Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Rimbaud 2: It’s A Pay Check, Jack

A dozen or so years ago, a concert celebrating the life and work of Robert Burns took place at Culzean Castle on the South West coast of Scotland, not far from where I’m typing. I’m quite into Burns, in an enthusiastic amateur kinda way. I get involved when it’s that time of year in the schools and organise the school Burns Supper. I’ll put together wee groups of kids who’ll eagerly sing Green Grow The Rashes (the Michael Marra arrangement) while I get to rock out gently with some well-rehearsed finger picking on my guitar. At home, we’ve done Burns Suppers celebrating the bawdier side o’ Rabbie that they don’t teach at school, helped along by the sort of food and drink you’d be hard-pushed to find in a school dinner hall. There are tons of Burns scholars out there who take it far more seriously and who could bore the breeks off most of us with their ability to recite his most obscure work which is why, when the concert was announced at Culzean  – with headliners Lou Reed and Patti Smith – I thought I’d give it a miss. “I don’t really fancy hearing Lou ‘n Patti pretend they know the inner workings of Burns’ songbook when they could be doing their own stuff instead,” I reasoned. Big mistake as it turned out, as Lou and Patti by and large did their own stuff, regardless or not of what the promoters had signed them up for. Patti even made the Scottish news on TV the next night for gobbing on the side of the stage, offending those stuffy, ancient scholars I’ve just mentioned. Old punks, eh. What’re they like?

Oor ain Eddi Reader, herself a mad Burns fanatic, was on the bill and in the encore she sang the famous ‘doot-di-doo’ backing vocals for Walk On The Wild Side alongside Patti Smith. I know people who’ll be reading this that have wide-eyed stage-side footage of the moment. Why did I not go? Why?

I’ve grown into Patti Smith in a big way. She was always there, a trailblazer for the strong, bloody-minded women from Chrissie Hynde to PJ Harvey who have a place in my record collection, but in recent years I’ve really come to acknowledge her as one of the greats. Morrissey, Michael Stipe and any Maconie-voiced BBC4 documentary will all tell you this of course, but unless you were lucky enough to be there at the time, I’m not sure her importance shines through for generations of mine and since.

Horses is her biggie, of course. A raucous brew of poetry set to music, it’s the sound of flared nostrils and itchy, twitchy jangling nerves riffing on French existentialists, Jesus and the futility of existence – the big stuff, in other words. Wrapped in monochrome with bird’s nest hair, it’s a challenging listen, certainly more difficult to get into than, say, Patti’s contemporaries The Ramones and Blondie who were street suss enough to add some pop to their schlock. The centrepiece of the album is, wonkily, mid way through side 2.

Patti SmithLand

Land is a free-flowing example of all that Patti does best, over 9 carefully metered minutes of what musicologists might call a triptyche, with 3 parts of music played under the one theme. Every word is enunciated precisely and clearly, given equal gravitas. She howls, she whispers, she duets with herself. She’ll rap on something deeply esoteric one moment and then she’ll be singing about the watusi and Bonie Moronie the next. The words come in floods; pretentious, populist and pure. I can’t pretend to know exactly what she’s on about and I’m not certain that the young Patti in 1975 could’ve told you either. It sounds fantastic though.

Patti has a crack band behind her, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing in time to her carefully-written prose, yet for the entire track they keep it simple. At any moment, Richard Sohl on keys could break into the most heart-stopping piano run, but he doesn’t. Lenny Kaye could easily let fly with an electric burst of pop/punk bloooze, but he doesn’t. There’s ample opportunity over 9 minutes for an Animal-esque freak out on the drums, yet Jay Dee Doherty reigns himself in. With Patti Smith, it’s all about the vocal. The words are everything.

Here’s Piss Factory, her early b-side documenting her time working a crappy job for crappier money.

Patti SmithPiss Factory

Just Kids, Patti’s autobiography about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe continues this theme. It’s a literary ride on the A Train, taking the reader right into the centre of a mid 70s New York that most of us can only imagine. Their story is played out against a backdrop of the Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City and Coney Island and features walk-on parts from Andy Warhol, Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Art, music and fashion explode and fuse together and everything and anything is possible, doable and done. Mapplethorpe struggles with a sexual identity that would eventually tear the couple apart but (or perhaps because of this) it’s a beautiful read;  a love letter to and for Mapplethorpe and the city that brought them together. There they are up there, an androgynous Keef ‘n Mick for the Blank Generation. Even without the music, Patti’s words are powerful. Read it.

