The Train Set – interview
The Train Set are one of the truly great lost bands from the late 1980s. Having released stunning material and getting rave reviews in the weekly music papers of the time they suddenly went missing.
They played along side Manchester heavyweights the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James and played the legendary Manchester venue The Hacienda. They have reformed of late, re-releasing their superb material plus they have supported The Rainkings also playing the massive Shiiine On Festival to their growing fan base. All in all The Train Set are back, with a vengeance, gearing up to release new material and play further live dates in 2017.
Matt Mead caught up with lead singer Clive Jones to discuss the band, his memories of those heady ’80s times and why they have reformed!
LTW: First things first, can you give us a bit of a low down on your upbringing?
Most of us were born in Crewe to working class families where most people were employed either by the railways (Crewe Rail Works Engineering) or what was then Rolls Royce (Now Bentley Motors). Everyone in Crewe was expected to walk out of school and into a job at either one of them and stay there until you received your gold clock for serving 50 years or so! We didn’t want that.
Three of us met at the local Grammar School, Myself, Andrew Boote (Guitar) and Mark Shaw (singer, Guitar and bass). We got into punk quite early and our relationship grew through our interest in the Pistols, Buzzcocks
and the Clash etc. like a lot of people who were heavy into punk we decided to form a band. A punk band called ‘Extrovert” that developed along with our musical taste and became The Train Set after being called The Lost Lovers.
Punk only really lasted a year really then it was as if punk was the grenade that exploded then all the little fragments landed and started to flourish into what was then a really rich and healthy post punk scene. We would go to Smartyz in Chester or the Victoria Hall in Hanley to see bands like the Ramones, early Adam Antz, The Buzzcocks, the Stranglers and Wire. We also used to get the train up to Liverpool and go to Eric’s and what became Brady’s, watching Joy Division, Gang of Four, Bunnymen, Wah Heat. We were getting some good influences and meeting interesting people.. Then back to grubby old Crewe. We listened every night walking the streets with my massive radio cassette player listening to John Peel where we were soon introduced to bands like the Cure, The Bunnymen and other Zoo bands and Joy Division and other factory bands, among many others. So we had a lot of good influences from early on.
What was the first music you remember hearing?
The first record that I bought was Little Willy by The Sweet’ but my mum had 45’s by the Kinks, the Beatles and Roy Orbison and lots of awful stuff too. I remember getting into Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, some Yes albums and then punk happened so that was the end of my slow walk toward prog rock (Yes). Boote at that time was into Led Zep and The Beatles.
What was the first proper music you remember hearing?
Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Bowie, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Wire, then Joy Division, Gang of Four and The Cure and many many more.. I think we were all into The Doors, Led Zep, Velvet Underground too. I think punk educated us to look towards the punk influences. Later we loved the Pixies and many other bands.
How did you meet the other members of The Train Set?
Three of us met at school then later through going out to gigs etc we met Adam Halford (Drummer) who lived in Winsford. We got him down for practice and it started gelling. We then met Dave Hassall (Keyboard) at FE College. He was doing music, I was on an art course. Dave lived in Chester so we rehearsed half way between Crewe and Chester in a barn on a farm near Tarporley out in the Cheshire countryside. That’s where we really developed as a band and started writing.
Were you already writing material before TTS were formed?
I personally wasn’t. I know Boote had a few tunes of his own but nothing used by The Train Set. We had learned a few punk covers and then started writing our own stuff together.
Where did you play your first gigs? Were these before you were signed?
Liverpool was the first city that gave us a chance outside of Crewe before we went to Play Hard Records. I remember playing The Mardis Gras and The Berlin Club (a great party night was had especially the couple fucking in front of us whilst we were trying to concentrate on playing) in Liverpool and then being invited onto the Earthbeat Festival at Sefton Park a couple of times sharing the stage with the likes of Pulp, Dub Sex, the Stone Roses, The La’s and many others…who were also just starting out.
We also started getting some gigs in Manchester at The International before getting with Nathan McGough and Dave Haslam’s label Play Hard Records where we then started getting gigs at The Boardwalk and The Hacienda (I remember Nathan Introducing us to Tony Wilson backstage after a show and shaking our hands – think he approved). We played The Hacienda a couple of times, once with the Mondays, and more gigs at The International. We were soon then playing with James and toured with the Happy Mondays on The Bummed Tour.
