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Finn de siècle

I’d lost my way with Crowded House sometime ago. That wee imperial run they went on, from Temple Of Low Men via Woodface and Together Alone to their Greatest Hits compilation, would have been enough to sate the keenest of appetites for most things Finn. Add in the eponymously-titled album(s?) released by Neil and Tim in the late ’90s plus Neil’s solo material and the Seven Worlds Collide project in the noughties and suddenly you’d be knee deep in wafting, rolling melodies and jetstream harmonies wrapped around gently scuffed acoustic guitars and chiming, jangling electric six strings sent down from the musical gods above. There’s never ever enough time in the day to get through it all and so these ears wandered off in search of new bands and new sounds when they hadn’t fully soaked in the Finn brothers’ stuff that was already right in front of me. Which was, in hindsight, a bit daft. They’ll never be hip, but where the Finn name is attached, there’s usually something happening.

I took a chance last week on Crowded House’s latest album, Dreamers Are Waiting. I say ‘latest’, but it’s been out a year already. Not for nothing do I have ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People’ at the top of this blog. So, I’m slow to catch up, but for just £6 via the devil’s online supermarket (next day delivery, a mountain of packaging) I couldn’t pass it up, no matter how many independent shops it may close or rainforests it may fell or zero hours contracts it took to get it to me. Yeah. When it comes to the price of music, I have pretty lousy double standards.

Crowded House is a real family affair these days. There’s no Tim Finn, but ever-present bass player Nick Seymour is still involved, alongside Neil and his two sons Liam and Elroy, augmented now and again by Neil’s wife Sharon and the well-travelled Mitchell Froom. The songs on Dreamers Are Waiting are well crafted and carefully considered, the production rich and vivid. It’s a good album.

The opening track is a real beauty, a real scene-setter of what promises to follow. It’s not a wham-bam opener, over and out in a breathless rush of flailing cymbals and crashing feedback. Crowded House don’t go for that. What they do go for though is control and restraint. Bad Times Good is a quietly confident, gently unravelling masterpiece.

Crowded HouseBad Times Good

With breathy Californian harmonies wafted in from Neil Finn’s stint in Fleetwood Mac and a heavy borrowing of Don’t Fear The Reaper’s multi-tracked, multi-stacked backing vocals, the album opener has all the hallmarks of soft rock greatness. It’s absolutely vintage Crowded House; from the understated acoustic opening and muted percussion to its gently tumbling piano/guitar arpeggios and close-miked vocals – and it has you hooked from the off.

Neil Finn is a tease though. He has unlimited melody the way some of us listeners might have limited patience, but still, he doesn’t give it all up at once. We’ll discuss the music in a second, but first we must acknowledge one of the finest voices in popular music. There’s an unexplainable tone to his voice that gets me right there. Very few vocalists have this impact on me – most of my favourites don’t – but Neil Finn is one of them. An undeniably brilliant vocalist. And melodicist. And writer.

The music that carries Bad Times Good threatens to fly off on a couple of well-placed chiming chords midway through the first verse –  ‘Make a good time last/Before we choose a path, let’s spend the night at Los Campaneros please,’ – but Finn pulls it back – ‘through the doorways of the past‘ – you’re not ready for it yet, he thinks, and the tune settles in again. Those chiming, not-quite-expected chords, sometimes the harbingers of deadly night, other times the chink of light in a door half ajar are, it dawns, something of a Finn trademark. Not The Girl You Think You AreNails In My FeetInto Temptation...Distant Sun (great performance from the Tonight Show here) all benefit through the principal songwriter’s way with a well-chosen chord that provides the stepping stone to melodies to die for.

Hey! Everybody wants to make a bad time good.’

Something is nagging at me by the second verse. It’s the vocals! They’re wonderful! And wonderfully close to Gerry Love’s more pastoral deliveries on those late-era Teenage Fanclub albums. No bad thing, obviously, and when married to those hazy, lazy Blue Oyster Cult heeeeyyys gives us a track that anyone with an addiction to ’60s-influenced sunshine pop and an unravelling melody should enjoy playing multiple times in a row and never tire from. Trust me on that.

As the second verse winds its way to an end, and the bass player begins a frugging run up the frets, the reins come off and we’re suddenly soaring. ‘It’s a challenge for the impresario,’ sings Neil, and the band behind him climbs upwards and outwards on a beautiful chord progression, led by understated and underscored strings – where did they come from?!? – subtle and keening, leading us to the key moment that opens the song into technicolour.

When they hit the sunshine chord – ‘Whether sunlight or shadow falls on me‘ – and the tune opens as wide as the Clyde- ‘You won’t come out….’ – aw man! It doesn’t get better than this! Neil Finn’s vocals are now flirting with that falsetto that he can do – the one you’ve tried and failed at since first hearing Weather With You – and a song that once showed real promise now really delivers and then some.

There’s an acoustic drop out, before perfectly executed ‘Heeeeyyy!‘ AOR vocals breathe their way back in, blowing the track to its slow-winding, meandering end. The rest of the album has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t quite get there, to be honest, but as far as opening tracks go, you’ll not hear a better one this year.

Get This!, Live!

(Mc)Nabbed In The Act

Hifff y’wanna have hhhittt zhingelzzz ‘n sell a tonna rekids,” Keith Richards once said to me, “you need’t’add a chick’s name to the song title. Th’chicksss go mad f’rit and their owld fellazzz have t’buy them…hur hur hur!

Ian McNabb does more than a passable Keef impression. He’s midway through his second set at Irvine’s small but perfect Harbour Arts Centre and introducing Understanding Jane, the breakneck bar room thrash that first pricked these ears to the scorched beauty of The Icicle Works when I was a Tesco part-timer with £9 a week to blow on music.

Of course,” says McNabb self deprecatingly. “Evangeline…Jane…Melanie…It never worked for me.”

