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, demo, Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

No Phils

let it be me 78

John Peel went through a phase of playing really old 78s from yesteryear. Ancient ghostly blues by unheard of singers long-since departed, popping and crackling away like one of my Gran’s heart attack-rich fry-ups. From out of nowhere they crept up on you, weird, wonderful and wonky. It might’ve taken you a couple of minutes to realise that there was any music playing at all, such was the understated beauty of it all. But before you knew it, there it was, under your skin and ingrained forever.

As if beamed in from another time and place, the music below has just slipped out into the ether…

Eddi Reader and wee brother Frank side by side at the piano singing the Everly‘s Let It Be Me with all the fragility of Bambi with a broken leg. It’s as fresh as the new year, yet sounds as if it was committed to shellac a century ago. Just like one of those old Peel 78s. It’s a heartfelt spontaneous tribute to Phil, recorded on iPhone and let loose on the breeze for anyone who happens upon it. I think it’s terrific.

Here’s another version…

The same song sung at the same session, this time the recording is taken from Frank’s iPhone. More Frank than Eddi on this version. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A bedroom Spector somewhere could probably jigsaw the 2 tracks into one. Over to you..

Here‘s the Everly Brothers’ original:

phil everly

Dig out a dram, play all the tracks above back to back with The Smiths’ Asleep and there’s your Friday night in right there.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find

Bad Cover Version/Good Cover Version

There’s a strange bit of serendipity to this post. I’d spent a night last week putting some stuff together for my weekly article and then on his Sunday Service show on 6 Music, Jarvis Cocker played the very track I was planning to write about. In itself, that’s a happy coincidence. But the fact that I’d planned to introduce the record (which has nothing to do with Jarvis) by writing a wee bit about Pulp beforehand was a bit weirder. So, as you read this, imagine the Twilight Zone theme playing away ad infinitum in the background.

If you drew a trajectory charting the popularity of Pulp LPs, there’d be a massive, Everest-sized spike where Different Class appeared and sadly, not much else. Pulp were a proper, fully-formed album band, but save for their brief flirtation with mainstream success, not many (common) people would really know. Indeed, many folk probably consider them a bit of a one-hit wonder. Their last album, 2001’s We Love Life is one of Pulp’s very best. Crashing in at number 6 on the album chart, before crashing straight back out and never to be seen again a mere 3 weeks later, it was a real blink and you’ll miss it album. If you’ve never had the pleasure, you should make some time to acquaint yourself with it.

One track, Bad Cover Version, is a terrifically thought-out ballad that draws parallels between a failing relationship (“a bad cover version of love is not the real thing“) and the 2nd rate dopplegangers we often accept in place of the real deal – Top of the Pops compilation LPs (“the bikini-clad girl on the front who invited you in”), the Stones since the 80s, later episodes of Tom & Jerry when they could talk, the last episodes of Dallas, the TV series of Planet of the Apes, and so on. Amongst the things Jarvis lists is “the second side of ‘Till The Band Comes In’“.

Till The Band Comes In was the much-maligned and undersold 5th LP by Scott Walker (his 6th, if you count his Sings Songs From His TV Series LP). Much like We Love Life, the critics had the artist pegged as ‘past his best’, it too was a bit of a flop and never really got the attention it deserved. The line about the second side of Till The Band Comes In was a joke at Walker’s expense, given that it was he who produced We Love Life for Pulp. Are you still hearing The Twilight Zone music in the background? It’s a circle of life, as one piano player once remarked.

scott walker 70

Scott Phwoar

Back in the day before he was producing other people’s flop records and long before felt the need to create an approximation of melody from bashing hanging lumps of meat, Scott Walker reveled in making orchestral-rich pop songs. Like a baritone-rich Serge Gainsbourg he sang of syphillis, sailors and suicide and was nothing at all like yer average teen heart throb. On Till The Band Comes In, you’ll find Little Things (That Keep Us Together). Almost a companion piece to his own version of Jackie, though with less gallop and more gasp, Little Things finds Scott clinging to the coat tails of a melody as jabbing strings and tumbling toms race one another to the finish line. It’s great.

