My Not-So-Secret Teen Crush: The Railway Children
As previously mentioned, The Railway Children were one of my alternative boy band crushes. Raised outside of Manchester, their first album was released by Factory Records, British accents (duh), AND some good hair: tough to beat that in my book! (Heck, all of that STILL sounds really attractive to me — just 20 or 30 years older!)
In all seriousness, though, these guys had fleeting success in the late 80/very early 90s, writing their own music and playing their own instruments. It’s just an added bonus that Gary Newby happened to be seriously good-looking!
I was watching a rather painful interview with a couple of The Railway Children band members on MTV’s “120 Minutes”. The interviewer, Dave Kendall, was focused on their being a part of the Manchester scene. Several interesting things about that: (1) He referred to it as Manchester not Madchester. I’m not sure if that’s because that term wasn’t commonly used back then or because the interviewer was American. (2) The guys openly disliked being lumped into the Manchester scene.
One of the reasons this fascinates me is that I have discussed on numerous occasions my love of a sub-genre of alternative music that I have dubbed “British jangly guitar music”, lasting from approximately 1988–1992. It co-existed with the Madchester scene, sometimes overlapping or intersecting with it, but British jangly guitar music mostly existed parallel to that scene.
In my mind, The Railway Children are a fantastic example of that distinction: they even LIVED in Manchester, but weren’t Madchester. They were British jangly guitar music. The fact that they themselves identified as being outside of the Manchester scene is telling. I feel validated in my own proclivity to exclude them from the Madchester scene, instead including them in British jangly guitar music.
British jangly guitar music has its own distinct sound, as distinct as disco or grunge. I have never understood why it hasn’t been recognized in its own right. The influence of Spandau Ballet and the Smiths are obvious in addition to other new-wave and alternative bands from the late 70s through the mid-80s, but it’s an evolution of that sound.
It’s a fascinating and important slice in music history: that intersection of Madchester, shoegazing, and British jangly guitar music. From the ashes of those alternative types of music, mid-90s Britpop (Oasis, Blur, and Pulp to name a few) would rise to briefly take over the world.
Back to The Railway Children. I’m going to start with the first song, “Every Beat of the Heart”, off their 1990 release, Native Place. The critics weren’t pleased with their shift to a more danceable sound, but I find this upbeat alternative tune as charming as ever!
I’ll go back to 1987 and 1988 to focus on some picks from The Railway Children’s debut and sophomore efforts. You’ll still hear that bright, jangly guitar, but the overall vibe has a more natural, less produced sound to it. “Over and over” has an early REM influence. In fact, The Railway Children opened for REM while touring in the late 80s. Check out the harmonica!
“Gentle Sound” is one of their earliest tunes. I think Gary sounds fantastic on the chorus and this is one of the jangliest songs out there! I thought the accompanying video was hilarious, too. Totally random but completely works with the exuberance of the guitars.
“Brighter” has a more serious tone, but trademark bright guitar work and more sweepy singing by Gary. I hear early 80s new wave influences, like a more muted Haircut 100, on this one. I hadn’t heard “Brighter” in years, but within 10 seconds recalled it with great fondness. I liked this one upon its release in 1987 AND still do thirty years later!
I couldn’t resist one more from their 1990 release, the buoyant “Something So Good”. I’m dedicating this peppy, gorgeous tune to one of my sister’s best friends from this era. Happy birthday, KA!