Del Amitri with Trashcan Sinatras @ Symphony Hall, 23 July 2018

Del Amitri

I was thrilled to see Justin Currie wrote the following words on Symphony Hall’s website to promote their return to Birmingham’s finest venue tonight: “Del Amitri first played the Birmingham Symphony Hall on July the 13th 1992, just a year after it officially opened. You could still smell the paint, and it all seemed a little highfalutin for the likes of us. Designed to host symphony orchestras with full choruses, the Birmingham hall has a naturally lively acoustic; musical and warm without feeling too clinical. It actually rocks, and we were bowled over back in ’92 when we heard its wonderfully ambient resonance at soundcheck. We only played it once so we’re excited to be back. We all might have changed in the intervening years but the venue remains what it was – one of the best environments for music in the world:    Justin Currie”

Del Amitri

I am delighted because I was at that show and I’m glad Justin has such fond memories of the night.  I remember thinking the gig I attended two years before, when they played Edwards No 8 rocked a hell of lot more.  But I guess the band had had enough of sweaty beer soaked venues and were finally seeing the rewards for years of struggling.  The Symphony Hall must be an incredible hall to play in, but for an audience seeing a rock band, it is sometimes a little tame.  But then I guess Del Amitri are not your usual rock band.  They began to lean a little towards pop and folk, following their devastatingly brilliant second album ‘Waking Hours’.  Much of that 1992 show featured Iain Harvie’s raw and wild guitar work and for me it just didn’t seem to fit into a ‘highfalutin’ space like Symphony Hall.  Many years down the road and I am anxious to see whether the time is now right for the band to return to this venue.

When the tour date was originally released I immediately put my name down to review it.  When I later heard Trashcan Sinatras were playing on the same night, I was torn which gig I should attend.  To then find out Trashcan Sinatras were Del Amitri’s support was like a birthday and Christmas had come at the same time.  Scotland has a long, glorious history of producing excellent bands, from Alex Harvey, to The Blue Nile, to Belle and Sebastian to Mogwai, and tonight’s show is no exception.

The Trashcan Sinatras are one of those bands that have been going for over 3o years without ever achieving a huge success.  They kind of pre-empted this with their first single in 1990, “Obscurity Knocks”.  Although they never won over the general populace, the band has crafted beautiful songs, and continue to be idolised by a select few.

You would be forgiven for thinking that most of the Del Amitri fans attending tonight have no idea who the Trashcan Sinatras are, because as the Irvine boys step onto the stage, the Symphony Hall is less than a quarter full.  Thankfully those already in their seats make themselves heard and give the band a good old Birmingham welcome.  Throughout the set, more people filter in and you tell immediately that the Trash Can Sinatras win them over, person by person.  The thing is you see, if you get to hear their music, you are captivated – this I guess is Trashcan Sinatras’ story in a nutshell: they make beautiful records that a few devoted souls obsess about, and the rest of the world live in total ignorance.

The set of 10 songs cover their entire career, which is now in its third decade, from ‘Obscurity Knocks’ off their debut album, to ‘Best Days on Earth’ from their most recent release ‘Wild Pendulum’.  You would be forgiven for thinking the songs were all written within the same short span of time, because they all have a similar feel; a shimmering, jangly, melodic vibe, that kind of conjures up a band made up of the best bits of The Sundays, The Smiths and Aztec Camera.  For some reason another band changed their style in the middle of the 90’s, and adopted the TCS sound and made a mint.  I wonder if Fran Healy ever admits to this major influence.  But I guess if the Trashcans had been as successful as Travis, I wouldn’t have such respect and love for them.

Hearing these songs played live for the first time is a revelation.  The incredible harmonies from Frank Reader (lead vocals), John Douglas (guitar) and Stephen Douglas (drums) are perfectly executed.  They make it sound like more than three men singing; it is bordering on being celestial.  Frank’s lead voice is perfectly supported by the clean guitar lines and lead arpeggios from Paul Livingston; these songs have been meticulously arranged and everything is in its right place, without sounding like it is any effort at all.  And that is the impression the Trashcan Sinatras give on stage; that they are simply playing their songs.  There is no arrogance or feeling of resentment, just a faultless display of musicianship.

