Music Webmaster Len Mullenger: Len@musicweb.uk.net
Music is a social and artistic activity of the first importance. Railways, in the modern sense, have been with us for some 170 years and for maybe half that time they were THE major form of long-haul transportation by land. They have now perhaps lost their primacy in that respect but they remain important. It is hardly surprising that railways and music should have been associated for practically all of that 170-odd years.
One or two families have had connection with both. Sir Alexander Butterworth, of the North Eastern Railway, was the father of the composer George Butterworth killed on the Western Front in 1916 aged 31 and still remembered as a minor master of the "English folk song" school. Sir Ralph Wedgewood of the LNER was related to Ralph Vaughan Williams. The father of the tenor Peter Pears was a railwayman. And there are doubtless other examples.
Dozens, indeed hundreds (I mention well over 600) of musical compositions have featured the railway and this is basically what this paper is about. But as a kind of overture it may be worth recalling that railwaymen have themselves made music, in the same way that throughout most of recorded history working men in all industries have done so.
If I focus my observations in this direction on my home town of Doncaster, this is not to imply that similar activities did not take place on railways other than the Great Northern and later on the LNER, especially at Crewe and Swindon (respectively LNWR (LMS) and GWR. Doncaster's GNR "Plant" works opened in 1853, it is generally understood, though my researches suggest that parts of it were operational by the last two months of 1852. At Christmas 1852 a Doncaster Loco Band played hymns around the town; this had been formed in June that year and £50 spent on instruments. It celebrated its anniversary on 28 June 1853 with a supper at which 66 persons were present. On 5 June 1854 it accompanied the Plant schoolchildren on an excursion to Askern Spa on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Plant Schools. This band soon faded out; its organisation was informal and there was no regular bandmaster or musical director. However in 1856 a fresh start was made with a Doncaster Plant Works Band, again a brass ensemble, that was conducted by George Birkinshaw (father of a similarly named leading cornet player with the world famous Black Dyke Mills Band and celebrated in William Rimmer's march Viva Birkinshaw!). This band won many prizes in competitions between 1859 and 1861, some of them held in Doncaster. The Band played concerts, too, in Doncaster, in and out of doors, not infrequently featuring compositions, mainly marches and dances, and arrangements by Birkinshaw himself.
When the Plant Works formed its own Volunteer Company in 1859 following a war scare with France, its band became a "military band" in one sense, as it was re-styled Doncaster Volunteer Band, although in musical formation it remained a brass band. Birkinshaw left Doncaster in 1865 but the Volunteer Band subsequently flourished under bandmasters J. Redfern and S. Wilson and a Mr Salmon until the volunteers were absorbed into the 5th KOYLI under the Haldane reforms in 1908.
By 1860 there existed a GNR Glee and Madrigal Society based at King's Cross, and active in charity and other concerts. Mexborough, near Doncaster, had a railway works (Manchester-Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, later Great Central) also called the Plant and this, too, had a band, or bands, there was one in the 1860s, re-founded in the 1880s and still extant in the nineties. The Great Northern Railways locomotive engineer between 1895 and 1911, H V Ivatt had two daughters who were musical and who appeared in amateur concerts in Doncaster.
Over the past century and half, if not for longer, brass bands have been one of the three ways in which working men have traditionally made music. The other two were hand-bell ringing and male voice choirs. Doncaster's railwaymen have indulged in both this century. The choir and ringers - called "The Clangers" (they did not drop many!) - both existed until quite recently, but the choir's great days were during the LNER era between the wars, when at times it combined with other LNER choirs in a major concert, sometimes held at Doncaster Corn Exchange, when it was THE concert of the town's musical calendar, at other times in London.
Occasionally Leslie Woodgate, Director of Music to the LNER and a big figure in broadcast music, conducted them. Woodgate composed music for the LNER, as did St Paul's Cathedral organist, Stanley Marchant (1883-1949), Chudley Candish, himself a railwayman and the composer of the popular choral number The Song of the Jolly Roger, and Dr. Coleman of the Peterborough LNER Society. (In much the same way Sebastian Meyer, Assistant General Manager of the Hull & Barnsley wrote A Holiday Reminiscence for that Railway's Choral Association in 1887 and, perhaps, rather more notably, the cantata for men's voices Men on the Line was composed for the Great Eastern Railway by Hubert Bath, later to earn fame with his Cornish Rhapsody).
The Doncaster LNER Musical Society's conductors during the period 1925-40 were H.A. Bennett (1925-30) and Percy Saunders (1930-40), both of them successively organists of Doncaster Parish Church and both later to become cathedral organists. It was Bennett who insisted that the Doncaster Society alone among the LNER's provincial societies, formed an orchestra in addition to a male voice choir. This was to become the town's leading orchestral ensemble during the 1930s. Under Saunders, who also composed, though not for Doncaster's railwaymen, the LNER Society diversified into amateur operatics, basically Gilbert & Sullivan.