Footnote

It was a conversation with Johnny Marr a few years ago that made me go home and re-evaluate Patti Smith until her genius really sank in. I was charged with taking photos of Johnny and his fans after a gig. The waiting line snaked around long enough that half the folk in it ended up missing their last connection home. At the front of the line was a girl who might’ve been 13 and might’ve been 33. Small, disheveled and unkempt, she’d been first to queue outside the venue at lunchtime on the day of the show and as soon as the doors had opened she’d ran for the front of the stage where she stood holding onto the barrier and never letting go until it was time to meet Johnny at the end. Johnny recognised her straight away. “Hello again darlin’!” he greeted with a hug. “How are we today? Listen – hey, listen! – make sure you get a bed tonight, eh? No more sleeping in doorways, eh?

Once, I bunked off the school,” he told me afterwards, “and skipped the train to Liverpool to catch Patti Smith. Sneaked in the stage door! That night I slept in Liverpool Bus Station and it was the most terrifying night of my life. That girl at the front comes to all the shows. She comes alone, leaves alone and always turns up the next day. I kinda worry for her, y’know?

If artists have such a hold on folk that they’re prepared to forfeit a roof over their head for the night so that they can see them in concert, they’re worth listening to.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

She And Him

In the early days of Plain Or Pan I penned under the nom de plume of Phil Spector. I suppose it was a combination of being embarrassed to put my real name to anything that might read like a 3 year old’s best efforts and the fact that I didn’t really want anyone to know I had a sideline in writing about old music that kept me from using my own actual name. Things came to the fore when my daft pseudonym cost me the chance of an interview with Nancy Sinatra. “Why on earth would I want Phil Spector to interview me?” she growled, not quite getting the fact that it wasn’t yer actual Phil Spector who’d been in touch. “He was a strange, strange, man and I want nothing to do with him.” At the time, Nancy had been working with a still-hip Morrissey, and I was hoping to base our interview around the recordings they’d been making. Alas, it never happened.

Shortly afterwards I was contacted by someone who wanted me to interview Sandie Shaw. By coincidence, another iconic singer with connections to Morrissey, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. There and then I dropped the pretence and proudly added my own name to the by-line in every article I’d written here. The subsequent interview and article with Sandie (where she name-dropped Morrissey, Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux within the first 5 minutes) became the first piece of paid writing work I’d ever done.

Anyway, back to Nancy S. I’ve had her Greatest Hits rotating recently, a scratchy, crackly 11-track best of that I picked up for 50p (!) in a wee junk shop just off of Glasgow’s Byres Road. Much of it is kitsch nonsense, the sort of stuff that, had she not been the daughter of an icon, may well never had been afforded the attention it got.

The material she recorded with Lee Hazlewood though is fantastic, a heady combination of female/male, light/shade, sweet/sour on record. Sinatra’s voice is cutesy-cute, all light and airy melodies blown in from Hit Factory central. Hazlewood rumbles in like a gothic cowboy, with a voice deeper than a well and twice as dark. Together, they make the sound of milk chocolate and dark chocolate on vinyl.

Some Velvet Morning is the one for me.

Nancy Sinatra & Lee HazlewoodSome Velvet Morning

Druggy, fuggy and full of sexual innuendo, it’s a psychedelic pop masterpiece, miles away from the light and airy country pop that defines many of their duets.

Hazlewood takes the lead, gliding in on a bed of Barry-esque strings with a baritone that could rattle the lids on the coffins of the dead. He gives way to Nancy, fluttering in like a waltz-time muse. “Sing like a 14 year old who fucks truck drivers,” he instructed, with the blessing of ol’ blue eyes himself. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that nowadays?!?

The whole thing see-saws back and forth, a call-and-response danse macabre. Had it popped up soundtracking The Wickerman or a crucial scene in a Tarantino movie you wouldn’t have been surprised. Quentin T. may yet find a use for it in the future, I feel. Musically, the record is very rich. With instrumentation by the famed Wrecking Crew, it’s lush yet louche, wonky and weird and wonderful.

