Old enough to get married, but not of the age to celebrate with a swift half down The Crown, Plain Or Pan turns 16 today.
I wouldn’t have believed you this day back in 2007 if you’d told me these pages would lead to me getting to interview Sandie Shaw, half The Smiths and a smattering of my favourite musicians, but that’s the truth. I peaked during lockdown when I was tasked with writing a biography – The Perfect Reminder – about the Trashcan Sinatras‘ second album I’ve Seen Everything. The book subsequently found its way to all corners of the UK, the USA, Europe and Japan and eventually peaked at the respected Aye Write book festival in Glasgow, where myself and photographer Stephanie Gibson, alongside John from the TCS, were interviewed on stage by BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe. To top off what was Aye Write’s headlining slot (and perhaps the reason why a feart and running Bobby Gillespie postponed his appearance), John, Davy and a visiting Frank Reader appeared as the ThreeCS and played a half hour set of acoustic Trashcans’ numbers. But you knew all that already.
With the Trashcans’ third album – A Happy Pocket – being reissued by Last Night From Glasgow, I was once again called to action. This time round, things have been scaled back a bit. There’s no hard back book, there’s no bespoke photographs and I doubt there’ll be an Aye Write appearace, though you never know. What we do have is something – The Full Pocket – that’s akin to more than a fanzine but not quite a book. It’s A4. It’s set in the same font as the tracklisting on the album. It’s packed full of archival photographs and artefacts. And it features all 5 band members and the occasional outside influence talking about the album and its associated b-sides track by track, story by story. I might compare it to one of those Mojo or Uncut special editions – y’know, those ‘Complete Guide to Bob Dylan’ publications that they occasionally produce?
The Full Pocket is a goldmine of TCS factoids. Funny, informative and, may I say, indisepnsable if you’ve even half a passing interest in one of our greatest under-the-radar bands. Pre-orders went online last night and it was thrilling to see the response. If you’re a fence-sitter, or perhaps an eager pre-orderer and want a sneak peek, I’ve included a short extract below. I’ve intentionally kept it shorter than the same bit in the bookzine – the band quotes are longer and more detailed in there, and I’ve not included any of the photos that will appear either. Some things are worth waiting for.
The Genius I Was (Excerpt from The Full Pocket)
Trippy, fuggy, druggy, whacked out…The Genius I Was pummels along on a tidal wave of overlapping guitars and a sneaked-in metronomic Run To You riff, coloured by needles-in-the-red zinging interludes and Frank’s buzzing fly-in-a-jar line enderzzz. Davy’s bass, solid, melodic and thumping drives the whole stramash forwards. The guitars – about 8 tracks of them, I’d guess – are phased, flanged, panned left to right and back again. A six string acoustic scrubs out the choppy rhythm as an electric zaps out the hippy, spacey stuff. There’s a lot going on here, and repeated listens reward the keenest of ears.
I must’ve played The Genius I Was about a thousand times since first hearing it and I could happily play it over and over for the next hour and never tire of its proggy, sonic resonance. Until now, have you even noticed John coming in midway through the first verse to duet with Frank from thereon in? And have you ever noticed the heavenly choir near the end as the melodies tumble and the chorus unravels? I’m sure Stephen’s voice is somewhere high within the mix. There’s a lot to unpack in what is a well-constructed track. It may be buried deep within the album, but make no mistake, The Genius I Was is one of the Trashcans’ very best.
Trashcan Sinatras – The Genius I Was
Paul: This was one of Frank’s. We worked for a while on it. For a long time, it was faster and louder and a bit queasy with those chords. It happens a lot with Frank’s songs where you’re learning it but you’re thinking, ‘What is this?’ “It’s this chord…and then you go to this chord…and then you go to that chord…”, and you’re like, ‘what the fuck?!’…
Stephen: The verse chords for The Genius I Was were there long before the rest of the song and when rehearsing we used to play them continuously, really loud. I remember the song being a two chord instrumental for some time before this.
Frank: I was sitting around on my guitar, trying to learn something when I stumbled on this nice, slideable chord. I could move it up two frets and back again, which I did for a bit, and then I went to the fourth fret and back down again. Suddenly I had a riff and it sounded weird, kinda backwards, but interesting. I played it over and over, getting into it, dang-dang der-dang-dang, it was fast and driving. And then my hands got stuck in those fret positions. I’m not a good guitar player, and I’m thinking, what can I play to get out of this?
Davy: Frank had a set of weird chords and we could never get them into shape – augmented chords, maybe diminished, I dunno, but it had a good vibe to it and was worth working on. It was very post-punky, ‘Edinburgh’, as Frank would say. The east coast bands were almost always a bit more angular and jagged than their west coast compatriots.
John: This is one that’s made by the playing on it. Davy’s bass playing on it especially is spectacular. The way he plays steady while we’re all changing and he’s just ploughing through, it’s phenomenal. He creates a really good driving sound. It’s a hard one to play live, but it’s a total belter.
Frank: I did a demo of it in the middle of the night at Shabby Road with a really simple bassline, but enough to get it started. I had the melody and everything and when Paul came in from the Hunting Lodge and heard what I’d done, he loved it and really took it on.
Hugh Jones worked on it and helped take the recording up yet another notch in the mix. Dulcimer, again, was added and everything went stratospheric, Stephen and Davy kept a driving rhythm at the core of it, Davy sliding up and down the frets with ease. It sounded fast and zingy, spooky, a bit swingy even.
Stephen: This was a real ‘studio’ production as we pretty much arranged the song as we recorded it. What linked it all together was Davy’s inspired bass playing; it’s almost a lead bass part he’s playing. There’s also some fantastic playing from Paul, especially in the choruses.
Davy: We had the tune complete before we had the title, I think. ‘The Genius I Was’ was the title of a song without a tune that I’d started years before. Frank liked it and used it here.
Frank: Davy had a sheet of words. The title at the top said ‘THE GENIUS I WAS’, all in capital letters, double underlined. The only line I took from Davy’s lyrics was the title line.
John: We should’ve done two or three mixes of it. There’s some intricate acoustic picking which you can barely hear on the finished version.
Davy: Simon Dine (Go! Discs) really liked the finished song and thought it had hit potential.
Frank: We went as far as making a video for it, sent out promos too, but The Genius I Was never got the full single release treatment.
The full version of this article can be found in A Full Pocket – The Definitive Story of Trashcan Sinatras’ A Happy Pocket.
Pre-orders are available now via Last Night From Glasgow. Click the link and you’ll have the option to buy The Full Pocket (£8) and also a multibuy deal for The Full Pocket and The Perfect Reminder (£20).