Welcome to Manchester Confidential
Reset Password
The Confidential websites will be undergoing routine updates. This may cause the sites to go offline. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

You are here: Manchester ConfidentialEntertainment & SportMusic.

Trains that play music – how jolly

Helen Clifton travels on the curiosities that are the folk trains and finds one under threat

Published on December 8th 2008.

Trains that play music – how jolly

I arrived at Piccadilly station looking for platform number 3 1/2. Perhaps it would be staffed by a twinkly-eyed man wearing a 1950s-style British Railway uniform. “Looking for the folk train?” he would say. “Follow me.”

Alas, the reality was far more prosaic. Manchester Piccadilly’s platform 13 was instead full of shoppers blankly preparing themselves for a day of much the same. But I spied some grey ponytails, wide brimmed hats, leather waistcoats and instruments slung casually over shoulders. Ah ha. I was in the right place for the Furness Vale folk train (official name the Buxton Line Train.

Manchester folk trains have been running for about 12 years. For the price of a normal ticket, you get on, listen to some live folk music, get off at a countryside pub, have lunch and a few pints of real ale, and get on again, listening to the band all the way home.

Former railway worker and folk fan Tony Wills, 79, was a regular traveller before he recently volunteered to take over the band bookings. He reckons folk trains started around 12 years ago, and there are now three different services running out of Manchester - to Furness Vale, Glossop and Hathersage - while another runs from Sheffield to Edale.

The type of music found on the folk train is diverse. Cajun, Irish, bluegrass, jazz, and British folk can be heard alongside klezmer, an eastern European folk music, a jug band, who use homemade instruments, and an American thirties-style medicine band. The Hathersage service attracts up to 100 fans.

Oldham-based Irish and Lancashire folk trio Tap the Barrel provided the onboard entertainment on my trip. As they launched into their repertoire, startled passengers tried desperately to look elsewhere, while less self-conscious children stared open-mouthed in curiosity.

But people gradually relaxed, and lo, even started to talk to each other. They should run this on commuter services. It would have a palpable impact on people’s mental health.

“You see people coming on, and ringing their mobile phone, and looking a bit confused,” Josie Odoni, co-organiser, says. “But then they sit down and just break out into this big smile.”

“One of the nicest things is seeing the way people react. They are like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’” says Tap the Barrel singer Esmond. “When people get on the train, they don’t speak to each other, but you see people who don’t know about the train talking to those who do. It’s great. There’s nothing else like it. It’s just a great way of getting people to use the train.”

Guitarist Stuart adds: “I find it quite touching, the number of people that come up and thank you. We love that.”

But has the much-touted folk revival brought the youngsters through the automatic doors? A slightly bewildered looking group of twenty-something Manchester University medical students seemed to think so, despite calling the experience, “surreal”.

“I picked up a leaflet and I've been meaning to come ever since,” said Seamus, 21, himself a guitar player. “These guys obviously know what they are doing, and it’s a great way to get out into the countryside. It’s been different, quirky, and alternative. I will definitely be coming back, for sure.”

My trip cost £7.40. Throw in the fine £3 hotpot served at Furness Vale Community Centre, and you have a great day out, gig, and fresh country air for just over a tenner.

Formerly operated by the Hope Valley Railways Partnership - now the High Peak and Hope Valley Community Rail Partnership – the Furness Vale line formerly ran to Whaley Bridge, where the venue paid the small £60 band fee, as do the Hathersage and Glossop venues.

Derbyshire County Council maintain they have never funded the folk train, and only agreed to pay for publicity, in addition to a £60 contribution to ”pump-prime” the first two events at Furness Vale Community Centre.

But the centre say they can’t afford the fee - a fact that is causing Tony some consternation. He is worried that after all these years, the Furness Vale line may have to close in December.

“Derbyshire County Council won’t pay the band – but I am angry because I can’t pay personally,” he says. “I have already had to pay £30 twice. They are trying to do collections on the train to Glossop, but I'm not sure whether that’s legal. Why should the public pay for the whole lot?

“It started out to as a way for people to make use of the trains. People often come along and say they have got a band that would like to play, that sort of thing. Nobody has asked for any more money – yet.”

The folk train is a strange and welcome anachronism in a world of rail travel that is gradually losing any vestige of the magic it once had. It would surely be sad to see a part of it disappear for the lack of a few quid.

“It is a really lovely thing to do,” says regular Geraldine. “It has got a really nice atmosphere, and everyone loves to take part. It is much better than going shopping in Manchester. After all, the more things you do, the better you are.”

For more information on the folk trains, go to www.hvhptp.org.uk

All Aboard – when to catch a folk train

There are three folk trains. These are the next ones. All depart from Manchester Piccadilly
Hathersage line - 11.46am, Saturday 13 December 2008 with Ugly Mug Jug Band, good-time music from the US, 1930's style.
Glossop line – 6.49pm, Thursday 18 December with Eunice Bobcats with the ‘Kings of the Cajun Railroad’.
Buxton line (Furness Vale) – 11.36am, Saturday 20 December 2008 with Hatstand Medicine Band, blues and jug, 20s and 30s music

Like what you see? Enter your email to sign up for our newsletters which are chock-a-block with more great reviews, news, deals and savings.

7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Baffled as usualDecember 8th 2008.

You can say one thing about ManCon, there are times when they prove that commerciality isn't everything. I got to the end of the first para before I lost the will to live.

snake plisskenDecember 8th 2008.

Will def be on the next Glossop train. A great friendly bunch of people who are trying a very odd new way to a decent night out. Long may they carry on. Don't mind a contribution on the night if it helps them keep going.

Carol AinsworthDecember 8th 2008.

Speaking of Mick Hucknall and the MEN. There's a lovely first sentence in their report by the daft Diane Bourne which goes, "He might be celebrating a quarter of a decade in showbusiness...." What two and a half years Diane? We should be so lucky.

Seamus, 21, guitar playerDecember 8th 2008.

Where was the appeal for musicians to join my soon to be formed band?! Been waiting to spot our mention for ages. Thanks Helen. Long live the folk train!

SodcommercialityDecember 8th 2008.

Baffled you dullard. This article is exactly what Confidential is about. This and fun and satire and great food reviews. keep it going folks and ignore twits like this.

James MillenDecember 8th 2008.

Baffled should get back to the MEN. There's a nice story about Mick Hucknall in there today.

Ali McGowanDecember 8th 2008.

Baffled needs to open his/her eyes a little more. And the sodding Council in question could surely pay £60. JHC [shorthand for something blasphemous; am now hoping I won't get struck by lightening].

To post this comment, you need to login.Please complete your login information.
Or you can login using Facebook.

Latest Rants

Heather Buchanan

link isn't working for some reason to play the music

 Read more
Heather Buchanan

don't be such a negative troll, post your face and name. There is absolutely such a thing where has…

 Read more
Beast is back

I managed to get tickets to this event and it was mesmeric. Never seen John before but it was a…

 Read more

Going to see John Grant at the Bridgewater Hall, cannot wait! Anyone unfamiliar with him have a…

 Read more

Explore The Site

© Mark Garner t/a Confidential Direct 2021

Privacy | Careers | Website by: Planet Code | SEO by The eWord