And as if that’s not thrilling enough, here come the Trashcan Sinatras, back in the days when they were The Trash Can Sinatras, faithfully gatecrashing Walker’s tune with all the ramshackle beauty of a wooden-legged man hurtling haphazardly down a hill and into the neighbour’s hedge while being chased by an angry slevvery dug. Which, metaphorically at least, the Trash Cans were round about then. They fairly clatter into Little Things; the old Roland Jazz Chorus set to maximum wobble in a thrilling rush of knee-trembling, reverb-soaked, John McGeogh-esque post-punk while a breathless Frank hangs on to the vocals for dear life.

My first recollection of the Trash Cans doing this was for a Billy Sloan session on Radio Clyde around ’91 or ’92. Like most of the Trash Can’s unofficial output from those days, I have it on a hissy, taped-off-the-radio C90 somewhere, but the version above is taken from the b-side of 1993’s How Can I Apply single. A lost nugget of a record from an era when every Trash Can’s release was packed-full of top quality songs from an apparently never-ending production line that put every other band to shame. But you knew that already.

tcs 93TCS, Shabby Road, 1993

*Trashcans fact!

Long before John started wearing the famous stripey t-shirt, he was awfy fond of a t-shirt bearing the cover of Scott 1. No pictures exist. Believe me, I’ve looked…

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Turtle-y Magic

Field Music are a real enigma. Nominees for this year’s Mercury Music Prize, like most who appear on the list they occupy a strange place somewhere between cult band and the mainstream. A hotchpotch of clanging riffs with prog leanings, their music isn’t all that original. Their music isn’t all that groundbreaking either. Plenty of other artists have used similar instruments to similar effect. And their music, like plenty of artists before them, is not that well-known outwith those in the know (think this generation’s XTC). But their music is colossal. And tuneful. And therefore radio-friendly. And by rights they should be a whole lot more successful (whatever that is these days) than the latest hastily assembled ‘gang’ of skinny-jeaned, stupid-haired, stage school stooges armed with various combinations of the same tune and not much else. Despite the best efforts of those in positions of influence, such as 6 Music’s Marc Riley, who plays them and enthuses about them ALL THE TIME, Field Music aren’t so much under most folks’ radar as completely off it.

A few weeks ago they released a very limited (and now sold out) covers LP. Featuring their versions of Robert Wyatt, Pet Shop Boys, Roxy Music etc etc songs, it has the uncanny knack for a covers album of sounding like the band who made it, not the band who wrote it. Not for Field Music a faithful run through of Ringo’s plodding country ‘n western heartache ‘Don’t Pass Me By’. Instead, they turn what is undeniably a Beatles clunker into something that could sit happily on 2010’s Measure LP. Warm, metallic and with added Beatles riffs/references for those in the know.

Best track to these ears is their version of Syd Barrett‘s Terrapin. Barely recognisable from Syd’s whimsical off-kilter psychedelic sketch, Field Music add riff upon riff to doubletracked vocal upon doubletracked vocal. The outrageous falsetto breakdown in the middle reminds me of an old Beatles bootleg I have where you get to hear John and Paul working out the harmonies to Taxman. It really does sound terrific – incredibly well-produced, tight, taut and with perfectly-executed sudden stop silent bits – and normally I wouldn’t post something as box-fresh as this. However, given that the LP is already sold out and never to return, well…..

Syd, of course, is very much a musicians’ musician. The great and the good all dig Syd and for many The Pink Floyd of the mid 60s are far more credible than the stadium-hogging Floyd (Man) of the mid 70s. The Trashcan Sinatras created a luscious and bluesy 6 and a half minute paen to Syd, choc-full of nudge, nudge, wink, wink references to Syd and his music. Emily. The UFO Club. Painting. Hand in hand with The Eskimo. Even the title, Oranges & Apples is Syd-like and a play on The Pink Floyd’s Apples & Oranges. But you knew that already. Give it a listen. It’s one of the best things the Trashcans ever did. Quite something when you consider the embarrassment of riches in their back catalogue.

*Bonus Track!

Field Music‘s Them That Do Nothing from their Measure LP. The perfect introduction to the sound of Field Music, it‘s XTC-esque in its pastoralism, sonically-rich with its chiming guitars and tight-knit harmonies and unexpected left-turn wonky bits. Jeez. That’s a sentence I doubt I’ll ever write again.

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)