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Train Songs No. 6: Guttersnipe

Guttersnipe kicks off with a simple acoustic guitar figure, before Bhi Bhiman’s aching vocal kicks  in: I jumped the first train I saw, it’ll surely take me home If I had a mama, at least I’d have a place to go But I’m just a guttersnipe, I got no place to wipe my nose… The son of Sri Lankan immigrants to the US, Bhiman was raised in St Louis and is now based in San Francisco. American through and through, as…

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Train Songs No.5: ‘Take the A Train’ by Duke Ellington

This train song takes us back to 1943 and a rendition of a signature Duke Ellington/Billie Strayhorn number, taken from the movie Reveille with Beverly. The spinning record in the centre of the screen merges with footage of an oncoming locomotive over some ominous, Hitchcockian brass figures, and then we are on board an express train and the full Ellington band are there too, all polished brass and immaculate white suits. Duke flirts shamelessly with the camera, his right hand hopping as…

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Train Songs No. 4: ‘The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains’ by The Kinks

How to summarise the song-writing genius of Ray Davies? At certain moments he seems to capture the soul of England, in all its pathos, absurdity and beauty, better than anyone else.  For long periods he has disappeared from view, returning each time with a face a little craggier, hair a little less full but that thin-lipped impish smile, eerily reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, always in place. This is a vintage performance from the vaults of the BBC,…

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Train Song No. 3: Cheryl’s Going Home by John Otway

In contrast to the sweet soul of Train Songs one and two, it’s time for one of the most demented howls of anguish ever recorded as Middle England’s answer to Iggy Pop, John Otway, comes apart on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977. Accompanied only by his long-suffering sidekick Wild Willy Barrett, Otway explains his predicament. Cheryl’s leaving; he’s having a meltdown at the station. People are staring but he doesn’t care. Can you hear me shouting through the rain?…

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