Write On is the part of Clash where we give an artist of our choosing space to just talk about whatever they like. Pretty much. Sometimes it’s something topical. Sometimes it’s deeply personal. A lot of the time it’s a bit special.
Here, we’ve Ben Watt on the pleasure of travelling by train. You might know Ben from his role as 50% of Everything But The Girl – or from his own solo material. His second solo album, ‘Hendra’, was released on April 14th. About time, too, given his debut, ‘North Marine Drive’, came out in 1983. But then, EBTG got a bit popular, didn’t they.
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Ben Watt, ‘Hendra’
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Yesterday, Robert Elms told me a story about when Sade did her first appearance on Top Of The Pops. They were living in a north London squat at the time. It was winter. The record company sent a limo to collect her. She needed a piss before leaving but the toilet was frozen over, so she used a salad bowl, then pulled her knickers up and got in the car.
It made me think of rock ‘n’ roll travel. In April I went back on tour round the UK with Bernard Butler – just the two of us playing songs off my new solo album, ‘Hendra’ – and, as with our trip last November, we travelled by train, standard class.
Some may say this is an affectation, or just downright disappointing, and expect us to roll up in a blacked-out Range Rover with bottles of Jack Daniel’s spilling out onto the pavement as we open the door. But, as someone who has both flown Concorde and got the bus, I have to say that simple train travel is often by far the most relaxing way to get to a gig. It is not, however, without its moments.
In a hot packed carriage from Glasgow last year, I was – much to Butler’s amusement – sandwiched against the misty window for two hours by a Numanoid. I don’t like to pre-judge people, but I guessed she was a Numanoid because she had a Gary Numan tour T-shirt on, a Gary Numan biro, a magazine open at a Gary Numan interview, and was scrolling through a Gary Numan website on her mobile while listening to the new Gary Numan album on her badly-soundproofed headphones.
We changed trains at Lancaster. The trip across the Pennines to Leeds on the two-carriage local service was, by contrast, totally life-affirming. Blue skies. Autumnal colours in the trees. Sheep on the silent hillsides. Distant dog-walkers. Crows stalking the railway bridges. I tried to get Bernard interested, but he was immersed in tweed-encased speaker cones in his guitar amplifier magazine.
At Leeds the next day, I killed 20 minutes at a pop-up charity tombola stall manned by middle-aged men in pink wigs with red buckets and a woman dressed as Batman.
At the end of the tour, we got the last London train home from Birmingham. I have never seen a train so packed and good-humoured. Revellers sitting in the luggage racks. Everyone squeezed together right down the carriages. A man in a fox onesie with a can of Strongbow gave up his seat for a startled woman in a pale raincoat.
At each stop through the East Midlands the train emptied – Coventry, Nuneaton, Rugby, people going home, a night out over – until as if by magic our carriage was suddenly empty, ghosting through Watford.
At a near-deserted Euston I got a taxi home.
“Been anywhere nice?” the cab driver said.
“Whistle-stop trip round the UK,” I said.
“Business or pleasure?”
I told him what I’d been up to.
“I picked Hank Marvin up on Oxford Street once,” he said through the sliding window. “‘Where to?’ I asked him. ‘Kings Cross,’ he said. ‘And I’ll pay you double if you put your foot down. I’ve got a train to catch.’”
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‘Hendra’ is out now. Find Ben Watt online here.
Related: more Write On articles