The Doncaster Railway Society revived only briefly after the Second War, in around 1950, under one John Craven. Since around 1910 Doncaster has had no specifically railway brass band except for a Doncaster NUR Band active around 1928 and still existing there years later as it was engaged to play in Doncaster's Elmfield Park on 16 August 1931 when its conductor was stated to be one J.W. Ellis. but notable bands with railway connections elsewhere in England have included Leeds Railway Foundry, which flourished in the 1850s, Horwich Railwaymen's Institute, winners of the British Open Championship in 1915 and 1916, and York Railway Institute which I remember hearing in the early 1970s and which is still active and winning prizes in 2001 (a York Golden Rail Band, originally a "junior" band to YRI, is now a separtae organization to all intents and purposes).
Bands, whether specifically railway ones or not, were prominent in the early days of railways. One was usually present, often to play Handel's See the Conquering Hero, when a line was opened and one often accompanied early railway excursions, including Thomas Cook's famous outing in 1840 from Loughborough to Leicester and even Sunday School "days out".
But now to the music inspired by the railway. Initially, and indeed at most periods since, this has been mostly popular in character, Broadside ballads, like Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (ca. 1835) and Battle on the Shields Railway (1839) were sung to folk tunes. Possibly the earliest title I have unearthed so far is the rather similar ballad Johnny Green's Trip to 'Owdam to see the Liverpool Railway which is, of course, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1830. In addition the navvies who built the railways sang their own songs, as had the canal navvies (a few of the latter's songs survive).
In 1831 Doncaster's Theatre Royal staged a pantomime with music entitled The Rail-Road (composer unknown). A Characteristic Rondo for piano solo, also c.1830, conveys the characteristic rhythm of the steam blast; the sheet music cover carries a picture of the Sankey Viaduct on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway and the music apparently represents a journey on that line. By contrast William Wilkes' Quadrille of around 1840 has no especial railway colour in the music despite the cover picture, of Wolverton Viaduct on the London & Birmingham Railway (later LNWR).
One very early title, a song performed at the Vauxhall Gardens in circa 1830, is Railways Now Are All the Go With Steam, Steam, Steam. Rather later is a Railway Gallop (sic), by an unspecified composer, which enlivened a concert at Ellis's Music Hall, Worksop on 24 February 1847 and which, according to the Doncaster Gazette of 5 March 1847, was "a highly amusing piece played in a masterly style by the orchestra which elicited considerable applause". On 31 May that same year the New Orleans Ethiopian Serenaders came to Doncaster's Theatre Royal, concluding their show with "the celebrated Railroad Overture". (Railroad to us usually implies a Transatlantic piece, but, as we have seen, this was not always the case and as late as 1890 Doncaster heard sung in concert A Rival Railroad Ride, composed by one King, forename unknown. This may possibly have been an American song but the artists this time were British.)
James Briton's Railway Mania, a music-hall type song, appeared appropriately in 1846, at the height of the Mania of the 1840s.
Since 1830, then, an enormous number of railway pieces have flowed from composers' pens on both sides of the Atlantic, both songs and - mainly light or popular - instrumental or orchestral pieces.
First, here are a few (there were surely many more) instrumental movements from America: The Rail Road and The Carrolton March, both dedicated to the Baltimore and Ohio RR; Gustave A. Scott, Pacific Railroad Polka (1862), Frank Dibble, Peninsular Railway [not Railroad?] March (1871), E. Mack, Pullman Car (Sunbeams) (1872), Charles J. Richter, Railroad Galop (1872), the anonymous Snowed-in Galop (1872), C. Drumheller, Iron Mountain Railroad (1873), Simon A. Hassler, RailRoad Galop (1874), J.N. Goodman, CB&Q [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy] Railroad (1876), M.B. Clark, Lightning Pleasure Train (1877), Clara Hickman, The Junction Railway (1877), John Joseph, New York Elevated Railroad Galop (1879), E. Eberhard, Franklin Avenue Railroad Galop (1883), Clarence J. Sargent, Central Vermont Railroad Grand March (1883), The 2.19 Blues (early 1900s), J. Hoyt Toler, Up Broadway (1900), Harry J. Lincoln's march two-step Sunset Limited (1910), Watching the Trains Go Out (1912) and the medley one-step (or turkey trot) Pullman Porters on Parade (1914).
The early American railroad-flavoured songs are nowadays largely forgotten, but here is a group of titles: The Shuffling Chant, Tie Tamping Chant and Steel Laying Holler, all of them with a railway construction flavour; F.L. Martyn, Standing on the Platform (1870); Henry C. Work [best known for his Grandfather's Clock], Continental Railroad Chorus, Crossing the Grand Sierras, for soloists, chorus and piano duet (1870); George D. Chester, The Railroad Accident at Richmond Switch, Rhode Island ( 1873); T. Stephenson, The Gospel Railroad (1873); a chorus by one Diethelm, The Patent Railway Punch (1874); Sam Devere's Riding on the Elevated Railroad (1878) and T.B. Kelly's similarly titled song of 1879; W.S. Mullaly, The Railroad Conductors (1881); Gussie Davis's In the Baggage-coach Ahead (1895); Max Drefu, At the Sound of the Signal Bell (1898); Lucy Schief, Does This Railroad Lead to Heaven? (1902); Charlie Tillman, The Railroad Song (1906); Ed Bimbert, The Railroad Rag (1911); Bess Rudisill The Eight O'Clock Rush; Leo Edwards, There's Lots of Stations on my Railroad Track (1912), Clay Smith, Ragtime Engineer (1912) and, last but not least, Irving Berlin's San Francisco Bound.