As a side note, I notice when Frank walks on stage he is sporting a retro T-shirt with the old ATV logo on it.  He doesn’t mention it until half way through the set when he says that he hopes we don’t think he is trying to curry favour by wearing Birmingham’s old independent TV station.  He goes on to say he wore a Tyne Tees T-shirt when they recently played Newcastle.  I just love the forethought and preparation of that small detail.  I hope the Trash Can Sinatras return to the Midlands soon and selfishly, that they remain pop’s biggest and best kept secret.

Trash Can Sinatras Setlist:

Got Carried Away

All The Dark Horses


How Can I Apply…?

Obscurity Knocks



Best Days on Earth

Easy Read



Del Amitri mean a lot to me, and judging by the immediate outpouring of love from the Birmingham crowd, I am not alone.  They have been the soundtrack of my life, documenting times of love and happiness, and also months of mourning.  Somehow Justin Currie and Iain Harvie have consistently put into words the joy and heartache that comes inevitably with human relationships; right from the dizzy days of youth to the soreness of middle age.

Many of the audience who bought tickets tonight may have wondered whether Del Amitri are still the live force they were 30 years ago; they may have questioned whether Justin still has a full working set of vocal chords.  I am lucky because I came with none of that baggage having seen Justin’s solo show a couple of times during Del’s quiet period: I knew he was good, if not better than he was when the band enjoyed their initial successes.

It is a beautiful sight though to see Justin back on stage as Del Amitri, with Iain to his right, trying to squeeze every ounce of squeal and scream from his Les Paul Goldtop.  A few times though it feels as though those mini humbuckers are not feeding back as much as he would like and he almost climbs inside the Orange cabinets to achieve the intended howl.  He tries each speaker in turn before giving up.  Likewise it is good to see keyboard and accordion player Andy Alston in the live band, as he was there from those golden A&M days (although I would not have been able to pick him out of a line up).  Completing the band is Kris Dollimore on second guitar and Ashley Soan on drums.

What is noticeable very early in the set is how at ease and comfortable the band are together.  Justin jokes in the middle of the instrumental part of the opening track ‘Be My Downfall’ that Andy’s accordion part is a bit jazzy and that he should keep it out of the set tomorrow.  They laugh and continue into the last verse smiling.  Later on Andy is poked from the back of the stage with a microphone stand by the guitar tech and he shakes his fist dramatically and comically.  The whole onstage persona of Del Amitri is a fine balancing act of performing serious and emotional songs, with ironic rock posturing and just honest down to earth musicianship.  Justin is seen often  deliberately overdoing the last note of a song when there is the obligatory crescendo: it is funny because as much as he probably thinks it is rock n roll’s biggest cliche, he likes doing it, and likes making fun of it at the same time.  You just can’t dislike someone with that kind of a sense of humour.

The first three songs of the set are slightly pared down versions of the originals; in that they are primarily acoustic songs anyway, but the drums don’t kick in as much as the recorded versions.  To begin with and to emphasise this, the band are all stage centre around Justin; it feels like a busked intro and it is wonderful.

To have such a low key opening at what should be a rock concert is a stroke of genius, so is placing your debut hit ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ as song two.  You could almost feel the crowd hold its breath: “You’re playing this now?  Already?  What’re you gonna end the set with now?”  This is mixed with relief from certain quarters I suppose, if you only ever listened to their singles; no ‘new album tracks’ panic to contend with.

There is one new song in the set however, ’You Can’t Go Back’, which Justin introduces and then says “So we’ll see you back here in a few minutes after you’ve been to the bar”.  As self-deprecating as ever.  He’s not wrong though, as the audience’s energy ebbs and flows through a set of troughs and peaks.  Most noticeable is when everyone rises to their feet for ‘Always the Last to Know’ and stays standing for ‘The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere’, but sit down when Justin introduces ‘The Verb to Do’, the B-side of ‘When You Were Young’.  They don’t really return to their feet en masse until the set closer ‘Stone Cold Sober’ kicks in.  There are a few of us throwing shapes to a great cover of twenty-one pilots’ ‘Heathens’; and a few swaying through ‘Spit in the Rain’; but the momentum that started with ‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’ and ran out after ‘When You Were Young’ never really returned until it was too late.  But, this is Symphony Hall after all, and a room full of the over 50’s will prefer a seat, to a tomorrow blighted by sore knees and an aching back… I am not the same man that stood by the stage all night with my ear against the PA in Edwards No 8 in 1990, to be near my beloved band.  Now a seat and ear protection are the priority.

