Feature: Chris Trout – tales from the outer edges of pop

So we did this thing, on Instagram and Tumblr and Spotify, where some of us made sort of an ongoing, hopefully continuing mock John Peel programme. Or at least we wanted it to be records and memories and memorabilia (posters / fanzines / tickets / magazine clippings) and photos of bands and scenes and fans and fashion and all that stuff but so you could never guess what comes next, so reggae sits next to extreme metal, sits next to twee pop, sits next to hardcore punk. Called (rather self-importantly I realise now) The Lexicon of Underground Music, named after the musical Bible, certainly in terms of writing essays when I did a music degree – The Lexicon of Musical Invective.

So we needed stuff in addition to our records so we started looking up bands and artists we had liked – pre-2000 was the sort of unwritten rule. And so we came across Chris who (unsurprisingly) had played for a band we liked at the start of the alphabet, Sheffield noise rockers A.C. Temple. But it turned out he had been in loads of bands, written loads of songs, played with loads of people, did………oh, you get the idea. We wanted to talk to him and interview him and ask him sensible questions like blogs do, like ‘what were you listening to around this point’ and the like. But instead he ignored the questions (I like him already) and wrote for us one of the most Entertaining potted histories of a life on the outer edges of pop music. But, and this is important, all the bands he was in were good. Even the ones I didn’t even know about when I started researching them, so do yourselves a small favour and check them out as you go.

For now, over to Chris:

The first piece of music I made was called The Cave. I was maybe six or seven, and somebody had given me a full-sized steel-strung acoustic guitar, which was presumably fucked in some way, or they’d have kept it, but it didn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been big enough to have played it properly even if I’d had the slightest inclination to learn how to do so. However, I discovered that by running one’s fingernails along the lower, wound strings one could produce a spooky noise that changed tone depending on where and in which direction one scraped, and I entitled the resultant piece The Cave. Let it be noted that Lee Ranaldo was probably still playing Lynyrd Skynyrd covers at this point.

The second piece of music I made was called Nasal Delight. Saturday lunchtimes at the prep school I attended in 1979 were the best, because there were no afternoon lessons or compulsory sport so you could carry on doing what you wanted all afternoon. Oh, and I should probably have mentioned that I already had this imaginary punk rock group, called – and I’m sorry about this – Virus. I was the singer, and also one of the guitarists, and I was called Johnny Virus. Look, I was fucking twelve, OK? I had some words, and an idea of how the songs should go, but not the blindest clue about anything at all that could have taken me any further. And so it came to pass that one Saturday afternoon my friend and backgammon nemesis Timothy Speight and I – with the help of a boy called Bruce, who brought along an acoustic guitar he couldn’t really play, and another boy called Adam, who, usefully, brought a trombone – set about making flesh the hitherto incorporeal Virus number (and prospective single) Nasal Delight, whose title was supposed to be a pun on the glutinous British post-WW2 austerity dessert Angel Delight, and whose theme, as you’ve probably worked out, was nose-picking. In my head, it went a bit like Five Minutes by the Stranglers. Well, quite a lot like. In the hands of the assembled crew, which rapidly grew larger as people were attracted by the racket we were making, it sounded like a gaggle of adolescent boys shouting and slamming desk lids, with (I am guessing) a faintly discernible undercurrent of acoustic guitar and trombone. Eventually, a teacher turned up and dispersed us. As the instigator of the incident – and a child who was tacitly on some fairly serious probation, having just been kicked out of another school – I was called to see the Headmaster, a warm, twinkly man called Tom Davies who looked a bit like Cowley out of The Professionals. He didn’t seem remotely bothered by any of it. But I was suitably chastened, and that was the only performance by that line-up of Virus.