Moving on a little, we may now list a number of American song titles, many of which come from generally later periods, some of these were later incorporated into films and not a few became known in instrumental versions (there were frequently several different versions by different bands) or were conceived for instruments from the start. There are the very popular She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain and the possibly even more famous and often revived Casey Jones which may date from 1909. This was often parodied, most notably as Casey Jones - Union Scab, revived quite recently by Pete Seeger. To these we may add On the 5.15 (1914), On the 5.45, I've Been Working on a Railroad, I'm Leaving on the Blue River Train, Alabamy Bound associated with Al Jolson but later revived, Zach, The Mormon Engineer; Railroad Bill; Railroad Cars are Coming, W.C. Hardy's The Yellow Dog Rag, and Trains Are Comin'; Billy Ternant's I Like Riding on a Choo-Choo, the rather satirical 2.15 by none other than the "March King" John Philip Sousa, The Train is a-coming, Blind Lemon Jefferson's Sunshine Special (1927); Henry Marshall's Oh Mr Railroad Man, Won't You Take Me back to Alabama? (1914), The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe (1945), Canadian Pacific; Union Train, Last Train to San Fernando (1957) associated with Johnny Duncan, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, Flag That Train to Alabam'; Drill Ye Tanners Drill, Timber Line (1931), Down by the Railroad, Wallace Chambers' Hold Dat Train! (1919), The Runaway Train (1932), Two Tickets to Georgia (1933) , George Gershwin's Waiting for the Train and another Al Jolson, Toot Toot Tootsie.
Of the instrumental pieces with train titles perhaps the leader is Glenn Miller with Chattanooga Choo Choo, Tuxedo Junction, Sleepy Town Train and Slow Freight, all of them well known, especially the first two, in big band orchestrations, though other musicians tried them out before Miller worked his magic on them and one or two have appeared in other versions, even one for recorder consort, appropriately so because massed recorders do sound a bit like an American train whistle!
Moving on from Glenn Miller, other titles are Choo-Choo Serenade by B.P. Godinho from 1951, Little Rootie Tootie and Locomotive (1954), both associated with the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, Trixie Smith's Railroad Blues, freight Train Blues (1938), Bessie Smith's Chicago Band Blues (1923) and TN&O Blues and many other blues numbers (see below). The Children Met the Train by Alec Wilder (1907-80), Choo Choo Choo Boogie, Silver Streak by Henry Mancini, Beaver Junction, Super-Chef, the Count Basie number Rails and 9.20 Special, the very popular Duke Ellington standards Choo Choo (1924) Fats Waller and Frankie Trumbauer composed quite different Choo-Choos and in addition there were Choo Choo Blues (1922) and Eric Winstone's Choo Choo Special), Daybreak Express, Across the Track Blues (1940), Build the Railroad (1950), Honky Tonky Train Blues, originally dating from 1927, by Meade Lux Lewis (and also revived by Joe Loss in 1940), Happy Go Lucky Local Train (1953) and Track 360 (Trains) (1958), Stan Kenton's Lonesome Train, Oscar Petersen's Night Train, Steel Rail Blues and Take the A Train, Louis Armstrong's Hobo You Can't Ride This Train, Burt Bacharach's Trains and Boats and Planes (used as music for BBC TV's 'Model World') from the 1960s and Six Five Special (Bob Cort).
Jazz and blues seem well suited to railway music, although, as we shall see, other idioms seem to lie naturally in a railway situation. Blues title not so far mentioned include Black Train Blues, Narrow Gauge Blues, Railroad Police Blues, associated with Sleepy John Estes, Railroad Station Blues (T Bone Walker), The Brakesman's Blues, a Jimmy Rogers title, Train Time Blues (1947), 11.29 Blues, Express Train Blues (1947), Panama Limited Blues (1925), Mail Train Blues (1926), I Hate That Train Called the M&O (1934), Mr Brakeman Let me Ride You (1927), He Caught the B&O (1939), and Cannon Ball (1942). There are many more!
Other titles in the jazz idioms are Budd Powell's Un Poco Loco from 1951, Elton Dean's Trains for Tooting (1995), Wynton Marsalis's recent jazz suite in twelve movements Big Train and - an equally recent British title - Ribblehead Rattle by the bassist and bandleader Ben Crosland, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales, which was inspired by the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle & Carlisle line.
