Posted in Railways on Saturday 30th October 2010 at 11:40pm

This trip caught me rather unawares! It had been a busy week, and occasionally a challenging one. I was readjusting to normality after almost a week away in Glasgow, and I had local things to tackle too. News about next week's trip was troubling too, and it looked to be shaping up as a long and somewhat awkward day. So, it was good then, not to have to drag myself half way across the country for the start of this trip. Few tours start on my doorstep these days, and it was simply a case of hopping on to the first train to Weston. Having met the local assembly who had travelled on the first running of this trip last year, we boarded the unit which got us to Weston in good time. Staff there seemed a little fractious about the tour picking up, and claimed they "hadn't been told" which sounded pretty unlikely. Over to platform 1 to watch 37038 and 37601 round the corner making a hell of a noise. Soon settled into a comfortable Mk II and heading north for York.

The route took us via Worcester and Droitwich, then avoided Birmingham New Street using the Camp Hill line. Despite not picking up at this metropolis, the train was very full indeed which was great to see. There was no new track on the outward journey at all for me, so I enjoyed a very sociable trip instead - catching up with veterans and locals alike. The pair of engines performed faultlessly throughout, and despite a few minor delays we cruised into York around 17 minutes early. Here a fair number of daytrippers departed, whilst a fair few additional passenger joined for the minitour to Saltburn. I last did this track on a 'lost weekend' following Pathfinder's cancelled 'Cleveland Cleric' tour back in 2008, and had never done it on a 'proper train', so the run to Northallerton, then via the rather forlorn and empty remains of Thornaby Yard to Middlesbrough was interesting.

37038 and 37601 on arrival at Saltburn
37038 and 37601 on arrival at Saltburn

Saltburn remains a fine little Victorian resort town, carefully laid out and mostly very well kept. Walked down to the end of town to get a picture of the cliffs and the North Sea beyond. The weather had turned out dry, cold and beautifully bright which seemed to suit the place well. As we waited for the stock to return after our short break, we got chatting to a local couple, curious about our train. They had lived in Saltburn for much of their lives, before moving to nearby Skelton. They described rough winters and an ever present wind here, but clearly loved the place very much - and were pleased to hear my thoughts on it too. Our stock was soon back in the small station, and we boarded for the run back to York behind 47500. This engine, recently renumbered to it's original identity after a spell as 47770 has only lately begun to work for West Coast, so it was good to have an opportunity to travel with it. The return route used the underpass near Northallerton which crosses Boroughbridge Level Crossing. I seemed to need this short section of line, so was pleased to be routed this way, when other tours have gone directly onto the mainline here.

47500 having worked the train back to York
47500 having worked the train back to York

With a little under an hour at York, there was time to get some shots of the run around planned for our locos - first 47500 came off, and then the pair of 37s ran to the front, with 37601 now leading for the journey home. Back onto the train to find that somewhere in the process of reconnecting the train heat, things had gone wrong in our coach. With the alternator also not working, we were likely to have a dark trip back! No great problem though, and the lack of artificial light gave us some spectacular views of a stunning sunset as we sped south. Another very sociable trip with the chance to catch up with people which I don't seem to get on other tours. As we got back onto fairly local turf, I started to ponder the connection at Weston into the last train home. As long as we were allowed off Bristol before the unit things would be fine. However we were a few minutes down and this was all down to Bristol Signalling Panel - who have a track record of being fairly unhelpful to railtours arriving back in the evening. Sure enough, as we arrived the unit to Exeter via Weston was still at the platform. However, in typical style it was despatched first and we were doomed to follow our connection all the way home - but not to catch it! Brief but frankly unrealistic hopes it may have been sidelined at Bedminster or Yatton Down Loop proved fruitless, so the last chance was that it would be held at Weston to let us pass - in fact a brief rumour made the rounds that this would be the case. In the end this didn't happen, so we sent one of the ladies of our group to talk to station staff as they were likely to be far more persuasive! First Great Western staff were deeply unhelpful and wanted nothing to do with the handful of passengers stranded at Weston - despite simply having to let us board a following HST which is designated set-down only at Weston and stations to Taunton! They viewed the issue as one for West Coast, so after some persuasion and discussion with control it was agreed the tour would make additional stops at Highbridge and Bridgwater.

