by the Pernice Brothers tune ‘Amazing Glow’ causing its author to recall a stint as an extra on the set of Gilmore Girls. Tales from their tour – calling in at a pottery museum and inadvertently recreating a well known scene from Ghost; only just having enough petrol to make it to the services, and other less rock ‘n roll hijinks, bookend another Teenage Fanclub song, ‘It’s All In My Mind’, whose loveliness in acoustic form sits well in the intimate, if a little sweaty, atmosphere of Mono.

Of the songs they’ve written together, ‘Sarasota’ about the film Midnight Cowboy, stands out. Managing as it does to rhyme “Bob Balaban” with “caravan”; be on first name terms with Harry Nilsson and end on a drawn out coda of “It’s free, it’s free..” which Pernice suggests should make it ripe for a sync deal on a bank advert (“Those guys don’t listen to verses!”).

Blake focuses intently on a child-size glockenspiel, adding sweetness to sad songs. There is a Status Quo-like reliability to the jangly efforts, typified by ‘Baby Lee’, which Blake points out has been used to accompany line dancing on You Tube, “You can probably do the Slosh to it as well”. The assembled Middle-Age Fanclub mouth the words through their grins.

Pernice’s songs and their cover of The Go-Betweens’ ‘Finding You’ are on a par with Blake’s Fanclub numbers for niceness, and are occupied by similar themes of lasting love and looming mortality.

The illuminating fact, elucidated by Pernice, that Blake’s ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You’ was written for his daughter, adds a whole new dimension to a delicate rendition of a great song. Here are two songwriters clearly at ease with their material and their audience. “If you don’t like this song,” says Pernice of the closer and local favourite ‘Everything Flows’, “you have no soul.”

Norman Blake might have moved away but with songs like these he’ll always be welcomed back warmly.

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