The Trashcan Sinatras are “Song Hunting”

2011 tour diary

during the band’s march 2011 acoustic tour, the band members took turns writing blogs about life on the road:

part 1: by john douglas

I’m John Douglas (guitarist) from the Trashcan Sinatras. I will be your tour diarist for the first 5 days, then I will hand the controls over to Frank Reader (singer) for the next leg of the tour.

March 2: To begin…I left a cold, wet Glasgow with my brother, Stephen (drummer). Flew the 13-hour trip to hot, sunny Houston, Texas where we were picked up by Gary, the hotel shuttle bus driver. He was playing loud modern Jazz-pretty slick stuff. He figured out we were Scottish and asked if we were ‘Celtic or Rangers ?’…it’s a wee world these days. The hotel was ours for 2 days – a touring luxury. Frank and Paul (guitarist) arrived from L.A. later that night and we opened a bottle of some of the old country’s finest and with Ben (tour manager) and Sean (sound engineer), we talked into the early hours.

March 3: tour day 2…classic Denny’s breakfast and on with the day. The first gig day. Arrived early at the venue, Fitzgerald’s, in Houston, a nice bar gig, dogs and cats wandering around – very relaxed vibe. We worked up a few new tunes at the sound check and were onstage at 8pm promptly. It was our first gig since our tour last year but there were no real nerves; we had a good time stretching our wings. After the gig I mingled with a few of the clientele: a Greek guy called Janni, new in town and just getting used to American ways, he had heard one song of ours on a compilation CD and decided to come on a whim; a guy from Ayrshire, Scotland, who had lived in our hometown for a few years; and a super friendly bunch of Asian folks who had camera trouble at the wrong moment. All were full of charm and glowing from the music. A stop off for a classic Denny’s supper on the way home and then the jet lag hit.

March 4: tour day 3…drive to Dallas. Experience the first of tour drama when a van window is cracked in a mysterious car park exit incident. Drama continues when a tall Dallas Police Officer shows up backstage in full uniform, gun, the whole bit. Fortunately Officer David is a big fan but unfortunately he’s on duty tonight and can’t make the gig. He came along early to wish us well – very cool. We were joined onstage tonight by Steve and Scott on brass. Our recent online ‘volunteers for brass duties’ campaign had its first success. The boys were great players and finally we got to hear the brass arrangement of our ’93 song “I’ve Seen Everything” live onstage. A real pleasure. After the show we spoke to a Pastor who had used our “Weightlifting” song as part of a sermon. Good to be of use. Liked what little I saw of Dallas opener Salim Nourallah.

March 5: tour day 4…our third and final Texas show, The Cactus Cafe & Bar in Austin. A beautiful old room, part of a university facility, old stone outside and old wood inside. Our dressing room was inside the university area and the walk to the gig involved passing the study rooms. It was evening time, yet there were quite a few students turning pages or gazing at screens, quiet and calm, yet the torrent of information uploading into these young minds was palpable. To play our songs (our songwriting always includes food for the mind as well as the heart and body) in these surroundings seemed fitting. We played a long set, requests were taken, Officer David, our new Dallas Police friend, from yesterday, made it along with his wife and we dedicated “The Sleeping Policeman” to him. A special mention goes out to our wonderful support for the evening, Shane Bartell…I walked by the stage door just as his set was finishing and he stumbled through the door. I asked how his set had went; he looked crestfallen as he mumbled “oh…I had a few shots…”

March 6: Tour day 5…the first ‘day off,’ also known as the dreaded ‘driving day.’ We have no gig today, so on paper it looks like a day of rest, but we have to drive from Austin to Atlanta: 600 miles, or 16 to 17 hours. We left Austin at 8am in our van. We stopped off at a casino in Biloxi around 9pm to enjoy a driving break, have some dinner and maybe a spot of poker. At this point I will hand you over to Frank to continue our tour diary and fill you in on the poker game play. Over to you, Frank…

part 2: by frank reader

Julian Cope, if I’m remembering right, once plotted a tour along the mystic ley lines of Great Britain. We seem to have mapped our route across the USA connecting co-ordinates more corporeal, going from casino to casino, playing 3-card poker – a farcical game that requires none of the skills needed to succeed at proper poker. You don’t need a poker face, because there’s no bluffing; you don’t have to intimidate opponents, because it’s everyone against the dealer (like in blackjack); you don’t even need to be able to do any of that fancy-finger playing with your chips, because you never win any. Well, maybe some win some sometimes. The player at the table is essentially ballast, as Martin Price would say. There to lay chips and flip cards over. The dealer slips you three cards, you turn them face-up, and you’ve either won or you’ve lost. It’s like a primitive one-arm bandit, with humans doing all the work of the machinery. This three-card poker is just the latest off-board distraction in our touring lives.