So, a quiet and uneventful day ends up with a surprise locomotive hauled trip to my home station. Once again Spitfire pulled a fine trip out of the hat which seemed to please everyone and certainly got plenty of seats filled. Credit too to WCRC for sorting out a silly situation with calm, logic and good old fashioned railwaymanship! Next week will be a much longer affair, but promises to be a good one...

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Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 26th October 2010 at 11:54pm

What if you threw a party, but no-one came? Sadly this became an all too real experience for the promoter of tonight's gig at the Fleece. I should have suspected there was going to be a low turn-out when I appeared at the door a few minutes before the official door time clutching my pre-booked ticket. A chap broke off from the group discussing when to open and said "Ah! You're the bloke who bought a ticket!". We discussed Bristol's fickle scene, Glasgow and the frankly crappy weather today before he let me in to the venue. Nothing has changed here since my last visit - still the same dark, cavernous and sticky-tabled spot on the edge of the city centre. A great place to see bands on the ascent - or sadly sometimes turning the curve at the other side. A range of posters above the bar bears testament to the now-giant bands who have passed through the doors, and probably had nights not dissimilar to this one.

So, with a couple more punters through the door proceedings started with Boolfight from Paris. They appear to be a fairly established act, an album and a few EPs into their career, who ply a strange sort of synth-based indie-rock. They were certainly very loud, and got strangely louder as their brief set progressed, until I realised to my amusement that the bass was tickling my nostrils! Not an experience I've had before. To be honest, this wasn't for me. There was a slick, very European feel to the rather long and repetitive songs. However, these guys can certainly play technically well, and they deserve a huge amount of credit from throwing everything into their set despite the poor showing out front. I got the sense they're really sincere about their work, and while it wasn't my cup of tea I can see it would have gone down well with the strong following for more traditional 'rock' in Bristol, had people taken the chance on the band.

When I saw that Three Blind Wolves had been added to tonight's bill my first thoughts were of Ross Clark singing in a stream on Detour's recent 'Wee Jaunt'. If he could pull that off, then a big empty room in Bristol surely presented no problems? And it certainly didn't as Ross' massive stage personality shone through despite the strange situation and muddy sound. He gyrated and gurned his way through a set taken from their mini-album "The Sound of the Storm" and recent self-released single "Echo On The Night Train". Having heard some of this material on record, it was great to hear it's sometimes complicated twists and turns produced live, with sudden bursts of country turning effortlessly into full-on searing blasts of guitar. Alongside Ross' exertions, the band cut steady and proficient figures - and made a sound much bigger than the four people on stage should have been able to. The small audience, predominantly now made up of the other bands, seemed to have a good time too - and it would be fantastic to see this bunch interacting with a bigger and more responsive audience.

So to Kid Canaveral - a band whose membership seems to span Scotland in origins, effectively linking the Glasgow network to the coast at St.Andrews with all the potential for amazing musical collisions which that suggests. I confess that following eagerly snapping up their EPs as they arrived, I had a bit of difficulty with the recent album "Shouting at Wildlife", which I loved as a set of individual songs - but rarely seemed to sit through as an album. The great thing of course is that you can do this with Kid Canaveral - each song is a little universe of it's own, and I'd often find myself obsessing over particular tracks which I just couldn't help listening to over and over. Luckily for me, following a rip through single 'Good Morning', my current obsessive listen 'Left and Right' turned up which meant that at least one member of the tiny audience was beaming like an idiot for the rest of the set. I can't explain my love for this uncomplicated song - it just makes me grin like a twat! Next came a cover - but not just any cover - this was 'Missionary' by the mighty King Creosote. This brave choice was pulled off with the song's plaintive ache intact despite the change in tempo and sound. The short set concluded with a few more tracks from "Shouting at Wildlife", notably 'You Only Went Out to Get Drunk Last Night' where the benefit of having three accomplished vocalists in the band was evident. It obviously hadn't been a great night for the band - but they played a fine set, and sent me straight back to listen to the album on my journey home which is always a good sign. I just wish that Bristol could have been a bit more encouraging.

