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;
An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
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 Sinatras – The 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.
The Beast From The East. Sounds like an Iron Maiden, Live In Japan album. It’s not the sort of name you would ordinarily give to a snowstorm, albeit one that has caused the fluid infrastructure of our country to career to a wobbly halt like a teenage band trying to end a song at their first rehearsal. Scenes of chaos unfold on the telly; cars in ditches, greyed-out motorways at a standstill, an AA man telling you not to travel. A vox pop-stopped random Glasgow bam on Buchanan Street informs us that “Canada can cope with far worse so why are my weans being sent home from school?” – all the usual stuff, really.
There’s a sound to snow falling; eerie and wooly yet comforting and cocooning. If it’s snowed through the night, you’ll know it even before you’ve pulled the curtain aside to confirm it. There might be a bright, white glare reflecting from the ground, creeping through the gap in the curtains giving the most fleeting of false impressions that you’ve awakened to a bright and sunny summer’s day. But you know. Call it a sixth sense, but you can feel it. And when you check, sure enough. There’s a fat, car-shaped snowy mould in place of the actual car you parked last night. The grass has been replaced by a blanket of rich, thick white. And the path! A footstep-free path is a beautiful thing. You don’t want to see it spoiled, but you’re sure as hell going to be the first to do just that.
The best records about snow sound like their subject matter.
Like Trashcan Sinatras‘ take on Randy Newman’s Snow. It has that eerie and wooly, comforting and cocooning sound. Listening to it, you’re taken to the safe haven of somewhere indoors, watching from a window while a leaden sky dumps its silent, heavy load on all below. Time takes on a whole new metre. You’re living inside a slow motion replay as softly descending basslines and gently beaten floor toms smother you, electric piano and a slide-into-the-ether wah-wah’d guitar giving you the wings that carry you up, up and away from suffocation. If Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross is the beating heart of summer, the Trashcans’ Snow is the womb of winter.
Trashcan Sinatras – Snow
I have a super-rare Japanese 7″ of this, an artefact that’s just about as beautuful as the sound that lies in the grooves therein. Just about.
On equal par with the Trashcans is The Leisure Society‘s The Last Of The Melting Snow. By happy coincidence it soundtracked the slow, determined commute to work this morning when it popped up quite unexpectedly on 6 Music. It’s a piano and string-led ode to leaving someone/somewhere for something new. Or, to be more to the point, it’s an ode about being dumped. That’s an unintentional snow reference right there. The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming wrote the song after meeting up at Christmas with his long-term girlfriend whom he’d recently split from.
“I came back to Burton-on-Trent to see her, thinking we’d get back together, but she was getting ready to tell me she had a new boyfriend. I went back to London to find everyone had gone away for Christmas. So I spent New Year’s Eve sitting on the floor with a bottle of vodka, writing ‘The Last of the Melting Snow.’
And the days fade away. In no doubt, as I leave this town, I will not return.
The Leisure Society – The Last Of The Melting Snow
Jeez! It’s a heartbreaker alright. And with it’s waltz-time piano and plaintive voice, it even shares loose DNA with Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Somewhat brilliantly, the song won Hemming an Ivor Novello nomination. The band and Hemming didn’t even have a record deal at the time, making Hemming the first unsigned nominee at the Novellos. Just for the record, he lost out to Elbow’s One Day Like This. For what it’s worth, I think the judges just about got that one wrong.
The Beast From The East. It’s a stupid name for a snowstorm really. Unlike Thundersnow. You know what you’re getting with that. Even if Thundersnow sounds like the title of a long-forgotten early 80’s live Ozzy Osbourne album.
It must be a generational thing, but I was surprised and just a touch disappointed at the young folk at the BBC on Wednesday night who upped and left as soon as the last languid notes of Frightened Rabbit‘s world-weary bedroom anthems had faded from the Roddy Hart-fronted Quay Sessions. Two bands with a devoted following and an impressive back catalogue, bundled together on the one radio/TV show was always going to be a good thing, and the scramble for tickets was always going to out-strip demand. I applied (“I applied!“) through the correct channels with no success, but having the right kind of friends helped me gain access to the show. The slut that I am.