Many American railroad tunes were revived in the 1950s by Lonnie Donegan as skiffle was likewise suited to railway rhythms: examples are Rock Island Line originally from 1934, Midnight Special (1926), Railroad Bill, Wabash Cannonball, Nancy Whiskey's Freight Train and Wreck of the Old '97. Another favourite skiffle number was California Zephyr from around 1956. Pop has also jumped on the railway (or "railroad") bandwagon with numbers like the seminal Mystery Train (Elvis Presley, 1957), The Man Who Waved at Trains (The Soft Machine, 1975), Last Train to Clarksville from the Monkees and Last Train to London from the Electric Light Orchestra. Many modern pop titles include the word 'train' or 'express' in them. In the 1980s the Englishman Robert Fripp brought out pieces like Train (1984) and Intergalactic Boogie Express, presumably a very updated train.
Other British jazz/swing/dance band and pop numbers we may mention are The Blue Train aired by many British bands in 1927 among them Debroy Somers, Ronnie Munro and the Kit Band, the Henry Hall number Santa Claus Express, Joe Loss's When Your Train Has Gone and Night Train, This is the Way the Puff-Puff Goes (1928), there's a Body on the Line (Jack Payne, 1935), The 7.15 to Dreamland Morning Train (1944), Takin' the Train Out (1945), recorded for Regal Zonophone but apparently not issued, played by Teddy Foster and his band with vocals by Betty Kent, Jack Hylton's Choo-Choo based on Trumbauer's (see above), Ted Heath's Night Train to Scotland, Streamline Street from the Six Swingers, the 1960s hit Doing the Loco-Motion and the well-remembered Beatles' hit Ticket to Ride which I also know in a brass band version by Alan Fernie. The Pasadenas' Riding On A Train reached the Top Twenty in September 1988. Doubtless there will be more to come in pop's future years.
We pass now to consider railway "folk" music, using the term in its widest sense. The recently deceased (1999) "Boxcar Willie" (Lecil Travis Morton) revived the great days of the American steam railways with many songs of which we can exemplify Daddy was a Railroad Man and I Love the Sound of a Whistle. From Woody Guthrie (1912-67) comes This Train is Bound for Glory, End of the Line, The Little Black Train and Walking Down That Railroad. Night Train to Memphis (1946) was a Country and Western number; possibly Wheels a'Rolling was also, but all I know of it is that it was the official song of 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair. Other titles we may mention included Waiting for a Train (John Denver), Midnight Train, Ghost Train, Big Black Train, The Golden Rocket, Desperados, Waiting for a Train, Georgia on a Fast Train (Johnny Cash), The Great Nashville Railroad Disaster and Orange Blossom Special (also a Johnny Cash title).
Occasionally a classical composer took up a traditional railway title. Casey Jones was set again by the American serious composer Roy Harris in his Railroad Men's Ballad for male voice chorus and orchestra (Harris's orchestral piece Accelerations dating from about the same period may also have had a railway inspiration.)
Then there are negro spirituals, several of which contain railway imagery such as Give Me a Ticket to Heaven (by Denham Harrison), Movin', The Gospel Train, Zion Train, Hear My Train A'Coming, Funeral Train a'Comin', Black Diamond Express to Hell, Death's Black Train is Coming and, rather less celebrated, This Train, apparently a blues number from about 1939, which was given a new lease of life a few years ago when it was atmospherically arranged for the South Yorkshire Police Choir by its then conductor the late Peter Sumner (1929-2000).
"Railroad" at one time meant a figurative escape route for fleeing slaves, as in George Allen's The Underground Rail Car (1854) and Underground Railroad Moved (1853).
Moody and Sankey's hymn tunes included at least one railway one, The Ninety and Nine. Britain, too, has its "railway folk" songs but Dave Goulder's Green All the Way is more conveniently discussed later.
Now for examples of railway interest from American musical comedy: Honeymoon Express, perhaps the earliest train musical, from 1913, When The Midnight Choo-Choo leaves For Alabam', was incorporated by Irving Berlin in Easter Parade; O, the Train is at the Station comes from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; the opening scene of The Music Man by Meredith Wilson, which takes place in a railway carriage; Whizzin' Away Along the Track from Carmen Jones, the 1950 version of Bizet's Carmen and sung by Dorothy Dandridge and Sitting Pretty (1924) with music by Jerome Kern and words by P.G. Wodehouse and actually first produced on the London stage, whose overture, entitled Journey Southward, represents a New York-Florida train journey complete with train noises and rhythms and, at one point, a representation of a Transatlantic train whistle.
The title song of the Doris Day film musical Lullaby of Broadway (1951) alludes to a (presumably New York) "subway train" and we may also include here the song hit Beyond the Blue Horizon, as that was used in the 1930 Hollywood film Monte Carlo in which it was sung in a railway compartment with train effects added in the orchestra. Scenes in several American musical comedies are set at railway stations; we shall return to these shortly, after listing railway allusions in British and other non-American musical comedies.