The other high point of their collaborations is Summer Wine, a track that has all the makings of a great lost Bond theme. There’s the innocent female vocal, parping brass and a not-so-subtle nod to all things Bond with the addition of John Barry’s ubiquitous 5 note signature theme midway through.

Nancy Sinatra & Lee HazlewoodSummer Wine

The Lee/Nancy thing was done to great effect by Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell a few years ago. A post in the near future for sure….

As a bonus for now, here’s Lee’s version of Nancy’s signature theme. It’s a cracker.

Lee HazlewoodThese Boots Are Made For Walking

And here’s Let Me Kiss You, Nancy’s take on the Morrissey track that led them to find one another, the song I never got to ask her about. Hey ho. Morrissey has quite rightly come in for a lot of stick in recent times, and whether he still holds a place in your heart or not, you can’t deny that his performance in the background of this record is vintage Stephen.

Nancy SinatraLet Me Kiss You

Gone but not forgotten

The Queen Is Dead

Long live the Queen.

Aretha Franklin was one of the greats. Her releases on Atlantic Records, that sensational run of mid-late 60s albums defined her. But you knew that already.

Her performance on this is my favourite 3 minutes of Aretha.

Aretha FranklinDon’t Play That Song

The Muscle Shoals backing band grooves mightily, knowing instinctively when to come in, when to drop out, when to step back and allow the vocal to take centre stage.

The spaces between the notes might supply the requisite funk, but it’s Aretha’s inclusion that turns it up a notch or two.

It’s her phrasing. Man! Ain’t no-one can sing like Aretha. On those “You lied!” call and response parts, her voice soars, just that little bit higher than the brass, just that little bit freer than the backing singers, just that little bit more majestically than anyone else.

Soar on, Aretha.

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

MCR NYC

If it’s scratchy, scuffed at the knees post-punk with a groove yer after, all roads lead to the twin metropoli of Manchester and New York.

A Certain Ratio are something of an enigma. They’ve been around long enough to have witnessed every important youth movement since punk and have steadfastly ploughed their own furrow, grooving somewhere between the hands-in-pockets introspection of Joy Division and the hands-in-the air exhibitionism of the Hacienda and the rave culture it gave birth to, while sometimes dressed like wonky extras in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. They’ve seen off grunge, grime and good old Britpop as well as the entire careers of The Smiths, New Order (the real New Order that is) and just about every influential band these isles have produced.

Revered by all manner of bands whose funk DNA pops up in the least likely of places, from Talking Heads and Happy Mondays to Red Hot Chili Peppers, ACR have the dubious fortune of being incredibly influential yet incredibly unheard of. It’s just the way they like it. They have the freedom to bypass trends, to surf across the wave of whatever zeitgeist is hip that week and get on with the job of making records for themselves.

Du The Du from 1979’s The Graveyard And The Ballroom album is the perfect jumping off/jumping in point.

ACRDu The Du

 

 

It fairly rattles along on a barbed wire bed of steam-powered, clattering industrial funk, with powerhouse drummer Donald Johnson somehow making his kit the lead instrument. Lo-fi guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Josef K record do their chicken-scratch thang, an Asda-priced Nile Rodgers played by cosmopolitan Mancunians. The vocals, all pent-up anxiety could be Ian Curtis on Lemsip. There’s even an elastic band bassline midway through which threatens, but never quite gets to Level 42 on the muso-meter. I defy you not to wiggle at least a finger to it.

Du The Du also happens to be the track by which LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy measures (measured?) his own funkiness. If the New York band’s latest track seems weak by comparison, it’s binned forever until something more in keeping with ACR’s wonky, jerky funk turns up. Du the right thing indeed.

Talking of New York…

Such a melting pot of cultures and styles is always going to be responsible for inspiring exciting new trends and movements. ESG was formed by the three Scroggins sisters from the Bronx. Given a variety of instruments by a mum keen to keep them on the right side of wrong, the group took equal inspiration from their Motown favourites and the nascent New York hip hop scene. The result, in a way, was neither. As with ACR, much of their stuff is sparse, cold and music for the feet rather than the head.