They’re a good band, Frightened Rabbit, and in stripped back form – two guitar-playing pianists (or is that two piano-playing guitarists?) backed by a string quartet – they sound very good, on this occassion arguably better than the Trashcan Sinatras, the evening’s other band. A big glass room doesn’t really react well to a full band sonic assault, so sound-wise the Frabbits probably shaded things. But song-wise, there’s just no contest. It’s a shame more of the young folk in their skinny jeans and pointy boots and fuzzy faces didn’t hang about to find out.
Just like the titular Mrs H, the Trashcans make goy-jus music. Witty, literate, chiming pockets of gold wrapped in melancholy, resigned to runner-up status, forever out of step with musical fads and fashions, but stubbornly ploughing a path worth travelling. How did bands like Elbow achieve arena-type success while the Trashcans flapped and floundered around the grimier venues of the world? It’s jist no’ fair, as they say. To quote the esteemed Pete Paphides on Twitter this week – “It continues to mystify me that a band that’s made such magnificent music for so long has eluded any sort of national treasure status.” Wow. The folk that know know. I just wish more folk knew.
At the Quay Sessions, BBC Scotland’s bite-sized take on Later…with Jools Holland, the bands play in the foyer of BBC Scotland’s Glasgow studios. The window behind features the very best of Glasgow’s skyline; the stick-thin University steeple peeking out from behind the old Clydeside cranes, the Hydro, lit up tonight in greens and purples, the blue-tinted squinty bridge. It’s fantastic, and makes for an impressive backdrop.
By the time we (we being Mrs POP and myself) have negotiated the queue, we’re offered restricted viewing seats or standing. We wisely choose standing, although I get my knickers in a twist when I realise there are two stages and we’re clearly being sheperded into the right-hand side one, far away from the other side. “I bet this is the Frightened Rabbit stage,” I say, until I scan the stage like some sort of indie Columbo for any clues as to the band who’ll appear there. I spot Paul’s trusty old Tokai Strat and I can relax.
The show is recorded ‘live’ for broadcast the next night, but it’s clear from the off that the slickest thing about it is Roddy Hart’s hair. He introduces and re-introduces both bands, we whoop, holler and cheer half a dozen times, he records then re-records the links to be filled between the bands, he stumbles and fluffs his own script….and it’s all done in front of an audience. He’s a good sport, is Roddy.
As for the Trashcans, they were terrific, of course. I had fully expected them to play 3 or 4 songs at most, and all from their latest Wild Pendulum LP, but no! We got a full 50 minute set made up of half a dozen new songs and a whole load of ‘greatest hits’. Beginning with a trio of crackers – Best Days On Earth, Ain’t That Something (lyrics smartly changed to ‘At the Ga-las-gow Theatre!‘) and All The Dark Horses, which as those who know know is just about the best song ever written, the band stopped for a wee chat with Roddy, filling us in on the benefits of crowd funding, writing and recording the new album and what they’ve been doing in the 7 years since they last graced these shores.
Hayfever (watch it on the telly and you’ll see the missus and I gurning daftly at the camera after it clatters to a close) kicks off part 2 of the show in fine form. By now the band are in full flow and the hits and future hits keep a-comin’ – Got Carried Away, I’ve Seen Everything, All Night (with additional brass from the real frightened rabbits of the night – 2 self-consciously awkward trumpet players frozen at the sight of the TV cameras, poor lads) and a light and airy Weightlifting to finish.
Although we’re right at the front, we are often faced with the BBC camerman’s backside as he swoops up and down and zooms into the photogenic Franks (Reader and Keanu Reeves-lookalike bass player Divanna). We are encouraged by Roddy at the start to video, picture, Tweet and Facebook the show, so at times I find myself watching the gig not only through the screen on my phone but also through the screen on the camerman’s monitor. Watching a gig through a screen through a screen? How very post-modern!