On these it is a question where to start. Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas have several fascinating railway mentions, but as Sullivan was a classical composer we will leave them for the moment and begin our survey mainly in the 20th Century. However there are some early Spanish zarzuelas which are railway flavoured; El Tren de Escala (1854), the one act Un Viajo al Vapor (1856) and, also one act, Via Libre (1893) plus Los Sobrinos del Capitán Grant (1887) by Manuel Francis Caballero which includes a train crash. And Jimmy Glover's curtain-raiser of 1882 Ten Minutes for Refreshment had a colonel loitering in a railway waiting-room disguised as a porter just to see how his actress former sweetheart is faring. In 1925 Henri Christiné, the French operetta composer, brought out a tuneful operetta P-L-M (standing for the Paris, Lyon and Mediterranée railway), and in 1929, also French, Maurice Yvain's Kadubec included a song Si J'Etais Chef de la Gare (If I Were Stationmaster). Robert Stolz wrote the music for The Blue Train, a musical produced in England in 1927. Ivor Novello's spectacular effort The Crest of the Wave (1937) features a train smash in its story line; Leo Fall's even earlier The Girl in the Train, originally entitled The Divorcee, from 1908, turns on an incident in a Paris-Nice express. Going back further still, the operetta Prisoner at the Bar (1878) with music by Fred Musgrave is again set in a railway refreshment room and is jocularly described as an "opera buffet"!
From more recent times there is Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1981 musical Cats, based on T.S. Eliot's 'Practical Cats' and Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express (1984) with roller-skaters representing trains is also a candidate for this paragraph (though not Sir Edward Elgar's much earlier (1915) musical play of the same title as the "express" there is a train of thought). Peter Greenwell's 1955 musical Twenty Minutes South is enclosed by the choruses Eight Twenty-Seven and Five Twenty-Seven, references to commuter trains in opposite directions. Lionel Bart's Blitz (1962) includes scenes set in a representation of Bank Underground which was pressed into service as an air-raid shelter. Intriguingly there is the solo with chorus Train to Johannesburg, from a musical Lost in the Stars, set in post Second World War South Africa, a number underlining the differing aspirations and thoughts of segregated whites and blacks travelling by the same train.
Underground railways are not forgotten. Merry Merry, a musical comedy of 1929 with music by the then popular writing and composing duo Jack Waller and Joseph Tunbridge, included an opening scene in a London Tube station. The Subway Express, a song written by Jerome Kern for Kerker's musical Fascinating Flora 91907) was retitled Bakerloo (The Subway Express) when printed in London, to cash in on the then recent opening of the Bakerloo underground line. And other "railway musicals" included: Meet Me Victoria (1944, music by Noel Gay) whose hero is a railway porter and which includes a song entitled You're a Nice Little Baggage (its substantial London run was interrupted by the V1s); Swing Along which had a good run in 1936-37 with music by Martin Broones and including a scene in the Blue Train; Happy Holiday based on Arnold Ridley's celebrated play 'The Ghost Train' (1954, music by George Posford); The Station Master's Daughter (1968, music by the Australian-born Charles Zwar); Bakerloo to Paradise (1969, music by Geoffrey Martino); Listen for the Trains, Love (1970, but set in the 1940s, with music by Alex Glasgow and book by Stan Barstow) which earned a modest success at the Sheffield Playhouse; Brief Encounter on the Penistone Line (1998) which had its genesis on Sheffield-Huddersfield trains and Joan of Kent: The British Railway Musical (1990) focusing on protest against a Channel Tunnel link, both with music by Henry Lewis and The Railway Children (1981, music by David Burn and Peter Durrent) which aimed, not very successfully in the event, to cash in on the success of the outstanding feature film we discuss a little later.
Several scenes in musicals British, American and other, have been set at railway stations. Examples are Merry Merry (above), Oklahoma (film version, 1956), The Student Prince (film version 1954), Oh What a Lovely War (1969), The Good Companions (1933 version, based on J. B. Priestley's novel of 1929 with music by George Posford), Robert and Elizabeth (1964, music by Ron Grainer), Shipyard Sally (film version, 1939), Cole Porter's You'll Never Get Rich (film version, 1961) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964, music by Jerry Bock), but there are, I dare say, others.
