Alternative Version, Cover Versions


What’s the first song you’re gonna do for us?”

It’s The Mekons….It’s called Ghosts Of American Astronauts…

Trash Can SinatrasGhosts Of American Astronauts (Radio Session)

And off they go, the Trash Can Sinatras jangling away with an easy fluidity that comes from years of playing together. I don’t like that word ‘jangling‘. It conjours up images of spotty boys with greasy fringes singing about the unattainability of girls called Emily or whoever. But this track is the essence of jangling. It’s a beauty.

tcs live

When I first heard the Trashcans doing it, taped in the moment from (I think) a Johnny Walker BBC Radio 2 session, I thought it was the best thing they’d ever done. And it wasn’t even their song. I’d heard of The Mekons. A country-ish, new wave-ish band from somewhere in the north of England, but I’d never actually heard them. Country-ish didn’t register with me then, and to be honest, it still doesn’t register with me now. There are exceptions of course, but overall? Nah.

I played the TCS version endlessly. This was the Trashcans at their peak. Ghosts Of American Astronauts sounded great – the band perfectly captured forever. I could actually see the band in my head as it played, Paul, head bowed in his suit jacket, firing of the wee electric guitar riff. Stephen, bendy of neck and floppy of limbs, recreating the original’s tumbling drum rolls. Frank, voice coated in layers of echo, standing off-mike and taking a step forward every now and again to get the dynamics in his voice. John would be somewhere stage right, glancing now and again at Davy as they kept the rhythm rattling forwards.

Recorded around the time of A Happy Pocket (great songs written under greatly difficult circumstances), everything the Trashcans recorded at this point in time was solid gold. Every b-side that accompanied the Happy Pocket singles could’ve been an a-side in their own right. That they were displaced as b-sides is testimony to the band’s quiet belief that they were expert songwriters. A loudmouth like Noel Gallagher would’ve casually said “there’s plenty more where that came from“, but the Trashcans are not the sort of band that blow their own trumpet. At this point in time they were riding the crest of a wave. A wave that would test them somewhat for the next few years, but there and then the Trashcans were superior to anyone else putting out records. You knew that already, though.

tcs 2004

Fast forward to 2004, and the band, label-less and a some-time 4 piece found themselves in New York recording what would become the follow-up to Weightlifting (the band’s high water mark) and supplementing the cost of living by playing the odd acoustic show. The ‘Fez‘ album, available here is an excellent document of the time. Recorded at one of the Fez shows (but not released) was another version of Ghosts Of American Astronauts.

Trash Can Sinatras Ghosts Of American Astronauts (Live at Fez, New York December 2004)


You can tell a lot about a band from their choice of covers. The Trashcans have tackled a fair few in their time and they always like to add their own unique stamp to it. Imagine my surprise then, when years later I discovered The Mekons’ original version via the world wide web. The Trashcan’s version is something of a carbon copy. Why would you want to mess with anything as good as this though?

The MekonsGhosts Of American Astronauts


Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Yesterday's Papers

Revolution 9

When I first picked up the plank of wood I had the cheek to call a guitar, I hadn’t yet mastered changing from a D to an A and back again before I realised something was missing. I needed something, anything, to disguise the bum notes from the badly-played chords I was trying to strangle out of my instrument at parent-bothering volume through my wee practice amp. That something was the fuzzbox. What a revelation! I could play along to most of The BuzzcocksWhat Do I Get and mangle a passable version of Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, fire off Janie Jones from the first Clash LP and play almost all of The RamonesIt’s Alive LP, riff for riff and legs akimbo, just like Johnny. Look at me, I can play guitar! 1! 2! 3! 4! Gggzzzzzssss! Hey ho and indeed, let’s go. The intricacies of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others and Blackbird were a long, painful way off, but that fuzzbox was the thing that spurred me on to those greater things.


Nasty Punks, Funk Off

Eventually tired of the fuzz and with ears open to a wider variety of music, that wee pedal was retired from duty, to be ressurected a couple of years later by better musicians. If you listen very carefully to One At A Time on the Trash Can SinatrasI’ve Seen Everything album, that same £20 fuzzbox gets a good workout from Davy Hughes’ bass guitar. Or so they tell me.

But that’s another story for another day. After mastering the complete works of Johnny Ramone and the odd Beatles tune and sickening myself by tying my fat fingers in knots whilst trying to unsuccessfully learn Johnny Marr’s best riffs, I spent a great many hours poring over the guitar parts on James Brown records.

brown nolen

The guys who played the best of them (Catfish (brother of Bootsy) Collins and Jimmy Nolen) were as yet unknown to me, but they were just as vital and exciting and talented as the three Johns. I could sit for hours and listen to I’ll Go Crazy but I’ve never yet quite mastered the fluidity of the riff. Sex Machine was the big one. The one chord groove was a bee aye tee see aitch to learn in those pre-internet days. Starting with the top string and working backwards to the bass, I held down all sorts of permutations of strings and frets until one day the funk planets aligned and my fingers fell on the strings and frets in the correct position. For any technically-minded musicians amongst you, the chord I was playing was an Eb9 (with a hammer-on on the 8th fret), although I was yet to know that. To me, it was the chord that unlocked the funk.


