by Margaret Chrystall
WITH his trusty Swiss Army knife looked out for the journey, Norman Blake (pictured above right) - a legend of Scottish rock – is packing in dates with both Teenage Fanclub and his new duo The New Mendicants.
Though he’s now lived in Canada since 2009, Norman is back in Scotland after Teenage Fanclub dates with plans to work on the first new album since Shadows in 2010.
He’s also teaming up with his Canadian music partner Joe Pernice (pictured above left) for gigs as The New Mendicants, playing songs from their debut album out since january, Into The Lime.
These days Norman is a master of visas and had to fly to London to get the right one to play in America with Teenage Fanclub at their record label’s 25th anniversary.
And if 25 years seems a long time, you would ask for The Faith Healers, The Boy Hairdressers and BMX Bandits to be taken into account first.
But as well as pointing out how handy Canada is - and Kitchener where he stays, an hour west of Toronto - for also playing the US, Norman says: “In terms of being in a different pace and being in a different culture, that’s musically inspiring. And finding yourself in a new situation will always give you new ideas and meeting different people.”
But though Joe Pernice is Canadian, Norman had to go all the way to Norway to set the New Mendicants in motion.
“The reason I hooked up with Joe Pernice is that we had known each other for quite a few years. The Pernice Brothers had played with Teenage Fanclub.
“But I was in Norway working with a Norwegian band called I Was A King and they got a guy called Pat Berkery to play on their record, an American from Philadelphia.
“Pat had played with the Pernice brothers so I got talking to Pat about them and he said ‘ You know that Joe lives in Toronto?’.
“I’d no idea, so he gave me Joe’s number and I called and we met up, decided to start a band and we made the record that we are now touring!
“And we’re now going to make another one when we go back.”
“We didn’t know each other that well before, we were acquaintances more than friends at that time. But now we’ve become fast friends. We quickly realised we were on the same wavelength and in many other ways too.”
The Canadification of Norman Blake includes getting himself a baseball team to support.
“Joe’s a big BMX guy and baseball, Joe’s a big Red Sox fan, so I had to get into that. So if someone asks me what baseball team I like, I have to say the Boston Red Sox!” laughed Norman.
He’s also given in over the winter boots …
“By mid-January there is four feet of snow outside the house and it’s minus 20 and it’s just incredible to me. We have a pretty temperate climate here in the UK. But in Canada there’s a beauty and a kind of bleakness to the winter landscape.”
And with bigger extremes of temperature in exchange for Glasgow rain, Norman is adjusting.
“I remember when I went out there saying ‘I’m never going to get those big, daft looking boots everyone wears. But a month and a half into winter, you go and get the daft boots!”“A friend of ours who sources music for movies and she called me up and said ‘Nick Hornby’s got a new book that they’re making a screenplay of and they’re looking for songs
“We both read the book and it was a kind of catalyst for us to start writing songs. So we submitted them, but the director didn’t like them – which is fine – Nick liked them but it was nothing to do with him. But we thought ‘There you go! We can just use these for our record!’. That gave us something to build on.”
With the stripped back operation of the New Mendicants two men and guitars format, Norman laughs that they’ve added glockenspiel and I was also being
“It’s two years since we last played a show, but you’ve been playing the songs for so long that they are indelibly printed on your brain – branded! You don’t forget them, it all comes back.”
But with Norman also working with Euros Child on duo Jonny and also on an album with Jad Fair of Half Japanese and all the other Teenage Fanclub mebmbers’ different projects, does the gap mean it’s harder to recognise each other after long breaks?
Norman laughed: “There’s definitely some of that. More grey hair, maybe a little less of it. But I think everyone is still in reasonably good shape. No-one’s gone to seed yet. It is a matter of time, but so far so good.
And there’s a question any Belladrum and Teenage Fanclub fan would want to ask Norman – will the group ever play the festival?
“Do you know what, there is every chance!
“We’re doing these shows, but we’re also doing an album at the moment which should be released in the early part of next year, then we’d be touring.
“So who knows….?
The New Mendicants play Belladrum’s Hothouse Stage on Friday.