The Trash Can Sinatras

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
Obscurity KnocksGo! Discs GODX34
January's Little JokeCake
My MistakeGo! Discs GODX46
HayfeverGo! Discs GODX98
Orange FellI've Seen Everything
The Genius I WasA Happy Pocket
Born FreeGo! Discs TSWL1
FreetimeWeightlifting
It's A MiracleWeightlifting
The EngineIn The Music

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Contributor: John Hartley

The Trash Can Sinatras came into my life like a brick through a window and I cracked a smile. These are, of course, not my words but those of the band themselves, featured on The Best Man’s Fall, the B-side to their debut single. In reality, I would be surprised if the band came into anybody’s life like that brick; it would be much more their style to nervously amble up alongside you in a crowded room, whisper a sweet nothing and then surreptitiously seduce you.

Imminently due to release their latest studio album, The Trash Can Sinatras have been a going concern since the late 1980s. I say imminently; the next release will be their sixth long player, so anything up to a year could arguably be ‘imminent’ when the average gap between albums is five years and the longest has been eight. Now with its membership split by the Atlantic Ocean it would be easy for the band to fizzle away but here is a band that has never taken the easy route, with a fan base so dedicated it would probably build a bridge from Glasgow to Hollywood to ensure the group kept going.

On a more personal note, writing a Toppermost for The Trash Can Sinatras is especially challenging, given that they have soundtracked my entire adult life. Without them, I would not have kept forming bands. I would not have spent evenings and afternoons wandering around Bolton sourcing pound-a-pint lager with friends, all the while trying to decipher obscure lyrics and dissecting favourite songs. I would not have the family I now have, emanating ultimately from a bootleg-seeking small ad in the back of a 1994 NME. Without The Trash Can Sinatras I would not be wrestling with myself over why I shouldn’t just devote the entire ten spaces to their debut album, Cake. The reason is, of course, to give you the reader a fairer representation of the spread of musical talent that spans their five albums thus far. For my own ease this list is compiled chronologically.

It was easy in 1990 for journalists to herald The Trash Can Sinatras’ debut single Obscurity Knocks alongside the expressed hope that the title did not become prophetic. It has been very easy for journalists since about 1996 to ruefully note how prophetic it had become. Nonetheless, here is a song that presents the perfect mission statement for Irvine’s most famous sons. Witty, wryly self-deprecating lyrics crammed with word play sit atop an upbeat acoustic melody with a singalong chorus. “The calendar’s cluttered with days that are numbered” – I challenge anyone to beat that for a line!

The closing track from debut album, January’s Little Joke, takes us to a fireside hangover, sitting under a blanket sipping hot chocolate. Wisps of smoke emanate from the speakers of the record player disguised as lush string arrangements. Charred wood cracks and cackles bitter snatches of memory from the night before when “I knew what argue meant and I knew what punish meant and I knew what embarrass meant. I never found out what achieve meant”. I challenge anyone to beat that for a line too!

This next song could be a controversial choice for inclusion; I appreciate that. However, My Mistake, B-side to the barely-promoted third single, Circling The Circumference, takes me all the way back to my first few weeks as an independent adult. The lyrical theme of things not being quite as they have been made out to be, provided a handy musical metaphor for my first few weeks at University: freedom, independence, learning with like-minded souls, a TCS gig at the very place I was studying soon melted away with a debilitating torn neck muscle, loneliness, realisation that I might have picked the wrong course of study and TCS cancelling their gig because it was sponsored by Nestlé. My Mistake is a beautiful lament, full of misty lyrics and rueful acceptances. “It’s the oldest trick in the book: you listen to all my secrets but you don’t tell me yours”.

Two and a half years later a friend would phone me excitedly on his return home from a day’s work making double-glazed window frames. He had just heard the new single, Hayfever, by The Trash Can Sinatras being played on daytime radio! On Manchester’s independent Key103FM!! And it was great!!! The exclamation marks barely do his excitement justice. I spent the next seven days listen almost non-stop to Key103FM, and heard the song the grand total of no times. Needless to say I wasn’t going to hang around on release day, and instantly I could see what all the fuss was about. A bouncy, piano-driven tale of what their label described as “sun, sex and antihistamine”, Hayfever was even given the hallowed Beavis and Butthead treatment by MTV.

There inevitably followed a long-player, I’ve Seen Everything; fourteen glorious tracks that took the listener on a slightly darker journey than their debut. The word play was still there, the carefully beautiful instrumentation too, but also a more worldly-wise edge. Orange Fell (see above clip) begins as a gentle ballad, the sea lapping the coastal fringe, before reaching a high tide crescendo of rekindled romance and note-finding beachcombers where “all our plans were laid on streets the winter paved with streetlamp Lucozade”.

