Rewired on the Train: A Unique live experience aboard Vale of Rheidol

George Higgins

DOES your dad have an interesting hobby? Maybe he collected vinyl before it was cool again. Maybe he’s trying to collect every copy of Speed, starring Keanu Reeves (Keanu Speeds, if you will) on VHS. 

If you lived in the kind of place that keeps the heritage of Britain’s steam railways alive, like the Severn Valley railway,  the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway near Snowdon, or the Llangollen excursion in North Wales, the weekends of your childhood may be full of coal dust, views of quiet Welsh rivers, and tearooms. So many tearooms.

Rewired Music’s event on Aber’s Vale of Rheidol steam railway, that runs to the popular tourist destination of Devil’s Bridge, was the first moving gig I’ve ever attended. Starting in the early morning, five artists played across the five carriages on the railway, switching at every stop. with an hour’s break for passengers to take in the scenery at the end of the line.

The narrow-gauge line has a combination of open-air and closed carriages. I began the morning in the latter, watching vocalist Jess Jones, a Rewired staple who I first saw during Comic Relief and Bay24, backed up by Emily Farr on percussion. While the aforementioned coal dust, chilly October breezes, and noise of the train all did their best to interrupt proceedings, Jone’s voice still carried well to the back of the carriage under the circumstances.

Jim Corbett

Changing carriages at Capel Bangor, solo artist George Higgins was up next. A homegrown talent, his quieter songs as calming as the scenery, though those afraid of heights are advised to sit on the far side of the train carriages. 

“This is the most intimate gig I’ve ever done”, Higgins began, his Fleet Foxes-y folk plucking and considerable indie yawp giving new life to “Teenage Dirtbag”, and original song “Alice” is still stuck in my head after a few days. “Lights” is about mixed signals when you’re romancing someone. There’s one about New Year’s Eve, and songs about that night are always good, from Auld Lang Syne (more on that later) to “The Ice of Boston.”

Also among the performers was Bay Radio Playlist Manager Jim Corbett, who appeared on the railway following the release of his album. Sunglasses in pocket, beanie on head, Jim came prepared for Aber’s changeable weather and cut a cool figure against the old-fashioned backdrop of the railway, after the break at Devil’s Bridge, It’s music that sounds best in venues that fit ten, and that’s slightly less than the acts performed for on Saturday. His distinctive, raspy voice handled an excellent cover of “Folsom Prison Blues”, and he lent his extensive range to George Ezra’s “Budapest”, a cover that trumped the original.

Penultimate performers Modern Age Mariners were on the exact right side of saccharine, with Adam Sale on vocals and guitar and Ben Howarth with accompaniment on ukulele and percussion, they provided more uplifting originals and the quirkiest lyrics of the afternoon, Noah and the Whale-esque charm mixed with folk and pop, a Jason Mraz cover not entirely out of place. 

Fittingly, as the train pulled back into Aberystwyth, Chelsea Taylor was the second solo artist after Higgins to sing about Aber. Her song “Home” racked up over 50,000 hits earlier this year, and contains many references to life in the town. With tremulous vocal chops as good as can be heard in the annals of early 2000’s R&B (Aaliyah, anyone? Mariah?) or Winehouse at her peak and gentle, heartfelt songs, Taylor rounded off proceedings nicely.

A bold experiment, Rewired on the Train offered both wonderful acoustic music and beautiful scenery. While these kinds of performances are best enjoyed in a quieter setting, it was clear both artists and audience enjoyed the mix. As Taylor and Higgins mention, this is a small town, and these performers are all worth seeking out in the future.

From left; Chelsea Taylor, Jess Jones and Emily Farr, Adam Sale and Ben Howarth, Jim Corbett, George Higgins

Photo credits: Alex Rees.