A show in Manhattan’s Hurrah club brought ESG to the attention of Factory’s Tony Wilson, himself no stranger to an ACR record (he’d go on to release 5 of their albums on Factory). Wilson brought ESG to Manchester where they recorded with Martin Hannett, fresh, believe it or not, from manning the desk as ACR recorded Du The Du. There’s serendipity right there for you. Or plain old musical incest. 

ESG wouldn’t go on to sell all that many records, but in the intervening years they’ve been a clear influence on bands such as Luscious Jackson and Warpaint. They’ve also found themselves heavily sampled by acts looking for something beyond the usual James Brown riff; Beastie Boys, Tricky, even TLC have found gold within their basslines and rippling drums, leading to a late-era ESG releasing the telling Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills EP.

1982’s Dance To The Beat Of Moody from their EP of the same name is where you should start though:

ESGDance To The Beat Of Moody

 

 

As fresh as a hot pretzel on Avenue Of The Americas, it’s great, innit? You wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it were to pop up on BBC 6 Music next week, rotated heavily on the a-list as the hottest new thing. It’s only 36 years young. Original vinyl is almost impossible to track down though and, even of you’re lucky enough to uncover a 1983 press of Come Away With ESG, you’ll need a small bank loan to pay for it. Thankfully, the wonderful Soul Jazz do a good run in re-presses.

Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Brendan O’Hare (Teenage Fanclub)

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 29 in a series:

Brendan O’Hare is best-known as being one of the three drummers who’ve wielded the sticks and pounded the beat in Teenage Fanclub. Between 1989 and 1994, Brendan’s tight but loose scattergunning Moonisms helped define the early Teenage Fanclub sound; loud, melodic and always just half a beat from falling apart. Fanclub shows at the time were a riot of hair and feedback, false starts and between-song random gibberish. I first caught them live when they supported the Soup Dragons at the old Mayfair in Glasgow in July 1990, a mind-melting 28 years ago. That night they were all the things above and more and I was so taken with them I went out the next day and tracked down a copy of Everything Flows, their recently-released debut 7″.

In the subsequent quarter century and more, I’ve been first in the queue whenever there’s a new TFC release and I can count on the one hand how many times I’ve missed a hometown Fanclub show, mainly pre-internet and back in the day when you really had to have an ear to the ground.

I was fairly miffed, let me tell you, to find out one day that Teenage Fanclub and Alex Chilton had set up at the 13th Note the night before for a wee show.

Likewise when a work colleague told me he thought he’d have seen me “last night at the Fannies’ show in the Mitchell Library. They played loads of Beach Boys tunes and stuff.”

Or the night when I was mid-way through the Thursday wheezefest that was 5-a-sides and someone asked why I wasn’t at the Edwyn Collins with Teenage Fanclub gig in Mono that was happening right there and then. There was a lot of Falling, but not much Laughing, let me tell you. That was at the height of the TFC message board too. How I missed that, I’ll never know.

Other than that, I think I’ve been at them all, from King Tuts in Elvis costumes to the Pixies support where the stage collapsed after their set and the show was abandoned, to the rootin’ tootin’ Grand Ole Opry – perhaps the finest show I’ve seen them play, the 3 nights at Oran Mor where they aired much of their stellar back catalogue, the umpteen ABC and Barrowlands shows and everything in-between and since.

I used to be dead proud of my unblemished record of having seen the band perform live at least once a year, until Norman’s relocation to Canada and the inevitable gaps in the touring schedule that came as a result.  Having said that, I reckon I must’ve seen TFC over 50 times. They’re second only to the mighty Trashcan Sinatras on the old gigometer, and in November I’ll be creeping ever closer to the TCS by adding another 3 notches to that mighty fine tally mark.

Anyway, back to Brendan.

Brendan joined Teenage Fanclub when they formed from the dead ends of The Boy Hairdressers, a band that featured the songwriting talents of Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley. With the addition of Gerry Love on bass, the 4-piece went quickly to the recording studio armed with a handful of Boy Hairdressers’ songs and a headful of giddy ideas. A Catholic Education was the result; an album that provided a decent introduction to Teenage Fanclub. There were noisy tracks – Heavy Metal, irreverant tracks – Everybody’s Fool, loose approximations of melody, fighting for top billing with the surface noise and coming off second best – Too Involved, Every Picture I Paint, Critical Mass and one bona fide meandering classic, that debut single Everything Flows.