The solo acoustic version of Understanding Jane that follows is a rootsy, 12 string country romp that would sit neatly between your Gram Parsons and Waterboys records, McNabb’s guitar sounding full fat and thrumming, his wheezy harmonica stirring up the dusty ghosts of yore as his scuffed boot heels (actually, make that comfy Sketchers) stomp the beat.

Ian McNabb, soundcheck, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine 18.6.22

I’m worried this one sounds a bit too much like Neil Young,” he’d winked at me at the soundcheck earlier, before embarking on a very Neil-ish harmonica-enhanced and fingerpicked downhome beauty. For good effect, and to test this listener I suspect, he throws in the odd line that keen and eagle-eared Young watchers the world over will spot from those old bootlegs now being dusted down and released with regular, wallet-emptying frequency as part of his Archives series. “I’m happy that y’all came down!” he says with a mile-wide toothy grin.

I’m happy that McNabb came down too – he’s on fine form in our wee Arts Centre and, with a vast back catalogue to draw from, he’s chosen to forego any support act in favour of playing two full-length sets the likes of which Broooce and ol’ whiny Neil himself might baulk at the length of. Indeed, a Springsteen show might appear as short and sharp as a mid ’70s Ramones run-through by comparison. McNabb has set his stall out with a selection of variously-tuned guitars and a keyboard that’s set to stun and it’s clear from the off that we’re here for the long run.

Much of the material in the first half draws from recent album Our Future In Space and the lockdown-recorded Utopian. Highlight for me was the misty-eyed Makin’ Silver Sing, played at the keyboard with lovely elongated synth pulses and hanging-in-the-air majesty.

Many of the bands that come through our venue feature jobbing musicians; the guitar player from band x also plays in band y and happens to play in a ceilidh band at the weekend when he’s not laying down the groove to I’ve got a feelin’ that tonight’s gonna be a good night in the bill-paying wedding band that keeps him in petrol and plectrums. We once had a support act turn up after driving 5 hours from the very north of Scotland, play a half hour set to a disinterested and half-empty room and turn back around again to make the long drive straight home because both the singer and drummer were starting the early shift in the local tourist trap hotel at half six the next morning.

That notion, folks, of four guys against the world went out the window long before U2 started depositing their rubbish records on your iPhones while you slept. On Makin’ Silver Sing, Ian McNabb captures it perfectly. It’s a brilliant and underheard beauty, with the bonus of a great video. Do the right thing and listen…maybe even buy it. It’ll keep the songwriter in petrol and plectrums – he favours Roger Waters-branded picks as it so happens.

The second set is jam-packed with the big ones – Birds Fly, Hollow Horse, When It All Comes Down – before finishing, of course, on a raucous and well-received Love Is A Wonderful Colour. McNabb is very funny throughout, singling out individual audience members for a dose of rapier Scouse wit, breaking into spontaneous snippets of Live And Let Die (“‘appy Birthday, Sir Paul!“) and the Neil Young aping Horse With No Name whenever it occurs to him to do so. Take your eyes and ears off him and you’ll miss something funny, I tell you.

As much as the big hits are pleasing on the ears, it is though, another keyboard-led track that further blows me away. New track Harry Dean Stanton is jaw-dropping in execution; a swirl of room-filling electric piano and enough reverb and echo on the crystal clear vocal-ocal-ocals to drown a (Crazy) horse. Wonderful stuff.

Ian McNabb plays Leaf in Liverpool this coming weekend. You know what to do.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Rock Goes To Collage

This song is a beauty. It begins with a four to the floor bass drum ‘n boot-heeled stomp; urgent and glam, exactly the sort of beat that would reduce lesser frontmen to demand the audience showed him their hands in above-the-head crass communion.

BuzzcocksFiction Romance

Not Pete Shelley though. A guitar line follows, waspish and chugging, two notes playing in unison with the kick drum. Zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung zha-zhung, zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung zha-zhung. A second guitar falls into line. Same riff, different effect. Chorus? Flange? Both? It’s as shiny and metallic as the record sleeve that houses the album upon which it can be found and it’s full of the promise of what might follow. The drum roll that clatters in exactly where you expect it to wakes the bass payer from his slumber and the band, Buzzcocks, now playing as one, is a fraction faster, a fraction keener.

Shelley is straight into the vocal. A fiction romance, I love this love story, he goes, and you’re lured into a false sense of what the song is about. The chords shift from F to A – an unusual change from a band who made a bit of a trademark of playing unexpected chord changes – and, just as the guitar playing suggests trouble ahead, the vocal turns sour. That never seems to happen in my life. Ah. So it’s another unlucky in love love song from a band who made a bit of a trademark of writing and playing unlucky in love love songs. Not just any old unlucky in love love songs, though. Buzzcocks played them with a whip-smart ferocity while Shelley delivered them with a knowing coquettishness. Unpretentious and everyman, Buzzcocks were and are remain entirely peerless. You knew that already though.

Here comes the chorus? Bridge? Refrain? I dunno, but it’s perfect. Those F-shapes are slid up the frets and back down again, changing the gears, dropping the speed until we’re back to The Riff and Buzzcocks are off and galloping once more. By the time we’ve breathlessly pogoed our way to the outro, the band is locked in as one to the flow of the music – headnodding Stooges sludge played by effete Boltonians. Fiction roma-aaance! Fiction roma-aaance! they repeat and repeat, underlining once and for all that this love thing is a work of fiction entirely, then, just when you least expect it, they switch gear into another riff for the entirety of the last whole minute, ending on a vocal-less Beatles For Sale aping I don’t get you-ooh. A band that references itself! How arch! It’s outrageous and groovy and one that most bands would happily swap their vintage Les Paul jnrs for.

There’s a swirl to the music, a floaty air of proggish punk/punkish prog wrapped in stomped-on effect pedals and Martin Rushent’s complementary production. Not for Buzzcocks the glam tourettes of Sex Pistols nor the biscuit tin production of the first Clash album. They knew what they were after from the off and captured it perfectly. They sound timeless…which they are. If y’don’t like Buzzcocks, y’don’t like life.