The demo tape that you sent to Debris magazine, that was subsequently picked up by Dave Haslam and Nathan McGough. Who was behind the idea of sending this to the magazine? Can you go into detail of the journey from sending the tape to hearing from Dave/Nathan? Did you know Dave and Nathan before sending off the tape? Were Dave and Nathan characters?
We used to go gigging and clubbing in Manchester and Liverpool so we were aware of stuff happening in those cities,, The Hacienda and stuff, I was aware of and read Debris Magazine that was put out by Dave Haslam. Phil Conner (our mate and manager at the time) also made us aware of the free flexi disc that were given away with the magazine and approached Dave with our demo and asked if they would put us on a flexi in Debris.
Apparently it was then that Dave Haslam let Phil know that they were starting or had started a label called Play Hard and that he can do better than offer us a flexi and offered to release our first ever record on his Play Hard Label, She’s Gone. Before that we owe a lot of thanks to Mick Middles who was writing for the music section of the Manchester Evening News. He gave us great reviews of our demo which I think then got others around Manchester a little interested in us lads from Crewe.
Sadly when our first single She’s Gone was pressed somebody (we have heard a rumour who it was.. currently working as a DJ on BBC radio) had scratched Mick Middles is a c*nt on the run out.. We were pissed off with that has it made us look really shitty and I bet Mick Middles wasn’t happy. It was only recently that I got the chance to explain to Mick Middles what had happened. For years he must have thought we were the most ungrateful twats around having given us our first real ‘leg up’ in the first place only for ‘Mick Middles is a c*nt to be etched onto the run out.
We didn’t really know Dave and Nathan very well before sending the tape. I was aware who they were, especially Dave as the DJ at the Hacienda. We moved up to Manchester just before we got with Play Hard. Me and Boote lived on Palatine Road next door to the then Factory Records building. We didn’t know that Factory offices were next door when we first moved in but when looking out of the window we would often start to recognise various characters – Tony Wilson, Hookie, Alan McGee – then it clicked. Also my kitchen window overlooked Tim Booth’s kitchen – he had a flat in the same building.
From this you were successfully plucked to support James and the Happy Mondays on tour. Can you give us a low down of these times? Are there any ‘interesting’ stories you can give from touring with both bands?
I do remember playing with James at Warrington Legends and then soon after with James and the Mondays at The Astoria in London. Not long after we were invited to play on the Happy Mondays ‘Bummed’ tour which again finished off at The Astoria in London.
I remember hearing things about the Mondays but I found them really approachable and friendly. I can’t remember a lot of details from most of the gigs though. I do remember the Astoria gig on the Bummed tour. We went down really well to a full house as the main support to the Mondays I also remember playing at a Sounds bash at Kilburn High with the Mondays, The Band of Holy Joy and The Shamen. Later that evening the rest of The Train Set headed home up north and I decided to stay as we had been invited to hang out that night after the gig.
I then remember that after the after show meeting up Pete Wylie. Pete Wylie, myself, Shaun and others headed off to a club near Leicester Square that I think Wylie had something to do with. I don’t remember much but I know I ended up back at the Mondays hotel and then I slept in Shaun’s bed has he had disappeared somewhere. I was told it would be ok to get in his bed rather than the floor. I was woken up to ”Who’s been sleeping in my bed” in that Manchester drawl at daylight. I apologised but he was great about it really. The reason I am telling this story is that I was offered a morning ‘pick me up’ instead of a punch and I distinctly remember, when emptied, a small empty polythene packet being flung, not into the bin, but it landed in Shaun’s holdall (bag). Shaun was heading off that morning to meet Karl Denver in Jersey.. I headed back up north with the rest of The Mondays in the van.. Shaun was then arrested at the airport for traces on a small little polythene bag.. See extract from Q magazine: Book Extract – Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas by Simon Spence.
“Modern day music folklore, the Happy Mondays story is one of excess, chaos and musical genius. Simon Spence’s recently published new book, Excess All Areas tells the the tale of Shaun Ryder and co, and in this exclusive extract he recounts the band’s attempts to chase a hit in the wake of the release of their second album, Bummed. With Lazyitis the second single to be taken from the album, the band begin their attempts to record new material with producer Martin Hannett, a process that will ultimately produced the Madchester Rave On EP.