Looking back I'm proud I snapped up my pre-booked ticket the moment this gig was announced. Of course there was never any doubt I'd be out to see a band which had bothered to make the trek down from my beloved Scotland to play here - few do, and I can now see why. I had the opportunity to thank the equally bewildered promoter before I left tonight - and like he said, it's important that bands keep getting the opportunity to play here despite nights like this. I'd love to have offered a word of encouragement to the bands too, for bothering to come down - but they were busy and I was running for the train back home. If you read this, thanks folks - I had fun and I'm just sorry people missed a chance to have a wet Tuesday night in Bristol brightened up immeasurably.

Movebook Link

Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 23rd October 2010 at 11:23pm

Even in my youth I don't think I managed to go to four gigs in a row. This thought dawned on me today, as I lingered over a coffee and felt like I was properly on holiday for the first time in years! However, if there has been one aim this week, it's been to capture as much of the energy, diversity and quality as I possibly can from the complex and confusing music scene here. I've been an admirer from afar from more years than I care to remember, but of course way back in the 1990s it was near impossible to be exposed to the diversity of music which the internet and decent connections allows now. So, despite my advancing years and dwindling stamina, I'm pretty excited about music again.

So, tonight was Pivo Pivo's 10th Birthday celebration. This cellar venue near Central Station has hosted an incredible range of talented folks over the past few years, and it's hard to believe that it's a decade since the venue opened. Tonight started gently though with widely-tipped singer-songwriter Alex Cornish. There's no doubt that he's a talented guy with an ear for a radio friendly tune - which his recent BBC Radio 2 session is testament to. But for me it's all just a little too easy, and lacks an edge. A Dire Straits cover is a step too far, and appears to be done with no sense of irony. It's interesting to compare this to the young acoustic acts who played at the 13th Note a couple of days back - and to realise that they really want to be heard. Having said that, Alex closed his set with a song which featured a rather fine violin loop. I'm a sucker for violins, but I can't forgive 'Brothers In Arms' even for that.It just wasn't for me.

Next up was Andrew Jones performing without a band tonight, but for the first time with a female co-vocalist. She was nervous it was plain to see, but her crystal clear and pure voice worked beautifully alongside Andrew. Whilst not a million miles from Alex Cornish, the sense of purpose and self-belief was much more evident, and we got a witty and charming set, the highlight of which was 'It Happened Another Way' - a cautionary tale of bookshop literary romance which I'm sure many will relate to, the current writer included!

And so to White Heath. I've tried and failed to describe this band before - and I'm not sure I'll succeed now. They shamble on stage, a collection of rather slight, somewhat geeky young men of the sort you'd expect to ply Oasis covers at a sixth-form disco. And then all hell breaks loose... Eschewing a traditional rhythm section, trombone and a single bass drum are used to startling effect. Over this piano, guitar and violin are laid, building an epic - almost filmic - sound, which occasionally hints at eastern and oriental influences. As a second song, without pause the band roar into 'Election Day' from their debut EP, the vocals turning into a pained, plaintive howl while the trombone tries to take the song into Eastern Europe or the Middle East. '7:38am' and 'Leviathan' follow with Sean Watson promising "some pop music next". We're not disappointed, as the band romp through the comparatively sunny 'GG' before returning to their apocalyptic roar with 'Blue'. The crowd can't respond favourably enough, and the band are clearly touched by the response. Now signed to the legendary Electric Honey imprint (who have previously championed Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Biffo Clyro among others) critical acclaim and widespread exposure can't be far off for this remarkable and truly original band. I'm so pleased I was able to see them.

As I stumbled back to my adopted home for the week via a guilty visit to the Blue Lagoon, I reflected that I'd been somewhat spoiled for music this week. However, all being well, the run of fine Scottish music won't stop just yet with Kid Canaveral due a visit to home turf next week! It's been a varied, enjoyable and tiring week - and I only wish it could continue!


Posted in SHOFT on Friday 22nd October 2010 at 11:49pm

I'd been to Paisley once before...I'd decided to fly up to Glasgow on a whim, and soon realised that the associated hanging around and the time wasted at the airport quickly made my much loved train journey a very sensible option. However, on the return I'd used the rail-bus link to get back to the airport, just to do a little extra track. I remember descending from the platforms at Gilmour Street to a grey evening and the minibus endlessly circling quiet, menacing estates on the way to the terminal. I'd not taken away the best impression.

