A Catholic Education



Grand Prix

Songs From Northern Britain


The millennial year was a challenging one.

Having formed a strong and passionate connection with a new partner, I was dismayed to hear that she was decamping to her English homeland for an indeterminate period. This was not my fantasy of how the path of true love would unfold.

Clinging desperately to the muddled maxim that you must let go of what you wish to keep, I was as supportive as I could manage (which was, in all probability, not very much at all) but anxiety and uncertainty were, in her absence, my most intimate companions.

To make matters worse, I was essentially homeless. Having surrendered the apartment I’d been renting when life in Germany beckoned, I was in residential limbo now that the UK was being seriously discussed as an alternative. At least I can probably manage the English language, I thought.

Through a mate at the tennis club, I found a house sit for the Aussie summer. It was a most unusual place: an inner-city factory building with a saw-toothed roof, thirty foot ceilings and a concrete floor. The owners agreed to let me store my stuff there, which certainly filled some of the space, but it was an odd environment, especially at night. A major plus, however, was the low rent (bills and tending the plants, basically) which meant I could plan a trip to the UK for Christmas.

There is a certain romance to the term ‘cottage’, especially when applied to a converted stable three centuries old. Add the place name of the nearby village to the title and it sounds rather grand. But there was nothing grand about Gilston Cottage. It was so tiny the former occupants must have been Shetland ponies. It was so dark that you could grow mushrooms in the sitting room. In daytime. It was so cold that water froze in the pipes overnight. 

In the mornings I stood shivering in the kitchen alcove, puffing clouds of breath towards the kettle, urging it on to produce something warm. At night, the landlords in the adjoining mansion turned off the heating at nine o’clock. It was retreat under the doona or freeze to fucking death until I discovered a cache of ancient coal around the back of the building and started pilfering it to build an evening fire in the doll’s house sized grate. It wasn’t much, but with a blanket over our knees we could at least listen to some music and read a bit.

Not having brought many CDs with me, I was on the lookout for something current, not yet available in Australia maybe. To my delight, a new Teenage Fanclub album was about to be released, and the preceding single was immediately acquired.

Having grown to really appreciate Grand Prix, my Fanclub entry point, and then absolutely fall in love with Songs From Northern Britain, expectations were high. Yet as is often the case in such circumstances, the new single was a bit of a letdown. 

That’s what I thought at the time. 

Hindsight, as is often the case, has provided a different perspective. 

Opening with a ringing guitar figure then a glorious band kick-in with trademark Fannies harmonies, “I need direction” is a terrific song. The lyric is simple but heartfelt. A jaunty little organ solo followed by a simple low-string guitar interlude precedes the return of rich Beach Boys harmonies and a final verse/chorus. How could I, having crossed the world from a burning Melbourne summer to this frigid cell in the soggy English countryside, having used all available resources on what might well be a fool’s errand, compelled to acknowledge that her Englishness was as valid as my Aussieness, hoping and shivering and struck down by a savage head cold after getting lost in a flooded wood, totally bemused by how this might all work out… How could I not have connected to this song?

Maybe I should have listened to the bleedin’ lyrics.

I used to feel fine

You were to be mine

I need direction

To take me to you

I’ve asked the sunshine

Shadowed the skyline

I need direction

To take me to you

I get brainwaves

I get visions

Slow reaction


I need the ways and means to get through

I need an open heart to look to

Nobody sees the same way I do

I need direction to get through 

Followed the ley lines

The faded out road signs

I need direction

To take me to you

I get spellbound

I get visions

Slow advances


I need the ways and means to get through

I need and open heart to look to

Nobody sees the same way I do

I need direction to get through

Honest I’d feel fine

If you were to be mine

I need direction to take me to you

The story has a happy ending.

I came to love Howdy!, Teenage Fanclub’s sixth(-ish) album. The other single—“Dumb dumb dumb” (Norman Blake)—has a downbeat charm echoed in “My uptight life” (Raymond McGinley) while the regular Fannies themes of love (“The sun shines from you” / McGinley), connection (the glorious “Near you” / Gerard Love) and introspection (“Cul de sac” / Love again) are as melodically strong as ever. The 2018 vinyl re-issue is very nice and includes a bonus 7” of the “Dumb dumb dumb” B-sides. 


Oh, and the other part had a happy ending too.*


* For Ms Connection, currently enjoying a splendid English summer while her bloke shivers in frosty Melbourne


  1. jprobichaud · · Reply

    The reissues are lovely, aren’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure are. Really nicely done.


  2. I only know the compilation, which is excellent and features ‘I Need Direction’. Should go and listen to the individual records sometime m.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, the comp with the most unwieldy name in pop history! It’s very good (and includes some ‘new’ songs) and is a great springboard for a marvellous catalogue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ‘Did I Say’, one of the new songs, is very strong IMO – totally belongs on there among their best songs.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A fine post, Bruce – I agree that the term ‘cottage’ can conjure some heartwarming imagery, the Gilston accommodation seemed to actually deliver on very little of that coziness!
    And I’m pleased there were happy endings for the album & the summer traveler Ms. Connection, if not for the author stuck in winter, 2 outta 3 I suppose!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff. It seemed a timely reminisce. Yet to hear from the lady herself!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Great story Bruce! Glad it had a happy ending, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bill. 🙂


  5. Brilliant. Always nice to see some love for the Fannies… and I’m a sucker for a story with a happy ending.

    … and I can’t believe that album is 19 years old this year. Jeez.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who knows where the time goes? (As Sandy Denny sang)
      Thanks J. Glad you enjoyed it… And probably picked up my acceptance of your observation regarding The King… Howdy thus being their ‘sixth-ish’ album!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ryland · · Reply

    I’m a big fan of I Need Direction and Near You. Hadn’t heard them in a while so reading this was a great excuse to go back to them. I remember not enjoying “I Need Direction” when I first heard it too! What was wrong with both of us!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily, we saw the light, Ryland. 🙂


Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Please join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: