Live!

Just One More Thing, Ma’am

The crumpled gumshoe Columbo would utter that phrase in the closing scenes of nearly every show, usually when snaring the perpetrator with undeniable evidence, his cleverly chosen way with words that followed, spoken smilingly and friendly, almost incidentally, triggering the draining of the colour from the face of the criminal as the realisation dawns that they’ve been caught.

The Trashcan Sinatras are all big Columbo fans and, in the spirit of Peter Falk and the weekend I’ve just had, it would be remis if I didn’t utter that famous phrase in relation to its own closing scenes. So, if I may…

…just one more thing.

Where to begin?!

I met Gideon Coe off his train in Glasgow and we walked across the city to Mono, a vegan cafe/bar/venue, attached to Stephen Pastel’s record shop. Gid (as I can now call him) was familiar with Glasgow, but I enjoyed my unofficial role as tour guide while we walked. “That’s the spot where Bob Dylan watches the pipe band in ‘Eat The Document’. This is the decaying yet still functional Panopticon theatre where, in the early 1900s, Stan Laurel performed for the first time. Over there by the Clyde was where Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant performed a surprise show at Glasgow’s Big Day in 1990. Naturally, being oblivious to the Stipe show taking place, my pals and I went to see Wet Wet Wet and Sheena Easton instead.” And so on and so forth.

Gid is on first-name terms with all the Mono staff and happily shoots the breeze while I mooch about the racks and wish I had £500 to spend on records. We eat in the cafe. Grab a drink from the bar. “Are you having a drink drink?” Gideon asks conspiratorially, and the scene is set for the rest of the day and night ahead.

More unofficial tour guiding takes place on the walk to the hotel – it’s impossible to snag a taxi in Glasgow these days, especially when the cup final at Hampden has just reached its conclusion a couple of miles across the river – so we take in the sights. “That’s the BBC over there,” I point. “Yes, I’ve been known to work there,” replies Gideon with a knowing smile. Oh, aye. Duh.

We check in, change our shirts and are quickly back out again, walking now to the Mitchell Theatre for our Aye Write slot. We chat about the order of the show, the questions he’ll ask, the parts of the book that will make for good conversation… and it all starts to get very real. Stephanie, Ian from Last Night From Glasgow and assorted Trashcans are already there. Pre-match nerves are de-jangled through red wine and whisky. Bob the promoter has allowed the show to overrun, and wonderfully, the band now has a half-hour set to play. The figure of 300 tickets sold is banded about as we walk the long walk through the Mitchell’s marble and deco-rich halls and suddenly we’re backstage, the thrum of the expectant audience wafting through the curtains as we’re fitted up with those wee Howard Jones-type head mics. The seating plan is shared and agreed, Bob goes out to introduce us and we walk out into the void.

First thoughts? Folk are clapping. It’s roasting hot. This seat is comfy. The carpet is springy. I didn’t need to bring water. Is my shirt wrunkled at the waistband? I can’t see anyone in the audience, not even a silhouette. It’s dark out there, but there’re folk out there all right. They laugh at the right parts, clap Stephanie’s photos as if she’s just declared that petrol is now a pound a litre and fail to heckle at any opportune moment when one of us pauses to gather our thoughts before answering Gid’s questions or prompts.

John is a great spokesman for his band, sometimes contradicting the version of events in the book, always engaging and positive and with a neat way with words. “Irvine was a wee town that was in a huff with itself,” he says at one point. Ian hadn’t planned on being on stage beyond the first two minutes, but there he is, allowing the story to unfold around him and sharing the odd nugget of LNFG/TCS detail when the conversation heads that way. Stephanie talks of the record’s dude-like producer Ray Shulman and the clean eye of the book’s designer, Brooklynite Chris Dooley, and she and Gideon marvel at the real-life location of the fictitious Cakebrick Road in the lyric of Earlies.

And then, after what seems like only five downhill-without-the-brakes-on minutes, our part is over. We are ushered off stage, de-headsetted and, to a smattering of rippled applause, take our seats at the front for the Trashcans’ set.

And what a set they played.

Seven songs all in, six from the album in focus and an exquisite, jaw dropping version of The Safecracker from A Happy Pocket, the follow-up to I’ve Seen Everything that was so underpromoted by the record label that it never actually received an official release in the States. The ThreeCS are on fine form, Frank stage left, eyes closed, moving away from then stepping closer to the mic to allow the dynamics in his voice to shine. He lets loose an occasional wild and carefree emphasised final line, his jaw juts in and out to the acoustic groove of his guitar, his sticky-up hair looking backlit and electrified. John, stage right and grinning wildly at the thrill of playing these great songs again is the reliable heartbeat. And Davy, seated centre-stage on Aye Write’s bespoke table and looking like the Mount Rushmore of cult band bass players is nonchalant yet focused, the woody thunk of his remarkably right playing underpinning the lot.

Naturally, the crowd laps it up.

And then, we’re being ushered, Stephanie and I, to a Waterstones-sponsored table where multiple copies of our book (our book!) sit, being eyed up by a healthy queue that snakes its way around the table and back to the venue’s stairs. We sign books. Lots of them. Some for Trashcans fans, some for Aye Write regulars who hadn’t heard of the band, let alone their music, an hour ago. I get folk to sign my own copy of the book; contributors, many of whom I’d met only across cyberspace. Stephanie chuckles a lot at the absurdity of it all and I follow suit. I realise, after 30 or so signed books, that the ‘g’ I write in Craig is a bit rubbish, so I make it better for the copies that will sit on the Waterstones display underneath the ‘Signed By The Author‘ banner. That’s a picture I look forward to taking.

Signing over, and elder/younger family members safely dispatched back to Glasgow Central, we – a healthy mix of book folk and band folk, partners and pals – spill out into the still-light streets and make our way to the CCA, where we’ve a room booked upstairs but end up taking over the two floors in any case. We’re away from the riff raff and amongst hot company, as it seems much of the great and the good of the Scottish music scene is here. Drinks and shouted conversations are the order of the day, while Gideon and Davy corner the bar, deep in post-punk conversation.

By chucking out time though, our new 6Music pal has wandered off to find a taxi, not answering his phone or replying to texts. There’s an after party party going on Gid, and you’re meant to be there. Davy and I and our respective better halves load up on chips and pakora and follow my sister and Stephanie to the unsuspecting Air B’nB that will play host to our increasingly loud conversation, until 4am when Frank suggests a taxi. It comes eventually, but it’s not our booking. The driver takes us anyway then midway tells us he’ll go only to Byres Road. We get out and walk back to our hotel – a longer walk from here than from the flat we’d left. It was that kinda night.

Trashcan SinatrasWorked A Miracle

The Trashcans’ love of Columbo and board games is reflected in the lyric of Worked A Miracle… ‘My Reverend Green revolver…guessing game is over…nobody leaves this room! Nobody touches anything!” There’s a great bass line running through it, replicated in rich Ayrshire doo-wop – ‘dum-dum-dum-dum-dum‘, some sudden stops and a sinister undercurrent in the bridge. It’s something of an under-appreciated track that could well lend its title to the event we somehow found ourselves a central part of at the weekend.

Worked A Miracle indeed. I believe too, there are another five albums still to write about…

Get This!, Live!

Soothe Your Fear

If you want to find me this Saturday night (21st) I’ll be on stage at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow for The Perfect Reminder‘s slot at Aye Write. In a gentle nudge to the casual reader here who may already know about the book and subsequent event and might be intrigued enough to buy it, or be tempted even to come along, I’ve taken a little section of the book and included an edited version below. Regular readers here may well spot several Plain Or Pan trademarks; conversational tone, light…funny even, with alliteration lurking inside every stuttering sentence and long-winded similes wherever one or two words would work far better instead. If it gets you a gig at Aye Write – the prime time Saturday night slot, no less – I’ll happily continue fashioning my writing in the style I do.

The book is set into sections, with each song getting its own chapter that’s kickstarted by some writing and followed by a carefully woven tapestry of Trashcans’ thoughts, theories and half-truths about how each song came to be. The section below focuses on I’ve Seen Everything, the title track of the album under the microscope.

Trashcan SinatrasI’ve Seen Everything

The crumbling old remains of the Art Deco Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine. It’s pretty much seen everything, certainly every person born in Ayrshire up to a point.

 

I’ve Seen Everything

My wife, being both morbid and practical, regularly asks what songs I’d liked played at my funeral. I usually bat away any such questions with waffled words about such things not really mattering, when of course they totally, absolutely matter. With its world-weary sigh and joyful melancholy, I’d like to state here and now that if I pass before it’s expected of me, I’ve Seen Everything should be the tune that soundtracks the curtain drawing on my life. Here’s why.

I was in the fortunate position of being around the studio a lot when the album recording sessions were in full flow. I worked in Kilmarnock at the time and the band I played in – Sunday Drivers – had a rehearsal room at Shabby Road, so on the nights when we practised, I’d leave work and go to our room early rather than get the Number 11 bus home to Irvine to go back to Kilmarnock again. The kettle was always on (even if the chances of getting any milk, or at least milk in date, were slim) and you never quite knew who you might meet in the kitchen. It was around this time that Chas Smash once poured me a mug of proper builder’s tea. “Hey you!!!” he never said, “Don’t drink that, drink this!” No milk or sugar was offered and, overwhelmed at the idea that a bona fide popstar would make me a cuppa, I was too scared to ask. ‘This is Madness,’ I thought, as I drank a mug of undrinkable tea and plucked up the courage to tell him that Baggy Trousers was the first record I ever bought.

Shabby Road was a great place. The walls, damp as they may have been, thrummed with the dull thud of bass drums and murderous singing from the half a dozen rehearsal rooms within. The damp patches and flaking paint gradually disappeared with each and every Trashcans’ release. A huge Obscurity Knocks promo poster greeted you at the top of the stairs, Paul’s outstretched skateboarding arm hiding the worst of the offending urban decor. There was a real, tangible buzz whenever you were there. The office was filled with the ephemera of working band life – a stack of mail to be answered, a wee pile of Go! Discs artist CDs, an in tray and an out tray, two ashtrays; one dirty and full of the tell-tale signs of working band life, the other clean and full of wee badges –The Cliché Kills! I Hate Music! The formidable Nanette was in charge of things, behind her desk the framed and signed portrait of yer actual Sinatra, the chairman of the board, overseeing proceedings with his clear and beady ol’ blue eyes.

One time I was halfway up the stairs to be met by Stephen, dismantling and reassembling his drum kit in the hallway. “Better acoustics,” he smiled. 

I found myself in the control room when the band happened to be listening to a playback of I’m Immortal. I swivelled in the producer’s chair as Ray Shulman chatted with me about working with Bjork and The Sugarcubes, and the cello sound that was on the just-released debut record from PJ Harvey. He was pondering aloud about adding a similar see-sawing sound to I’m Immortal. I wonder if they ever tried it?

In our room below, we’d often hear the muffled sound of these new Trashcans tunes being twisted and turned into the masterpieces they became. I have a really vivid memory of sitting alone in our rehearsal room, waiting for the others to arrive, with a flaky sausage roll and an Irn-Bru as someone – Paul or John, but I’m thinking Paul – played a repeating guitar riff over and over and over again in the room directly above. No drums or bass or vocals, just a chiming electric guitar, pausing now and again before picking up where it had left off.

I came in one night to a cassette tape on top of my amp with a wee note from Paul. ‘Here’s some new tunes,’ he wrote. ‘The first track will likely be a single. Let me know what you think.’ When I played it back at home later on, I recognised that guitar riff, now fleshed out with happily ringing acoustics, a rootsy bass stomp and a terrific vocal, Frank seemingly duetting with himself about big mistakes and soothing your fears. By the second chorus, I felt like I’d known it all my life. By the time the trumpets parped their way down from heaven in that big, elongated outro, fighting for earspace with those ever-cascading and inter-weaving backing vocals and sounding as upliftingly melancholic as the Kilmarnock Concert Brass Band in full pomp outside the Burns Mall on Christmas Eve, I was punching the air in joy. That better be a single! I thought.

Frank: When we recorded I’ve Seen Everything we were going for that light and breezy sound. That’s quite an easy thing to capture in the studio. When it’s played live, it’s too hard to do it breezy, and our aggression and drive takes it to a whole new place.

John: Frank approached Ivor Cutler to play harmonium on the title track. He got a lovely reply from Ivor explaining why he couldn’t do it.

Frank: While we were at the Mill, I sent a note to Ivor c/o the BBC. We all love him, of course. Songs from his albums would always be coming on the van stereo, poetic relief from the rock music.

Iain Wilson: For maybe a year, we had the A5 glossy black and white promo pic of Ivor, his reply to Frank, stuck on the top of the dashboard facing the windscreen on the red van.

Frank: It was enough, really, getting a reply from him. I’m partly (actually mostly) glad that he didn’t come over to the studio, because I was so clueless then that I would have been daft enough to over-direct him and be generally overbearing. He’d have given me an Ivor tongue-lashing. There would’ve been tears.

You can catch ace photographer Stephanie Gibson and a couple of Trashcans talk about the book tomorrow afternoon around 3 on the Nicola Meighan show on BBC Radio Scotland.

You can read the full section in the book by buying it here. And you can book tickets for the Aye Write book show, featuring a TCS set at the end here.

Do it, eh?

Live!

Aye, Right!

Indulge me.

You might remember, back in September – (Hey! Poetry!) – the sound of a trumpet being blown from these pages as long and loud and rasping as Miles Davis in the middle of an asthma attack. The reason was the imminent publication of The Perfect Reminder, a book that I wrote about The Trashcan Sinatras, one of our greatest under-the-radar bands and one of their greatest (the greatest?) under-the-radar albums – I’ve Seen Everything. If this is all sudden news to you then fear not. You can read the story behind the book here.

Since a low-key Covid-affected launch night in October (picture above) and its eventual publication, the book has found its way beyond the locality of my family and friends who felt obliged to buy it and has made its wobbly way across the Atlantic to all corners of the States and further afield to Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama where Trashcans fans – hundreds of them as it turns out – have happily bought, read and re-read the book, Tweeting about it, seeking me out as an online pal and generally being very decent about it all. Holy Fukuoka!

And now, next Saturday – the 21st May – the book will make an appearance at Glasgow’s prestigious Aye Write book festival. I’ve been telling anyone who’s still listening to me that Aye Write is the Glastonbury of book events, which, given our prime time Saturday night slot would make us the Nile Rodgers and Chic of literature. Good Times indeed.

I say ‘us’, as quite the bill has been assembled. Ian Smith, prime mover of indie label Last Night From Glasgow, whose idea it was to put together a “posh fanzine” and planted the creative seed in ma heid, will kick things off with a brief couple of minutes to explain how his simple idea ended up becoming a hard back book of 100,000 words.

The thinking man’s John Peel, the guv’nor, BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe will chair a panel featuring myself and photographer Stephanie Gibson. Between the pair of us, we’ll chat about how we turned our ideas into reality, the problems we faced when writing and photographing a book during lockdown, what makes the ideal Zoom background (Pete Paphides’ was particularly impressive, Chas Smash had the most exotic) and wax lyrical about the brilliance of the book’s subject matter. Gideon, as you’ll know if you’re a regular listener to his show, is no stranger to the works of the Trashcans and was super-keen to get on board, from the initial idea to what has become its crowning glory. It’s quite the thrill to have him as our anchor man for the event.

Trashcan SinatrasHayfever (acoustic live at Fez, NYC, Summer 2004)

In a lovely twist, the night will finish with a short acoustic set from three of the TCS – the ThreeCS as I’ll be calling them. Due to work some more on what may well become album number seven, Frank has actually timed a trip from his home in California to team up with John and Davy, a kinda two birds with one stone mission, where he’ll sing at Aye Write and use his time here to tweak the rough vocal tracks he put down a couple of months ago on a flying visit to Glasgow. Not, that I’d imagine, there’ll be much tweaking needed. ‘Rough vocals’ and ‘Frank Reader’ aren’t normal bedfellows.

The organisers have been keen to point out that the music bit is a bonus – “We’re a book festival, remember. It’s all about the books!” so in a weird twist of billing, the Trashcans will support us, albeit they’ll go on after us. And, as much as it might be ‘all about the books’, it’s not often we get a Trashcans show in Glasgow these days, let alone one in such unique circumstances. There should be a decent audience packed in, if only for the band’s involvement.

I’m a teacher, and recently I’ve been teaching the teachers, so I’m fairly used to tough audiences who’ll ask deliberately obtuse and difficult questions. And I’m no stranger to high-pressure gigs, albeit it they were many years ago. Any hopeful young guitar strangler will have felt that rush of excitement as show time nears and the nerves begin to jingle, but in keeping with the Glastonbury idea of it all, this is our Pyramid Stage. 400 tickets in Glasgow’s plush and culturally-rich Mitchell Theatre, but not yet a sell out. I had an anxiety-inducing dream the other night that I turned up on an empty stage, one bright light in my face, and, as I blinked into focus, there wasn’t a single person in the audience. Ah, Freak Out!

Tickets for The Perfect Reminder – The Story of Trashcan Sinatras’ I’ve Seen Everything can be bought here.

It’d be great to see you. All hecklers will, of course, be encouraged ejected.

Get This!, New! Now!

Readers And Writers

I wrote a book. A proper, hefty music biography that won’t look out of place between Ziggyology and Head-On and Beastie Boys Book and Songs That Saved Your Life and Revolution In The Head and any of those other essential reads that make up your book shelf.

The Perfect Reminder tells the story behind the songs on the Trashcan Sinatras‘ second album I’ve Seen Everything – a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult book about a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult act. Thanks to a small team that includes a fantastic photographer (Stephanie Gibson) and a Brooklyn-based creative director with an analytical approach to typesetting and design (Chris Dooley), the finished article turned out waaaay better than expected. We got to hold it, feel it, sniff it, on Tuesday night and it was quite the thrill. The book, tactile and glossy and heavy, is also almost three times longer than my initial (now-laughable) estimate of 35,000 words, and far-better for it.

To paraphrase David Byrne, how the fuckdiddilyuck did I get here?

With the long out-of-print I’ve Seen Everything being reissued by Last Night From Glasgow, I chanced my arm and asked if I could write the sleevenotes. I had clout, I suggested. Back in 1992, I’d been around the studio during the making of the record. I was pals with the band. I’d written articles on them for local and national press; my sleevenotes would surely be wonderfully entertaining.

Clout I may have had, but that particular gig had already been promised to crack music critic and life-long Trashcans fan Pete Paphides. You can’t argue with that, I told myself, while Ian from LNFG let me down gently by asking me if I’d like to put together a “small book-type thing, a posh fanzine perhaps” that told the stories of the songs through the eyes of the Trashcans’ loyal and steadfast fan base.

There’s a better story than that, I suggested after a minute’s thought, and reeled off plans where the five Trashcans would tell their own stories of how the songs came to be; from the underwhelming initial writing sessions that filled the band with self-doubt, through to the sparkling finished product, expertly steered and produced by the affable and dude-like Ray Shulman. Despite the band separated by the small matter of the Atlantic Ocean, it would read as if the five of them were sat round a table in The Crown, telling tales of how the album came to be, each interjecting the others with contradictory tales that, when taken as a whole, would tell a version of the truth behind the making of an album that is now considered something of a lost classic, a great Scottish album by one of our greatest bands.

Trashcan SinatrasHayfever

“People want to know how these fabulous songs came to be,” I wagered. “The lyrics – who wrote them, what the songs were about, who the songs were about, and the music, dripping in melody and finesse – what makes it so unattainably magic, how did they come up with that wobbly sound on Send For Henny, why is there no guitar on Hayfever…the important stuff, y’know? They’re not that bothered that Marko fae Motherwell first locked eyes with the love of his life while the clanging thunderstorm of One At A Time played furiously in the background, although we’ll make space for that too. A proper music biography must be written.”

And it was. A hundred thousand words and dozens of arty photographs and eye-catchingly beautiful font later, the book, The Book – definitely anything but small and most certainly booting into orbit the concept of ‘posh fanzine’ – whatever that is – rolled off a Polish printing press, negotiated Brexit-affected customs and landed, finally, in Glasgow. It is currently winging its way to the hundreds – that’s hundreds, Archie – of TCS fans around the globe who placed pre-orders.

It’ll eventually find its way to Waterstones, Mono and a handful of select retailers. The Perfect Reminder  – titled by John from the band before a word had been typed – is very much available for order right now via LNFG. I’d recommend you read it. But you knew that already.

Get This!, New! Now!

Homespun

Last year’s lockdown may have meant a temporary end to live music, but it enabled Trashcan Sinatras‘ songwriting bass player Davy Hughes to team up with his artist wife Maree to create a four track audio-visual EP, as pleasing on the ears as it is to the eyes. Part crowd-sourced and part-funded by Creative Scotland, the Homespun EP has just been released. It’s quirky, atmospheric and filmic, with multi-layered stop-frame animation videos featuring butterflies and birds, dragonflies and all of nature’s delights providing the visual wallpaper for the glossy sheen of music that plays in the background, or foreground (depending on where you sit on the audio or visual learner see-saw).

Part ambient filmscore for some imagined film and part pulsing melodic electro, at least two of the four tracks feature moonlighting Trashcans as well as Eddi Reader, her voice instantly recognisable despite the musical accompaniment sounding quite unlike the instrumentation that normally plays behind her.

Opener I Don’t Know What’s Going On (I Only Know It’s All Gone Wrong Again) is the greatest track Public Service Broadcasting hasn’t yet recorded. Carried by a plummy-voiced sample that repeats the title throughout, it glides on linear synth pulses and post-punk guitars, keyboard swells and tingaling percussion. The accompanying video features much of Maree’s signature art; felt people, leaves and flowers, fluttering creatures in flight… an audible and auditory trip.

It’s the middle two tracks that I reckon will appeal most to fans of the Trashcan Sinatras.

Sea Made is the missing link between Talk Talk and the Blue Nile that you never knew you were looking for. Ambient and gyroscopic, it eases itself in gently, wafted along by tinkling keys and the sampled autumnal breeze from Irvine harbour. Frank’s voice is sleepy and mellow, the perfect foil to Eddi’s octave-surfing harmonies. With a multi-coloured video featuring sea creatures, scooners and some backwards spelling, it’s quite the package.

Can You Hear Me? is all understated minimal techno; vibrating electro bass, sparse percussion, programmed and processed beats, on top of which the Trashcans’ Frank sleepwalks his way through a beauty of a duet with his ghostly-voiced sister, half hidden in the shadowy background.

Do.

You.

See Me?

Can.

You.

Hear Me?

Huge, wobbly, tremeloed guitars add dollops of colour to the proceedings, little arpeggios and long notes that burn off out into the ether bringing to mind the more ethereal moments in the Trashcans’ forever-underrated back catalogue. It’s a quiet, slow-building beauty that, after half a dozen plays, unravels and reveals itself to be a work of melodic, atmospheric genius. It’s music for space travel, Jim, but not as we know it.

Closer Made Up Story features a slightly sinister video, with reflected impish creatures giving the effect of multiple Rorschach inkblots that give way to a cut-out girl who seems to fall forever until the track’s end. Vocal-less, Made Up Story features a repeating bass riff and an airy high-up-the-keys hook that bring to mind any number of those old early ’90s electronic records. Papua New Guinea, Yeke Yeke, Chime… you get the idea, but unwinding, slowed down to flotation tank levels of urgency. 

As an EP and as a visual medium, Homespun urges you to slow down, take a breath, reset. It’s pretty great.

You can support the arts and buy the EP at the Homespun Bandcamp page here. All profits will go to Irvine-based music charity Freckfest.

 

 

demo, Get This!, Hard-to-find

More Paul

The schools break up today, bereft, perhaps, of much of the frantic downhill-without-the-breaks-on rush to cross the ts and dot the is on the paperwork, but also lacking in the uncontained excitement of hundreds of young minds who’ve already switched off and are planning great adventures in the great beyond for the next few weeks. The sound of excitable kids in a playground on the last day of term is one of life’s greatest sounds – up there with John Lydon’s plegmy rrrrrrightttt now, hurrgh hurgh hurgh! snarl at the start of Anarchy In The UK and those honeyed Beatles Yeeeaaaah! harmonies right at the end of She Loves You.

Teachers in Scotland will return a week earlier than normal this year, and (to our dismay and disappointment) to full classes – our government’s way of bowing to public pressure and addressing the lack of traditional schooling in the previous few months. As a working parent I totally get the need for schools to be back operating as ‘normal’ – children getting only two days a week of teaching in an actual school isn’t nearly enough – and we need to allow the country to get back to work, but it all seems more than a bit rushed. For what it’s worth, I reckon schools – the grubbiest Petri dishes of all – are being squashed back way too early and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if by perhaps October, a second wave of Covid has struck, forcing some (all?) schools to adopt the blended learning model that our profession has worked so hard to put in place. Who knows.

But back to the music. Sometimes you’ll hear a tune or even just part of a song that fits the current state of mind. Y’know, you’ll be driving home from work on an early summer’s evening, happy to be finished for the day, visor down and fake Ray-Bans shielding you from the rare Scottish sun, and Brass In Pocket comes on. As your left hand reaches out to turn up the volume, your right elbow automatically places itself on the window sill (Detroit leaning, dontcha know), just about one hand on the wheel, and you lean back and down into your seat just a touch more than you had been, your head bobbing in time to James Honeyman-Scott’s spacious, chiming riff. Serendipitous moments like this are few and far between, so when they occur you tend to remember them.

The better weather brings the cycling – lockdown’s greatest hit – and cycling up and down the west coast always sounds better when soundtracked by Underworld. The multi-layered rhythms encourage that extra 10% of effort that you never knew you had, the band’s propulsive thunk pushing you outwards and back in again. Occassionally in a quiter moment, the sound of a newly-oiled chain whirring through the sprockets will creep in to enhance the mix and again you think, this is alright!

It’s happening right now, as I type. I’m listening to Secretly, a softly looping instrumental by The Elevated Presence.

SecretlyThe Elevated Presence

Part Albatross – listen for the whoosh of the gong and the gently thrumming bassline – and part Johnny Marrchestra guitar heaven, Secretly is a lovely textured wash of acoustic and electric guitars, ambient ephemera and pinging, unravelling melodies overlapping and looping into 4 minutes of music that could sit happily between your Durutti Column records and Mogwai’s less-heavier moments.

What you won’t hear as you listen though are the birds outside my window, high in the trees next to the Ayr-Glasgow railway line, warbling and twittering and chattering and whistling as the near-empty 11.05 to Largs rattles past. They say that mankind’s loss with Covid is very much nature’s gain, and with this much going on around me, it’s hard to disagree. All music sounds better with the added ambience of bled-in bird noise. Today it’s The Elevated Presence that’s benefitting.

The Elevated Presence is an on-going side project of sorts from Trashcan Sinatras’ guitarist Paul Livingston. The Trashcans are kinda mainstays around here, their world-weary uplifting melancholia and sparkling tunes never far away, so it’s always great to hear anything from the TCS camp, in any form that may take. The tunes that constitute the catalogue of The Elevated Presence are, I imagine, the ones that don’t quite fit with the Trashcans’ ethos. They’re interesting, introspective, self-indulgent in places….and certainly worth investigating as a result. Listen closely and you’ll hear chord structures, guitar tones and counter melodies that would colour and enhance any Trashcans’ record.

SunchordsThe Elevated Presence

The hazy Sunchords is the perfect example. All ringing arpeggios, slowly spiralling riffs and woozy, wonky whitewashed tremelo, it’s crying out for a heartstring-tugging vocal and tear-soaked crescendo. In its instrumental form it’s filmic, Lynchian even in its quiet assurance, and the most perfect sunbleached music for the songbirds outside my window to harmonise to.

If this is your kinda thing, you could do worse than nip over to The Elevated Presence page on Bandcamp and check out the 5 other tracks that are currently available for next to nothing. Flying Bike‘s Elliott Smith-ish picking that gives way to a frantic Flamenco breakdown, Toska‘s steadily unravelling melody, the atmospheric crackle of The Grasshopper Mouse Howls At The Moon…all contain the DNA that makes Trashcan Sinatras so essential. In their own way, these Elevated Presence tracks are just as required listening.

 

Get This!, New! Now!

2020 Vision

Trashcan Sinatras fans are used to playing the patient game, so when a few weeks ago their I’ve Seen Everything album featured on one of Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, the group found themselves back at the forefront of the collective conscience of a fanbase who remain fiercely loyal and proud. That same fanbase went into something of a restrained lockdown meltdown when, a couple of weeks later, close-cropped, half-chopped words atop pixelated dots began appearing across the group’s social media feeds. What does it all mean? everyone speculated. Some eagle-eyed fans pointed out the relationship between some of the jumbled letters that captioned an image with one of the lines on an eye test chart and before you knew it, the rumour was that I’ve Seen Everything was set for imminent and long-overdue release on vinyl. An original version will easily relieve you of a three-figure sum, should you be fortunate enough to uncover one in the first place, so, what with the Trashcans themselves selecting the album for the spotlight-shining Tim’s Listening Party and everything, it made for perfectly logical reasoning that this was what was coming our way.

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Except, as you, I and everyone else affiliated to the hardest working band in slow business will atest, the words ‘logical’ and ‘Trashcan Sinatras’ rarely appear in the same sentence. What we got was not the reissue of an album that surely deserves just that, but instead a brand! new! track!, recorded, as is the group’s way these days, by pinging electronic files back and forth across the Atlantic until steady patience cooks the mix and it rises to perfection. D’you know how Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded the metaphorical and groovy Ebony & Ivory without ever being in the same room? Well, that.

Trashcan Sinatras The Closer You Move Away From Me (Buy it here)

Beginning with a gentle electronic keyboard buzz that springs to mind an effect-treated take on that feedbacking, AC30-conduited open A string that introduces The Beatles’ I Feel Fine, The Closer You Move Away From Me is a slow-burning, knowing and yearning mini masterpiece.

Like the keyboard swell that carries the melody, it comes to you in waves. It’s not instant in the way Obscurity Knocks gatecrashed itself into your hippocampus 30 years ago. Nor does it have that sheen of undeniable hit hit hit! quality (if only) of a Hayfever or a Twisted & Bent or an All The Dark Horses.

It’s one of those records that requires one or two slightly apprehensive, fingers-crossed listens before, by the third rotation you begin to notice the slightly trippy guitars, lifted straight offa the grooves of Bette Davis’ Eyes…the lyric, a rumination on the big ideas of life and living…the spoken word section (has there ever been a bad record with a spoken word section?) …the perfect marriage of melancholy and melody…and by the time you’re tangled in the backwards guitars that weave their way through the fading outro you finally come to the acceptance that, yes!, this is one of the Trashcans’ finest moments indeed. It’s well worth your time.

The video that’s currently being shared by the more discerning social media surfer in your friends list is the perfect accompaniment. Here are the five principal members – the classic line-up, they herald in the publicity material – stuck in five living rooms somewhere between the west coasts of America and Scotland, backdropped by bay windows and bodacious bookshelves. It’s so goddam NOW!, the perfect summation of life in the first half of 2020. There’ll be artists that follow of course, and probably with greater impact, but read this here and now – out of circumstance rather than concept, the Trashcans did it first.

As I watched it for the first time, a sudden face-slapping realisation smacked me right across these lockdown-fattened jowls –  with lines such as ‘the more intricate the build, the deeper the foundations‘ and ‘the harder the realisation, the deeper the love that stays‘ playing out over wistful monochrome images of five life-long friends playing together yet apart, The Closer You Move Away From Me is principally the group’s own love song to one another.

It’s there in the way they peer hopefully out of their windows, hoping perhaps that a fellow Trashcan will come skipping up the street at any moment, new tune in hand in need of a melody to unfold. It’s there too in the watery pictures of yore that float up to the surface, punctuating the monochrome with faded coloured memories of the past; pictures of the TCS in a different era, when the group looked to the future with excited hope rather than looking back with the melancholic regret of a life in music that should’ve gained them far more kudos and success. I don’t for a minute think the Trashcans regret anything – that’s just not them, but the visuals of a young group floating between the crows feet and worry lines and grey hair and nae hair that define the group currently make for a good yin-yang of the Trashcan Sinatras.

For a group that has survived everything thrown at it by an eventually-disinterested record label, studio-seizers in grey suits, serious ill health and the impracticalities of being a band whilst recording transatlantic-style, it’s hard to deny them the luxury of a song where they themselves may be the subject matter (see also Weightlifting‘s It’s A Miracle).