Virus #2 was a more durable affair. A year on, in my second term at big school, the sixth-former I was billeted to share a study with was a tall, freckly lad called Steve Jones. He was into all the weird post-punky stuff I didn’t quite yet get, me with my Buzzcocks and Skids and Angelic Upstarts and Undertones 7”s. On Sunday mornings I’d get out of bed early so I could listen to Jones’s records and – more importantly – fish down his black Les Paul copy from on top of the cupboard where he kept it and have a go at getting something coherent out of it. One thing led to another, and soon I’d persuaded my parents to let me use a small sum of money my grandfather had left me to buy my very own black Les Paul copy and a little amp, from one of those mail order deals they (still) have in the back of music mags. They even threw in a hard case lined with bright orange fluff. By the middle of 1980 I had a bunch of terrible – but REAL, you could hear them outside my head – punk rock barre-chord ditties with titles like Toy Soldiers, Government Curfew and Listen. In 1980 I was also briefly a member of, or at least a kind of mascot for, the Asphalt Strippers, which was Jones on guitar, a kid in the same year as him called Ralph Greaves, a doctor’s son from Sheffield, on bass, and me on a little drum that I was given a pair of biros to play. We did a version of Love Like Anthrax, Jones getting suitably howly feedback through the Dansette thing he employed as an amp (and used to transport in a wheelbarrow), then we’d take it down to the drum and the bass and we’d all shout the Jon King part. And there were two Jones originals, one of which was called “Tune” and went “We’re gonna have a hit with Tune / To make us millions really soon”. I used to borrow Ralph’s copy of Secondhand Daylight a lot. Around thirty years later, I found it in the Mind shop on London Road, so I bought it and gave it to Bear bass player Jamie.

Then there was a proper band at big school, with an actual bass player and drummer. We played maybe five or six shows over the couple of years of our existence, and recorded four songs on a stolen 4-track. Two of the songs we recorded were jangly-indie-with-a-synth, the other two (my fault) were more obviously in thrall to the Cure’s Pornography. I’ve no idea whether the recordings survive. We had a few names, but for most of the shows we did we were called Definitive Gaze, after the Magazine song. The stupid kids, who didn’t know Magazine existed, much less care about them, had their most banal fears confirmed when they heard this as “Definitive Gays”. Then there was another band. We loosely called ourselves the Technicians, after the ineffably profound message on the back cover of the second Hawkwind album. The Technicians was a retrograde step for me, musically. Without the technical savvy of Patrick, who’d played the main guitar in the Gaze (while I sang and played some one-finger guitar and synth parts) I was revealed as a child of limited talent, who could (kind of) write songs, but whose performance abilities were restricted to hope-for-the-best chord-scraping and bellowing like a pained, but intensely meaningful, walrus. But we slowly progressed from terrible versions of Hawkwind and Cure songs, and original numbers that were shadows of the stuff I’d been doing with Patrick, to original numbers that almost kinda vaguely sounded like proper music that proper indie grown-ups did. The last recording of the Technicians captures us live at a student party in Loughborough towards the end of November 1985, and on the better bits, if you ear-squint hard enough, you can almost hear the kind of sub-Josef K/Orange Juice scratchy, allegedly “funky”, indie that was one of the staples of the post-Smiths scene that would become known, for better or worse, as “C86”. A month later, we booked a 16-track studio in Nottingham, where drummer Mark had always lived but the other two of us had just moved, to make our first proper recording. By that time, we’d decided we were going to be called Kilgore Trout.

The first, and only, Kilgore Trout NME interview was published in July 1986. We had recorded the music that would eventually be encoded in the grooves of our first 12” EP the previous month. Apart – sometimes, on a good day – from the song we put first on the record, Quality Control, it all sounds fairly fucking appalling to me now. But it did represent a substantial upping-of-game from the stuff we’d committed to expensive 16-track 2” tape (yes, studio buffs, you heard that correctly) the previous December. We’d got up to speed with The Fall, and with the rapidly increasing number of interesting acts the US independent scene was throwing out, and the better end of what our UK contemporaries were up to, and we’d made a more realistic inventory of our limited capabilities. So, instead of trying to play nice, precise chords and darling cutesy kissy-curl arpeggios, and doing it badly, I turned all the knobs on my amplifier, effects pedals and brain all the way to the right and played shitty, horrible chords with half the fingers missing. The result was still not about to make John McGeoch question the very point of his existence, but it was a country mile less rubbish than what I’d been doing before. The same applied to the changes James and Mark made in their playing. We Jackson Pollocked it: shattered it, shat on it and splattered it. Some of that bass actually does sound like Mark King on acid. You’ve probably seen pictures of the webs tripped-out spiders construct.

