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.

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)