Today dawned wet and grey, with some filthy weather predicted. I spent the day in record shops and drinking coffee, using a break in the rain for a wander down Byres Road for old times sake. Booking my ticket back in August, I'd envisaged a golden autumn evening in which to reappraise Paisley - it was pretty clear I wasn't going to get one. So stepping out of Gilmour Street and into the Town, rather than the backstreets, I was quite surprised to see a little bustle of activity around the Square. A new shopping centre was mostly closed for the day, except for a supermarket on the corner. However, I did note the presence of three separate chain betting shops next door to each other - either a bit of neat licensing and planning work, or an indication of the population's overwhelming propensity to gamble. Moreover, I noted some impressive buildings around the town, the red sandstone churches and municipal buildings dominating the area south of the station.

I headed for the Arts Centre, with the intention of having a pint first. I popped into a newsagent on the way to grab a paper, and almost kicked a chap sitting on the step, drinking mouthwash. Here I almost got angry because I didn't want to have to tell these kind of anecdotes about a place which was struggling hard to drag itself through difficult times, but he was minty fresh proof that Paisley wasn't a picnic just now. I found a fairly sensible looking pub, and ordered my beer - noting the barmaid giving me a very strange look. I thanked her and offered my cash and she stopped and fixed me with a glare. It seems my politeness had been mistaken for a chat-up line! I explained I was English which seemed to satisfy her immediate concern, and she noted that the locals only ever said thank-you when they were propositioning her. I eyed the large bouncers who were looking on with interest at our prolonged conversation, and decided against any attempt at witty response.

So, to the Arts Centre. A rather fine old church converted into a permanent arts venue. Stepping inside, a busy little cafe and reception greeted me, and I stopped for a coffee while the Music Industry Panel concluded in the auditorium. This meant a passing nod to DJ Vic Galloway as he popped out for a cigarette - thus completing the set of prominent Scottish radio celebrities for the trip! Sizing up the audience, they were certainly 'arts centre' material. Having been in the top quartile age-wise for the past two nights, I slipped down to the middle here, with some serious looking local 'arts' folk in evidence, sipping gingerly at beakers of red wine and talking about exhibitions in 'town' - which surprisingly, given the culturally diverse and exciting city on their doorstep, appeared to mean London!

First up, and to be totally honest the reason I'd trekked out here tonight, were Julia and The Doogans. I've loved Julia's songs since first hearing 'Collide' and had always hoped to have a chance to see her play. Tonight the band was small, but made a big sound with Jennifer on keyboards and Renata on cello. This conjured a lush, deep sound to counter the clear, high vocals. I don't often use the expression, but it was utterly beautiful to hear. Julia herself appeared nervous but soon got into the swing of things, playing among others 'Diamonds', 'Come Home', 'New York City' and 'Answer' which only exists as a demo as far as I'm aware. She intended to finish with a solo tune in 'Glasgow' - but a guitar tuning issue meant she decided to sing this acappela - a brave move but one which earned her rapturous applause from a tricky crowd.

The headline act tonight was former Delgado Emma Pollock. Two albums into a solo career she has proved that she justly shared the songwriting credit for her former band with some clever, often rather complex pop music. I confess her most recent record The Law of Large Numbers hasn't really clicked with me yet - but in listening to it last weekend to prepare for tonight, I recognised some really fine songs which I wanted to hear live. The set combined these with a handful from the first, rather more direct 'Watch the Fireworks' album. It was fantastic to see how much fun her live band seemed to be having, with multi-instrumentalist (and impressively bearded) Jamie Savage demonstrating a dizzying range of skills in particular. Standouts for me were the stunning 'I Could Be a Saint' and storming 'Adrenaline'. A thoroughly enjoyable set, which got the seemingly rather staid audience whooping and hollering towards the end.

So, back to Gilmour Street in the rain - and finally something of a reprieve for Paisley. The Arts Centre is a gem of a venue, despite it's deeply uncomfortable seating - and that they have the vision to book bands like these is heartening indeed. For my own part, I caught sight of my developing beard in the train window and realised with some horror that I resemble Henry VIII somewhat. Perhaps I should leave that to the professionals too?

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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