Buzzcocks’ debut album Another Music In A Different Kitchen was so-titled after the band borrowed and butchered a line used by Howard Devoto to describe one of Linder Sterling’s collages. As essential to punk as the artwork of Jamie Reid, Linder’s collages largely featured pin-ups and topless models torn from top shelf magazines and relocated to domestic subservience. Their heads and faces were usually replaced by steaming kettles or hissing irons and they’d be placed on top of a sideboard, perhaps, or maybe a kitchen worktop. Chaotic art that allows for discourse and social commentary. Subversive and smart. Like the band wot embraced it.

Live!

Nothing Ever Happens…In Irvine

I’m involved in the organisation and what-not of a new music festival in my hometown of Irvine this summer. Irvine, a town so often a regular stop-off for the big touring acts of the day – The Jam, Madness, The Clash, The Smiths, Human League, Oasis, Bjork – has been long-starved of big events for the last quarter of a century and now the Making Waves Festival is the first step to reversing that trend.

Headlining the Saturday night is Del Amitri. I interviewed Justin Currie a couple of weeks ago and this week the Irvine Herald ran a version of the article in my semi-regular Off The Freckord column. A second, alternative article was syndicated to different newspaper groups, including one or two nationals, so there’s a chance you may have seen it pop up somewhere in the past few days. What follows here is a jigsawing of the two independent articles into the one bigger piece. Think of it as an exclusive for Plain Or Pan readers.

Headlining Making Waves Festival at the Beach Park on 23rd July is Del Amitri. The Glasgow band, formed, believe it or not, almost 40 years ago, have released seven studio albums to date and tasted chart success with 1992’s Nothing Ever Happens, the straight-in-at-number-13 smash Always The Last To Know and Don’t Come Home Too Soon, the official song that would go on to soundtrack the national football team’s ubiquitous early exit from the World Cup in France, 1998. Top of the Pops appearances, Glastonbury slots, prestigious support tours… Del Amitri has given singer and focal point Justin Currie a full and interesting life. Ahead of Making Waves, Justin took the time to chat to Off The Freckord about lockdowns, live shows and longevity.

“Lockdown was surreal, wasn’t it? There was this strange anxiety everywhere, especially during that first one. ‘Am I going to die of it? Will I kill my friends if we meet up?’ There was a collective nervous breakdown, I think. Amongst musicians there was a real worry that we’d never play again. I’m sure artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison had those conversations inside their heads. I really missed performing. It was the first time since I’d been 14 years old when I hadn’t played live music somewhere. My whole life until lockdown had been structured around live music – other bands as well as my own – but the need to rehearse, work up new songs, continue the process that encourages you as a musician to keep going was suddenly and cruelly taken away. Unlike many others, I chose to do nothing in lockdown. Nu-thing. I watched the telly. I read books. I would see people out running and think, ‘Nah. That’s not for me.’ I’m a musician, so I dabbled in live streams for a bit. I didn’t like doing them though. The disconnect made it feel sterile and a bit naff. I stopped doing them quite quickly. I’m a songwriter, so I then tried to write songs… about lockdown. It was all contrived rubbish. Songs should be personal, but appeal universally, not be universal in flimsy subject matter. They were all quickly binned.

It’s great to be back with the promise of playing live in front of people again. We’re gearing up for a small run of shows, most of which have been rescheduled three or four times in the past couple of years. It’s strange, rehearsing. It’s not hard to play all those big hits…but it’s difficult to play them well. We’re all rusty and out of the way of playing them, so we’ve been working hard, oiling the Del Amitri gears and making them slick and professional-sounding. By the time we’ve completed these shows, we’ll be hitting the summer festival trail and we’ll be sounding great, that I can promise. We’re not what you’d consider a festival band, but I enjoy playing those smaller ones with an eclectic line-up and an audience who are all there for the music rather than the lifestyle. Festivals where you can see a reggae band on a small stage, or a folk band in a tent, alongside the big names on the main stage are always good fun. Making Waves seems like the ideal boutique festival in which to see Del Amitri. It should be good fun.

I feel really lucky to still be doing this. When I formed Del Amitri I was incredibly fortunate. We were signed quite quickly. We were championed by people like John Peel – a hero to me – and we found ourselves in the charts on a few occasions. We’d ran out of steam a wee bit by the early 2000s, but a few years later we were offered good money to go back on the road and play the hits. Why deny yourself the opportunity of doing something that you’re good at?! Luckily – again – we had an audience who were keen to come out and see us. We appeal to people, I think, because we’re a melodic band with reasonably intelligent lyrics. Good songs are good songs, regardless of the musical fashions of the time. It’ll be good to dust them off and give them a right good airing at the Beach Park!”

Best Festival Experience?

“Del Amitri has been lucky to have been asked to play some of the biggest and best festivals out there. We’ve played Roskilde in Denmark, T in the Park, Woodstock ’94, Glastonbury… Sometimes, at the bigger festivals there can be a bit of a disconnect between band and audience. Everyone is so remote and far away. The gap between stage and audience is sometimes larger than the venues we’d ordinarily appear in! I always enjoy playing them though. There’s nothing better as a musician than hearing your own songs sung back at you from an audience full of people who know every word.

Whenever Del Amitri played at T in the Park, I made the conscious decision to drive so that I could run from stage to stage and see as many bands as possible without needing to rush away after our set. I’ve seen some great bands over the years this way. Pulp playing Common People to a field full of up-for-it punters at a mid ‘90s T in the Park will live long in the memory, the soundtrack of the era played out for all who were there.”

Worst Festival Experience?

“When I was 15, my pal and I went to Leeds for the Futurama 2 post-punk festival. There was a great line-up and, this being our first festival, we marked the occasion by downing his dad’s stolen whisky on the train on the way to Leeds. I lost my wallet, my train tickets and my ticket for the gig. The woman on the door felt sorry for me and let me in. Midway through a brilliant set by Soft Cell, my whisky hangover started to kick in. I actually fell asleep and missed the rest of that day’s music. The next day, the person on the door was not so forgiving. They wouldn’t let me in without a ticket, so I spent a day wandering Leeds until it was time to go home again. At the train station I had to beg them to let me travel back to Glasgow and they did so by forwarding a bill for my ticket to my mum and dad. Memories, yes, but not a great festival experience.