As for the vocalising, I abandoned my doomed efforts to hold a tune, enunciate clearly and so forth. Likewise any attempt to write proper songs that had verses and choruses and stuff, or that had important-sounding words just like the words you get in proper songs that have verses and choruses and stuff. I just spat wordy venom on one note. Again, it wasn’t great, but it was better. The resultant four-track 12” EP, wittily entitled Stick It In The Bank Man after a line in one of the songs, was played by Peel on Radio 1, the BBC World Service and, um, Forces Radio, or whatever it was called, and reviewed in NME and Sounds. The NME review began “I can always tell a nutter by the jumpiness in his voice.”

When AC Temple asked me to play the bass with them in 1988, I didn’t even pretend to consider their offer carefully before accepting. I’d done the odd bit of singing, if you want to call it that, on their first couple of records, and I definitely didn’t have anything better to do, so it was a foregone conclusion really. I’d never played the bass in a band before, but, you know… I play the guitar, it’s got six strings, the bass has four, how hard can it be? I hadn’t reckoned upon the fact that you’ve got a massive fucking heavy plank hanging around your neck, that the strings are like the hawsers of a suspension bridge – they can break a man’s arm when they snap, I’m told, like swans – or that Andy Hartley, the fellow who had written most of the parts I was going to need to play, was six foot six of determined sinew and gristle in a stripy sleeveless top. I was five foot eleven of skin and bone in a fraudulent, but only just, Just Seventeen T-shirt. Of course it all looked effortless when Andy did it with the impassive expression of a person taking out the bin. But he was like the guy who breaks up a fight by holding both combatants dangling a few inches off the ground, one in either outstretched hand. None of this had I reckoned upon. Nor the fact that some of the parts required some degree of technical finesse, and I played the guitar like somebody trying to put out a chip pan fire. There was one number where you had to play harmonics on one string while playing the root note on the off-beat on another that WASN’T EVEN THE ONE NEXT TO IT. It was like boot camp with maths.

But I somehow got through to the next level, and we started writing songs together for the next album. I didn’t really have the faintest clue what to do with a bass guitar. Noel, who was the ultimate authority on such matters, had warned me against playing bass “like a British indie bass player”, so – my prodigious cod-funk and pike-Motown abilities thwarted – I just played it like a rhythm guitar, thunk thunk thunkwith a bit of stuff on top. Because that’s what you want, isn’t if, if you’re playing with, like, the two busiest guitarists ever? A bunch of chords and some Hooky twaddle. That’s definitely not going to get in the way. It was also still every bit as much like hard work as playing Andy’s parts had been. The problem with parts that go thunkthunk thunk is that they sound shit if you play them with alternate upstrokes and downstrokes, so you have to pretend you don’t have a wrist and do it all from the elbow. Or the shoulder, if you’re a proper nutjob. Either way, it hurts after about a minute, and your average AC Temple song went on for four. Some of them went on for ever. I couldn’t do it without rubbing the inside of my forearm against the body of the guitar, which took all the skin off, so I used to wear an athletic support bandage from Boots, with a hole snipped out for my thumb, like a weary racehorse with one eye on the glue factory.