As is often the case when they’re in town, the Trashcans are joined by John’s wife, Frank’s sister Eddi. Usually they’d duet on the scrubbed acoustic fug of Send For Henny (from 1993’s I’ve Seen Everything album), but tonight she takes the female lead on What’s Inside The Box, one of Wild Pendulum’s stand-out tracks. It’s a taster for what’s to come at Oran Mor the next night, where they kick off their short 3 date tour.
It was a privilege to be in the BBC audience. Despite the gaps in recording and touring, the Trashcans are by far the band I’ve seen more than any other and since the end of the 80s I’ve seen them in all manner of venues and situations but never in this kind of environment. The next night at Oran Mor was more straightforward, but no less thrilling.
A rammed venue and a crowd who knows every song and greets the oldies with Hampden-sized cheers makes for a good gig. The band didn’t disappoint, playing with a ferocity and passion not seen in years. Iffy sound problems marred the first couple of songs but once they sorted themselves out, the show really started to fly. Broadcaster and local Mr Music, Billy Sloan, a long-time champion of the band was ecstatic in his praise afterwards, saying it was the best he’d ever seen them, and while I suspect he probably says this after every time he’s seen them, he might’ve been right.
The setlist was perfect; the correct ratio of old:new and fast:slow. A quick chat with the band later on revealed the difficulties in producing such a setlist. I could write you a brilliant 20-song set lof material the Trashcans didn’t play, but there’s the rub. So many songs, so little time. If you’re off to Dublin today (12th) or London on Monday, you’re in for a great night out.
Big Iainy, TCS’ very own Kosmo Vinyl with Billy Sloan and some random photobomber
I read something in particular last week that made me laugh. It was one of those internet memes that litter the floor of social media. This one poked fun at Liverpool FC. To paraphrase (as I can’t find it right now), since the last time Liverpool managed to win the league, Wayne Rooney has been born, grown up (that’s debatable, but still…) and won the league half a dozen times or whatever with Manchester United. It ended by declaring loudly that no Liverpool fan had ever Tweeted “We’ve won the league!” as Twitter hadn’t been invented the last time they’d done so. Clearly written by someone wearing Salford-tinted sunglasses, it grabbed my attention for a wee while at any rate.
Some things in life happen so infrequently, they’re considered extra special. A view of the Aurora Borealis from Irvine Beach (I can’t believe I bloody well missed it too!) The Persoid meteor shower (ditto – too cloudy above my house). That Liverpool league win (I was old enough. Even with Kenny Dalglish in the ranks, it meant nothing to me.) Or Scotland playing at the World Cup on a flat screen telly. No Scotland fan has ever hash-tagged a tweet with the sign-off #tartanarmyworldcupfinals, that’s for certain.
These events are so special, if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who experience the seismic moment, you’ll be asked to recount your version of events every week until the next time it happens. My pal is still talking about splashing about in some Parisienne fountain in 1998 wearing nothing but a Jimmy hat and a Gendarme-friendly smile.
There are parallels with music, not least the welcome return of oor ain Trashcan Sinatras. Their last album ‘In The Music’ still regularly rotates on the more discerning stereos of the land as their owners pine for a new album, or a new EP, or a new song, or a new chord, or a new anything from the band. It’s tough being a Trashcans fan.
The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business have eeked out a career stretching a quarter of a century and more. In this time, more popular bands have come and gone. Yet, foregoing all fads ‘n fashions, the Trashcans have ploughed on, surviving bankruptcy, revolving bass players, trans-Atlantic recording sessions, rip-off managers and somehow, in 2015, they’re still around making beautiful records.