Everyone has their way of passing the time on board – ibooks and iPads, ipods and eye masks – but, unable to relax in transit, I’m usually to be found staring out the windscreen in terror, wondering why, if the driver is a deaf and half-blind man with ADD, we give him a GPS device to play with. So from hopping off at Forton services to play “World Cup ’90,” to checking into day rooms at the TravelLodge outside Leicester to play Sensible Soccer, to treating our American bass player to Gregg’s the bakery outside of Glasgow, I’ve always looked for an excuse to get out of the moving vehicle.

Until I can get a note from my doctor, another good way of getting out of the van is to insist we stop at venues to play pre-arranged shows. This week, there was one in Atlanta, where the lovely crowd insisted we try our seldom-performed song, “I’ll Get Them In” on the spot, as it contained reference to events that took place in their city. We managed to do so only up to the point where those events were described before there was a communication breakdown. We also messed up another old song lest we be suspected of stagecraft…for your patience, Atlanta, we thank you.

Onto Charlotte: triumphant conversion of the mother of one of the support band to our ageless aesthetic. Then to Chapel Hill’s Local 506 – handily sandwiched between 2 Indian restaurants – where guitarist Paul paraded his rock’n'roll dowry in front of his no-longer skeptical in-laws…

part 3: by stephen douglas

Friday March 11: We pulled into the old naval town of Annapolis. After winding around some leafy back-roads we arrive at Scott and Katie’s for a House Party. Lovely hosts that they are, we are treated to some gorgeous prawn jambalaya with old bay…mmmm. When touring you often have to make do food-wise, so this is heaven! The party is great fun and we all have a blast playing. Our hosts’ house is in a beautiful location surrounded by thick woodland…mother nature is in charge and you can’t help gawping at the view…it may get a bit creepy in winter but stunning all the same. Lovely people, lovely house, lovely food…We crawl back to our hotel satiated.

Saturday March 12: We are at Ian and Jeanie’s in Philadelphia for another House Party (lucky us!) Jeanie’s favorite song when she was pregnant was “You Made Me Feel” so when we play it she has a wee cry with a big smile on her face. We are honored. Also we find out Ian plays guitar so he agrees join us for “How Can I Apply…?” although he thinks he may vomit (with nerves surely?). He plays great with some lovely flourishes and his two boys are agog…(Go Dad!!) Later on, Ian gives us a snifter of some ultra rare bourbon …woof!…and i try some nice micro brewery beers…A lovely evening!

Sunday March 13th: New York!! Always a pleasure although the traffic inwards can be a bit of a drag. Maybe pedestrianize some streets? Lose some cars??… I still love to gaze at New York City life as we crawl through though.

Joe’s Pub is a really cool venue; dark and plush with great sound and lights. We play a sold out early show which is a little weird (off stage at 8.10!?) but have a really nice gig and hear some great New York accents …tawwk like dat…

Frank’s granny and cousin are at the gig, so there’s a lot of catching up/drinking done afterward…I just wish I’d hung on for the 9pm show after us. A percussive group with lots of frying pans, pots, bath tubs, etc. tuned by being ground down…. Maybe next time…

Monday March 14th: Northampton, MA – a new place for us and lovely it is too. We visit radio station WRSI and play a session for Joan Holliday and chinwag about Al Stewart and Queen…then on to the Iron Horse Music Hall…a really nice folk club with a wooden interior. We find out an English Smith’s tribute band have left us a good luck note – bodes well.

Rose Polenzani plays with us tonight and she and her guitarist Austin weave some lovely spells.

After some lovely pulled pork and Caesar salad we are introduced by Joan (in her cool candy-stripe get up) and have a nice mellow gig. It’s a pleasure to play in a new town and have such a nice reception. Draught Guinness flowed afterward…then ZZzzzzzz….

Wednesday March 16th: Boston (Cambridge) – Club Passim.  We arrive in the afternoon to sound check in this cool cafe/venue. It has a art student vibe and there is some interesting artworks on the walls. I enjoy a fantastic black bean and rice dish in the adjoining veggie cafe then go for a wander outside. Cambridge looks like a small British town -complete with rain- so I feel right at home.

The gig is sold out so has a nice bustling atmosphere when I come back.

