Monday 14 January 2013

East Coast Racer

Photo: Gresley Society Trust

We are now seven weeks away from the release of English Electric Part Two, and as with Part One, we will be posting a weekly blog about the songs on the album up until the date of release.

The first song on Part Two is called East Coast Racer.

75 years ago, on 3rd July 1938, a streamlined locomotive called Mallard set the world speed record for steam trains, travelling at 126mph on a straight, downhill stretch of the East Coast Mainline.

Mallard has been preserved as a static exhibit and is normally on display at the National Railway Museum in York. Whilst she was made for speed the designers created a machine of extraordinary beauty; if you go to the museum, she will stop you in your tracks.

The story of Mallard has been described by Andrew Martin as being like Chariots of Fire with steam engines and it became, for me, an irresistible theme for a song. However, it wasn't so much  Mallard but the people who designed, made, fired and drove her that interested me. And it is their tale we tell over the 15 minutes or so of East Coast Racer.

It is a story with a wonderful list of main characters; designer Sir Nigel Gresley, his assistant Oliver Bulleid, fireman Tommy Bray and driver Joe Duddington. Alongside those with starring roles was a community of engineers and railwaymen who all played a part in the making of a legend.

But, in the end, we come back to Mallard.

Émile Zola said: 'Somewhere in the course of manufacture, a hammer blow or a deft mechanic's hand imparts to a locomotive a soul of its own'.

In this short sentence, Zola puts his finger on the connection between the maker and the machine. Mallard has outlived its creators but in it, this company of men and the work they carried out, lives on.



Jon Marsh said...

Greg, that's a lovely post and takes me back to my 'train spotting' days (much earlier in my life when I was perhaps 13). It would have been about 1972, and I vividly recall standing on a foot bridge over the railway line approaching Stockton-on-Tees station (up in the North East of England) with 3 or 4 mates, hearing the news that Mallard was doing a 'special' run from York to Newcastle and might make an appearance that afternoon on 'our' line.

Sadly, the train never did appear, on 'our' line anyway, but the thrill and anticipation of the possibility of seeing the faster steam engine in the world on our turf lingers strongly in my mind even now.

Fabulous theme and if EE Part Two is even close to Part One, it will bring those memories to life once more. Thanks for creating something, like Mallard, of sheer beauty. I suspect, like the engineers who made that engine, you will die a happy man if your music is still being admired in 75 years time.

Best wishes to you and the crew


Tobbe said...

Thanks Greg! Very nice story! I like the Zola quote in the end...the connection between us humans and our machines is an intriguing one...

Unknown said...

Thank you for the music and the lyrics, this song is simply amazing.

At first, I was really confused: "engines"? "wings"? What is this song about? Everyday, we hear songs that speak about ourselves or the person we love, but one about machines is an intriguing one.

Everything make sense now. Thank you. We shouldn't see reality only as cold and meaningless, but also as a continuity between what was before and what is now.