On the album, Brendan shared drumming duties with former/future drummer Francis MacDonald but by the next single, the magnificent noise pop of God Knows It’s True, Brendan had made that shoogly drumming stool his own. Just as a wee dog feels the need to pee up a tree trunk to mark his spot, he even stuck his name on the bass drum where most normal bands displayed their logo. Teenage Fanclub are no normal band though. When second album proper Bandwagonesque appeared, three of the principal members were writing material.

Released 16 months or so after A Catholic Education, Bandwagonesque was a few short months away from, yet light years ahead of, the debut. The harmonies that would soon come to define the band were pushed to the fore. String sections and brass parts helped drag it above and beyond the scuzzy indie rock of its contemporaries. Guitars still fizzed and the drums still hammered like a blacksmith on an anvil, but Bandwagonesque was radio-friendly power-pop in excelsius, finishing the year at the very top of the ‘Best Of The Year’ lists ahead of such also-rans as Nirvana’s Nevermind and REM’s Out Of Time. You knew that already though.

Brendan played on the follow-up, Thirteen, the misunderstood forgotten child of the Fanclub family. By the band’s own admission they went to the studio with half-finished choruses and ideas rather than fully developed songs. Not that you’d know if you listened to it. It lacks a bit of Bandwagonesque‘s sparkling punch and Grand Prix, the album that followed, knocks it for six, but as a standalone album, Thirteen is still miles ahead of most other band’s best work. Any album that contains the swooning Norman 3 or the frantic knee-trembling Radio or the Neil Young-isms of closing track Gene Clark is hardly in the ‘duffer’ category. Following the Thirteen tour, Brendan left the Fanclub due to ubiquitous ‘musical differences’ and was replaced by former Soup Dragon and fellow North Lanarkshire guitar band alumni Paul Quinn.

Brendan would join TFC briefly later on; on the 2006 tour when the band played Bandwagonesque in its entirety for the first time, it was Brendan who was brought in on drums. And at those Oran Mor shows a couple of years later, Brendan nearly knocked me over in his haste to get to the stage to join the band for an impromptu – although how impromptu I’m not exactly sure – run-through of The Ballad Of John & Yoko. I suspect he may also have more than a bit-part to play in the Catholic Education/Thirteen shows later on in the year……

With Teenage Fanclub’s back catalogue due for imminent release and subsequent reappraisal I thought it might be quite good to ask Brendan if he’d like to ‘Sophie’s Choice’ the Teenage Fanclub back catalogue and narrow it down to an impossible 6 of the best. His reply was immediate and positive.

I’d love to do that. A lot. Very lot.

And so, over the course of a week or so, Brendan whittled an outlandish task down to a definitive half-dozen. Fanclub freaks might be a bit surprised…

 

Hello!

I’m kinda uniquely placed to try and talk my way through this but I’ve not written more than 100 words since I left school. In the 17th century.

I’m mad for the intricacies of the songwriting process. What better way then for me to spend some time than by trying to write about one of my very favourite bands and six of their songs?!

The Teenage Fanclub.

I’ll use letters instead of numbers because there’s no hierarchy to this list.

A

Planets

Some songs are perfectly recorded, the band so synchronised that the subsequent overdubs all nestle into the song like the band played it all live.

I’ve no idea how this was recorded but it feels like you’re hung in a hammock, floating within the song, within the mix. Norman leads us, pied piper-esque, towards the most beautiful big set of pastoral doors, kicking them in to reveal the most uplifting synth solo since ever.

I rarely find myself imagining driving to a song but this song IS driving in Scotland. It really just is.

B

It’s A Bad World

Raymond has a tendency to hide around musical corners and dazzle you as you pass by. I guess I’m saying he’s like a musical flasher, managing to make even the most sensible of timings unusual and quirky. (I’m not sure how the flasher analogy is working on that point.)