British examples of popular railway songs cover a remarkably broad field. Perhaps the most popular of them was George LeBrunn's music-hall ditty Oh Mr Porter! from around 1890 and long associated with Marie Lloyd (who also sang the even more suggestive She'd Never Had Her Ticket Punched Before) and given fresh life in recent years with a fresh lyric, as the title music of the BBC TV sit-com Oh Dr Beeching! (fragmentary incidental music for some of the episode was derived from the same tune with Ray Moore given the credit for this). Also by LeBrunn was another song very popular in Victorian times entitled The Railway Guard (at least two other similarly styled songs were also published, notably Alfred Plumpton's The Railway Guard, or The Mail Train to the North, dedicated to the Chairman and Directors of the LNWR and having an especially amusing lyric); also popular during the later years of the 19th, or the early years of the 20th, Centuries were R. Cobley's The Railway Porter, Railway Porter Dan, by one Fox, forename unknown, The Wheeltapper's Song (1923, by Charles Wolseley, composer of many music-hall songs), a little ditty called The Level Crossing and others entitled Watching the Trains Go Out (W.H. Hargreaves), In the Luggage Van, I've Never Lost My Last Train Yet, There Goes the Train, Riding Down From Bangor (composers unknown), The Signalman Waiting for the Train (F. Albert), On the Railway, Daddy's on the Engine, Get Upon a Puff Puff, Don't Forget the Porter, Joe the Railway Porter (again composers unknown), Pull Down the Blind, whose music is credited to one C. MacCarthy, The Tuppenny Tube (1900, by H. Pether, referring to what is now the Central Line), A Trip to Blackpool by Felix Godard also from c.1900, A Kiss in the Railway Train by Warwick Williams, Jessie the Belle at the Bar (the bar is the station buffet), Waiting For The Signal (G.W. Hunt), Johnny the Engine Driver (also by G.W. Hunt and dated c.1867), O Blow the Scenery on the Railway (1910, F.W. Leigh and G. Arthur), The Midnight Train (1895, B. Scott and A.J. Mills), The Young Man on the Railway (W.H. Brinkworth), Harry Clifton's The Royal Belle and Railway Guard of 1923 and William S. Robinson's The 11.69 Express described as a monologue (rather than a song) when performed in Doncaster in 1907. Most of these would be music-hall, rather than drawing-room songs. The Great Semaphore Song: There's Danger on the Line by G.P. Norman refers, so some have said, to the Great Northern Railway's adoption of "somersault" signals following the Abbotts Ripton disaster of 1876, although the song has been dated two decades before that.
As we have seen already, railway songs in the British Isles were at times based on traditional or popular tunes, examples being Paddy on the Railroad, from Ireland, and The Ballad of John Axon. The latter, in memory of a train driver who died in the course of duty, dates from as recently as 1957 and we have jumped ahead chronologically. Reverting to 'composed' popular songs, we mention, from the inter-war period and after Sunny South Sam, the tune being a foxtrot by Will Haines and Leo Bliss, the lyric derived from a figure well-known from Southern Railway posters of the time, He Missed His Train Again, My Cutie's Due at Two-to-Two Today, Piccadilly Circus, the Alma Cogan hit The Middle of the House and Ain't it a Shame, a success for The Commuters. The popular Cockney song Underneath the Arches clearly relates to a railway viaduct as it includes the words "I hear the trains rattling above". Mervyn, Lord Horder is normally associated with more classical compositions but his song British Rail is of the music-hall type, written long after the music-hall had become history.
Many will remember Finchley Central from 1969 and the lament Dear Old Stalybridge Station from the 1970s, nostalgic songs both. The Beeching closures of the sixties and seventies provided more nostalgic material, for example the majority of the set of twelve very enjoyable folk-style songs sung and recorded by Brett Stevens, himself a one-time railway employee, and composed by Dave Goulder, which were collectively titled Green All the Way; a few of them are amusing, notably Pinwherry Dip, but most are tinged with sadness. But surely the most famous song associated with railway closures is The Slow Train, lyrics by Michael Flanders, music by Donald Swann:-
No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe
On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Munby Road
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting you
On the slow train
The list of railway songs seems never ending. There is at least one celebrating the Great Train Robbery in 1963. We have not yet mentioned those numbers associated with Ken Colyer in the mid 1950s, Down Bound Train and Streamline Train. Nor George Formby's Wigan Boat Express. Nor Harbur's Return, a hit for the Harbur Brimstone Band in 1957, Down Home Special (Bo Diddley), Box Car Blues (from the 1950s), Ride That Train (Leon Jarvis), Midnight Train Georgia (Gladys Knight, 1970) and Junior Parker and Sam Phillips' 1953 hit and only a passing Mystery Train, made famous by Elvis Presley slightly later as we have mentioned previously. Many of these titles are American but most earned popularity on this side of the Atlantic. Bob Dylan is worth a special mention for his many railway songs, among them Train a'Travelling, Freight Train Blues, the very popular Slow Train (not of course the same song as Flanders and Swann's), It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and Walking Down the Line. I'm a Train, from 1968, by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, was much later arranged for the King's Singers. Bob Woods, himself a railroad fireman, has written many songs including The Night We Stole the Last Steam Engine.
Of many French railway songs we may quote Victor Toutal's Le CAE du PLM (1910), Lucien Boyer's Vive l'Express de Normandie (1911) and the anonymous Il est content le chef de gare dating from 1912. From Ireland there is Percy French's lyric Are Ye Right There Michael? Inspired by the West Clare Railway, set to music by one W.H. Collisson and published by Pigott. Mexico can boast a wealth of railway songs. In early days songs were inspired by specific railway events. We have quoted a few, here is another, from 1852, celebrating a temperance excursion from Camborne to Hayle, in Cornwall, which rejoiced in this rather corny refrain:
Happy Camborne, happy Camborne
Where the railway is so near
And the engine shows how water
Can accomplish more than beer.