Del Amitri played Glastonbury in 1990 and we were billed to go on after James. James! One of the greatest singles bands – every track in their set at the time was a solid gold hit and every other person in the audience was wearing one of those baggy James t-shirts. No way were we going on after them! I suggested Del Amitri went on before James – that was the sensible thing to do – but our management at the time seemed keen to keep the billing as it was and, after numerous arguments, James did indeed play before us. Hit after hit after hit…they just kept coming. We then took to the stage and by the third or fourth song, the audience had deserted us. It was a long slog to the end of our set, I can tell you that. So, Twin Atlantic – I believe you’ll be on immediately before Del Amitri at Making Waves. I know you’ll be good…just don’t be that good, will you?!”

What Makes The Perfect Festival?

“Obviously in Scotland the weather is key. It poured it down at Wickerman one year. Two weeks of glorious sunshine and then, just as Del Amitri were about to go on, down it came. Anything other than rain is what you hope for, isn’t it?

Variety at a festival is important. A varied and interesting line-up with an act or two that I’ve heard of but haven’t yet heard is always good. I’m a music fan as much as everyone else. I get just as much a buzz from seeing a great new band as you do.

A nice pint is always welcome too. Watching a great band with a beer is one of life’s pleasures, isn’t it!”

Justin Currie’s Ideal Festival Line-Up

“Let’s see. Making Waves has seven bands playing, so let’s go for a magnificent seven. Obviously, you need the funk, the soul, the ingredients that’ll get you moving, so without hesitation I’d need Sly & The Family Stone, Prince and James Brown as triple-headliners. The Beatles, obviously, another band with an amazing bass-playing singer (!) and, for the filth and the fury, the Sex Pistols too. On the smaller stages I’d have Culture in the reggae tent and I’d definitely need to find a space for Pharoah Sanders in the jazz/chillout/comedown area. Oh, and Cat Power too. She’s a great vocalist. She should play at every festival there is. That’s eight? I’m sure we can squeeze them all in!

Del Amitri headline Making Waves on Saturday 23rd July alongside Twin Atlantic, Fatherson, JJ Gilmour, Blue Rose Code, Nerina Pallot and Anna Sweeney. Tickets can be bought here. It’d be great to see you there.

*Oh! The Music!

Del AmitriNot Where It’s At

I once read a savage line about Teenage Fanclub being the Del Amitri it was OK to like, the inference being that Del Amitri and TFC aren’t miles apart in sound yet light years away from one another in terms of credibility. Who was it that said the music business was a cruel and shallow place?

Not Where It’s At is prime-time Dels; chiming, 12 string Tom Petty-ish guitar lines, crashing chords, honeyed harmonies, minor chord middle eights and enough melody packed into its three and a half minutes to keep you whistling until the cows come home. The Teenage Fanclub fan in your life would very much appreciate it, I think.

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Ceci n’est pas un article de blog

Betwixt and between the hotchpotch of raggedy-arsed guitar stranglers and expensively-suited slick blues musos, world music groovers and torch song balladeers, you might have spotted Belgian funk/pop act Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul on Later the other week there. They wouldn’t have been too difficult to spot, dressed as they were from expertly coiffed head to carefully-considered toe in banana yellow and, as Jools Holland swept his arm by way of nasal introduction, began playing the sort of effervescent funk that makes rhythmically-challenged non-dancers the world over twitch a toe in admiration.

 

A Soulwax production, Ceci n’est pas un cliché is propelled by the sort of tight snapping bass line that any self-respecting breakdance crew could make excellent use of. Snap-snap-slide…snap-snap-grrrrowl. Great stuff. Retro ’80s pitter pattering rhythms keep the flow in motion, shocking pink-varnished fingersnaps, electro bloops and off-beat splashing hi-hats add the colour. On the Later appearance, there’s a great airy whoosh near the end – that same production technique employed by John Leckie in the middle of Made Of Stone – and, after the duo countdown from 7 to zero, it drop outs completely before recommencing the funk exactly and precisely on the one.

You’re a cold as icccce, goes Charlotte. I wanna make you feel real nice. It’s daft and it’ll possibly prove to be as irritating as that Wet Leg single, but for now it’s the sound of my early summer.

Ceci n’est pas un cliché takes its title from fellow Belgian René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, a perfect example of his surrealist humour-inflected art. This is not a pipe, he says, eyebrow arched and metaphorical question mark floating above his head. …or is it?

Charlotte and Bolis fill the lyric of their track entirely with cliched lines borrowed from songs that have gone before. I woke up this morning, I throw my hands up in the air, wave ’em like I just don’t care, my heart is beating like a drum, down on my knees, begging please…etc etc. Either it’s a lazy, quick-fire way to add a lyric to a track already completed or it’s a genius commentary on the banality of pop music. Like all art, the answer to that lies in the beholder. Me, I’m erring towards the latter.

I think the album – there’s a great earwormy track called, knowingly, Making Sense Stop – will be worth investigating too.

 

 

 

 

Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

Roddy (Claim To) Fame

Idlewild frontman and focal point Roddy Woomble quite often steps away from the day job to indulge the folkier side of a personality that is perhaps quashed and lost in the blustery storm that his band cooks up whenever they get together. My Secret Is My Silence, released back in 2006 is a good starting point if you like this sort of thing; the title track itself is a lovely, lilting, fiddle-driven end of the evening affair that is exactly the sort of song that sounds just right five minutes before the bells when the curtain is drawing on an old year and re-opening to a new. He’s got a great voice, pitched somewhere between Michael Stipe and Ewan McGregor, and sings in an honest, unpretentious fashion. As I say, worth checking out.