This song is so controlled yet so chaotic. The guitar tones allow you to hang on to their arms, either side, whilst the frankly incredible bass playing (and bass sound) plays keepie uppie with your arse. With false ‘Highway to Hell’ moments to boot this one just makes me want to bounce about, happy being a marionette controlled by the maestro’s fingers.

C

Take the Long Way Round

A beautiful Gerry introduction to his world at the beginning of this song. A hypnotic psychedelic twister of a “previously on Gerard Love” recap allowing you to settle in for the trip.

Jangle sunshine pop like it really should be done. I’m not sure that anyone else’s world is quite like Gerry’s. This sounds like a band having some fucking fun. Why wouldn’t you be? I mean you got Gerry singing about some wistful sunshine hippy shit (I’d imagine), slapping you with a cracker of an indie-jangle chorus.

Wooohoo! Sunshine Lanarkshire-styles. 70’s summer skies break into an impromptu acapella in a bus shelter. Harking back to a time when cigarettes didn’t kill you and you’d almost completed your Panini World Cup sticker book.

For me, it’s a holy trinity within one of the greatest albums of all time.

 

D

Mount Everest

I’m not sure how long this song is. I always play it twice. It somehow manages to fuse a sombre, plodding nature with an upper layer of melodic loose-o-tronic guitar work.

By my calculations this song is either useless or suicidal if used in conjunction with jogging apparatus. As an example of harmony singing, however, it’s second to none.

E

I Don’t Care (“Fuck negative Raymond!”)

There’s something really Euro-Glam about this to me. Metronomic insistence allowing for the usual beautiful Fanclub harmonies to float just above the song enabling a trance-like state to occur wherein journeys, and their afterglow, are explained to you. And you understand. Perhaps only briefly.

I know!!! ALL from Songs From Northern Britain. I really do think it’s one of the greatest albums of all time. Sublime.

F

I Need Direction

For when you need a bit more Gerry sunshine in your life. Bubblegum pop done with the style, fashion and execution of true masters. The chime of the guitar break. The under-shimmer of the Hammond. Holy Tits, Batman, there’s not many musical buttons it doesn’t flatter with its pushing. The apparent effortlessness of the performances on this song are what make it so special for me.

Brendan.
x

 

Wow! Who’s going to argue with that? Former drummer picks 6 tracks, none of which he plays on, 5 of which are on the same album. 1 x Norman, 2 x Raymond, 3 x Gerry. It’s a great list. Feel free to add your own chosen 6 in a comment below.

You should probably visit/revisit Gerry‘s Six Of The Best from 7 years ago. You’ll find that wee beauty here.

Live!

It Was A Game Of Two Halves, Frank

Rarer than a sighting of the blood moon in the middle of a thunderstorm, perennial favourites Trashcan Sinatras were out and about for a couple of weeks there. You might’ve been lucky enough to catch them. If you did, you’ll wholeheartedly agree that their performances were the very essence of understated and self-conscious beauty, masterclasses in the art of rich and melodic songwriting that comes giftwrapped in just the right level of scruffy punkish undertones. Invited to support fellow Scots Del Amitri around the UK, the band found themselves playing the sort of venues that, in a right and just world, they’d be headlining themselves. For the Trashcans though, they’ll maybe always be the bridesmaids and never the brides and in a funny, mildy elitist way, that’s just the way myself and their fiercely dedicated family of followers like it. Us diehards were also rewarded with a select offering of headline gigs, some where the Trashcans played as an acoustic three-piece and others where the full augmented line-up turned on, tuned up and rocked out. But more of that later…

I was fortunate to see the band twice in the space of a week. Last Sunday I was invited to see them open for Del Amitri at the Barrowlands. This wasn’t the first time the Trashcans had played here. A short 28 years ago they provided support for Prefab Sprout, a gig most memorable for Frank doing an Iggy on the PA system before we (myself, my pals and select Trashcans) hot-footed it back to Irvine for a night in The Attic. To my regret I didn’t even stay for Prefab Sprout, but when you’re young and daft and your popstar pals want to share tour stories and dance to their own records in their hometown, that’s what you do.