The end of the show is up there with the best live performances I have witnessed.  ‘Stone Cold Sober’ is a thumping behemoth of a song.  Justin’s vocals are spat out with as much venom as when he recorded it three decades ago; his bass pumps along with powerful thumping drums; Iain’s guitar is louder than before despite losing some of the feedback normally a feature of the arrangement as described earlier.  Never has a crowd sung “We are the dead life” with such conviction or animation.  As the song dies down, Justin waves and everyone but Iain disappears from the stage.  The almost unavoidable pre-encore nausea kicks in as I anticipate minutes of stamping and shouting, but it disappears in an instant when I see Iain just walks off to change his electric guitar for an acoustic and starts playing the intro to ‘Move Away Jimmy Blue’.  The band returns to the stage, and with no fanfare perform an exquisite version of one of Currie and Harvie’s greatest songs.  It is just beautiful, and as the song’s outtro begins to die down, the crowd is not applauding; it is still on its feet singing and clapping along.. not wanting this to end.  The band run with it and guitar and accordion continue as Justin re-sings the middle-eight with the audience singing the second lines, before a final chorus and rapturous applause.  If anyone filmed this, I would love to see it again as I was so caught up in the moment, it is already becoming an unreal, hazy, beautiful dream.

If I am honest, there is a part of me that wanted to hold onto my memory of Del Amitri from 1990, when they still felt like my personal secret, not international rockstars… I wanted tonight to be as uninspiring as my last memory of them at Symphony Hall in 1992, when I felt they had sold me out.  However, tonight, this gig, this performance, reinforces all the reasons I loved Del Amitri in the first place.  And if anything, at this time, at this age, this venue and this band are a perfect fit.

Del Amitri Setlist:

Be My Downfall

Nothing Ever Happens

Food For Songs

Kiss This Thing Goodbye

Just Like a Man

Not Where It’s At

When You Were Young

You Can’t Go Back

Driving With the Brakes On

It Might As Well Be You

Wash Her Away

Always the Last to Know

The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere

The Verb to Do

Being Somebody Else

Heathens (twenty one pilots’ cover)

Here and Now

Spit in the Rain

Stone Cold Sober


Move Away Jimmy Blue


Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photographer: Stephanie Colledge

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2 thoughts on “Del Amitri with Trashcan Sinatras @ Symphony Hall, 23 July 2018

  1. I went with slight trepidation with a fear that the band I fell in love with on that night in ‘92 were just reforming, doing the rounds, cashing in on a bit of nostalgia never to be seen again. How wrong was I?
    Right from the start I was blown away. “Be my downfall”was played with such ease and simplicity and beauty that it just reinforced its position as 1 of my all time favourites and it didn’t stop there as the magic continued although it was songs that haven’t been that enamered me that made my night. The performance of “Food for songs” will live with me for a long long long time and “driving with the brakes on” had me in goosebumps.
    The lighting was awesome, the sound quality superb and once the crowd had overcame their inhibition of being in slight awe of the venue it turned into a proper rock concert.
    The band seem in a really good place now and I’m pleased because they should. The enjoyment they gave and the love they got back will stay with me for a long time.
    I just hope it’s not another 26 years

  2. Probably one of the best reviews of a Trashcans gog in many a year and I’ve read the majority of them from tbe last 30 years.
    TCS are at the top of their game right now and each gig is sounding better than the last, it’s been a great week and there are still 2 shows at The Barras which are certain to be magic.
    Big thanks to Del Amitri for having us along, we have been treated exceptionally well, it’s been a treat.

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