Soundcheck, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine

Even better is his ‘current’ release, Lo! Soul. I use those inverted commas as the album is now a year old, but it’s only just come to my attention on the back of an excellent ‘solo’ show at the tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine last week. I use that second set of inverted commas because, despite being billed as a solo act, he arrived with long-time Idlewild foil and current hip name to drop Andrew Mitchell.

As Andrew Wasylyk, Mitchell has released a handful of hard-to-find records that meld the intricate and jazzy compositions of prime time David Axelrod to the very best of UK library music of the ’60s and ’70s. They chime and vibe and meander tastefully like soundtracks to long-forgotten films of more innocent times; of walking lazily to school and endless hazy summers and adventurous bike rides out into the countryside where housing estates now nestle. The music of Gregory’s Girl or any of those Bill Forsyth films of the ’80s might be a good reference point for any reader struggling to make sense of this in their internal sound system as they read, but truth be told, they’re far more sophisticated, far more hip than even any of those beauties. You can imagine my disappointment when he told me he hadn’t thought to bring any of his own music to the merch stall. Seek out Fugitive Light And Themes Of Consolation for starters. And go and see him live with his 8-piece band who’ll be hitting the road anytime now. You can thank me the next time you see me.

Wonderfully, Lo! Soul combines low-key Roddy with peak-performance Andrew. Mitchell’s keys and synths are all over the record and it’s spectacular as a result. Big, clanging, minor key, grand piano chords give way to wonky and wobbly Moog, fizzing and squeaking and vintage and essential. The record has a lovely ebb and flow, Roddy’s unselfconscious croon filling the gaps left by the keys, leading the way whenever producer Mitchell reigns in the instrumentation. Pitter pattering drum machines rattle the rhythm throughout, as little soundscapes sandwiched between the beats and the vocals colour it all with a mystical sheen; synthesised ’70s Philly soul strings, spring showers of Fender Rhodes, tinkling and descending piano triplets… they’re all in there. It’s a really great wee record.

The standout track may well be Architecture In L.A..

Roddy WoombleArchitecture In L.A.

Sounding like the magpie eclecticism of peak Beck hotwired to Prince’s Lady Cab Driver, if De La Soul haven’t cut, sampled and looped that little horn motif and added a Daisy Age happy rap on top by the middle of July and conquered the world with it, I’ll be very disappointed. Even Roddy himself could be the toast of the festival season if he were afforded the opportunity of playing on the main stage as the sun sets to orange and an expectant crowd, hopped up on happy pills and expensive alcohol, look to cut a rug and get their party started. “All the ladeez do this…” (waves to the left) All the fellas do this (waves to the right)” I tells you, it’d work.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Roddy and myself actually grew up living across the street from one another, although being maybe 7 or 8 years younger than me he wouldn’t have known. His sister was ages with my sister and I’d sometimes see young Roddy running in loud and joyous circles around the front garden in his nappy when I was sent to bring her home. The Woombles then moved… to the same street we’d move to a year later. Then Mr Woomble’s job took him to Edinburgh (and then France and America, as I’d find out) and they were off.

I never forgot the name though. It’s not a common one. So, when Idlewild started making the press, I did wonder. Years later I had my thoughts confirmed when I interviewed Roddy ahead of what the local paper would bill his ‘hometown show’, when he played the first of his Harbour Arts Centre dates in 2014 or so. Funny how things come around.

Live!

Just One More Thing, Ma’am

The crumpled gumshoe Columbo would utter that phrase in the closing scenes of nearly every show, usually when snaring the perpetrator with undeniable evidence, his cleverly chosen way with words that followed, spoken smilingly and friendly, almost incidentally, triggering the draining of the colour from the face of the criminal as the realisation dawns that they’ve been caught.

The Trashcan Sinatras are all big Columbo fans and, in the spirit of Peter Falk and the weekend I’ve just had, it would be remis if I didn’t utter that famous phrase in relation to its own closing scenes. So, if I may…

…just one more thing.

Where to begin?!

I met Gideon Coe off his train in Glasgow and we walked across the city to Mono, a vegan cafe/bar/venue, attached to Stephen Pastel’s record shop. Gid (as I can now call him) was familiar with Glasgow, but I enjoyed my unofficial role as tour guide while we walked. “That’s the spot where Bob Dylan watches the pipe band in ‘Eat The Document’. This is the decaying yet still functional Panopticon theatre where, in the early 1900s, Stan Laurel performed for the first time. Over there by the Clyde was where Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant performed a surprise show at Glasgow’s Big Day in 1990. Naturally, being oblivious to the Stipe show taking place, my pals and I went to see Wet Wet Wet and Sheena Easton instead.” And so on and so forth.

Gid is on first-name terms with all the Mono staff and happily shoots the breeze while I mooch about the racks and wish I had £500 to spend on records. We eat in the cafe. Grab a drink from the bar. “Are you having a drink drink?” Gideon asks conspiratorially, and the scene is set for the rest of the day and night ahead.

More unofficial tour guiding takes place on the walk to the hotel – it’s impossible to snag a taxi in Glasgow these days, especially when the cup final at Hampden has just reached its conclusion a couple of miles across the river – so we take in the sights. “That’s the BBC over there,” I point. “Yes, I’ve been known to work there,” replies Gideon with a knowing smile. Oh, aye. Duh.

We check in, change our shirts and are quickly back out again, walking now to the Mitchell Theatre for our Aye Write slot. We chat about the order of the show, the questions he’ll ask, the parts of the book that will make for good conversation… and it all starts to get very real. Stephanie, Ian from Last Night From Glasgow and assorted Trashcans are already there. Pre-match nerves are de-jangled through red wine and whisky. Bob the promoter has allowed the show to overrun, and wonderfully, the band now has a half-hour set to play. The figure of 300 tickets sold is banded about as we walk the long walk through the Mitchell’s marble and deco-rich halls and suddenly we’re backstage, the thrum of the expectant audience wafting through the curtains as we’re fitted up with those wee Howard Jones-type head mics. The seating plan is shared and agreed, Bob goes out to introduce us and we walk out into the void.

