It’s the perfect image. A train in the night. It will remind you of a loved one gone far away – maybe off to war – and tease with you the possibility of taking off. The duality is perfect…the train that took your baby away is the train that might bring him/her back another day.
When it’s dark and quiet I often hear the click clack of the train from my garden or through the park when I’m on a late night stroll with the dog. It never really sounds romantic to me cause I know it’s only going round a greater Glasgow circle and the reality is that no one is really getting very far. In the old days I used to live quite near the main line to london and there was something (still is) fairly wistful about watching that long sleek sleeper slipping through the Glasgow suburbs knowing it took people to the big smoke. In the early days…and I’m not sure this will ever pass either….I could never sleep on the ‘sleeper’ as I was always too excited at the very idea of speeding through the night on a train.
I’d heard stories of American trains and the romance that went with the railroad but have had very little experience of it. It wasn’t really until I went to Nashville some years ago that I got a real sense of the hypnotic draw of the sound of a train. The first time I stayed there the triple glazing and air con meant I got no sense of ever being near the track. Then one day, one a writing appointment in a house not far from my hotel, I heard it. Nashvilleans are so used to the freight trains going through the city and the soundtrack of their long, mournful horns that they don’t even flinch when they hear it echoing through the traffic. On a later visit I stayed very near the main freight junction downtown and I found myself drawn to going over to the side of the tracks and just watching and waiting as the trains went past. What I couldn’t fathom was my inability to wait around long enough to let one train pass. I’d been there a good 40 minutes and there was still no sign of the caboose.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry have a new album coming out soon which celebrates the railroad. They have taken my fascination one step farther by getting on the trains, recording as they travelled. It’s a beautiful thing and we’ll be talking to them about the whole project. Meanwhile we thought we’d celebrate the Great American Railroad a little on this coming Tuesday with songs from Billy and Joe, George Jones, Roseanne Cash, Anna and Elizabeth and the man who once worked on the railroad himself, Sturgill Simpson.
We’ll also bring you some great new things from Steve Gunn, Mutual Benefit, The Stray Birds and Michael Nau. We’ll play you some lovely older things from Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris and by the man who came through Glasgow last week, Van Morrison.
We start at five past nine and you can find us on BBC Radio Scotland FM.