Indie Encounters is a regular feature for guest contributors to reminisce about a memorable indie experience, whether it’s meeting a band, a special gig or even the moment that indie music entered their lives.
In this feature our very own Steve from @IndieOver40 recounts the day he met Teenage Fanclub
Teenage Fanclub & The Postcard From Minneapolis
On the 5th August 1997, in a record store on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis USA, I found myself face to face with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and bizarrely trying to persuade him to write a postcard to a complete stranger in Essex.
Before I reveal whether Norman relented to my request I should explain first what we were both doing in a city 4,000 miles from our own respected hometowns in the UK and what had brought us together on that hot summers day.
By the time I wandered into that record store, I had been living in Minneapolis the best part of 6 weeks, working for an IT company, courtesy of a student exchange programme that had given me that holiest of all grails. A green card. I had just completed my first year at university in the UK as a 28 year old mature student and the prospect of a summer working in America seemed like an opportunity for adventure not to be passed up.
Against the recommendation of the programme organisers I had decided to roll into the US of A without a pre-organised job sorted. So when I stepped off a plane in New York in June 1997 I was armed with just a rucksack, $1,500 in cash & basically no idea what to do next. The fact I ended up in Minneapolis owed more to the fact that it was on the destination board of the next Amtrak departing Penn Station rather than any predetermined plan. After a couple of days of exploring the big apple I was itching to hit the road and Minneapolis was just as good a place as any. There was something enticing about the name as well. Minneapolis sounded like proper America.
I hadn’t taken anything with me to the USA in terms of listening materials. No walkman. No C90s. I decided that if this was going to be an adventure then I should leave behind any remnants of life back home and travel as a blank sheet of paper and that extended to music. Unfortunately the music scene in Minneapolis didn’t provide any tangible thrills per se. Most people I came into contact with seemed to derive most of their pleasure from Hootie & The Blowfish or Young MC in the case of the residents of the frat house from whom I was renting a room that summer.
Which is why I was excited to say the least when one day on the way to work I spotted a billboard announcing a gig at The State Theatre with not only Radiohead as headline act but incredibly Teenage Fanclub as support. I mean what an indietastic combination and right here in the depths of midwestern USA! I was working just around the corner to the State Theatre so I rushed straight round there and purchased two tickets figuring that I could persuade at least one of the small circle of British expats in the city I had fallen in with to go with me.
On the day of the gig I met up with a couple of fellow Brits for lunch, one of whom had already had contact with Radiohead earlier by selling Thom Yorke a smoothie at the department store concession she was working at. She had also discovered that Teenage Fanclub would be signing copies of the album they were plugging in the US, Songs From Northern Britain, at a local record store that afternoon ahead of the gig.
There was no way I was going to miss out on an opportunity to meet one of my idols and so after laying on the Brit charm with my supervisor back at work I was granted permission to disappear from work for an hour in the afternoon. On the way I decided to purchase a postcard to send to my best mate Shan back in the UK as I couldn’t let exciting events like this go unreported back home.
I should probably introduce Shan into the story at this point as without him there wouldn’t be a story. Shan (real name Paul) was one of my oldest friends and essentially my window to that late 80s early 90s indie scene. He always seemed to have a handle of what was hip and happening musically and so through Shan’s record collection I was introduced to bands such as House Of Love & Ultra Vivid Scene at a time I was still scouring Our Price to get the latest hip-house album by DJ Fast Eddie. So the reason why I was an indie kid in the first place was down to Shan and that included hearing Bandwagonesque for the first time over at his place.
So, there I was that afternoon, standing in a queue in a record store in Minneapolis waiting to meet Teenage Fanclub armed only with a postcard showing the city skyline and of course a CD of Songs From Northern Britain which I had just purchased for signing by the band. While I was waiting my thoughts were pretty much dominated by what I was going to actually say to the band. Trying to think of an interesting comment or question without coming across as a bit of a wally.
Which is when the idea started to germinate of getting the band to sign the postcard as well as the CD. My thought process was this. Wouldn’t it be a grin if my mate Shan got a postcard from Teenage Fanclub? It seemed almost genius in its simplicity.
As time was premium I decided to ask them just to sign the back of the blank card and then I would add the message later. However, I needed to at least have Shan’s address on the postcard to make it clear what my aims were. There was also the worry that they might sign in awkward places. So I hastily wrote Shan’s address on the right hand half of the postcard as is customary. By which point I was staring straight into the eyes of Norman Blake.
After exchanging the standard “alright?” introductions and mentioning attending the gig that night I came straight out with it. “You couldn’t do us a favour and sign this postcard to my mate in England, could ya? He’s a massive fan and it would be a right laugh if he got a postcard from you”. Blimey, it sounded ridiculous.
I was just about to bail out of the whole farcical plan with what remained of my dignity and simply hand over the CD for signing, when Norman uttered. “Sure. What do want me to write?” I was gobsmacked to say the least at Norman’s acquiescence but quickly pressed ahead with the plan and with a new found confidence. Instead of asking for just a signature I went all out & suggested he write a few words so that it looked like he was writing to Shan as if he was on an actual holiday.
I was suddenly concerned that this was in the realms of pushing it too far, but I needn’t have worried. After asking for my mates name Norman scribbled in thick black pen but with perfect clarity the following simple words. “Hi Shan, Having a great holiday. Wish you were here. Regards Norman Blake”. He then handed the postcard back and with a wink said, “That’s a great idea by the way. Your mate’s gonna love that”, or words to that effect.
Whilst Norman moved onto signing the CD, which I’d decided on giving to a lady friend back home, I stared at what he had written and was overcome with a sense of pride. That a plan had been devised, executed and successfully completed within the space of mere minutes seemed a major accomplishment. In fact I’d cite this episode in later years on job application forms as an example of how I had set and accomplished a goal in life. Such was my sense of achievement.
The rest of the band did their bit of course and signed the postcard and CD accompanied by quizzical looks and the odd amusing comment. I left that record store with a skip in my step and headed straight for the downtown post office where I waved goodbye to the postcard as it began its long journey to Essex.
A lot happened between that encounter with Teenage Fanclub and when I eventually discovered that my audacious plan had worked. I remained in the USA for another couple of months during which I had many adventures covering thousands of miles that took me through the midwest, deep south and eastern seaboard of that vast country. In fact, meeting Teenage Fanclub seemed to pale into significance compared to other antics and so by the time I returned to the UK I’d almost forgotten I’d even sent that postcard.
Which in a way added to the pleasure when Shan showed me the postcard the first time I visited him at home on my return. Seeing that scrawl in thick black pen again and that large Norman that seemed to leap off the white backed card brought back that summers day in Minneapolis with such clarity. It also looked much more bona fide as it now carried the US & UK post office stamps as evidence that it had travelled 4000 miles to reach it’s final destination. Shan also recounted his disbelief when he first picked it up off his hallway mat one morning but that he never doubted its authenticity. He knew me well enough to know it was the sort of hair brained scheme only I could come up.
So that was how I got Teenage Fanclub to write a postcard from Minneapolis. Naturally a photo of the postcard would have been a perfect accompaniment to this tale and so I recently text Shan requesting he send one over to me. Rather sadly his response was short but by no means devastating. “Lost that years ago” was simply what I received in reply rather than the desired photo.
At least the recipient of the signed CD wasn’t so negligent and so I am at least able to show some evidence of my encounter.
And as for the gig itself……that’s another story.
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