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Songs: The Mystery Train

notes / gigs / releases

Nothing has ever been as shit
As a Rail Replacement Bus Service
It's no replacement for a train
When there's no toilet or a buffet and it's always bloody late
It's your own fault if you try
To travel at the weekend or during the night

Because train timetables are
Devised by puritans with grudges and/or a car
Believing after half past ten
We should all be tucked up in bed

But there used to be a line
That crept across the Midlands shortly after closing time
When the last band had come off
You could still get from Leics to Notts

Upon the Mystery Train
It was a Mystery Train
'Cos late night fun does not fit in
With network financial planning

It's a breed that's becoming extinct
Hunted down and shot by railway bosses who seem to think
That a train should just be for
Movement between home and work

And now wherever I go
I look much less in expectation than in hope
For public transport that believes
We're public first, not employees

I'm looking for a Mystery Train
Where is the Mystery Train?
There are other ways to gauge
A worth beyond effect on wage

I almost fell into the trap
Of thinking everything was crap
These dark thoughts flit across your mind
When you're stuck on the M1 for hours 'cos your journey's been retimed
But I was wrong
To assume the days of Mystery Trains had all but been and gone

I moved down South
To London and discovered the joys of the Overground
It's a whole other set of tracks
Not shown in back of diary maps

It's full of Mystery Trains
Let's take the Mystery Trains

New Cross, New Malden, Gospel Oak
Barking, Bickley, Blackhorse Road
Thames Ditton, Forest Hill and Penge
They'll take you where you're going and if you're lucky back again
Upon the mystery train
There's always mystery trains
Long live the mystery train

Published by Wipe Out Music Publishing

Since WE VALIDATE! came out I've had loads of ideas, choruses, verses and general BITS swirling around in my BRANE, and have long intended to sit down and make a concerted effort to actually FINISH some of them, rather than losing them to the ether. As ever, when I try and do that, the pile of Unfinished Ideas only INCREASES, and this time was no exception. Rather than finish off some pre-existing bits I got the idea for THIS one, and over the space of two or three weeks got extra little flashes of THOUGHT about how it might go. I finally finished it on Sunday July 10th.

The original idea came from me desperately trying to find a way to get to a gig in Cleator Moor, in Cumbria - all the online timetable sites insisted that it was massively complicated, but I was sure that there MUST, somewhere, be a single train in the wild outer reaches of the timetable that would sort me out. I ALWAYS think there must, or should, be a train like this, if only I could find it, especially now that I live in That London and know that there's the whole Overground Network which seems to be a rich source of these odd little Mystery Trains.

I was first introduced to Mystery Trains by The Chemistry Experiment, who used to use the one mentioned in the first verse to get back to Nottingham if they came to a gig in Leicester. I checked and was pleased to see it's still running, along with a REALLY late one a couple of hours later - I know that these are just the last trains from London running back to their depots in The North, but still i find it EXCITING that you can actually use these trains for getting around the country when everyone else is in bed.

This all got tied up with my rather more negative feelings about train travel, especially the constant use of "replacement" bus services. I really think train companies shouldn't be allowed to get away with passing these off as valid replacements for the trains people buy tickets for, they should at least be forced to refund some of your ticket money, as you're not getting the service you paid for... and it's a mark of the loathing that the rail network operators feel for their "customers" that they ALWAYS run them at weekends. It feels like they saying you're an IDIOT for wanting to actually GO anywhere during your free time. That and the fact that late night train services are so appallingly shoddy gives the impression that they see trains PURELY as a means to get you to work and back, and that any other purpose is WRONG. I sometimes wonder how many of the people who run the railways ever use them - this thought ESPECIALLY occurs to me when I get on trains where the "Reserved" tickets have been replaced by tiny little LED displays. Fine for updating, but absolutely useless when you're boarding a train, and have to walk slowly past every single seat to see which ones are available, rather than being able to walk down the platform and see from the window.

As you can probably guess, the bit about "dark thoughts" is very true! Anyway, as I worked on the song I got to thinking about how loads of other areas of Modern Life are like that, with many things only being considered worthwhile if they were to do with getting paid, and at one point the song was going to VEER OFF in that direction. After several hours of pen chewing, however, I realised that it was turning into an hour long EPIC without much clear point, and that it'd probably be better if I saved them other ideas for other songs. With that in mind i TRIMMED things back, put the bit about Rail Replacement Bus Services at the START of the song, and then realised that I could then go back to how the song was originally meant to be, with the list of stations at the end.

Unfortunately this meant half an hour reading through a list of EVERY railway station in London, HOPING to find one that rhymed with "Gospel Oak" and "Blackhorse Road". Imagine my DELIGHT when I remembered Ladbroke Grove... and then my HORROR when I realised I couldn't use it because it wasn't an Overground Station. Eventually i CHANGED TACK and wrote the PENGE involving line mentioned.

And that was pretty much that. When I finished it I thought it was one of those songs I always seem to write at the START of a new batch of songs, which takes a really long time to finish, is incredibly involved, and then never gets recorded properly. However, I've been singing it in my head all the way to work today and REALLY enjoying how it sounds, so maybe this one'll get through?

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