FRANCIS Macdonald first realised he was good at drawing when he captured Paul McStay’s wee brother’s nose.

“I was at school with Raymond McStay. He was in my first year art class at Holy Cross in Hamilton,” recalls the Teenage Fanclub drummer, on a meander back to first inklings of teenage talent.

“One day the teacher picked someone to sit in the middle of the class, and the rest of us all drew them. It was Raymond McStay. They used to call him ‘stick up’ because he had a tiny wee turn on his nose, and they called me ‘Joe 90’ because of my glasses.

“I had him in profile and I remember thinking about really trying to look at the outline all the way, including the wee up turn of his nose. When they were all done, he said he thought mine was the best one.”

Stick Up’s appraisal of Joe 90’s talent proved prescient, even if it did lie dormant for 40 years. Next week the musician’s pencil and ink portraits will be exhibited at the Fire Station Collective in Dunfermline. Stick Up’s likeness is, alas, not among them.

“I’d love to have that drawing now,” says Macdonald, 52. “I don’t think we got them away with us.”

A founder member of Bellshill’s influential Teenage Fanclub, with a regular side hustle as a composer in film and telly, Macdonald’s not been short of creative outlets, although his high point in portraiture prior to the pandemic was probably former Hamilton Accies midfielder McStay in the 1980s. It took a jab in the ribs from his daughter to get him to pick up his pencil again.

“Two Christmases ago my daughter told me she wasn’t going to buy me another sketch book because the book she bought me last Christmas was never used,” he says.

The National: Mark E SmithMark E Smith (Image: Fancis Macdonald)

In the midst of pandemic claustrophobia, and after the ticking-off from his girl, Macdonald started sketching, tentatively posting his portraits on his social media. He broke cover first with his Shostakovich.

“I said it looked more like Barry Took. I’m pals with the artist Harry Pye, and he told me to try Barry Took. So I tried Barry Took and Barry Took looked more like Geoffrey Howe. I decided I wouldn’t draw him.”

Gentle affirmation on social media proved a fertile ground and he began drawing every day. He says: “It became an addiction. At first I thought it was maybe a phase I would come out of, but a year and a half has gone by now. Doing something every day and facing down the embarrassment, and getting the odd word of encouragement, I could see progress. I surprised myself. Even if no-one else said: ‘Here’s the new Rembrandt!’ I knew I was doing things I didn’t think I could. So, at the age of 51, this was the start of a new thing. That’s how the bug started.

“It was a good way to spend time during lockdown. It took me away from doom-scrolling social media and it gave me something to concentrate on, just on the joy of doing it. It’s been good for my mental health and I think everyone should do something like this – something that takes them away from lights and phones and too much information.”

The National: Alasdair GrayAlasdair Gray (Image: Francis Macdonald)

The work of Quentin Blake, instantly recognisable to millions for his shaky illustrations of Roald Dahl’s books, has been of significant influence.

“What I take from his work is looseness and abandon. He’s not trying to be photographic. He has a book called A Year of Drawings, which I absolutely love. It makes me smile, and it’s amazing what he can do with just a few lines. I look at the marks he makes and think: ‘Why am I feeling emotional about this?’.”

The power of positive feedback has been the difference between the sketches staying in the sketchpad his daughter bought him and appearing in a gallery. Encouragement from artists like Pye, sculptor Willie Sutherland and Stuart Murphy helped Macdonald shed what he jokes about being a Scottish sheepishness. He sent an email to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, who politely declined, but mentioned Fife’s Fire Station. His exhibition opens there on Friday. He says: “I’m very well-groomed for this. I played for years in BMX Bandits and they had zero credibility in the music press back at the start.

“We had an audience but the music press saw us as a joke band. We’d do a show and come off to a brilliant reaction from the crowd then read a review saying we were the worst band in the world. I think that probably set me up in quite a good way. Even when criticism is positive you take it with a pinch of salt. If I enjoy what I do, it will connect with some people, and we shouldn’t worry too much about the people who say they don’t like it.

“A funny thing happens when Teenage Fanclub play. A thousand people might have been cheering but it’s the one comment from the one person who looks you in the eye afterwards and tells you it was good that is most disarming”.

Macdonald is about to embark on a world tour with Teenage Fanclub in support of their latest album Nothing Lasts Forever, released in September. On recent tours, he’s presented the band with portraits in the dressing room, sparking impromptu games of Guess Who. Has he drawn them?

“That’s a potential recipe for disaster,” he laughs. “I only see a downside to that. It’s one subject I haven’t tackled yet.”

The new TFC album is their 13th and second since the departure of founder member Gerry Love, one third of the band’s songwriting heart with Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley.

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“The last track on the new album, I will Love You, is one of the best songs the band has ever done. It’s a Raymond McGinley song and I think it’s a slow-burn work of beauty,” Macdonald says.

“It feels good. We are in a creative, productive place. Norman and Raymond have stuck together and it’s nice to see the mutual respect they have for each other. I think they bring out the best in each other.”

A gift from his wee girl and the simple power of a pat on the back from pals, brought out an unexpected best in Macdonald. He says: “I decided to start saying well done to people because I got two or three pleasant comments and that really made a difference to me with these drawings. Often, we see someone has done a good job and don’t think to tell them. But it might just make their day.”

 Francis Macdonald’s exhibition, Everyday Art, is at Dunfermline’s Fire Station Collective from September 1-10.

Teenage Fanclub’s new album Nothing Last Forever is released on September 22. They play Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, Glasgow’s Tramway and Aberdeen’s Tivoli Theatre this November as part of their world tour.