Welcome to the newsletter where we will take another look at the new album Passengers On Trains, go fishing for the stories behind the tracks on Side One, and discuss the one that got away!
Last week’s newsletter connected the idea of the recording to a new voice and perhaps hinted at the pastoral influence to the recording, with a rejection of studio pop production cliches, and embracing an organic ‘live feel’ to the construction of the songs. Indeed, looking at the ten songs on the record, they include a mix of arrangements - five with electric guitar, five acoustic, and between them, five songs with drums,. So although the album perhaps presents itself as a singer-songwriter neo-folk recording, there is a sonic mix of dynamics depending on the lyric of the song. For instance, the album opener, ‘Passengers On Trains’ introduces the record with a frenzy of electrified angst! This explosion of frustration ends with the sound of a guitar smashed to the floor!
This people watching narrative and the desire to escape into your own world has been visited many times,. For instance the Squire single ‘Girl On A Train’ and In A World Of My Own’ from Get Smart. But this time, instead of the train journey being a metaphor for youthful excitement and exploration, it has become the journey to adulthood, discovering a life rigidly bound by a rail timetable or a routine of drudgery, prompting a desire to drop out.
The second track, Religion Without Truth, is a total contrast and dissolves into a rustic landscape, with harmonica, acoustic guitar and drums painting a seemingly carefree and timeless nature to the recording that flirts with folk and roots musical styles to support a lyric that questions religious evangelism and starts the journey in search of truth. While the third track, Fair-weather Friend considers loss of trust from the perspective of ‘once bitten - twice shy’, it’s Solitude Surrounding that finally spells out the feeling that life may have been heading in the wrong direction!
The area surrounding the location of the studio in Farnham, Surrey, at the top of the map (close to Jacobs Studio where much of Squire - Get Smart was recorded and mixed), yet adjacent to London, provided much of the inspiration. The initial frenzy of frustration and angst, captures the claustrophobia experienced in over-full train carriages, travelling from Farnham to London Waterloo, side by side with the ‘suits’ on their way to their daily routine in the City of London.
In contrast, Frensham and Frensham Pond, which lay exactly half way between the studio in Farnham and Squire’s spiritual home of Haslemere, at the bottom of the map, provided much of the introspective input for the lyrics, and represents an Arcadian idyll, and ultimately a world of solitude, self reflection and timelessness.
This desire to leave modernity behind was similarly reflected in the late 60s and early 70s counterculture, with artists that had risen with the technology driven pop culture, deciding to ‘get it together in the country’ and embark on their own romanticised journey.
While American artists like CSN&Y decamped from urban LA to the bohemian refuge of the hills above in Laurel Canyon, the UK experienced a similar deliberate exodus from pop stardom to troubadour and lyrics that left teen concerns behind to address a serious rhetoric that connected directly with the now older audience.
From McCartney to Cat Stevens, the message stayed in tune with the changing times. Perhaps closer to home, songsmiths like Ronnie Lane, who had experienced the travails of pop and rock fame through the Small Faces and Faces, gave up on the expectation of stardom (deliberately calling the band Slim Chance!) packed up the gypsy wagon and headed to the countryside to perform in circus tents, while recording his album on his farm in Wales, with his LMS mobile studio (that had recorded both Quadrophenia and later the Mods Mayday album!), following the ‘get it together In the country’ dynamic. (NB Paul Bevoir is credited for designing the re-issue artwork for Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance debut solo album ‘Anymore for Anymore!
While Passengers On Trains echos this 1970’s concept, in many ways the records atmosphere also reflects more contemporary experiences, and conjures similar feelings we may have experienced during the Covid lockdown, the similar sense of isolation, lack of trust, anxiety and emotional shut down and a yearning to leave our artificially constructed social personas behind and reconnect with nature, open spaces and rediscover a world that existed independently before, and despite of, humanity.
Missing from the new release of the album are the songs Nervous Laughter and For Everyone that appeared on the Japanese CD, though the remaining track list follows the exact same order. Added at the last minute at the request of the record company who wanted to increase the number of tracks on the CD, and asked for some ‘Squire’ type pop songs (!), they have been left off the new release, firstly to fit the album on the shorter available timing of a vinyl record, and secondly because although they were reinterpreted with a lighter more acoustic feel, to fit in with the sonic soundscape, they did not fit well with the overall spirit of the album that flows with an overarching chronicle of events.
Indeed, Nervous Laughter, rearranged from the folk inspired lower key of C to the five semitone higher rock and roll key of E, made it a good fit for the Squire set list, and has been played a few times. We’ll close this newsletter with a performance of Nervous Laughter, live in Liverpool in 2007 at the IPO festival at The Cavern Pub! The song is back in its Squire / Beatleque home!
See you next week!