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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
On the road with Cobain's Nirvana
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Norman Blake (centre)
Norman Blake (centre) saw Nirvana's rise from close quarters
Teenage Fanclub's singer-songwriter Norman Blake talks about life on the road with Nirvana ahead of the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide on Monday.

If anyone can claim to know just how good a live band Nirvana were, it is Norman Blake.

Not only did his band tour with Nirvana in the run-up to the release of seminal album Nevermind, but since then they have been able to compare them with other bands they have supported, including REM, Radiohead and Pearl Jam.

"What was amazing was just the intensity of their performance," Blake says.

"We've played with a lot of other bands. I'm not taking anything away from the other bands, but when Kurt was on form it was so great to watch. They were awesome.

Nirvana's Kurt Cobain
We had such great fun, they were really nice people, and they looked after us so well
Norman Blake
Teenage Fanclub
"It was really exciting playing with them, and just seeing them play songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit. One time we saw them play it in Spain to 20,000 people, and it was incredible."

Before their days as one of the most prominent British bands in the mid-90s, Teenage Fanclub played a brand of feedback-stained rock in keeping with Nirvana's grunge sound.

Blake met Cobain in 1989, just after Nirvana had released their debut album Bleach. Cobain was a huge fan of Scottish band The Vaselines, who were led by Blake's friend Eugene Kelly.

Ahead of their first Scottish dates, Cobain had asked Kelly if he would reform The Vaselines to support Nirvana.

"Eugene was up for it. Me, Eugene, his brother and Francis, our drummer, got in a van and drove up to Edinburgh," says Blake.

"It was the first time Eugene and Kurt had met as well, and Kurt was wearing this heavy black eyeliner and just going to Eugene 'Oh, I'm a really big fan, and it's so great to meet you'. It was nice to be there and see that happen."

Best experiences

Cobain soon became a fan of Teenage Fanclub too - and as Nirvana's star started to soar, he namechecked the band in press interviews.

By the time Nirvana were about to release Nevermind, Teenage Fanclub were being talked about as an equally important band.

The two groups linked up for a European tour that Blake says remains one of his best experiences on the road.

"We had such great fun, they were really nice people, and they looked after us so well. They seemed to have a lot of Scottish crew too - their guitar technician and their tour manager were both Scottish.

"The first show we did was in Belfast, and The Breeders were on the bill as well. It was such a great show. We met the guys from Ash in the dressing room afterwards, and they couldn't have been much more than 14.

Rapid fame

"I've spoken to [Ash's singer] Tim Wheeler since and he's said that gig was one of the reasons he formed a band."

Ultimately, Blake says, Nirvana's rapid fame unsettled Cobain. "I just don't think Kurt was comfortable with it."

But the Teenage Fanclub singer does has a good, tangible reminder of Kurt in better times.

"We were at Reading Festival in the early 90s, and there's a photo of me, Kurt and Eugene hanging out, and Kurt has this big smile on his face."

That - and Nirvana's incendiary music - is how Blake wants to remember his friend.


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