First thoughts? Folk are clapping. It’s roasting hot. This seat is comfy. The carpet is springy. I didn’t need to bring water. Is my shirt wrunkled at the waistband? I can’t see anyone in the audience, not even a silhouette. It’s dark out there, but there’re folk out there all right. They laugh at the right parts, clap Stephanie’s photos as if she’s just declared that petrol is now a pound a litre and fail to heckle at any opportune moment when one of us pauses to gather our thoughts before answering Gid’s questions or prompts.

John is a great spokesman for his band, sometimes contradicting the version of events in the book, always engaging and positive and with a neat way with words. “Irvine was a wee town that was in a huff with itself,” he says at one point. Ian hadn’t planned on being on stage beyond the first two minutes, but there he is, allowing the story to unfold around him and sharing the odd nugget of LNFG/TCS detail when the conversation heads that way. Stephanie talks of the record’s dude-like producer Ray Shulman and the clean eye of the book’s designer, Brooklynite Chris Dooley, and she and Gideon marvel at the real-life location of the fictitious Cakebrick Road in the lyric of Earlies.

And then, after what seems like only five downhill-without-the-brakes-on minutes, our part is over. We are ushered off stage, de-headsetted and, to a smattering of rippled applause, take our seats at the front for the Trashcans’ set.

And what a set they played.

Seven songs all in, six from the album in focus and an exquisite, jaw dropping version of The Safecracker from A Happy Pocket, the follow-up to I’ve Seen Everything that was so underpromoted by the record label that it never actually received an official release in the States. The ThreeCS are on fine form, Frank stage left, eyes closed, moving away from then stepping closer to the mic to allow the dynamics in his voice to shine. He lets loose an occasional wild and carefree emphasised final line, his jaw juts in and out to the acoustic groove of his guitar, his sticky-up hair looking backlit and electrified. John, stage right and grinning wildly at the thrill of playing these great songs again is the reliable heartbeat. And Davy, seated centre-stage on Aye Write’s bespoke table and looking like the Mount Rushmore of cult band bass players is nonchalant yet focused, the woody thunk of his remarkably right playing underpinning the lot.

Naturally, the crowd laps it up.

And then, we’re being ushered, Stephanie and I, to a Waterstones-sponsored table where multiple copies of our book (our book!) sit, being eyed up by a healthy queue that snakes its way around the table and back to the venue’s stairs. We sign books. Lots of them. Some for Trashcans fans, some for Aye Write regulars who hadn’t heard of the band, let alone their music, an hour ago. I get folk to sign my own copy of the book; contributors, many of whom I’d met only across cyberspace. Stephanie chuckles a lot at the absurdity of it all and I follow suit. I realise, after 30 or so signed books, that the ‘g’ I write in Craig is a bit rubbish, so I make it better for the copies that will sit on the Waterstones display underneath the ‘Signed By The Author‘ banner. That’s a picture I look forward to taking.

Signing over, and elder/younger family members safely dispatched back to Glasgow Central, we – a healthy mix of book folk and band folk, partners and pals – spill out into the still-light streets and make our way to the CCA, where we’ve a room booked upstairs but end up taking over the two floors in any case. We’re away from the riff raff and amongst hot company, as it seems much of the great and the good of the Scottish music scene is here. Drinks and shouted conversations are the order of the day, while Gideon and Davy corner the bar, deep in post-punk conversation.

By chucking out time though, our new 6Music pal has wandered off to find a taxi, not answering his phone or replying to texts. There’s an after party party going on Gid, and you’re meant to be there. Davy and I and our respective better halves load up on chips and pakora and follow my sister and Stephanie to the unsuspecting Air B’nB that will play host to our increasingly loud conversation, until 4am when Frank suggests a taxi. It comes eventually, but it’s not our booking. The driver takes us anyway then midway tells us he’ll go only to Byres Road. We get out and walk back to our hotel – a longer walk from here than from the flat we’d left. It was that kinda night.

Trashcan SinatrasWorked A Miracle

The Trashcans’ love of Columbo and board games is reflected in the lyric of Worked A Miracle… ‘My Reverend Green revolver…guessing game is over…nobody leaves this room! Nobody touches anything!” There’s a great bass line running through it, replicated in rich Ayrshire doo-wop – ‘dum-dum-dum-dum-dum‘, some sudden stops and a sinister undercurrent in the bridge. It’s something of an under-appreciated track that could well lend its title to the event we somehow found ourselves a central part of at the weekend.

Worked A Miracle indeed. I believe too, there are another five albums still to write about…

Get This!, Live!

Soothe Your Fear

If you want to find me this Saturday night (21st) I’ll be on stage at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow for The Perfect Reminder‘s slot at Aye Write. In a gentle nudge to the casual reader here who may already know about the book and subsequent event and might be intrigued enough to buy it, or be tempted even to come along, I’ve taken a little section of the book and included an edited version below. Regular readers here may well spot several Plain Or Pan trademarks; conversational tone, light…funny even, with alliteration lurking inside every stuttering sentence and long-winded similes wherever one or two words would work far better instead. If it gets you a gig at Aye Write – the prime time Saturday night slot, no less – I’ll happily continue fashioning my writing in the style I do.

The book is set into sections, with each song getting its own chapter that’s kickstarted by some writing and followed by a carefully woven tapestry of Trashcans’ thoughts, theories and half-truths about how each song came to be. The section below focuses on I’ve Seen Everything, the title track of the album under the microscope.

Trashcan SinatrasI’ve Seen Everything

The crumbling old remains of the Art Deco Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine. It’s pretty much seen everything, certainly every person born in Ayrshire up to a point.