For the past few months they’ve been encouraging their steadfast fan-base to pay for the next LP in advance via Pledge Music. Unsurprisingly, the band met their pledge and have since comfortably exceeded it. Also unsurprisingly, an LP originally earmarked for a September release remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the can but not out the bag. We TCS fans are used to delays. A few months delay might see the career of some fashionable bunch of pointy boots ‘n haircuts come and go in a blaze of mis-placed hysteria. Trashcans fans simply stick the kettle on, play any one of the band’s other 5 albums and wait. And wait. And wait. Until…
…an email lands informing you a new track ‘Best Days On Earth’ is available for download.
A Pledgers-only exclusive (so no free downloads here, I’m afraid), it’s greedily downloaded and before you know it, champions of the band including Billy Sloan at BBC Radio Scotland and Gideon Coe at 6 Music are releasing it across the airwaves and out into the ether. A new Trashcans track is born and born free. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s a cracker.
Trashcan Sinatras – Best Days On Earth
It’s bearing all the hallmarks of a TCS classic – on first listen it’s the melody that gets you. Frank’s half crooned, half swooned vocal surfing atop a mid-paced grower. It’s possibly the most ‘pop’ thing they’ll release. By the second listen it’s all about the counter melodies, the wee ‘ooh-ee-ooh-ee-oohs‘ in the outro. Third listen in a row and the lyrics start worming their way into the brain – a roll call of loved ones and relatives no longer with us imploring us to make each day count –
The heart is designed to run out of time
There’s no pause and rewind
The transmission’s live…
Along with the rest of the LP (to be called Wild Pendulum) it’s put together with the help of Simon Dine, the mastermind behind the trilogy of “I’m Back!” Paul Weller albums, from the ‘return to form‘ of 22 Dreams, continuing with the full-on sonic assault of Wake Up The Nation and ending with the fall-out sputter of Sonik Kicks. He’s added his trademark 60s samples – John Barry jangling keys, Spectorish sleigh bells and wrapped it up in a warm and woozy production.
The best thing is, having been lucky enough to get a lid’s ajar, peak inside the box (Oh aye! When that email popped in my in box, that was one of my Best Days On Earth), I can confidently say that Best Days isn’t even the best track on the LP. There’s a track called What’s Inside The Box which may just make your heart melt; slide guitar easing out into orbit on a wave of wah-wah, breathy vocals, stoned parping Bacharach trumpets and Beach Boys harmonies sung quite possibly by Frank’s ‘other’ singing sister. Anyway, now I’m teasing. Bet you can’t wait.
That Pledge page is still taking orders by the way. Go here now. You won’t regret it, or I’ll give you your money back.
UPDATE FROM FRANK READER 10th November…..
It’s always nice to hear from yer actual Frank. After reading this piece tonight he sent me the following information;
Just read the ‘piece’ on us there – thanks, Craig! I’m glad to hear you like WITB too – that’s a lassie called Susan Sanchez singing, not another Reader. And FYI, Simon didn’t produce the album. He co-wrote some songs with us and supplied some instrumental loveliness, but it was Mike Mogis who pulled it all together, and it was another of the Bright Eyes guys, Nate Walcott, who played all those crazy keys – couple of wunderkinds, those two.
Oops! Lots of misinformation from these hands. Now you know.
A couple of weeks ago, the NME published a list of ‘50 Unfashionable But Brilliant 80s Bands That Time Forget‘. Considering the bulk of the 50 bands listed were still gigging going concerns that made, y’know, actual records and that, it was a bit shoddy. Perhaps the list would have been better titled ‘50 Brilliant Beard-Free And Therefore Not Trendy Bands.’ Sitting snuggly between The Replacements in 3rd place and the James Taylor Quartet in 5th (both still going strong) were the Trashcan Sinatras.
Yep, they’re still around too. Aye, they take their time to release their music, but it’s always worth the wait. Many bands have had entire careers between Trashcans LPs. But that’s OK. TCS fans are famous for their patience. As I’ve said before – fads ‘n fashions will come and go, but there will always be a Trashcan Sinatras. Split between America and Scotland, the band are even less productive than they once were. But no less brilliant as a result. MP3s regularly zip between laptops in Pasadena and Glasgow, each time embelished and enhanced before being returned. This is 21st century songwriting, grandpa, and it works just fine.
