Dick’s Picks: OK, no sniggering at the back, this week Dick wants to ‘big up’ that seldom discussed/often overlooked/completely bloomin’ ignored (choose your option) sub-genre of record collecting that is, cue fanfare, Steam Trains on vinyl! You can see them all here or read on….
Steam Trains On Vinyl – Why?
We’ve just taken on a wonderful collection of ‘Steam Train’ related vinyl, yes we are aware that this is a….how shall we say, niche area of record collecting, but many of these are genuine early/mid ’60s pressings with period laminated picture sleeves, detailed sleeve notes, incredible attention to detail and, before you get all dismissive that, “they’re not even real records, they’re just sound effects”, give ’em a chance…as there’s a bit of social history in them thar grooves!
The label: Argo Transacord
Many of the releases in the collection are on the label ‘Argo Transacord’. Argo Records was founded in 1951 by Harley Usill and musicologist Cyril Clarke, initially as a company specialising in “British music played by British artists”, but it quickly became synonymous with spoken-word recordings and other esoteric (in other words, nothing that’s going to bother the charts!) material – So, recordings of ‘Steam Trains’ definitely fitted into their business model!
Many of the recordings were recorded on location by Peter Handford, considered by many to be a “master and pioneer of sound recording”. In fact his development of the “original synchronous sound recording” technique, would find him working with Alfred Hitchcock as well as working on many of the early ‘kitchen sink’ dramas such as ‘Room At The Top’, ‘Billy Liar’, ‘Saturday Night & Sunday Morning’ – Superb!
Handford’s ‘Steam Locomotive’ work with Transacord/Argo was undertaken in the last days of steam railways in the UK and offers a neat glimpse into a bygone age; feel the wind in your hair and the rain on your face with ‘Steam Railroading Under Thundering Skies’, relive the chill winters of the early ’60s on the overnight Carlisle to Edinburgh line on the evocatively titled ‘Trains In The Night’ or how about the testosterone filled ‘haulage on the Kent coast lines’ on the ‘South Eastern Steam EP’? No namby pamby thrill-seekers on this line matey, no way, this is the sound of man and machine working in glorious harmony…..
…or how about ‘Working On The Footplate’, which gives you, the listener, a birds-ear-view of life on the footplate, thrill to the sound of various classes of steam train working their way round Wales and up to Scotland – and if you’ve every wanted to recreate the thrill of the Aberdeen – Glasgow Express circa 1964, now’s yer’ chance!
….or how about the truly bizarre…‘Railways In Aspic’?…and lastly, if you thought the ‘Steam Train’ vinyl record would die out with the steam powered train, think again! Over to our man Dick to elaborate on the ’70s curio that is ‘Deltics: Diesel Electrics On The Eastern Region In 1975, “Did the fun flame go out in Railway land when the last puff of steam evaporated over fair Albion ? The last hoot of a whistle, the last chuff chuff of an Engine ? No. The world had moved on and so had the sights and sounds of the Railways. This 1976 UK stereo LP features recordings made on the East Coast main line in 1975 of these monster Diesel-Electrics, the most powerful engines to run on rails at that time, as they travel, arrive and depart to and from stations on the line. Yes, it is unlike a Steam Engine, but then a Steam Engine is unlike this monster”………