We recorded the Spoonfed Hybrid album in a residential studio just outside the small town of Loanhead, not far from Edinburgh. The studio’s owner Jon was mates with Fish out of Marillion, so we dwelt under the ever-present possibility of the great man dropping by for a chinwag. He didn’t, but despite this I mostly enjoyed the experience. My disjointed memories of the week are almost all of the recording process itself, largely because once you’d decided that you’d rather remain sober than sit for any length of time in (or, let’s be honest, even enter) any of the pubs Loanhead was very short on distractions. On the first afternoon, we – that’s fellow spoon Ian Masters, me and producer Duncan Wheat – went exploring, found a disused single-track railway and walked along it for a while. It was a hot, sunny day. I almost believe we came upon one of those contraptions you get in films where you stand either side pumping the handle and it moves along. I’m not 100% sure we didn’t. Loanhead was definitely that kind of place. Because the programming and some of the recording had been completed in advance at Duncan’s studio in Sheffield and in Ian’s bedroom in Leeds, we had time to indulge some flights of fancy. For the song Naturally Occurring Anchors, which was mostly just one guitar part and the vocal, we recorded maybe six or seven guitars playing the same part, but with radically different sounds, and then used the studio’s automated mixing desk (all the rage in 1993, these things) to cut increasingly quickly between the different sounds as the song progressed, giving the whole a Cubist quality it hadn’t previously possessed. The lights on the desk blinking on and off as the automation muted and unmuted the various tracks of guitar were very pretty, so we turned all the studio lights off to watch them when we ran the finished mix to tape. One of the guitar sounds involved hitting the strings with a drumstick with one hand while fretting the chords with the other, which was far too complicated for either Ian or I to pull off alone, so we ended up with him lying on his back on the floor with the guitar while I knelt above him with the drumstick. Jon passed the window with his beard and lawnmower while we were doing this, and gave us a Look.

I do like the Spoonfed Hybrid album a lot, but I wish it sounded better. We should have just finished the record at Duncan’s studio, but instead allowed ourselves to be pushed towards in a studio of the label’s choosing with which Duncan wasn’t familiar. I’m not blaming the label. They were just doing what record labels do, which is to syphon back the money they are laying out on behalf of their artists to their pals in the business. Welcome to the world. And if we’d said, no, we’re doing this, they would have let us. I suppose we went along with it because we fell for the idea that a studio with more expensive equipment will result in a better-sounding record, despite the fact that all three of us had plenty of bitter experience to contradict this. A big selling-point was a posh box the Loanhead studio had for faking the sounds of orchestral and other natural instruments, of which we needed plenty and could play none. And I’m sure that the fake orchestral and piano sounds we used on the record were much “better” – more realistic, higher sound quality, whatever – than those we’d used for the demos that had come from Duncan’s equivalent box and Ian’s £99.99 Yamaha home keyboard. The Neumann microphones we used to record the vocals were probably ten times as expensive as the copy Duncan had. The sterile hotel-like bedrooms had big fluffy pillows, tasteful framed Haywain-lite prints and ensuite bathrooms. But for cargo cult geegaws like this, and a few thousand pounds we didn’t need to spend, we sacrificed an easy familiarity with our surroundings and equipment, and ended up making a record that was compromised and stilted. It was a classic indie halfway house fudge. Given that the label (entirely reasonably) wasn’t going to bankroll us for Abbey Road, John Leckie, Mike Garson and a chamber orchestra, we should have gone all the way the other way. Still, we sold a lot of copies in France, a country whose disregard for what anybody else thinks about pop music is absolute, and I expect the gentleman who administered the publishing rights for my share of the songwriting enjoyed the proceeds, because I certainly didn’t. Oh, and nobody has ever described it as “post-rock”. So it’s not all bad.