“On 4 May , after a gig in London at the Kilburn National Ballroom, Shaun Ryder travelled to Jersey to do an interview with the NME to promote Lazyitis. Karl Denver often played a residency in a cabaret club on the island, but the Mondays had paid for him to go there to recover from the flu he’d caught filming the Lazyitis video. The idea was for the NME to interview the duet-tists together, but on arrival at Jersey airport, Shaun was arrested after being found with a small polythene bag containing traces of cocaine. He was charged with importation and possession of the drug – an offence that could result in a three-year sentence. Blood tests revealed he also had cocaine in his system. “I was out there with him,” said [band manager] Nathan McGough. “We were due up before the beak at four on Friday afternoon. There was a bank holiday weekend coming up and the customs officers were applying to have him detained on the island until trial – which was a six-month lie down. So I got five grand wired over from the mainland to the lawyers.” McGough asked the barrister to pay Shaun a visit but he came back saying Shaun had refused to see him. McGough asked him to try again, but he kept coming back saying Shaun didn’t want to see an advocate.”
James Brown and Stuart Maconie acclaimed your debut 12’’ She’s Gone. Was this a surprise to receive this feedback? Did you see a bigger following from these reviews?
It was great to get such fantastic reviews for our first single. With both the editor (James Brown ) and Maconie making it their single of the week. They had great things to say about it.. It was also great to hear John Peel play it and say very positive things about it. One minute nobody had heard of us, the next we had sold out of all our initial pressings in one week. I was a great single.
Then the bad news – nobody else could get hold of the single. Apparently there were lots of orders from indie record shops at the weekend because the shops did not have it in stock up and down the country. The single had great reviews, Peely and other DJs on Radio 1 playing it but it was sold out. It got high in the NME charts that week, we had a piece /interview in NME by Maconie but nobody else could buy the single. Who knows what it would have sold?
Apparently it sold out of the first run of pressings in five days so we needed more and when Play hard rang up the pressing plant to print more copies to meet demand they were told that they could not press anymore. When asked why, they were told to contact Red Rhino (the distributors) who then told Play hard that they had gone into liquidation that week. So there we were promoting a single nobody could get their hands on. What luck our first single, released the same week Red Rhino who had been distributing for years go bust. Play Hard soon got another distributor (Cherry Red I think) but when we asked Play hard to re-release it a few weeks after the initial release we were told that it had probably lost momentum now and we should wait until we release the second single that would be brought forward.
I think the Inspiral’s had the same issue with their release that week but they did re-release and all went well. She’s Gone was subsequently saved for the Play Hard band compilation Hand to Mouth. We all really regret what happened, such bad luck, and maybe some wrong decisions made with not quickly releasing She’s Gone after the Red Rhino issue. We still believe that had it been released again straight away things would have been very different! However those that missed us first time round are getting the opportunity to hear us now.
A second single Hold On was released. What was the reaction to that?
Good, some good reviews and it charted in the indie singles top ten but never had the initial impact of She’s Gone. If She’s Gone would have done it’s thing then I’m sure that would have helped the second release too but it did OK.
What happened after the second single release? Did you continue to tour and record stuff in the studio?
Straight after the second single was released our bass player Mark, decided he had enough and eventually went to teach in Brazil. We had stopped really doing anything then for a while, then we found new bass player John Adams who was from Crewe originally but now lived in Manchester (He used to be in a band called The Expanding Men from Crewe who’s members included Lee Belsham, bass player of ‘Dr Phibes’ and Rob Cieka, drummer of The Boo Radleys). We saw Rob recently after many years, he turned up at our gig with The Rainkings and Deja Vega at The Ruby Lounge at the end of last year.
We started writing new tunes but we had sort of lost touch with Play Hard etc by then. We started writing again and went into Strawberry Studios to record two new tracks. We had interest from Poyldor and Virgin and an offer from Demon Records. Then Adam (Drummer) decided to call it a day. That was it then. I went off to University to study Film and Photography (Justin Kerrigan director of Human Traffic was in my class). Everybody went their separate ways.
Just before we split Boote played with The Bodines, Dave (Keyboard) did some things with K Klass I think and Adam went on to play with Kit but The Train Set was no more.
What prompted TTS to reform and ultimately re-release the old material?