Rose Polenzani plays a lovely set again and later guests with us adding some sweet harmony to “Wild Mountainside”… lovely voice.

Our good friends Joe and Linda are there too with their kids. The kids enjoy the show…but maybe because they get to stay up later than usual?

A really nice gig in a cool environment… We’ll be back!

part 4: by paul livingston

March 17th. The Lovin’ Cup. Rochester, NY.

It’s Saint Paddy’s Day! Time to don green and get drunk. Most of the day is spent cocooned in the van as we drive through the snow covered landscape. We arrive at the venue to friendly faces and free Guinness! How very nice. At the end of the gig the others started the encore while I was still in the toilet. I thought, “I’ll have a wee listen to ‘em when I go back out.” As soon as I did though, John played a big bum chord. “Ah,” I thought, “they’re shit.”

March 18th. Winchester Music Hall. Cleveland, OH.

Haha! The Winchester! Minder, right? Never mind. What a fantastic venue! It’s got a definite seventies vibe to it. Chicago posters! I think this has been my favorite gig of the tour so far. A really nice atmosphere and we played really well. A vodka and tonic please Dave, and make it a large one.

March 19th. House Party. Toronto, ON.

It’s so cold here that every time I go outside, I let out an involuntary whimper. Man we’ve been playing in some cool venues on this tour. Tonight we were in a fantastic loft in Toronto. Everyone who came was super cool (freezing, in fact), and the hosts and organizers did a bang up job! I really like meeting people from the TCS message board. Tonight I met Rhetor (“It’s Latin for teacher…I’m a Latin teacher.”), a longtime list member at his first Trashcans gig!

March 20th. Space. Evanston, IL.

Wow! Another cool venue, with the best backstage ever! Tonight we had the pleasure of being joined onstage by Karen and John who added their trumpetous flair to “I’ve Seen Everything”. Well done, guys! At this, the halfway point of the tour, I am finally overcoming the total shock to the system that being on the road is. Though I can still often be found staring off into space, vacant eyed. Even during the gig.

part 5: by john douglas

March 20 – Chicago, Evanston.

The gig is in a chic club called Space… first thing for me on arrival was a bowl of hot Miso soup from the Japanese place across from the gig. After some long hours in the van, Miso is the perfect pick-me-up. Chicago was its usual chilly self and most of the day was spent indoors. A great vinyl collection and stereo system was provided in the dressing room and the food was fantastic (another touring rarity). Our accompanying band were ‘Canasta’, a lovely, eclectic acoustic bunch. My Miso had worn off by the time they arrived so I wasn’t the most talkative. They were sharp dressed and friendly, they put good records on the stereo…very easy company. We were joined onstage tonight by brass volunteers Karen and John, they were the second successful result of our online campaign to get brass players to volunteer their services for a song. They played beautifully and were up for joining us at our other Chicago show too. After our show, which was a joy, we enjoyed a late night in the hotel in our own fine company as we had our first long lie in the next day. Bliss.

March 21 – Day off…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

March 22 – Upstairs at Adam’s Party in Schuba’s.

Everyone awoke in the early afternoon, spent the day leisurely eating, washing, snoozing, channel surfing, doing nothing. We recorded a session for Fearless Radio in the late afternoon then eventually gig time came around… it was a blue moon, so we debuted a new song tonight (“Howling”) and she set sail beautifully. We played 2 sets with a half hour break and then got chatting to whoever was hanging around after. Met the Head of Poetry Dept. at the University, I can’t recall his name (apologies, big fella, 3 weeks on the road tends to involve memory neglect) but he was of Native American descent and a big Robert Burns fan. We spoke of Burns, poetry in general, politics…he had been watching the news from Japan and all the Middle Eastern upheavals and he said something like it felt as though the end of the world is coming. I gave him my slightly more elderly perspective of how I thought civilization is actually getting incrementally better and the times we live in, though fraught, are an improvement on the past… but I knew what he meant, the place does feel a little fragile. He was great company, I could’ve blethered for ages but we had an early rise next day so we were off.

March 23 – Canal St. Tavern, Dayton, Ohio.

Hometown of our sound man, Sean. Beautiful old style venue where we shared a dressing room with the staff. The waitresses were great company, though not at first…When we arrived there was an atmosphere amongst them, sharp comments were heard and patience seemed absent. Perhaps somebody was slacking. Luckily, as the evening passed the frost thawed, maybe partly due to our exotic Scottish presence. The evening ended with drinks all round and warm farewells.