When I played the drums in Smokers Die Younger, I used to hit them with such lack of finesse that drumsticks of normal thickness would snap in half within minutes. There’s this thing you can do called “rimshotting” (stop sniggering at the back there) where when you hit the snare – that’s the drum that goes DISH in response to the one that goes DUM, as you probably know – on the skin and on the metal rim that holds the skin to the shell of the drum at the same time, and it goes fucking CRACK!!!! and is momentarily the loudest thing you’ve ever heard. Metal drummers do it all the time. And, I mean, why wouldn’t you? During soundchecks in venues with big PA systems, I had a fun gag. They’d have checked the kit, so the drums were plumbed in to the big speakers, and you were sitting there waiting for the guitarists and other fusspots to trace their buzzes and hums and generally stop acting like ballerinas, and it was very boring, so you’d make like you were asleep but then randomly do a one-off rimshot on the snare – fucking CRACK!!!! – and everybody in the room would jump three feet into the air. Good times. Anyway, normal sticks couldn’t hack having this repeatedly done to them for two-thirds of the set, and it was costing me a fortune, and the scabby practice room carpet around the kit looked like the floor of a sawmill after a practice, not that I or anybody else was ever going to hoover it. The solution turned out to be the special sticks they make for people who play in marching bands, which are about half as fat again as the ones your average rock wuss employs (they’re also longer, so the far end is moving faster when it hits whatever you’re hitting.) It’s not that they didn’t splinter to bits too, just that there was more of them to splinter before you had to get a new one. Once, a proper muso drummer in some band we supported mansplained to me that such sticks were simply not balanced correctly for playing a kit while sitting on a stool, and I was holding my technique back, but I didn’t have a technique so I wasn’t overly concerned. The nearest retail outlets (to the city of half a million souls where I live) that sold the Vic Firth VFSRH Wood Tip brand I favoured were in Doncaster, 20 miles away (the peerless Electro Music, actual best music shop ever, now closed) or Chesterfield, probably a bit less than 20 miles, so it got me out and about.

The mid-noughties was an odd time to be in a band for somebody of my puritanical upbringing. Two things that happened to Smokers Die Younger spring to mind. The first doesn’t spring very clearly, in fact, because it was never more than a suggestion that was quickly kicked to the kerb, and if I ever knew them I can’t remember the details, but we – with a couple of records out on a small indie and no commercial prospects at all – were offered a modest sum of money, I think it was in the order of five grand, to promote the wares of British American Tobacco alongside our music. Nice, if rather unsubtle, bit of bleak po-mo wotsit from BAT’s advertising department, given the band’s name. I’d probably have done it for that and the free fags, but was rightly overruled.

The second thing was being invited by Nokia to play at a promotional event they’d organised in Sheffield as part of a nationwide tour to better establish themselves on what they described as the “youth map”. The tour gag was that they had a live band who would play karaoke punk rock backing – we’re in a parallel universe where Guns and Roses counts as “punk rock” here, and they definitely didn’t know any Adverts numbers – for audience members who wanted to strut their stuff on the big stage, and then they’d have a local band to, um, get the punters in. This being Sheffield, there were precisely no takers for the karaoke thing, so the covers band ended up doing their set with their bleached-mullet MC resignedly singing each song after having unsuccessfully tried to cajole an audience member to get up and join them. All this in a 1000-capacity venue with about fifty people in it. It was, at least, easy to get to the bar.

As the headliners, and having accepted a few hundred quid – in advance, they’d inexplicably sent us the payment, together with a letter congratulating us on our excellent performance, about a month before the show – to do little more than bring our gear round the corner, have a free practice, watch a terrible but strangely compelling band and drink some terrible but free beer, we’d felt a responsibility to put in an effort, so, being keen on both thematic coherence and the youth map, we’d hired a couple of mobile phone costumes from the fancy dress shop in Crookes. These were disappointing, I have to say, basically a stiff tabard with a keypad printed on it, a pair of black leggings and a black commando hat. Nevertheless, our friends Sam and Tom, spontaneously introduced by our puntastic keyboard player as Sam Sung and Tom-O-Rola, agreed to dance on stage with us in the costumes. They didn’t really dance, as it turned out, it was more kind of cartwheels and backflips and stuff. In the tabards. And they’re both well over six foot. Lord. Not a dry tentacle in the house. Michael Flatley died a little bit that evening. I’m told the Nokia reps – who had of course been shiny and lovely throughout – were taking down their banners before we’d finished. We were a disgrace. We had, literally, disgraced ourselves. I’m not under any illusion that we Stuck It To The Man. Just telling them to fuck off would have been how you’d have done that. But they asked for children and we gave them children, so I think we did OK.


