Words and Music by David Harley, copyright 1974
MP3 demo of song (unaccompanied first take, and no instrumental part yet)
When I was a kid in a country town
and I’d nothing better to do:
I’d detour round by the railway bridge
on my way home from school.
Leaning over the bridge with my chin in my hands,
too young to be wondering why,
I’d wait what seemed hours for the signal to change:
wait for a train to go by
The lure of the footplate, the churn of the rods
straining to places unknown;
fog in November, smoke in the cold air
the faraway steam-whistle moan;
bathing my eyes in the warmth of the lights
as up the track she would fly.
I’d get home late: they’d ask ‘Where have you been?’
I’d say ‘watching the trains go by’…
Saturday lunchtime some days in the spring
with the sky an implacable blue,
collecting the numbers of Castles and Kings:
it’s all we’d want to do.
Perspective of steel cut through frostbitten green,
just went on to a faraway end,
and I always felt sad at the Cambrian’s tail-light
as she’d disappear round the bend.
Now trains mean timetables, luggage and waiting rooms,
leaving the people I love;
the pounding of diesels, the A to B run
– perspective has subtly moved.
Tonight I am free and the rails are still endless
(if I had the fare to ride)
but I stand on a footbridge in the heart of the city
watching the tube trains go by.
Photograph © Copyright David Stowell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. I’ve slightly cropped the photo but made no further alteration, and I’m not sure that really counts as alteration, but if it does, consider it licensed under the same terms.
This is a (probably inaccurate) memory of my early school years, when we lived in Shrewsbury. The railway bridge in question is a composite: there were actually two that were (very loosely) on my way home, and another – my favourite – that meant walking in the wrong direction from Crowmoor school. The Cambrian is the Cambrian Express, which at that time ran from Paddington to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. Castles and Kings are classic Great Western steam locomotives: I changed that line after being reminded of them in a post to Remember When In Shrewsbury’s Facebook page. The older title ‘Liongate’ has something to do with the fact that I wrote the song while I was staying with my friend Sally Goddard somewhere near Kew Gardens (sometime around 1970). Not really ‘the heart of the city’, but there is a footbridge there somewhere that crosses the District line. I know… way, way too much information. Strictly speaking, Liongate was the guitar instrumental I used to play straight after singing the song unaccompanied, but it sort of attached itself to the song. Though since I changed that line, maybe Castles and Kings is a better title.
Sally now lives in Newfoundland, where she sings with a band called Atlantic Union.