Fresh from submerging himself knee deep in the world of The Railway Children courtesy of his wonderful item for Toppermost , John Hartley managed to keep the momentum going by checking them out in the flesh.
Here is John’s Gig Night review of The Railway Children at The Lexington, London on Saturday 18th March 2017…
Up a narrow and steep steel staircase with perhaps one or two too many steps is a room filled largely with men of hair greying and thinning – where it exists at all – and waistbands expanded more than their owners might choose. At the bar a man begrudges the £5 price of a bottle of ale, whilst noticing the barely-discreet notices advising patrons that ‘Earplugs are available: just ask at the bar’. We’re getting old folks, we’re getting old.
The gathered throng, and there are a fair number of us, are present to greet long-absent friends, friends who only came back into our midst last year after a hiatus lasting well over 20 years. The last time I saw The Railway Children was in a rampant hometown gig on Wigan Pier. Buoyed by finally breaking into the Top 40 singles chart, the band were in great form, the crowd roared them on, bassist Stephen Hull departed stage left momentarily to be sick, and t-shirts cost a tenner.
At The Lexington in 2017 it feels like the band has never been away. Always a good-looking band they have aged as much as their music: very well. Sure, there may be a bit of stubble (shaving gets to be such a chore, doesn’t it) and silvery receding hairline, but not much else has changed. Gary Newby still looks youthful and sings with rich tone, Hull still plays the bass like it’s the easiest thing in the world, Guy Keegan still keeps impeccable time and drives the more uptempo songs along, and Brian Bateman still looks like he’s enjoying every minute of strumming Newby’s perfectly crafted pop songs, even when he forgets to change to the second chord of a two-chord song (the band’s debut single ‘A Gentle Sound’) within the first three bars.
With nothing to promote and no longer having to play the part of a mere cog in the wheels of the music industry machine The Railway Children can offer a relaxed and varied set. There is little room for chat – a wry “This was our hit single” introducing ‘Every Beat Of The Heart’ being as close to banter as Newby gets – but that means more time for songs. All three band albums are covered well, there’s the inevitable run out of most – but not all – the singles and, most pleasingly, space for some b-sides: ‘After The Rain’, ‘History Burns’ and ‘Darkness And Colour’ all get a run out.
As the set proceeds, so the performances get stronger and better. ‘Somewhere South’ sounds as good as it ever has, recorded or live. Slower songs such as ‘Big Hands Of Freedom’ are given space to breathe and flourish. Final album title track ‘Native Place’ shows Newby’s voice at its best. The tunes come thick and fast, culminating with “our last song, which was also our first song”: ‘A Gentle Sound’. A quick dash off stage, then back on, and we are treated to the almost inevitable encore ‘Brighter’, a song whose outro could go on forever and still not seem too long. And that’s it: off stage they head, the lights come on, the DJ’s playlist resumes and we all head home, some of us with a souvenir t-shirt that cost a mere £12 – another pleasant reminder that not everything has to change.
Author: John Hartley
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song John Hartley has turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free. He is currently raising money to support men’s mental health charity CALM (@theCALMzone) at http://brokendownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-broken-heed
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