 

I’ve Seen Everything

My wife, being both morbid and practical, regularly asks what songs I’d liked played at my funeral. I usually bat away any such questions with waffled words about such things not really mattering, when of course they totally, absolutely matter. With its world-weary sigh and joyful melancholy, I’d like to state here and now that if I pass before it’s expected of me, I’ve Seen Everything should be the tune that soundtracks the curtain drawing on my life. Here’s why.

I was in the fortunate position of being around the studio a lot when the album recording sessions were in full flow. I worked in Kilmarnock at the time and the band I played in – Sunday Drivers – had a rehearsal room at Shabby Road, so on the nights when we practised, I’d leave work and go to our room early rather than get the Number 11 bus home to Irvine to go back to Kilmarnock again. The kettle was always on (even if the chances of getting any milk, or at least milk in date, were slim) and you never quite knew who you might meet in the kitchen. It was around this time that Chas Smash once poured me a mug of proper builder’s tea. “Hey you!!!” he never said, “Don’t drink that, drink this!” No milk or sugar was offered and, overwhelmed at the idea that a bona fide popstar would make me a cuppa, I was too scared to ask. ‘This is Madness,’ I thought, as I drank a mug of undrinkable tea and plucked up the courage to tell him that Baggy Trousers was the first record I ever bought.

Shabby Road was a great place. The walls, damp as they may have been, thrummed with the dull thud of bass drums and murderous singing from the half a dozen rehearsal rooms within. The damp patches and flaking paint gradually disappeared with each and every Trashcans’ release. A huge Obscurity Knocks promo poster greeted you at the top of the stairs, Paul’s outstretched skateboarding arm hiding the worst of the offending urban decor. There was a real, tangible buzz whenever you were there. The office was filled with the ephemera of working band life – a stack of mail to be answered, a wee pile of Go! Discs artist CDs, an in tray and an out tray, two ashtrays; one dirty and full of the tell-tale signs of working band life, the other clean and full of wee badges –The Cliché Kills! I Hate Music! The formidable Nanette was in charge of things, behind her desk the framed and signed portrait of yer actual Sinatra, the chairman of the board, overseeing proceedings with his clear and beady ol’ blue eyes.

One time I was halfway up the stairs to be met by Stephen, dismantling and reassembling his drum kit in the hallway. “Better acoustics,” he smiled. 

I found myself in the control room when the band happened to be listening to a playback of I’m Immortal. I swivelled in the producer’s chair as Ray Shulman chatted with me about working with Bjork and The Sugarcubes, and the cello sound that was on the just-released debut record from PJ Harvey. He was pondering aloud about adding a similar see-sawing sound to I’m Immortal. I wonder if they ever tried it?

In our room below, we’d often hear the muffled sound of these new Trashcans tunes being twisted and turned into the masterpieces they became. I have a really vivid memory of sitting alone in our rehearsal room, waiting for the others to arrive, with a flaky sausage roll and an Irn-Bru as someone – Paul or John, but I’m thinking Paul – played a repeating guitar riff over and over and over again in the room directly above. No drums or bass or vocals, just a chiming electric guitar, pausing now and again before picking up where it had left off.

I came in one night to a cassette tape on top of my amp with a wee note from Paul. ‘Here’s some new tunes,’ he wrote. ‘The first track will likely be a single. Let me know what you think.’ When I played it back at home later on, I recognised that guitar riff, now fleshed out with happily ringing acoustics, a rootsy bass stomp and a terrific vocal, Frank seemingly duetting with himself about big mistakes and soothing your fears. By the second chorus, I felt like I’d known it all my life. By the time the trumpets parped their way down from heaven in that big, elongated outro, fighting for earspace with those ever-cascading and inter-weaving backing vocals and sounding as upliftingly melancholic as the Kilmarnock Concert Brass Band in full pomp outside the Burns Mall on Christmas Eve, I was punching the air in joy. That better be a single! I thought.

Frank: When we recorded I’ve Seen Everything we were going for that light and breezy sound. That’s quite an easy thing to capture in the studio. When it’s played live, it’s too hard to do it breezy, and our aggression and drive takes it to a whole new place.

John: Frank approached Ivor Cutler to play harmonium on the title track. He got a lovely reply from Ivor explaining why he couldn’t do it.

Frank: While we were at the Mill, I sent a note to Ivor c/o the BBC. We all love him, of course. Songs from his albums would always be coming on the van stereo, poetic relief from the rock music.

Iain Wilson: For maybe a year, we had the A5 glossy black and white promo pic of Ivor, his reply to Frank, stuck on the top of the dashboard facing the windscreen on the red van.

Frank: It was enough, really, getting a reply from him. I’m partly (actually mostly) glad that he didn’t come over to the studio, because I was so clueless then that I would have been daft enough to over-direct him and be generally overbearing. He’d have given me an Ivor tongue-lashing. There would’ve been tears.

You can catch ace photographer Stephanie Gibson and a couple of Trashcans talk about the book tomorrow afternoon around 3 on the Nicola Meighan show on BBC Radio Scotland.

You can read the full section in the book by buying it here. And you can book tickets for the Aye Write book show, featuring a TCS set at the end here.

Do it, eh?

Live!

Aye, Right!

Indulge me.

You might remember, back in September – (Hey! Poetry!) – the sound of a trumpet being blown from these pages as long and loud and rasping as Miles Davis in the middle of an asthma attack. The reason was the imminent publication of The Perfect Reminder, a book that I wrote about The Trashcan Sinatras, one of our greatest under-the-radar bands and one of their greatest (the greatest?) under-the-radar albums – I’ve Seen Everything. If this is all sudden news to you then fear not. You can read the story behind the book here.

Since a low-key Covid-affected launch night in October (picture above) and its eventual publication, the book has found its way beyond the locality of my family and friends who felt obliged to buy it and has made its wobbly way across the Atlantic to all corners of the States and further afield to Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama where Trashcans fans – hundreds of them as it turns out – have happily bought, read and re-read the book, Tweeting about it, seeking me out as an online pal and generally being very decent about it all. Holy Fukuoka!