And then … silence again. Until 1996 that is, when the band returned with one of the last albums to be released by influential and much-loved label Go! Discs. A Happy Pocket again comprised fourteen songs, this time spawning four singles which cumulatively saw the band’s music played across all of the great BBC’s four most important radio stations (that’s One, Two, Three and Four by the way: 6Music was but a dream at this stage). The wordplay was still there, the tunes were still there. The Genius I Was is an urgent track from the second side of the album, touted as a single at one point. “When I think of you it’s as the genius I was”: I’ve never been sure whether that is the kindest compliment or the most damning insult.

It would not be a truly representative Top 10 without one of The Trash Can Sinatras’ several cover versions. Their unique interpretation of the works of others was at the roots of the band’s formation with the list being as wide as it is varied. Ace Of Spades anyone? Or a Scott Walker number? How about an XTC track or two, or 1970s TV theme tune White Horses? A Bond theme then, maybe, or a bit of Abba? I could have chosen any, but Born Free, recorded for a stage version of an Irvine Welsh script, wins by a slight margin; that margin is the opening sample from one of the band’s alarm clocks, as Wallace suggests to his faithful companion Gromit that they see what is on the wireless.

And then … an even longer silence. Eight years to be precise. The Sun newspaper claimed the band had gone bankrupt. The Trash Can Sinatras internet fanbase released unofficial CDs of back catalogue, radio sessions and live performances to raise money for the band to record an album, which they did and then subsequently scrapped. Pioneers, long before the current trend for crowd funded releases. In 2004, however, the album Weightlifting was finally released. Freetime finds itself highlighting a first side of highlights, a rare song of positivity, hope and optimism with a joyful guitar riff and uplifting melody celebrating how “around the corner await simple pleasures”, just like songs such as this.

On the same album, It’s A Miracle could be found, its title shortened from the original, more telling It’s A Miracle We Get Anything Done At All. Seemingly a tribute to the fact that the band had got through the worst of times, the lyrics acknowledge the disappearance of early hope and optimism but recognise the strength and unity the band members maintained against the odds. “You pour your heart out knowing full well it could fail, fail, fail … but how could we know back then?” This is, quite possibly, the band’s finest musical and lyrical moment (although I am open to persuasion …).

Six years later and the band reappeared again, with a crowd-funded album In The Music. It remains my least favourite album of the five so far, it must be said; however that is not to say that it is not good. The band are more mature, and write songs that represent their changing statuses – married, living continents apart, responsible adults. Two of the songs on the album were co-written by Davy Hughes, an original band member who left, came back, left again, came back and then decided his family had to come before touring. The Engine is one of those tracks; a hazy reminiscence of tinkering with old cars before the warm choral reassurance of collective responsibility, “we become everyone, and everyone is to blame for everything”.

Five years on from In The Music and there is the very real promise of the sixth album, again funded by the loyal fanbase, this time through Pledge Music. We have had updates all along the way and, at the time of writing, the album has been mastered and suggestions of autumn release hinted at across the internet and social media.

These ten toppermost songs should whet the appetite of those both familiar and new to this ironically-self-acclaimed ‘legendary Scottish band’.

Trashcan Sinatras official website

Five Hungry Joes: a Trashcans archive

The Trash Can Sinatras biography (iTunes)

“Who’s He? An A-Z of The Trash Can Sinatras” by Finn Hartley is available here in paperback, and also available digitally from iTunes.

John Hartley is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, an autobiographical tale of the unsigned side of the music industry, published by i40Publishing and available here. After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song he has also turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free, at Broken Down Records.

TopperPost #466

3 Comments

  1. Billy K
    Aug 15, 2015

    A truly remarkable band that has been along with me for the ride since I first spun Cake as a college DJ. Their masterpiece, I’ve Seen Everything was an invaluable life raft in some turbulent years. TCS was also one of the first bands to grasp the power of the internet. In the mid-90s, when their releases weren’t available in the U.S., it was frustrating to keep up with them. For some time I thought they had disbanded and stopped creating music. But I was able to keep up with them via their fledgling website. And, I’ll admit, I used the power of napster/limewire to find their obscurities and remain engaged (I’ve since, of course, purchased everything).

  2. Joe Jannuzzi
    Aug 15, 2015

    Love the article. Saw them in Cleveland couple of years ago. Helped with the crowd funding of the new one and hope they tour again. Tried to update and get all of their songs through Itunes but part of the problem is the change in labels and even the spelling of the name: at one point Itunes had stuff by Trash Can Sinatras, The Trash Can Sinatras, Trashcan Sinatras, The Trashcan Sinatras. I’d end up repeating song downloads, and even my own Itunes doesn’t know how to organize the songs with them showing up as 3 different artists. Anyway, loved this article.

  3. Quinn
    Aug 16, 2015

    I adore this band. Truly TREMENDOUS people! I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Bought the earliest singles in 1990? I believe Cake was the first cd I ever purchased (after millions spent on vinyl). Any road, my band, The Treading Lemmings got to open for them in DC on the In The Music tour. We covered Genius I Was in our set. All the Trashcans came out to hear us play it. Utter MAGIC for this pretender… One of the absolute greatest moments of my modest music career! Bless TTS forever!!!

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