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)

Cover Versions, entire show, Hard-to-find

Hang On! Acoustic Fanclub!

Last weekend was Teenage Fanclub weekend. A triple treat, a trio of tip-top turns, a heroes welcome for a hatrick of homecoming shows. And any other number of alliterative delights. Each show was different and each show was great for any number of reasons. I’ve mentioned the ‘Electric Chestnuts’ show below, so we’ll focus on the other 2 for now.

Sunday night’s setlist

Sunday night was the ‘Acoustic Chestnuts’ night and it was fantastic. Instruments were swapped, harmonies were finely honed (especially Francis- who knew drummers could sing?) and there were big smiles all round. In contrast to the sound problems of Saturday night, at some points the vocals were so good it was like listening to the Everly Brothers. Personal highlights were the songs from the Grand Prix era- ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘Going Places’ and ‘Some People Try To Fuck With You’, which sounded like Astrud Gilberto on Buckfast.

Monday night’s setlist

Monday night was the one I was looking most forward to – the b-sides and hardly-ever-played night. Teenage Fanclub did not disappoint. The show was heavy on ‘A Catholic Education’ -era Fanclub (‘Heavy Metal’! ”Every Picture I Paint’! Eternal Light’!) and the much-neglected ‘Thirteen’ album – ‘Escher‘! ‘Gene Clark’!, ‘Ret Live Dead’!, which meant lots of distortion pedals, fewer backing vocals and the odd cocked-up start (poke about on YouTube for Norman 3). It was like a Fannies gig from way back in the day and it was extra magic, the best of the three without a doubt. Brendan O’Hare got plucked Springsteen-style from the crowd to sing ‘The Ballad Of John & Yoko’ and no-one’s mentioned this yet, but Norman’s McCartney backing vocals were pretty immense. Raymond’s frazzled playing on ‘Born Under A Good Sign’ made it sound like Love, circa 1967. They even played ‘Broken’, before coming back on for the genuinely not-planned double-whammy of ‘Sparky’s Dream’ and ‘Alcoholiday’, although had they also played ‘God Knows It’s True’ and/or ‘Everybody’s Fool’ (and given the albums they were drawing from I think they could’ve) and maybe even ‘I Heard You Looking’, if that’s not being too greedy, this gig would have been gig of the decade. Still, Best Gig of 2008 is good enough for now.  

Norman 3 (nights)

Anyway, lots of talk over at the Teenage Fanclub Message Boards about how the band should release an acoustic album, or a b-sides album, or a live album, or indeed, any kind of album at all. But an Acoustic Fanclub album would be an excellent idea. In the meantime, you could do worse than make do with these wee beauties. Firstly, recorded for ‘The White Sessions’ on French radio on the 11th April 1995….

Don’t Look Back
Say No
Star Sign
I’ll Make It Clear
Sparky’s Dream
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Mellow Doubt

(click here to download as one complete session)

‘The White Sessions’ is a long running French radio show where bands go in and record acoustic sessions. Teenage Fanclub used their time to promote Grand Prix. The same radio station also do ‘The Black Sessions’ where the band play a longer, usually electric set in front of a small invited audience. Teenage Fanclub also did a Black Session in 1993 but I’ve never heard it. It may be that some of the tracks below are taken from it, I don’t know. An official-looking CD from the show was on sale up until yesterday on eBay and I was quite excited. But when the bidding started approaching £30 I got scared off. I couldn’t justify that sort of money for something which will probably turn up online soon. Fingers crossed. If you were the lucky bidder, how about sending me a copy?!

Also taken from my personal vaults (!) of badly-labelled Teenage Fanclub radio sessions, curios and oddities, here’s a random selection of acoustic-based Teenage Fanclub. I’m unclear as to where most of these came from. Radio sessions? I don’t know. But not b-sides. No siree. Rare Fanclub. Cos the Teenage Fanclub are a rare band, a rare band indeed. Download and enjoy!

a piano-led Hang On

Four Strong Winds

He’d Be A Diamond

Sparky’s Dream

Tears Are Cool

The Shadows (Mark Radcliffe session)