And now, next Saturday – the 21st May – the book will make an appearance at Glasgow’s prestigious Aye Write book festival. I’ve been telling anyone who’s still listening to me that Aye Write is the Glastonbury of book events, which, given our prime time Saturday night slot would make us the Nile Rodgers and Chic of literature. Good Times indeed.

I say ‘us’, as quite the bill has been assembled. Ian Smith, prime mover of indie label Last Night From Glasgow, whose idea it was to put together a “posh fanzine” and planted the creative seed in ma heid, will kick things off with a brief couple of minutes to explain how his simple idea ended up becoming a hard back book of 100,000 words.

The thinking man’s John Peel, the guv’nor, BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe will chair a panel featuring myself and photographer Stephanie Gibson. Between the pair of us, we’ll chat about how we turned our ideas into reality, the problems we faced when writing and photographing a book during lockdown, what makes the ideal Zoom background (Pete Paphides’ was particularly impressive, Chas Smash had the most exotic) and wax lyrical about the brilliance of the book’s subject matter. Gideon, as you’ll know if you’re a regular listener to his show, is no stranger to the works of the Trashcans and was super-keen to get on board, from the initial idea to what has become its crowning glory. It’s quite the thrill to have him as our anchor man for the event.

Trashcan SinatrasHayfever (acoustic live at Fez, NYC, Summer 2004)

In a lovely twist, the night will finish with a short acoustic set from three of the TCS – the ThreeCS as I’ll be calling them. Due to work some more on what may well become album number seven, Frank has actually timed a trip from his home in California to team up with John and Davy, a kinda two birds with one stone mission, where he’ll sing at Aye Write and use his time here to tweak the rough vocal tracks he put down a couple of months ago on a flying visit to Glasgow. Not, that I’d imagine, there’ll be much tweaking needed. ‘Rough vocals’ and ‘Frank Reader’ aren’t normal bedfellows.

The organisers have been keen to point out that the music bit is a bonus – “We’re a book festival, remember. It’s all about the books!” so in a weird twist of billing, the Trashcans will support us, albeit they’ll go on after us. And, as much as it might be ‘all about the books’, it’s not often we get a Trashcans show in Glasgow these days, let alone one in such unique circumstances. There should be a decent audience packed in, if only for the band’s involvement.

I’m a teacher, and recently I’ve been teaching the teachers, so I’m fairly used to tough audiences who’ll ask deliberately obtuse and difficult questions. And I’m no stranger to high-pressure gigs, albeit it they were many years ago. Any hopeful young guitar strangler will have felt that rush of excitement as show time nears and the nerves begin to jingle, but in keeping with the Glastonbury idea of it all, this is our Pyramid Stage. 400 tickets in Glasgow’s plush and culturally-rich Mitchell Theatre, but not yet a sell out. I had an anxiety-inducing dream the other night that I turned up on an empty stage, one bright light in my face, and, as I blinked into focus, there wasn’t a single person in the audience. Ah, Freak Out!

Tickets for The Perfect Reminder – The Story of Trashcan Sinatras’ I’ve Seen Everything can be bought here.

It’d be great to see you. All hecklers will, of course, be encouraged ejected.

Live!

‘Wanuka Honey

After two and a half years of postponements, reschedules and juggling dates, Michael Kiwanuka finally kickstarted his long-overdue UK tour in Glasgow last night. And what an opening night!

With a crack 6 piece band behind him, he ebbed and flowed through a set borrowed from his three albums to date; songs with the spirituality of A Love Supreme-era John Coltrane welded to the thrilling psychedelic soul of The Temptations at their most flare-flappingly brilliant. Guitar lines as clean and simple as the venue’s Art Deco design gave way to whacked out wah wah and phased and flanged wasp-in-a-jar fretboard fireworks as wild and fuzzed as the Afro atop the singer’s head.

The two girls standing to his right sashayed and swayed and smouldered and smiled throughout, adding super-sweet harmonies and call and response chants at the appropriate moments like a pair of recession-trimmed I Threes, Bob Marley’s indispensable trio of on-stage backing vocalists.

At times, the music snaps and breaks its way into hip-hop territory, the pistol cracks of the drummer’s snare sounding looped and sampled, a remnant of a crate-dug ’70s gem relocated to the here and now. At other times, it veers off into out-there Floydish prog; a tickle of Fender Rhodes…a swell of Hammond…an echo-heavy guitar line that ricochets off the back of the hall and returns twice as intense. One of the girls goes all Great Gig In The Sky at one point, tearing the roof off in the process. But it all quickly comes back to the voice, spotlit and centre, gentle and effortless, a mega talent in an era when soul music – proper soul like Leon Bridges and Curtis Harding – is allowed to gestate without the major label suggesting the edges need more polishing. A-men to that, brothers and sisters. A-men to that.

Many of the big songs begin with extended, pared-back preludes, a hint of a melody or a sneaked-in bass line suggesting what’s to follow. You Ain’t The Problem is a soaring, rising call to arms, total Curtis Mayfield in its major 7ths and staccato’d strum, the girls at his side in all-out Pearl & Dean mode. Black Man In A White World is, for me, the set highlight. Political and pointed yet plain downright groovy, the off-beat handclaps carried by the band and audience as one allowing Kiwanuka to scratch the rhythm on his battered old SG and spit out the Gil Scott Heronisms of the verses.

Michael KiwanukaBlack Man In A White World

The set closes with a flowing, meandering Love And Hate; more Floydisms, more stinging Isley guitar, the vocal ghosting in from the ether between the gaps in the mood lighting, the melody flowing like someone opened up the McCartney tap at full pressure and let it flood out. Thrilling stuff.

Michael KiwanukaLove And Hate

Spiritual, emotional, highly-charged and never anything less than majestic, Michael Kiwanuka has started this run of dates in blistering form. Usually, it takes two or three shows into a tour before the artist truly finds their feet. Just imagine what this show will be like by the time the tour reaches its conclusion. Go and see him. He won’t disappoint.