Caught by the River

Lightships – Electric Cables

2nd April 2012

This debut record from Gerry Love’s new project is one of my favourite records right now. Fellow Teenage Fanclub fan, Jon Berry, is equally struck:

I can recall two personally-significant events from 1991. The first of these was that summer’s Reading Festival. If grunge lore is to be believed, a pre-Nevermind Nirvana stole the show on the Friday afternoon, but for me the weekend belonged to the soaring sonic beauty of Teenage Fanclub, sandwiched between Blur and Flowered Up on the Saturday.

The second occurred earlier, in the spring, when I submitted my debut article for publication. I was convinced that the students of Canterbury needed to read a measured deconstruction of Johnny Marrs’ guitar stylings, but the editor of the University of Kent student rag thought differently. ‘Rock criticism is all dogshit’, he said. ‘Write about something else’.

Both events had an impact, of sorts. I’ve loved TFC ever since that psilocybic August afternoon. I’ve also resisted the temptation to ever write about music. I don’t really know music anyway, I just like it. But Fanclub singer, songwriter and bassist Gerard Love has a new band, Lightships, and an album coming out on April 2nd, and Jeff has sent me a copy for review. So I am going to have a go at telling you about it – with a polite request that you watch where you step.

From the opening notes of Two Lines it is clear that this is not a Teenage Fanclub record. The guitars are layered, the sound warm, Love’s voice familiar – but these ten songs are structured differently, loosely and tenderly, and the spaces once filled with fuzz and feedback are now occupied by glockenspiel, clarinet and flute. And the results are gorgeous.

Electric Cables shimmers with an easy summer feel, slight in places, grooving – albeit with some restraint – in others, simultaneously relaxed and complex. Love’s song writing contributions to Teenage Fanclub – Don’t Look Back, Sparky’s Dream, Starsign, Radio – have tended towards the upbeat, but here he slows things down and explores. There’s plenty of delay and tremelo, joyous corners where the Fenders chime, but Love and co-producer Bal Cooke have kept it simple and created an overall sense of space.

This is in part because Love has assembled a band that can relax and let the songs carry themselves. There’s nothing here that doesn’t need to be. According to Love’s own blog, Dave McGowan and Brendan O’Hare (current and erstwhile Fannies respectively), Tom Crossley (The Pastels), Jim McCulloch (BMX Bandits, Soup Dragons) and Bob Kildea (Belle and Sebastian) simply drifted in when the music needed them. They amount to an unlikely Lanarkshire supergroup, but given what’s come out of Bellshill and its neighbours in recent years that’s no bad thing. It just works here, and beautifully so.

In recent interviews, Love has given assurances that Teenage Fanclub will reconvene in the autumn. But in recent years, little has happened quickly in the Fanclub camp and long-term fans will know better than to hold them to that; for now, we have a Lightships single, Sweetness in her Spark, a brief tourand this glorious album to enjoy.

Electric Cables is out now on Geographic. CDs are on sale from the Caught by the River shop, priced £10

Jon Berry’s latest book, A Train to Catch. has just been published by Medlar Press.