Lonely Trailer are great storytellers. Their songs are loaded with harmonies, off-kilter lyrics, and unexpected hooks. They continually change directions as the dynamics lead you on, leaving you hanging, but then suddenly satisfying your audio appetite. Their sound has been favorably compared to the Minutemen, Captain Beefheart, XTC, and the Beach Boys.
The band we now know as Lonely Trailer had its start in the northern Scottish hamlet of Fendrath, where cousins Alex and Rory MacDarmiad first learned to play bagpipes together in 1947. Alex and Rory had each lost an arm in the war, but their amazing footwork charmed audiences from Edinburgh to the Orkney Isles. Soon they attracted the attention of the Canadian promoter, Laird MacNab, himself a transplanted Scot. The Laird signed them to a fifty-pence contract, and took them across the Atlantic to Ottowa. By 1953 the Cousins MacDarmiad were billing themselves as “Two One-Armed Rakes from Fendrath,” and earning up to ten dollars a night in Ottawa hotel ballrooms.
They soon fell in with a retired railroad man, Trailer Gintok.
Alex, for one, was enchanted by Trailer’s ability to function in society while existing in a completely non-rational parallel universe.
Trailer Gintok disappeared for good one hazy night in 1974, leaving a note that said only, “I must be with Richard Nixon. Do not follow.” Alex and Rory were crushed, but out of this dark night of the soul came the inspiration for their new band, Lonely Trailer. “We wanted to make a sound like a lost, wounded donkey crying for its mother,” Rory said. “Something inconsolable, forlorn, and unlistenable.” For this they enlisted a trio from a recently defunct local heavy-metal band named Smokefarm: Tim Stephens on guitar, Brian Reedy on drums, and five-year-old Scotty Hensen on six-string bass. “Scotty Hensen was the real force behind Smokefarm,” Brian says. “He was a kindergartener and really pissed off.”
The combination of thrashmetal bagpipes, unconscious anarchosurrealist lyrics, and garbage-truck-at-dawn sonic feedback proved too much for Lonely Trailer’s early audiences, which included a New Year’s Eve party at a veterans club, and some high school proms. Alex and Rory called it quits, and split off to form the easy-listening duo Lake and Judy, now famous in the Netherlands for their hit, “Wet Feathers and Cream.”
Tim, Brian and Scotty, however, knew they had found something. Perhaps it was a French fan who put it best: “They sing as if they expect to be annihilated at any moment. And in this they are free.”
In 1989, Scotty quit the band “to watch cartoons.” Since then, the band has enjoyed working with over 1,026 bass players. In America, lines from their songs have become popular slogans coast-to-coast. Giant soft-drink corporations have scored huge sales with catch phrases such as “Big Fat Checkbook That’s Not Mine, Please Don’t Watch Over Me,” “Let Me Own The Earth, I Don’t Know Anything,” and “I Don’t Feel So Well—Could It Have Been That Bomb?”
Unfortunately, the band’s many European fans may never see Lonely Trailer perform live. Tim and Brian are committed to their day jobs in Champaign, Illinois: cleaning buses and lifting hydraulic walls. “It wouldn’t be wise to devote ourselves solely to our music,” Brian says. “We might forget to sleep.” Tim concurs: “We don’t know where this came from. We don’t know where it’s going. Quite simply, we don’t even know who this thing belongs to. What if they want it back?”