That The Closer You Move Away From Me exists at all in both song and video is fairly incredible if you stop to consider it. It may be some time until an album creeps out – I’m told that, such are the high standards set by themselves, half an album was thrown out with the bathwater at the start of the year – but I know, you know, those in the know know that whenever that may be, it’ll be well-worth waiting for.

You can buy The Closer You Move Away From Me here.

 

 

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Flo Motion

I’ve Seen Everything, Trashcan Sinatras‘ 1993 sophomore album (as they say over there) had the prime eight o’clock slot in last night’s #TimsTwitterListeningParty. Curated by the mushroom-heided focal point of The Charlatans, the concept, should you not know, is simple; cue up the album, pour a drink and open your Twitter feed on as many devices as you can handle (the reason for that is clear once the listening party gets underway). At the appointed kick-off time, drop the needle, press play, click the link or whatever you do to consume your music and, as the album spins forth, follow the hashtag while the band Tweet info and gossip and recount their memories of writing the tracks, all the while interacting with the fans as they go along. You’ll need multi-taskable fingers that can fire rapid text at key moments  – “that lyric!“, “that riff!” etc and simultaneously respond to comments that you find yourself tagged in. It’s a bit of a dizzy gallop to be truthful, but highly enjoyable and a great way to spend another evening in lockdown. The community spirit as it plays out is nearly as good as being at a gig. Nearly. You knew that already though.

In the afternoon leading up to the evening’s big event, the Trashcans were sending out little reminders across social media and, in the midst of it all, the news broke that Kraftwerk‘s Florian Schneider had succumbed to cancer and passed away. In no time at all, the Trashcans’ Twitter feed had posted this brilliant picture;

It shows a wall in front of a gas works, the legend ‘KRAFTWERK’ splayed across its Victorian bricks in industrial spray paint. Not just any wall, though. The gas works are in Irvine (actually, were in Irvine – they’re long-gone), original home to both the Trashcans and myself, and were boundaried by the wall (also long-gone) on Thornhouse Avenue at the Ballot Road/Bank Street end, across from the old tennis courts (they’re still there).

When I was younger I lived at those tennis courts – my pal and I jumped the fence in the morning for a quick couple of sets before jumping back over in advance of the caretaker opening up at noon. We’d play all day on our £5 season ticket, run home for tea, run back again until it closed at 8 o’clock then hide round the corner (near TCS bass player Davy’s house, as it happened) until the caretaker had locked up again, then jump the fence one more time and play until it was too dark to see the luminous furry ball until it was past you.

When Wimbledon was on, the part-time tennisers turned up in their dozens looking for a game and it wasn’t unusual to find yourself without a court for an hour or more. That’s when the gasworks’ wall became handy. There were three parts to it – the picture shows two – and there was a clear yet unspoken hierarchy to using it. The section with the wee yellow sign and the ‘ERK’ part of the graffiti was centre court and was reserved for only the best players. Even if you were the only person there, you’d think twice before using it. Gary Singleton and his fierce left-handed serve might be along at any top-spinning second. So you’d stand on the opposite side of the road, aim for one of the other two sections and serve towards it. The wee curved section below was just about the same height as a net, so you could practise serving and volleying to your heart’s content, at least until the ball skited up from the curved section or pinged off the jutting edge that separated the three sections (where the edge of the ‘W’ above disappears next to the ‘E’). If the ball hit either of those parts, you’d lost it forever to either the gas works or the hosiery that was next to it.

Back to the photo though. Who took it? And why did they take it? It’ll be at least 35 years old. Back then, photography certainly wasn’t as disposable as it is these days. Spools were bought. Development paid for. ‘Quality control’ sticker removed in shame. Someone intentionally took this picture and kept it for posterity. I don’t know if it’s Davy’s photo, but I like to think he snapped it one grey day in 1981. As I’m writing, I’m beginning to wonder if Davy maybe even graffitied the wall then took the picture, cool proof that he’d adorned the wall should it be washed off within the week. Until the day it was eventually washed away or the wall was knocked down (whatever happened first), it had seemingly always been there. Back at the time, as I clobbered tennis balls back and forth from it each July, I had no idea who or what Kraftwerk was – ironic, given that it means ‘power station’ (close enough to a gas works, I’d argue) although by the time of The Model and Tour de France, it became apparent that this was uber-hip graffiti in a town that was anything but.

KraftwerkDie Roboter

There will be people far more qualified than I that will write about Kraftwerk in the next day or two. Electronic pioneers, they’ll say, with soul at their synthetic heart. Perhaps even the most influential music makers since Lennon & McCartney – just look and listen to artists as disparate as Joy Division and Afrika Bambaataa if that sounds too far-fetched. I love love love the first side of Autobahn, its German-engineered, fan-cooled engine kicking off a wonderfully meandering road trip, and I’ve a particular penchant for the German-language versions of their better-known stuff – Die Roboter, for example. Strange, linear pop made by serious-faced boffins in matching suits, it still sounds like the future over 40 years later.

I also love how Berlin-era Bowie made no secret of the fact Kraftwerk were hugely influential to him on a trio of albums that have subsequently been hugely influential on others. Influenced by/influence on…. it’s the power that keeps the music world spinning ad infinitum. Here’s the tribute to Florian that eases you into side two of Dave’s “Heroes” album.

David BowieV-2 Schneider

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!

We Are Stoned Immaculate

Much as my alternate weekends are never far from Rugby Park, so too at Plain Or Pan are you never far from a few words on the Trashcan Sinatras. Their rusty yet trusty engine cranked back to life at the end of last week, not only in preparation for a 30 date acoustic tour of the States that, as you read, is a couple of shows to the good, but also with the welcome announcement that a mere 16 years after first releasing it, they’d finally be releasing Weightlifting on vinyl.

