Here’s a real blast from the past, possibly where it all began for me. I grew up in a household with lots of music in it and I can dimly remember songs and music being around, but these two beauties are the first actual records I can remember. So what sparked off my all-consuming*, fetishistic desire for vinyl then? some rare Zappa perchance? Beatles B-sides? Manfred Man EPs? nope, meet some epoch-making 7″ mono fellas from my early childhood:
- Change At Templecombe
- Panniers And Prairies
Both field recordings of various steam engines from 1956 and 1957, in the West Country released on the Argo Transacord record label in 1967. Neither of my parents are train freaks, so I’m not entirely sure how they came upon these and it’s way too late at night to ask. The west country links might be a clue, since we are originally from the Somerset area.
Each record comes with a very detailed description on the back of the different trains recorded, what/where/why they were doing. The B-side on Change At Templecombe for example is described as, ‘At Evercreech Junction on a damp and windy morning in August 1956′. Which is useful because due to a certain amount of surface noise, it is all a little indiscernible as a bunch of ‘huffa-puffa’ sounds, whistles and clattering wheels – personally I like the bits where they make a different noise going over bridges. All were directed by eminent sound recordist, Peter Handford.
Now I hasten to add that, apart from an all-consuming obsession with the Rev R.W Awdry’s Railway Series of books for a few years and the fact I do think they are beautiful machines, I’m not a steam nut. Okay, so I do like a ride on a steam train but I’m in control of it, sometimes I can go for 3 days without, before the shaking starts! I do find it fascinating though that these records were produced they apparently sold 30-40,000 copies/year. Possibly for nostalgic reasons because as the records came out, the steam engines were just at the end of being phased out in Britain**.
Argo Transacord, as the label design hints at were part of the Decca group. There is something a bit delicious about the fact that the same label was releasing a recording of a ‘1400’ class 0-4-2 tank dealing with a heavy load of trucks in Princes Risborough and Rolling Stones We Love You in the same year.
I bought a compilation on the Touch Records label last year which was full of field recordings like these^ amongst all the ambient stuff, technology has improved but the urge to record and preserve our environment remains.
So along with the Beatrix Potter 7″ of The Tale of Peter Rabbit^^ and, inevitably, ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’^* a seed was planted deep in my skull as I grasped these strange flat objects in my chubby little hands, that then blossomed into the large cardboard and plastic menagerie which occupies my front room. Maybe they should have carried a government health warning:
Warning: May have addictive properties in those with strange personality quirks.
418 Down (Still).
**don’t get me started on Beeching!! (note for foreign chaps/chapesses: he was the gentleman in charge of modernising the UK’s railways – i.e. no steam trains, close all the little branch lines).
^albeit of babbling brooks, wind amongst the pines and street noise not steam trains.
^^reviewed in the NME as ‘a stunning fuck you from the Lake District’s rowdiest hellion’. True story.
^*which I still refuse to believe is a drugs reference.