TCS Barrowlands, 29.7.18

For the Dels shows, the Trashcans built a 45 minute set of their greatest shoulda been and coulda been hits; Got Carried Away, All The Dark Horses, Hayfever, Obscurity Knocks. How Can I Apply, Easy Read….it’s an endless list, really. They sounded fantastic. There’s a rich chemistry between them, honed on their recent three-piece zig-zag across America that transfers easily to the six-piece they are at the moment. The playing is spot on and the singing is sublime. Frank’s voice is richer than it ever was. Listen to Cake and at times he sounds almost helium-enhanced by comparison. These days, he’s an effortless crooner, using the dynamics of the microphone to great effect. He’ll step away from it to holler. He’ll lean in to it to whisper. He’ll spit and snarl when he has to then sooth your ears when he wants to. Make no mistake, he’s a soul singer, is our Frank.

At the Barrowlands the band looked nervous. Most eyes never left the frets and audience participation was sporadic and rehearsed rather than free-flowing and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the not-so-subconscious realisiation of playing in front of home fans that brought about a mild case of the stage frights, I dunno, but the band remained rooted to the spot, with no chance of any Iggyisms at all. It’s not a criticism, it’s just the way I saw it. Perhaps I’m comparing them to Del Amitri, an act who were slicker then the Fonz’s quiff. Bang! Bang! Bang! came the hits, each song starting before the last one had truly fizzed out. The Trashcans shambled on, played a song, looked a wee bit apologetic about it and with a shrug of the shoulders dragged themsleves into the next one. The Ramones could’ve played side 1 of Rocket to Russia in the gaps between the songs. They sounded great ‘n all, and while the Trashcans have never been the slickest of bands – that’s half the appeal, after all – a wee bit of oil in the engine wouldn’t have done any harm. For me, the highlight of the night was realising a lifetime’s ambition by securing a Barrowlands AAA pass for all of 20 minutes. The dressing room was just as I’d imagined….

The Kosmo Vinyl of the TCS, Big Iainy talks Bowie with Stephen.

Davy and John ponder the lack of brown M&Ms.

That Barrowlands show was the Trashcans’ last on the Del Amitri tour, following which the semi-skimmed 3-piece version of the band skipped across to Dublin for an acoustic show before returning to home turf for a trumphant, full fat, headline appearance on the Thursday night. Anticipation was ridiculously high for this one. Rave reviews of their support slot gigs were ubiquitous across all social media platforms. The word was the Trashcans would play a blinder.

And so it (eventually) proved to be.

The venue was rammed. A total sell-out, and with it being a local affair and what not, I suspect the guest list was rather longer than normal, so by the time Michael Marra’s Hermless had ushered the Trashcans on to the homely stage, we were standing sweaty shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers in a venue designed for far less people.

Most bands like to make a statement of intent with their opening number, a Maiden-type ‘we’re here and we’re in your face’ sonic assault. The Trashcans roll out Got Carried Away and from the off, something isn’t quite right. You can see them looking at one another, checking capo positions as they strive to switch into gear. Someone is apparently very badly out of tune. The song stumbles to a stop and everyone fiddles with guitars, capos, pedal tuners and so on until the culprit is outed as John. He fiddles with the tuners on his guitar. Stomps on his pedal tuner. Fiddles again. “Sorry ’bout this,” he offers meekly. “Gimme an E, Paul.” There’s a joke to be had in there, but despite the heckles and good-natured banter, no-one thinks of it quickly enough. Those gaps in the Barrowlands set now seem miniscule. Indeed, yer Ramones could’ve played an entire show in the time it took to put the tuning gremlins to bed.

Once they’re off, though, the Trashcans proceed to bring the house down. On record, Got Carried Away is enhanced by Norman Blake’s warm harmonies. Live, the Douglas brothers provide a great alternative. It’s a terrific opener, all mid-paced chiming melancholy and gently tumbling toms. “Hey, it doesn’t matter,” it goes. Frank croons. Girls swoon. And the world is alright.

The songs that follow are pretty much the ones that warmed up the Del Amitri audiences. The uplifting All The Dark Horses (played half a key lower, trainspotters), a fluid How Can I Apply, a wonderful Freetime that’s carried along on a melody an early 70’s Brian Wilson would’ve been proud of and a frantically scrubbed run-through of Obscurity Knocks, the chorus spat with a furious venom. All in all, a pretty great opening.