Using the 9th chord, Jimmy Nolen laid the foundation of funk. Stop/start slides from the 4th to 5th fret, pinky hammer-ons 2 frets above, muting the strings with his right hand to get the distinctive chicken-scratch sound, he’s the guitarist who anyone who’s ever played a note of funk guitar owes a debt to. James Brown changed his guitar players as regularly as you or I change our underwear, but from listening to the records you’d never know. All guitarists after Jimmy Nolen followed his distinctive chordings and ryhthm. Got a guitar to hand? Try it! Slide the same chord shape (above/below) up and down the frets and you’ll find all sorts of James Brown songs –  Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. I Feel Good. Super Bad. Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing. Soul Power. Persevere, you’ll find them all.

Get Up (Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)

e|--(start with an upstrum)----6-6----6---8--6----------6-6----6---8--6-----------------|
G|-----------------------------6-6----6-----------------6-6----6------(and repeat!)-----|

Stick on the wah-wah pedal and you can riff your way to funky oblivion like an extra in a 1975 episode of Starsky & Hutch. Sly Stone, no stranger himself to a 3-in-a-bed romp with a wah-wah and a 9th chord, got in on the act. His Sing A Simple Song is an absolute monster of E9 riffing (see tab below. S’easy!). Booker T and The MGs did their own Hammond ‘n 9th-heavy version. And Ike Turner quite blatantly/beautifully ripped it off for his ‘own’ Bold Soul Sister, a young Tina coming across like the less-vulgar wee sister of Betty Davis. I think even Led Zeppelin used it on Houses of the Holy‘s The Crunge, such is the chicken-scratching Jimmy Nolen-ness of it all. The 9th. It’s a well travelled chord. Kick out the jams and play it, brothers and sisters. Now that’s an order.

Sing A Simple Song (Play a simple riff…..)

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

There’s a riot goin’ on…

..and you might not even know it. The most prolific* band in showbiz, legendary Scottish band (C) The Trashcan Sinatras are currently burning up the highways and byways of the United States of America. I know many visitors here are from that big part of the globe and I thought I’d post this to let you know.


Relax girls. Some of them are even married.

Most fans of the Trashcans tend to be of the obsessive kind and will know all about the tour already. They’ll have their tickets, their accomodation sorted out and they’ll already have chosen which tracks from Cake they’re going to heckle for thoroughout the show. But you couldn’t be blamed for drifting off and seeing other bands during the Trashcan’s over-long hiatus. You might not be aware the band are still going strong. If so, this is a public service broadcast aimed at you, dear American reader. If they’re playing near you, get to the show. Go! Go! Go!

Listen out for the new stuff from the In The Music album – Prisons sounds like The Byrds doing Sugar Sugar, lead single I Wish You’d Met Her sounds like The Faces with the Bee Gees on backing vocals and Oranges and Apples is a 9 minute wig out (by Trashcans standards at any rate.) Watch the recent wig-out free acoustic in-store acoustic version here…

Here’s a couple of TCS rarities. First, Snow. Penned by Randy Newman, covered by Harpers Bazaar, this track was only ever released in Japan. At the tail end of the last century.

Next, Hammertime. Recorded for Weightlifting but left off at the sequencing stage, this track saw the light of day on the b-side of the highly collectable All The Dark Horses 10″ single. It was also briefly available as a download.

Lastly, Duty Free. A track so willfully obscure the band never even put their own name to it. Recorded as the Cat Protection League for a college project CD, Duty Free is classic Trashcans – melodic, melancholic and uplifting at the same time. It deserves a wider audience than it reached on the CD. Hence it’s appearance here at Plain Or Pan? Download then go and see the band live. Get to the show! Go! Go! Go!

Remember to check for regular updates and video clips etc

You should really also visit Five Hungry Joes. Clearly a labour of love, it features an excellent array of all things Trashcansesque.

*Prolific. For our American readers, that was, like, irony, dude.

Football, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Burns’ Immortal Memory

Tommy Burns died today. He always seemed like a decent man to me. All the cliches are out – “football man“, “family man” etc etc, and for once they’re all true. I never met him, but I often cheered him on/cursed him from the sidelines when he was playing/managing for Kilmarnock. He was a majestic midfielder before taking the hot seat in the dugout, and he worked a miracle by dragging us from the despairs of the lower leagues to the dizzy heights of the Premier League. He also played over half a thousand times for some other provincial team, but we’ll gloss over that part.

Trash Can Sinatras ‘Worked A Miracle’ (1991 demo from Shabby Road, Kilmarnock)

Trash Can Sinatras ‘I’m Immortal’ (1991 demo from Shabby Road, Kilmarnock)