March 24 – St. Louis, Firebird.

St. Louis is one of the very few places in the USA where the old architecture is still standing, even in the heart of town. One of the oldest buildings was the beautiful high rise Civic Court…a great big sandstone monument to argument. Our band is of a certain age and it feels comforting to be surrounded by these grand old survivors. We arrived in town early and recorded a radio session at KDHX and then we headed to the TV studios at Channel 11 to play on the afternoon news. We set up in the lobby of the TV station and chatted amiably to the tall, slick presenter and soon we were on the air…we played a song and everyone fell in love with us. A very busy day so far so we were glad to get to the venue, the Firebird, and rest before soundcheck. Steve, our brilliant brass volunteer from Texas, had driven up to tonight’s show and he was joined onstage by the Firebird Club Booker, who played trombone. The club filled with friends old and new and again the show was a joy.

March 25 – Radio/Internet Session day.

No gig this evening but Radio/Internet sessions to do. First one is early and far from where we woke up, so a few hours in the van, grabbed a take away breakfast at the truck stop then arrived in Rock Island, IL to record 4 songs for Daytrotter.com for a later broadcast online. Daytrotter studio has the finest collection of strange instruments: old car horns, weird ancient keyboards, but we decided to stick with our trusty guitars, percussion and vocals and with the addition of an iPad keyboard app we were soon putting our newest tune, “Howling”, on to tape. We then headed to Des Moines for an evening radio session and from there, straight to Minneapolis.

part 6: by frank reader

Rolling Robertson/Yes, it IS a big country/Whistles and Flutes

Uh-oh, it looks like the preferred way for me to pass the time on long journeys in the van is not to read up on Don Cupitt’s philosophy of Non-Realism about God or catch up on this year’s Booker shortlist, or to finally check out that groovy Brandon Cox or familiarise myself more with Garageband. Nor is it the perfect time to ask after my van-mates’ mothers’ well-being or for their own take on the tour so far. It’s no longer even a good time to stretch out and catch up on some rest for my oh, precious vocal chords – the very reason I get to insist on a whole bench to myself, condemning our hardier guitarists to touring bolt upright (“Well, they’re just daft fingers!”).

No, two-thirds of the way in and all I do now is follow the blue dot. We are that blue dot, you see, inching our way along the interstates, wi-fi permitting. For me, that in itself is self-referential enough to be interesting – riveting even! I end up doing the same thing on aeroplanes: packing a carry-on bag full of books and puzzles, crushing my legs into an even tinier space to accommodate it, just for it to sit there untouched for eight hours while I stare ahead at the little screen, at an over-sized jet moving slooooooowly across an ersatz ocean, my blood silently, evilly, clotting. Then, excitement! as we pass over a coastline and I’m presented with an opportunity to match the cluster of faraway lights down below to the obscure townships named onscreen. Once, I was somehow actually reading a book (keeping the map on, of course, just to make sure everything was proceeding as planned), and just as i looked up from the page, the protagonist’s remote hometown in Arctic Canada popped up right in front of me! I remember the town was called Sioux Lookout. Check it out, it’s right there on the flight path from Scotland to California. Our Ontario-sized 777 cast what must have been a giant shadow over the whole place at once, and I imagine the residents there are still rather shaken. I can’t remember the name of the book, unfortunately, but it was part of an excellent trilogy written by Robertson Davies, who is now rolling in his grave.

The dot moved into Minneapolis, where it played a show at the Cedar Cultural Center. Three of us grabbed hot-dogs from the surly vendors next door, before settling into yet another fab dressing room with a record player. Michael greeted us, pinned an Alexander Brothers record up on the wall by way of welcome and informed us with a smile that sure, we could smoke in here, and do any of us know Big Country? We were ably supported by local heroes The Twilight Hours, who charmed and rocked. We were joined onstage for one song by local trombonist, Brian, who jazzed up things no end. Afterward, I really enjoyed meeting Jon from The Twilight Hours and hearing his tales of touring with Semisonic. I apologised on behalf of my hometown as he re-lived horrific events there, and hopefully convinced him to Give Glasgow Another Chance. Hey, good slogan for the Tourist Board (thanks, Alan Partridge!).

Onto and into Kansas City. Knuckleheads promised little as we arrived in driving snow and had to wait for the Sunday Blues Jam ™ to end before setting up, but in the end it delivered much. A small, but very enthusiastic crowd, a delicious BBQ beef sandwich, Steve and Scott (our go-to traveling horn section) serenading us with our own songs backstage, a tasteful ipad solo from Curt of Des Moines and a real Union Pacific train whistle accompaniment from the railroad tracks behind the bar all contributed greatly.

