December 31, 2013

The Railway Children - Reunion Wilderness (1987/2001) / Recurrence (1988) / Native Place (1990)

It is hard to over-estimate the influence of The Smiths on the revival of guitar-pop in England during the mid-to-late 1980s. Rather than being a London-based phenomenon, this revival emanated from the north, and just as it had during the rise of post-punk, Thatcher-era Manchester proved a particularly fertile ground for this unique integration of sixties-era guitar-pop and post-punk moodiness. Hailing from Manchester, The Smiths largely created the blueprint for much of what was to follow for the remainder of the decade; however, the influence of Scottish bands such as Orange Juice and The Scars, as well as Liverpool bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes also informed this guitar-pop resurgence. In the summer of 1983, a group of Wigan teenagers from the outskirts of Manchester led by Gary Newby (songwriter/vocalist/guitarist) formed a band that, while featuring the jangly guitar-oriented sound that was quickly coming into vogue at the time, pursued a gentler approach to better feature Newby's subtly expressive vocals. Newby: "I was friends at school with Stephen Hull our bass player. We were in a couple of different bands together that never actually played any gigs. Then we met our drummer Guy Keegan, probably around '83, and started rehearsing as a three piece and playing bars and clubs around Wigan. We did mainly stuff I'd written plus a few covers, things like 'Crocodiles' by Echo & The Bunnymen or 'Figurehead' by The Cure. Brian Bateman joined on rhythm guitar, and the next big step came when we started playing clubs in Manchester, around '84. We eventually hooked up with our manager, Colin Sinclair, after various encounters, gigs, and demo tapes, including an aborted session with Martin Hannett. Colin owned a live venue and rehearsal studio just around the corner from the Hacienda, called The Boardwalk." After naming the band after a children's book by Edith Nesbit published in 1905, Newby, Hull & co. began gigging in and around Manchester and quickly built a devoted following due to their unique "gentle" sound, which culminated in a recording contract with the legendary Manchester independent, Factory Records.

Newby: "Being on Factory was an amazing experience. There was a real buzz around rehearsing and putting the material together for what would be our first releases. We had a room at the top of the Boardwalk building next door to where James rehearsed. The Happy Mondays also rehearsed there along with some other Factory bands like ACR [A Certain Ratio] and Kalima. There was always bands coming and going. We'd grown up listening to Joy Division and New Order, and Tony Wilson was an inspirational character. I think we thrived in that atmosphere because it was completely unstructured and unpressured." Factory's penchant for allowing their artists to develop and explore their sound in an environment free of corporate interference payed dividends for The Railway Children. They released their first single, "A Gentle Sound," in 1986, and the following year, their debut LP, Reunion Wilderness, reached #1 on the UK indie charts. Reunion Wilderness features one of the band's best songs, "Brighter," a fine piece of avowedly romantic jangle-pop that certainly put them in line with much of the C86 crowd; however, the band's immediate success and Gary Newby's polished vocals suggested the band was far more marketable than many of their peers. And the majors did come knocking. It was Richard Branson of Virgin America who convinced the band to leave the nurturing confines of Factory, and though the short-term results were a bigger recording budget and a significant expansion of their fan base, jumping to a major label did have its drawbacks, as Virgin began to push them in an increasingly commercial direction. Newby: "After the release of Reunion Wilderness, we had a lot of interest from other companies, and I suppose we got seduced by the bright Lights. Looking back, we probably should have stayed with Factory for at least another album, and grown a little."

Staying on a little longer at Factory would have indeed been a good decision because the band's stint at Virgin was fated to be not only stormy, but ultimately fatal. Nevertheless, things did seem promising at the start. The Railway Children's second LP, Recurrence, was released in 1988, and they soon found themselves touring Europe and America with the likes of R.E.M. and The Sugarcubes. The album itself finds the band hitting their stride in terms of songwriting; "In the Meantime" is a particularly fine example of this. However, Recurrence bears the imprint of Virgin's influence on the band's sound, as it pushes them slightly away from the pure guitar-pop of their earlier work and into a more produced, at times even mainstream, direction- but the songs are good enough to consistently overcome this. And in light of the creative struggles that lay ahead for the band, Recurrence sits as The Railway Children's most fully-realized work. Despite its obvious quality, the album failed to meet Virgin's commercial expectations, and by the time The Railway Children's third album, Native Place, was released in 1990, the band, at the behest of their label, was out to score a chart hit, which they achieved with "Every Beat of the Heart," a song with a noticeably dancier, chart-friendly sound. Perhaps ironically, this would spell the end of The Railway Children's flirtation with mainstream success. Within two years, Virgin would be swallowed up by EMI, and the band found itself without a label. Completely fractured by their loss of direction, The Railway Children decided to split in 1992- a band whose early work suggested something unique and full of promise but whose creative flame was decimated by a major label's insistence on compromising artistic integrity for mainstream appeal: another cautionary tale to be sure.

Reunion Wilderness (1987/2001)
 1. Another Town
 2. The First Notebook
 3. Railroad Side
 4. Careful
 5. Brighter
 6. Big Hands of Freedom
 7. Listen On
-Bonus Tracks-
 9. History Burns
10. Content
11. Darkness & Colour

Links in Comments

Recurrence (1988)
 1. Somewhere South
 3. Swallowed
 4. Merciless
 5. My Word
 7. Over and Over
 9. Chrysalis
10. No Great Objections

Links in Comments

Native Place (1990)
 2. Music Stop
 3. You're Young
 4. Because
 5. Cotton Counting
 6. It's Heaven
 7. Something So Good
 8. Collide
 9. Native Place
10. Fall On
11. Harbour Force

Links in Comments


  1. Reunion Wilderness










    Native Place





    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. can you please repost native place. Thank you in advance

  2. Yes thank you! So much music, so little time.

  3. Thank you - brilliant blog! Great taste.

  4. I'm late, but thanks a ton!

  5. I'm even later - but much gratified. "Brighter" is one of my all time favourites... hard to believe I've never heard more of TRC. ...Until now! Best wishes to you, from Manchester, UK (ironically!)

  6. Thanks. Had an online conversation once with a man from Manchester and he was surprised that TRC (like other UK jangle bands) is somehow popular in Manila.