New radio documentary tells the story of The Trashcan Sinatras

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Ayrshire indie band The Trashcan Sinatras are the focus of a new Irish radio documentary aired by Radio Nova.

Journalist and musician Ken Sweeney travels to Irvine, where the band formed in 1986, and the site of their Shabby Road studios in Kilmarnock where they recorded their first three albums.

Originally signed to Go Discs records, the band's debut album Cake (1990) was a minor success in the UK but exploded in the US where it sold 100,000 copies, and the band toured with Radiohead. However the programme hears how their second album 'I've Seen Everything' (1993) flopped with the arrival of Nirvana and grunge, but bounced back thanks to a feature on MTV.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Trashcan Sinatras resisted their record label attempts to remix their third album A Happy Pocket (1996) to make it sound more Britpop, and were dropped soon after. A massive tax bill, saw the band lose their studio and find themselves declared bankrupt. Guitarist John Douglas ending up busking in the London underground. But the arrival of the internet saw a change in their fortunes as they reconnected with fans worldwide.

Documentary maker Ken Sweeney's friendship with The Trashcan Sinatras goes back to the early 90's playing indie music in band Brian. As a fan he attended some of The Trashcans' first gigs in London.

Ken says: "I first came across the Trashcan Sinatras when I was living in London in early nineties, I used to make music under the band name 'Brian' first in a duo, then on my own. We did a few singles and got signed to Setanta Records which was a label for Irish bands in London. One of the big Setanta bands, The Frank and Walters, went on to sign to Go-Discs. I remember  once meeting the guy who ran Setanta in a pub around the corner from Go-Discs, he was sitting in the middle of these guys who he introduced me as The Trashcan Sinatras.

I was bowled over because I loved the band. I'd been to see them at an early show in The Borderline. Back then in the pub, I think I told them they reminded me of The Jam, which is probably the best thing you can say if you ever meet The Trashcan Sinatras.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Back then I used to navigate central London by records shops, Cheapo Records in Soho, there was a record shop off Leicester Square in a lane going up towards Chinatown, where you could get a lot promo records. The Trashcans records would be the most precious thing in these shop, their beautiful songs, John's hand painted cover on I've Seen Everything.”

Trashcan Sinatras

A chance meeting in Glasgow decades later reconnected Ken with the band. “I was over in 2016, making a radio documentary on The Blue Nile for RTE Radio” Ken says. The first person I bumped into was John Douglas from the Trashcans'... and he was like 'what are you doing here?"

“I recall he was a tad sceptical about my 'search for The Blue Nile' but loved the resulting programme, as did Paul from the band. The Trashcan also liked the radio docs I made about the early days of REM, and The Go-Betweens.

“I started this Trashcans doc about six or seven years ago, and the guys were very patient, every time I came back looking to talk again. But I couldn't finish it because it was missing something. Then I realised it was the beach where the doc starts, and Shabby Road. I recorded that earlier this year when I flew over from Dublin and met up with John Douglas in Glasgow and we drove out to Irvine and Kilmarnock and I got a real feel for where the music came from.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We also recorded John playing songs at Billy Farrell's studio outside Dublin, who did such a fabulous job sound editing the programme. We recorded performances with both John and Paul,  I'd ask them to play me a song, sometimes they could and sometimes I was told. 'You'd need to ask Paul for that' , or 'you'd need to have John for that', or both of them would tell me :"You'd need Frank to do that".  For me it was a real lesson in what a combined effort The Trashcan Sinatras is.

“The Trashcan Sinatras don't do nostalgia.  But they did let me drag them back. I was astonished at all the things they'd been through, losing the studio, the bankruptcy. It's an incredible story. Then John talking about his health scare at the end, and how it had helped him appreciate life. But I wanted the programme to be fun as well. There's comedy with John having to go and meet Frank Sinatra's people. And the part where Paul has to go to court. The voice of Frank's people and the Scottish judge kindly provided by a very respected Irish stage actor called Morgan C. Jones. Also by the end of the programme you also realise how many great songs The Trashcan Sinatra have. “I dedicated the doc to a Scottish friend, Stuart Robertson, I met him in the BBC Film Archives in London when I worked there. It was a very interesting place but a little class orientated, with people sticking to their sections. Stuart  arrived in one day and he spoke to everyone, the van drivers, the guys in the post room, the guys pushing trolleys of film cans, his attitude was I'm Scottish and I talk to everyone. It raised eyebrows and it was a brave attitude to have.

“The Trashcan Sinatras are one of Stuart's favourite bands. It's a bit of an ask, making a documentary about The Trashcan Sinatras and then dedicating it to someone else. But when I told John from the band the story about Stuart in the BBC, he was immediately on board.

“The thing that impressed me most about The Trashcan Sinatras, you could bump into them after 10 or 15 years apart and they'd be just as friendly. If I was a musician when they met me in the early 90's, and doing something different now. That doesn't matter to them. They're consistent and that's something I value more and more as I get older" PPI winning documentary maker Ken Sweeney previous radio docs include RTE's REM Out Of Athens, In Search Of The Blue Nile, and 2023 Radio Nova doc The Go-Betweens & The Irish Writers. Listen to the The Trashcans documentary on Soundcloud here or via

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.