We were approached by Uwe Weigman from Firestation records in Berlin. I think he had heard a shit version (too speedy and tinny) of She’s Gone on Youtube that somebody had posted up.. He approached us and asked if we had any of the rest of our tunes anywhere.. We were not sure. We didn’t know who had the tapes, where they were and what condition they were in if we did find them. Anyway, we eventually found enough tracks to send to Uwe who put the album Never California out.
When the album was released we started to get some really fantastic reviews from many who would independently of each other, state that the tunes sounded so ‘fresh’. We were then asked by a few people if we were gigging. We only initially came together to see over the release of the album. Boote and myself were back living in Crewe, Adam lives in Halifax (he’s the Father of the two girls in The Orielles), but luckily Mark (bass) was back in the Crewe area having lived for most of his time in Brazil and Portugal and Dave was in Tarporley so we talked about the possibility of re-forming..
We have always felt that we perhaps disbanded too early originally and felt that the tunes deserved further listening and that a whole new audience of people are out there who have never heard of us.. so why not? We have received some good radio play around the world and on BBC Radio 6 shows such as Radcliffe and Maconie, Tom Robinson, Chris Hawkins and Gideon Coe etc We were then invited to play at the Shiiine on Weekender sharing the main stage with The Bunnymen, The High and House of Love etc so we started rehearsing regularly and our second ever gig after all these years was with Stephen Holt’s The Rainkings at the Ruby Lounge at the end of last year (thanks Stephen!).
Our third gig was at Shiiine On Weekender which was a great experience. I think we pulled it off but we were on on the Friday afternoon as people were still arriving. However we had a great response from those that did catch us. I would like to play there again in some capacity next year if invited as it was a great weekend overall. Boote the original guitarist couldn’t commit to playing live with us but a friend of ours Jason took over on guitar with Boot’s approval and it’s been great adapting the old stuff and writing new material too with Jason.
You’ve successfully played comeback shows supporting Rainkings and playing on the main stage at Shiiine On supporting Echo and The Bunnymen. Have you got any favorite memories from playing these shows? How were you approached to play both shows?
I got talking to Stephen Holt and The Shiiine on people through twitter and Facebook really. I think they just liked our reviews of the album, that I would have tweeted ,or remembered She’s Gone from back in the day etc and it went from there really. Stephen thought it would be good if we played with them. Which I am glad we did, and I think Carl from Liverpool band The Farm supported us by making people aware of our material, for Shiiine On Weekender. It’s nice that people are re-discovering The Train Set material and liking it. I have always thought we were a bit of a band’s band really – other bands seem to like us.
What are the plans for TTS now? Further live dates? New material?
We have just released a vinyl of Never California available at the Manchester Vinyl shops and online and have just signed a publishing deal with Wipe Out Music Publishers Ltd. Our single She’s Gone will feature in a film released later this year called ‘Habit’ which is a horror film set in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, directed by Simeon Halligan.
We are going into the studio to write and record new material in March/April time. I’m doing all the ground work myself at the moment and it’s a bit difficult managing whilst trying to earn my rent also. I want to raise the profile and get the stuff out there and get some decent gigs.. We are a good band and I don’t want to be viewed as just a retro outfit. When people hear us they like us – its just a matter of trying to spread the word again. Most of those who have discovered us lately have wondered how come they have never heard us before and they are very complimentary on what they’ve seen and heard so far. We think many more would enjoy listening to our older and new material both live and on recordings.The new stuff is great and we are glad to be able to still write new material, We are very much enjoying doing it.
We have a track on the Cherry Red ‘Manchester North of England box set‘ to be released early this year (there may be a promo gig we will do with others, to coincide with the release in Manchester, that Cherry Red may go ahead with). There is also another indie compilation release that we will be on that I can’t mention yet. That will be out at around the same time. We will also be releasing the new material this year also.
There are some gigs in the pipeline (yet to be confirmed) with a Manchester band and a date with The Real People (date not confirmed) ( both played Shiiine On Weekender) and we have been invited to play an indie festival all dayer thing in Preston with The Nightingales and Blue Orchids on May day. We are playing at The Box in Crewe with Deja Vega (great band) on April 21st . We also have a few more shows, yet to be confirmed, this summer in the NW. We have lots of radio play worldwide and in the US at the moment and a bit of a fan base building there . We have also had some interest from China (to be announced).
More writing by Matt can be found at his Louder Than War’s author archive.