Kilgore Trout (1985-93)

Stick It In The Bank Man 12” EP (Hits & Corruption, 1986)

Rorschach Blot Test (four tracks on compilation LP, Jim Crow, 1988)

Bad Puddings 12” EP (Thunderball, 1989)

4×4 (four tracks on compilation LP, Up, 1993)

(CT: vocals, guitar, programming)

AC Temple (1985-93)

Songs Of Praise mini-album (Furthur, 1987)

Blowtorch LP (Furthur, 1988)

(released as one CD)

Sourpuss LP/CD (Blast First, 1989)

Belinda Backwards LP/CD (Blast First, 1991)

(CT: bass, occasional guitar, vocals)

Spoonfed Hybrid (1992-5)

Spoonfed Hybrid LP/CD (Guernica, 1993)

Scary Verlaine / The Sun Always Changes My Mind 7” (Le Tatou Colérique, 1994)

Hibernation Shock CD mini-album (Farrago, 1995)

(CT: programming, guitar, vocals)

Bear (1994-2002)

Tracks CD EP (BGR, 1994)

If There’s Such A Thing As Angels (split 7”, Ché, 1995)

Disposable (split 7”, X10, 1995)

Bugs CD EP (Ché, 1995)

Disneytime CD (Ché, 1996)

Zero One To Control 7” (Vespertine, 1997)

Schadenfreude CD (Vespertine, 1998)

The Shortest Day CD EP (Bear, 1999)

Taking Money From Kids CD (Bear, 2000)

(CT: vocals, guitar, keyboards)

Lazer Boy (1995 – ????)

Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year (split 10”, Vespertine, 1995)

Aye Aye Captain (split 7”, Chute, 1996)

Forget Nothing CD (Freek, 1996)

Love In Amarillo (split 7”, Ché, 1996)

Fallen World CD (Probe Plus, 1997)

A Scan For Life 7” (Vespertine, 1997)

The Man On The Street Where He Lives CD (Hot-Cha, 1998)

(CT: guitar)

Coping Saw (1993-99)

Rock Of Angels 7” (Mook, 1995)

Getting Nice With Coping Saw 7” EP (Neptunes, 1996)

Outside Now CD (House Of Dubois, 1997)

Amateur Cops CD EP (Sala Maravillas, 1997)

(CT: guitar)

Smokers Die Younger (2004-2009)

SDY 7” (Detail, 2004)

Kermit Song 7” (SPC, 2005)

X Wants The Meat CD (SPC/Detail, 2006)

Sketchpads 7” (SPV, 2008)

Smokers Die Younger CD (Detail, 2009)

(CT: drums, vocals, occasional guitar)

Doesn’t include one-off tracks on compilations.

Probably riddled with errors and omissions.

Apart from Spoonfed Hybrid, all of these acts had at least one change of line-up. Both Kilgore Trout and Bear were three distinct bands, with me as more or less the only constant. 

AC Temple recordings prior to my involvement are in italics.

I play on maybe half of the recorded Lazer Boy songs at best.

Can you Help: We’d like to carry on developing our Lexicon of Underground music. If you’ve any Pew-2000 posters, flyers, tickets, bills, fanzines, magazines, cuttings, inserts, fan art, patches – or photos of bands, gigs, scenes, fans, fashion associated with just about any underground movement in pop music, from acid house through extreme metal, c86, hip-hop, goth, grunge to world music, techno and bass, send them through to us (or pictures) marked: Lexicon of Underground Music here

Next See: Glass Museum reveal new video for ‘Clothing’

1 Comment

  1. Adam W
    June 1, 2021

    Stumbled across this article while following links to 1980’s Sheffield Bands and thought I could answer one of the questions it poses…

    “Then there was a proper band at big school… and recorded four songs on a stolen 4-track… I’ve no idea whether the recordings survive. We had a few names, but for most of the shows we did we were called Definitive Gaze, after the Magazine song.”

    I can confirm these recordings survive as I have a copy. I believe band was called ‘The Desired Effect’ at the point the tapes of the recordings were distributed. The four tracks were…

    Reach for the Last Cigarette
    At Least
    In God My Destiny
    Affectionately Yours

    Chris might be pleased to know that I still occasionally listen to them.

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