Oft-considered the jewel in a particularly sparkly crown, the news of the band’s 4th album’s arrival on the format it truly deserves has Trashcans fans all in a lather. In typically awkward Trashcans’ style, it’s only available at the US gigs or via the band themselves, where postage from America to Scotland will cost almost as much as the record itself and might take as long as November until it lands at your door. Quite which November it can be expected wasn’t specified by the band, but, y’know, very good things come to those who wait. It’s been ordered, of course…

 

Another surprising announcement was the news that a new rarities and outtakes compilation was available. A companion to the long-released (2003) and out of print Zebra Of the Family collection, this new 2nd volume gathers demos and sketches from the Weightlifting and In The Music eras. Generally, a time of chaos and uncertainty in the band’s history, the demos nonetheless reveal the Trashcans’ ability to write majestically in the face of disaster.

The Weightlifting material in particular reveals a band demoing songs that are fully formed and requiring little in the way of tinkering and tweaking come the time to record them properly. Are they superior to the released Weightlifting versions? Of course not, but there’s a raggedy-arsed beauty to tracks viewed in the half light of completeness.

There are a couple of goes at Leave Me Alone, the first featuring slightly altered lyrics and titled, tellingly, Leave Us Alone. Recorded in the middle of bankruptcy claims and enforced studio sales, it’s a well-named, world-weary tune that sighs the collective sighs of a band on the very edge of disintegration.

Yet, somehow, as they always do, the Trashcans pulled through. Finding themselves in Hartford, Massachusetts, they set about writing the bulk of the Weightlifting material. There’s a terrific version of What Women Do To Men, all delicate keyboard stabs and atmospheric up-the-frets bass, where the released version’s slide-into-the-stratosphere six-string trickery is replaced by feral distorted guitar and a bucketful of reverb, the pathos of the lyrics matched by the howling intensity of the band cutting loose behind. God knows exactly what those women did to these men, but it’s a cracker. Magic, even.

Trashcan SinatrasWhat Women Do To Men (Hartford sessions)

Elsewhere, there are spy through the keyhole takes on the wonderfully lush Usually, a track that’ll forever be in most Trashcans fans’ top 5, the plaintive and perfect Country Air and Astronomy, a rarity previously available only as an extra track on the Japanese release of In The Music. A welcome addition, it may well be the first time some long-time fans have heard a studio version of a track that was something of a live favourite back in the day. Sadly, frustratingly, the band has missed a trick here. I’m sure I have on tape a version of the track from many moons ago that featured Frank and not John on vocals. Maybe I’m wrong though. Or, maybe, in typical Trashcans’ fashion, it’s just lost to the ether. A minor quibble, and one that’s instantly forgiven when you hear what’s just around the corner…

Best of all is new track The Dirge.

Normally, you might approach a song with such a title with mild trepidation, expecting funereal, mournful music, a wade through sonic treacle wearing iron boots. This Dirge is anything but.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Dirge (Hartford sessions)

It’s beautiful.

Long, slow and elegant, it creeps up on you with guitarist Paul Livingston’s low key, low register vocals before unravelling into the kind of track you’ve come to expect of Super Furry Animals at their most melodious and Wilson-worshipping best.

There’s chiming electric guitars, tinkling percussion, unexpected chord changes and textures. Wah wahs waft around the chorus while melodies and counter melodies weave their magic. It lifts, it drops, it soars. Is that a brass part playing low in the mix midway through? And a female vocal? It might be. It should be. Normally when bands throw the kitchen sink at songs, the results are a cluttered and unpalatable dog’s dinner. But this? This is stoned immaculate.

From first listen to current, I’ve heard it in my head sung only by Gruff Rhys. Nowt wrong with that of course. If you’re going to write slow burning songs of beauty, who better to channel whilst in the middle of the creative process? Quite how The Dirge never made it out of the studio is beyond me. Weightlifting is a perfect album, but it wouldn’t have been out of place on it in the slightest. It pays to stick with the Trashcans if they’re going to throw out wee gems like this once in a while.

Catch the Trashcans on tour right now. And head over to the shop at trashcansinatras.com to order your copies of Weightlifting and Zebra Of The Family 2.

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Live!, Most downloaded tracks

2018 (Slight Return)

As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.

If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I  listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.

2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;

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  • An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
  • Songs about snow and inclement weather.
  • Some words on the punk Beatles. Pete Shelley was very much still alive at the time of writing and retweeted the article.
  • A look at how the best reggae musicians steal the best soul tunes and make them their own.
  • Lush’s Miki Berenyi talks us through some of her favourite music. The most-read thing wot I wrote this year.
  • Stephen Sondheim , Leonard Bernstein, Tom Waits and Pet Shop Boys. Here.
  • First thoughts on Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
  • Why Eno‘s Here Come The Warm Jets should be in everyone’s record collection. Here.
  • Skids’ Richard Jobson waxes lyrical about Bowie. Here.
  • Some words on the quiet majesty of Radiohead‘s How To Disappear Completely.
  • Brendan O’Hare, loon drummer and all-round public entertainer in Teenage Fanclub chooses his favourite Teenage Fanclub tracks. Here.
  • The punk poetry and free scatting jazz of Patti Smith. Here.
  • A first-timer’s guide to Rome.
  • Johnny Marr live at the Barrowlands.

Feel free to re-read, Retweet, share etc.

 

See you next year.