Long Train Running

The link between railways and music is extremely strong, as our best-selling souvenir issue on the subject revealed three years ago. Now, British folk singer Billy Bragg has produced an album of popular railroad songs with a difference – they were recorded not in a studio, but on trains and stations during a 2,728-mile journey from Chicago to Los Angeles. Nick Pigott reports.

Alighting from a long-distance train en route can be pretty nerve-wracking.

Amtrak EMD Type FP7A Nos. 117 and 112 (both inherited from Southern Pacific) wend their way across the south west states towards California in the spring of 1975. TRACKS NORTH ARCHIVE
Amtrak EMD Type FP7A Nos. 117 and 112 (both inherited from Southern Pacific) wend their way across the south west states towards California in the spring of 1975. TRACKS NORTH ARCHIVE

Even if you’re only stretching your legs or grabbing a quick drink, there’s a nagging fear that the train might leave unexpectedly, stranding you in the middle of nowhere and disappearing into the distance with all your worldly goods.

So imagine clambering out of a carriage lugging guitars, microphones and recording equipment… and performing an entire song on the platform before the train leaves!

That’s the remarkable feat folk singers Billy Bragg and Joe Henry managed to achieve on several stations in the spring of this year, and the results are now available on a new CD entitled Shine a Light.

The album contains 13 classic songs from the golden age of steam, including such favourites as Lonesome Whistle, Rock Island Line, The Midnight Special and The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore.

It’s a nostalgic journey into America’s rich railroading past, recalling tales of engineering excellence, romantic heartbreak and, of course, the adventures of the ‘hobos’.

Read more in November’s issue of The RM

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