We must hope that the tune outshone the words. Nowadays railway songs are more backward-looking; during the 1960s a musical documentary about North Staffordshire Railway, which ceased to exist in 1923, entitled (what else?) The Knotty was produced in Stoke-on-Trent.
The once-popular form of the monologue, with piano accompaniment, throws up apart from the 1169 Express previously mentioned, at least two titles for us: How I Drove the Special, with music by the ballad composer Cuthbert Clarke and Signalman Sam, music by Harry Weston.
We will return to songs in connection with art, rather than popular songs, but for the time being let us look again at instrumental railway imaginations. Among those composed by British 19th Century writers we see, from as early as the 1840s, The Express Train Galop (which may possibly be the one of that title by the Austrian composer Kalkbrenner, but I would not rule out there being more than one galop with that title which was certainly a popular one in British ballrooms of the 1860s) and The Excursion Train Galop (composer unknown, but it could be Fred Musgrave, of whom more in a moment), the cover of which shows the excursionists packed like sardines into open trucks belonging to the South Eastern Railway with the wind blowing the smoke from the locomotive around them and plucking off at least one passenger's hat!
Rather later, during the 1860s, came two galops by Charles Coote senior, a prolific purveyor of Victorian dance music, The Mail Train Galop and, called after Charles Dickens' short story of 1866, Mugby Junction, both of them popular in the ballrooms of the day, as were Charles d'Albert's Express Galop, The Railway Whistle Galop (G. Richardson), The Railway Quadrilles by one Hallwood, The Signal Polka composed by George Lee and published in Sheffield where Lee held a position as a church organist, the galop Paris in 10 1/2 Hours (by H.W. Hall) and the Cook's Excursion Galop by Fred Musgrave, whose sheet music cover depicts Cook's tourists enthusiastically climbing Mount Vesuvius heedless of the volcano erupting just above. (Incidentally, the popular song Funiculi, Funicula celebrates the opening of the funicular railway up Vesuvius and I have come across a mention in 1881 of a song entitled Cook's Excursionists by one J. Hillier). Musgrave, incidentally, ran a travelling theatre company which visited Doncaster in 1879 and composed music for its productions.
A Doncaster Mansion House Ball programme of 1856 included an Express Galop, probably Charles d'Albert's, then very new and featuring the rhythm of the steam blast and having an evocative cover showing a train crossing a viaduct, and also a Dover Express Galop, whose composer was also not stated and is otherwise not known to me. From a list of dances played at a later Doncaster Mansion House Ball in 1865 I noticed a polka entitled Great Eastern, again by the prolific d'Albert, but it is not quite clear whether this title alludes to the railway company, formed by amalgamation in 1862, or to Brunel's great ship which was then still very much afloat: probably the latter, as the laying of the Transatlantic telegraph cable by that ship had caught the public's imagination at that time. And we still have not exhausted the Victorian railway dances: there were Express Train, by the Sheffield Military Band, choral and orchestral conductor Samuel Suckley junior and, dating from the 1870s, The Electric Telegraph Polka, which was popular in a brass band arrangement by Henry Round, and possibly even Coote's galop No Thoroughfare. The two latter were both from the 1860s as were Railway Galop and Railroad (sic) Quadrilles the composers of which remain unknown to me, but several titles were probably used several times over, as we have seen happening with songs such as The Railway Guard and The Railway Porter.
To my knowledge none of these gems are, or ever were, recorded, though they could be, as piano copies, at least, survive of many of these mid-Victorian dances; but a number of similar dance movements from other countries at that period have fared much better in that respect. The earliest of them may well be the Arrival Waltz (1829) by the Viennese composer Josef Lanner. Most famous are the various contributions by the Viennese Strausses. Johann Strauss the father, who died in 1849, wrote the Eisenbahn Lust Walzer ("Railway Delight Waltz") in 1836, before any railway was ever open in Austria. His later Carnival Quadrille of 1847 was composed for a ball organised by the Kaiser Ferdinand Nordbahn (an early Austrian railway company). The next generation of the family were able to use the new railways increasingly to travel on for their concert tours and unsurprisingly all paid tribute to them. Johann Strauss the younger, who had a curiously morbid dislike of train travel but whose first major engagement was by a railway company in Russia, composed Vergnugunszug ("Excursion Train Polka") for a ball of the Association of Industrial Societies in Vienna's Redoutensaal Ballroom: his waltz Reise Abenteuer ("Travel Adventures") is probably based on an eventful railway journey in Russia; his Spirals, another waltz was composed for a ball of the Vienna Railway Engineers in 1858; and the popular Accelerations waltz was surely inspired by a locomotive gathering speed. His brother Josef Strauss's polka française Greetings to Munich commemorated the opening of the Vienna-Munich railway in 1860. Eduard Strauss, the youngest brother of that generation, seemed to be particularly keen on railways as he produced the polkas Bahn Frei! ("Line Clear"), Mit Dampf ("With Steam") and Tour und Retour ("Return Ticket") and the waltzes Glockensignal ("Bell Signals") and Lustfahrten ("Pleasure Journey"), the latter having a locomotive on the front cover of the sheet music copy. Other Viennese light music composers besides Lanner and the Strausses wrote railway dance music: Joseph Labitzky, who produced Three Railway Polkas and Prague and Vienna Railway Polkas in 1844 plus a tribute to the Thames Tunnel in 1843; Josef Gung'l, whose Locomotive Galopp appeared in 1838 and his Railway Steam Galop, expressing the steam blast rhythm, in 1849 (this enjoyed considerable popularity in Britain); Philipp Fahrbach and, later in the 19th Century, Michael Ziehrer, whose polka Night Swallows was originally called Ready in the Rear after the guard's "Right Away" signal and who also brought out a polka schnell Vergnugungzugler ("Excursion Tour").