Things then got interesting as the band dug deep into their endlessly rich back catalogue. Songs last heard when Scotland could be bothered to qualify for World Cups popped up, totally unexpected and gratefully received; The Genius I Was, Thruppeny Tears, Bloodrush, Only Tongue Can Tell, January’s Little Joke. All were played with reverance and wide-eyed wonder at the love they received. By now condensation was running down the walls. The band were wilting, melting. All the band that is, with the exception of Davy Hughes. The bass player has always been the coolest Trashcan and standing there stoically against the elements he looked like Mount Rushmore, a faced carved from the offspring of Mick Jones and Keith Richards. “Y’know that way when it’s so hot your trousers start to slip down?” he told me later on….

On this form, the Trashcans would be advised to get straight back on the road and bowl ’em over from Land’s End to John O’Groats and everywhere in-between. The likely reality though is that Frank and Paul will return to their homes in the States and it’ll be a good couple of years before we see them once more, which, again, is frustratingly half the appeal.

Here’s the slightly hippy, slightly trippy The Genius I Was, for no reason other than it’s a cracker.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Genius I Was

And here’s a terrific version of A Coda from an anonymous US Radio session. Years ago at the TCS merch stall I recommended Billy Sloan play it on his Radio Scotland show that weekend and he did.

Trashcan SinatrasA Coda (session)

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Can Can

If anyone can do long, meandering self-indulgence, Can can. For a while there it was almost de rigeur for bands to name drop them ahead of a new release. The very mention of the Germans being an influence would appear to somehow validate that band’s own music, which is nonsense, of course. For what it’s worth, I can take them more than I can leave them. When they’re good, they’re great. They soar with a fluidity and ease that’s quite extraordinary; Mother Sky, Halleluhwah, Vitamin C, Dizzy Dizzy, Soup….all feature the classic Can trademarks of skittering drums, repetitiveness, whispered chanting and weird background effects.  

The problem for me starts when those background effects creep ever further forward into the foreground of the mix. Sometimes, they can be just a wee bit too out there, just a tad too hippy, just a bass solo short of full-on prog for my delicate palate. I like Can best when they’re fluid and groovy and forever on the verge of danceability…..

….Flow Motion for example.

CanFlow Motion

It’s classic, groovy, mid 70s Can. Beyond 10 minutes long, the groove slinks slower than a tranquilised slug traversing a large leaf. Indeed, tectonic plates have more go about them than the track. Yet somehow, somewhere around the 4 minute mark it starts to take effect.

Sneaking in on a cod reggae rhythm, Flow Motion is slow motion. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but when it’s finished you’ll realise that’s the whole point. Other bands might’ve used the same aimless wandering as incidental music, the perfect between-track filler on a concept album maybe, or the ideal opener before the wham of the real opening number. Can stick to the tune and streeeeeetch it out.

The whole thing is held together brilliantly by the rhythm section. Holger Czukay’s repetitive bassline is sparse, yet non-stop. Jaki Liebezeit’s propulsive drums skitter underneath, somewhere between a Studio 1 sessioneer and a jazz club veteran. Irmin Schmidt’s keyboards weave in and out, coming in waves before disappearing and reappearing at key points. Michael Karoli has free reign on his heavily wah-wah’d electric guitar, adding texture rather than tune, feedback instead of fretplay. He’s all over it, snaking between his bandmates like an avante garde Hendrix. Even a blind man could join the dots between this and Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot album before arriving at PiL’s Albatross.

Flow Motion is the last track on the album of the same name. The album opener I Want More was an actual, bona fide chart hit for the band, Top Of The Pops appearance ‘n all.

CanI Want More

The young Johnny Marr recalls a time being in the back of the family car, driving to Wales for a holiday, listening to I Want More on the radio. When he was writing How Soon Is Now, the sticky fingered Johnny channelled the rhythm and feel of Can’s hit for his own means. I’m sure you knew that already though.

It’s a strange album, is Flow Motion. On release, fans hated the numerous nods to disco and reggae, lamenting the loss of the ambience that made albums such as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days so special. Listening to it as I type, I’d suggest it’s better than it may have been given credit for. Of course, I was only 6 when it was released, so I come to the album from a different time and place. That last track though……s’a cracker. Everyone agrees on that.