I was really sorry to not meet the folk singer Molly O’Brien at our Denver show. She performed John’s “I Hung My Harp Upon The Willows” in Glasgow last January after hearing my sister Edna’s version and I would like to have said hello. I suspect that our John (who plays in Edna’s band) deliberately didn’t want his two musical worlds colliding, and he kept Molly away from me. Probably scared I’d say something like, “Who the fuck’s Alan Lomax?”.

And so to Salt Lake City. When driving across the Rockies, make sure your windscreen wipers are working…

part 7: by stephen douglas

March 29 – Salt Lake City: After a long and sometimes hairy drive along snowy roads we pull into Salt Lake City. I’d forgotten how beautiful this area is…the city is surrounded by mountains and every street corner you turn opens up a whole new snowy vista…lovely. The gig is in a theatre type place and you go onstage via a ramp at the back. If you stand at the bottom of this ramp backstage when the spotlights are on anyone with a guitar looks like Johnny Cash live at San Quentin. I also notice Wanda Jackson is playing here the night after us and am kicking myself because I’ll miss her…one of the rawest, rockin’est voices ever!

The gig itself is great fun and we get a lovely warm reception from the Salt Lake massive. A few drinks and it’s back to the Peery hotel for some period charm slumber…..Zzzz

March 30 – Park City: A “day off”…

We are up early today to appear on “Good Things Utah” morning TV. We set our gear up on a stage with wheels which is hard as it moves with every step. John and Frank narrowly escape from being included in a chat about men’s grooming/hygiene and then after the chef we’re on….play “People” then leave as a menagerie of animals covered up in cages arrive… (I don’t know either)

Next we head over to Park City (venue for the Sundance movie bash) to do a whistle-stop TV appearance for Park City TV. Ori the director arrives the minute we do and we set up, record three songs and split in under an hour, commando style… these TV folk are real professionals!

We’re trying to be brisk time-wise today as we have a long drive to L.A. ahead. Paul and Frank fly ahead to their homes but the rest of us experience the full 10 hour drive. It’s not as bad as you may think…I drift into a reverie listening to Scott Walker and watching the sun set over the other-worldly scenery of Utah and Nevada…magical.

We arrive fried in L.A. about 1am and ZZZZzzzzzzzz……

March 31 – Los Angeles

Ahh, good old L.A…. The first place we ever set foot in on arriving in the US was L.A. so it’s like a home from home for us. We’ve a busy day today though…in 90 degree heat!

We’re doing some showcases for movie studios and first up is at Disney. These events can feel a little strange but we are made to feel very welcome. Our friend Lisa provides the drinks and catering while we play some nice acoustic music in the outdoor courtyard of the original Disney inking department. It has a cool ambiance and the Disney folks have a nice musical lunchtime then we’re off…No ‘toons were present I’m afraid.

We then head over to Universal for our next appointment and we play for some of the music department. It’s a brief, mellow appearance and the folks seem to enjoy it. We have a quick natter then brave the L.A. traffic for tonight’s gig.

From outside The Bootleg is a little unassuming but inside it has a lovely shape. We play a great show and there is good, relaxed banter with the audience throughout. L.A. is almost always the last show in any tour we do so there’s always a party vibe there (“We done it!”). The blazing Californian sun adds to this feeling too…

Later on we meet up with some old friends then eventually head off for a long sleep, month long tour DONE!

April 1 – Fly home day.

In -transit days are always weird; lot’s of waiting around while you exist between places. They are kind of fake,”non days” which you want to be over as soon as possible. My mind had got used to being in the U.S. so I was a bit melancholy at leaving. I’m old enough to know this is temporary though…

Arriving home – We fly back with some American students who are “doing Europe” and while their accents have me pining for L’America, hearing them enthuse about Scotland makes me glad I’m home. We arrive in Glasgow to classic Scottish 4 -seasons-in-a-day weather. Lovely red sunset behind blustery clouds, then later when I go out to stock up on food I get soaked in a short torrential downpour…It was a lovely cool off after L.A…now I need a few days to “re-acclimate” and stay put!

The tour was a full-on, month long whirlwind but we had a fantastic time. As always you’d like to hang out in places longer but you can’t and that’s just the nature of it…We get to play and people come to watch; that’s the true pleasure.

Thanks to everyone who came to see us.

’til the next time…

Stephen x