Continental railway music was not, of course, confined to Austria. I would love to hear of Italian railway music of this or any period. It may well be that all western European countries contributed something. Scandinavian musicians in particular made much of their railways. Two Marco Polo CDs of the 1990s include examples from Sweden (Jernvags Galopp ["Railway Galop"] by Jean Mayer, which marked the completion of the Stockholm-Gothenburg line, and Greetings from Sweden to Norway, a waltz by the German-born Carl Gottfried Grahl, celebrating the opening of the Oslo-Stockholm railway); Finland (Jernban Galop ["Railway Galop"] by Frans Hoyer, which hailed Finland's first railway in 1862) and Denmark (the very popular Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop of 1847 by Hans Christian Lumbye, 1810-74, the Danish answer to the Strausses - indeed all these Scandinavian dances owe something to Viennese example - and who by this dance marked the opening of the first railway in Denmark and Niels Gade's Zugvogel, a piano piece of 1857. Jules Denefue's Cantata for the Opening of Mons Station (Belgium); in Holland J B van Bree wrote a Waltz of the Haarlem Railway about the same time. In Spain Hipolito Godois published a whole book of dances, galops and polkas marking a journey De Madrid a Aranjuez. From Mexico there were the Schottische, El Ferrocarril by S. Contla and a piano piece La Locomotiva by one M Morales.
Important classical composers also found inspiration from the railway, although their music is fairly often still quite light-hearted, probably because characteristic railway rhythms suggest a dance or at least rhythmic music and light in touch. One of the earliest, if not quite THE earliest of these was Hector Berlioz, whose Chant des Chemins de Fer ("Song of the Railways") was composed for the opening of the French Chemins de Fer du Nord in 1846. The poetry he set seems pretty dire, in translation at least:-
"Brightly dawns the day of feasting, the day of joy and laurel crowns. The laurels are ready for you workers, the laurels are ready for you. You soldiers of peace, now you have your triumph, now you have your glory for all your fine work."
It might sound less banal in the original French, but Berlioz's music for this hardly challenges in quality the Grande Messe des Morts or Les Troyens. Another early French railway piece, Le Chemin de Fer (1844) is a piano solo of fiendish difficulty by Charles Alkan. Of British classical exponents, George Macfarren, later Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, composed in 1865 a partsong, or "glee", entitled Song of the Railroads (yes, railroads). Arthur Sullivan fancied himself as a "serious" composer, but he is best remembered for his operettas to the words of W.S. Gilbert, some of which contain railway references. The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song in Iolanthe (1882) alludes to Sloane Square and South Kensington stations on the Metropolitan District Railway. The Mikado's diatribe (1885) which prescribes punishments to fit the crime announces that:
"The idiot who in railway carriages scribbles on window panes,
We only suffer to ride on a buffer in Parliamentary trains."
And Thespis, the first G. & S. (1871), whose music is, sadly, almost entirely lost, has the title character sing a cautionary song about an egalitarian railway chairman:
"Each Christmas Day he gave each stoker
A silver shovel and a golden poker,
He'd button-hole flowers for the ticket sorters
And rich bath-buns for the outside porters,
He'd mount the clerks on his first-class hunters,
And he built little villas for the roadside shunters,
And if any were fond of pigeon shooting,
He'd ask them down to his place at Tooting..."
This song was apparently accompanied by a railway bell, a whistle and an instrument imitating a train in motion (probably two wooden blocks covered in sandpaper). It has been said that the chairman in question was a skit on the Duke of Sutherland. George Grossmith created the comic roles in most of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and he also wrote and composed many humorous songs; one of them, The Muddle Puddle Porter has been recorded quite recently.
Rossini, an operatic composer in his early adult years, produced little in his later period except songs and short piano pieces. The latter included a suite entitled Un Petit Train de Plaisir Comico-Imitatif which we may translate as "A Little Excursion Train" and whose climax is a graphic movement entitled Dreadful Collision! As one might gather from that, Rossini, like Johann Strauss the Younger, had a dislike of trains; but several other well-known composers (and executants like the conductor Georg Solti and the violinist Sarasate) have loved them. Dvorák most of all, of course and apparently Bela Bartók. Paul Hindemith (1899-1963), the prolific German composer, was a keen model railway enthusiast.
Proceed to part 2
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