And now, yes!, the fruits of their labour are about to be realised. On Friday, 10th October, I returned from work to discover that the band had released details of their 6th album. It’s written, but it’s not been recorded yet. The recording part is where the band need your help.
Free from the madness that seems to follow them whenever they sign a recording contract, the band have opted to go it alone. They’ve set up stall on Pledge Music, where fans pay in advance for a product yet to be made. You can contribute any amount. The more you contribute, the more you’ll benefit. $10 gets you a download of the album. $24 gets you a download plus a CD. An extra $5 will get you a signed CD, and so on. Those with fatter wallets may choose to pledge $250, where Paul from the band will pop round for a guitar lesson and teach you any Trashcans’ song you care to fancy.
Amazingly, the most expensive item ($2509), the ‘Executive Producer’ package, has sold out. But there are a multitude of fan-grabbing items. You can do your bit for the band by visiting here. Many of you already have – as I type, the band have reached 77% of their intended target. If you haven’t so far, you probably should get across and do your bit. There are still some handwritten lyrics sheets, coloured vinyl, signed birthday cards… all manner of Trashcans’ memorabilia just waiting for you.
Way back in the good old/bad old days, the Trashcans were regular visitors to Japan. The Japanese really embraced the band and they have fond memories of their times there. Stephen who plays drums told me once how weird it was playing in venues that were inside 24hr shopping malls, where the audience would sit in total silence until the very last of the cymbal crashes or feedback had faded to nothing before politely clapping a round of applause then quickly settling back down before the next song started.
During their time in Japan, the band recorded a couple of tracks. One of them, ‘Snow‘ was a cover of the Randy Newman track. Very good it is too, and although it’s quite rare, it pops up on eBay from time to time. If you’re a copmpletist (and most Trashcans fans are), it goes without saying you need it. Snow was one of the very first things I blogged about, way back in the good old/bad old days.
More interesting to Trashcans fans is the band’s Town Foxes ep.
Made especially for their Japanese tour in March 2010, only 500 copies were pressed. It could well the be Holy Grail of Trashcans collectables. The a-side (if a CD single can have an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ side) was the band’s own version, more of a demo than a finished article, of a song dating back to I’ve Seen Everything days. Town Foxes grooves along on some slightly wah-wah’d guitar playing atop some of those signature Trashcans major 7ths. To these ears it sounds like it owes a wee debt to Odyssey’s Native New Yorker, which is in no way at all a criticism of it. It’s not the best TCS song you’ll ever hear (probably why it’s never really seen the proper light of day) but it’s a great wee song.
The b-side features the vocal talents of Sokabe, singer with Japanese touring partners Sunny Day Service. Long-time friends and admirers, Sokabe from SDS is given the Jim’ll Fix It treatment (can you still say that?) by taking over Frank Reader’s lead vocal, making him briefly (for 3min, 30seconds) the singer in the Trashcan Sinatras. It’s in Japanese, obviously, which goes some way to explaining the collectability of the Town Foxes ep.
It was a nice surprise, then, when around the time of that Japanese tour a jiffy bag dropped through my door. Two copies of the Town Foxes CD, both cases smashed to bits through mishandling across the continents, but both covers and discs thankfully blemish-free, accompanied by a short note;
“AWRIGHT CRAIG! I hope ye like it. It’s only a 4 track demo – no’ as guid as we played it in Japan.”
There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The other CD was for Colin who does the excellent Five Hungry Joes site. Don’t go thinking I cashed in on an excellent freebie.
It’s almost impossible to buy Town Foxes. But you can do your bit for The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business by pledging to the new LP. You really should…
“It’s The Mekons….It’s called Ghosts Of American Astronauts…”
Trash Can Sinatras – Ghosts 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.
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.
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?
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..
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 (“thebikini-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.
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, Shabby Road, 1993
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…
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.
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.