Five years have passed since I stopped drinking, but I’m still always on the lookout for new things to do in the evening that don’t fundamentally revolve around alcohol.
On this occasion, I took a train. It wasn’t any old train… well yes okay it was. In fact, it was the 18:48 from Manchester Piccadilly to Hadfield. But it was also special for being one of northern England’s regular, if infrequent, ‘folk train’ services.
The train took us out from Manchester, through the commuter belt and on a leafy romp out towards the hilly Peak District. Meanwhile, local three-piece The Bourbon Street Preachers – named after New Orleans’ famous party street – were leading us on a jolly ramble through Cajun, Country and Zydeco. I’m not particularly a fan of folk music, but I am a sucker for novelty, so I genuinely enjoyed listening the accordion, fiddler and guitar as we surged through railway cuttings and under wrought-iron footbridges.
I’ve seen musicians on trains before. A steam train I took in Colombia seemed particularly well-suited to the Latin bands that passed down its restored old carriages. For the Bourbon Street Preachers to fit in with the pre-fabricated fixings and the fluorescent lights here they’d needed to have been plastic, snap-fit musicians playing lift-music. Instead they were bohemian musicians playing traditional music on weathered instruments, but then the incongruity is arguably part of the charm. Plus I’ve been to three stag do’s stone cold sober, so I’m hardly one to talk about things being out of place.
The folk train wasn’t an entirely non-drinking environment – there was the occasional can-click followed by a malty waft of beer – but it wasn’t an integral part of things. That changed somewhat when we decamped at Glossop, and the passengers and the band headed off together to the Glossop Labour Club. This part of the trip was more of a regular pub gig, with the audience people sat round tables laden with pints of the local ale, whilst I supped on a bottle of non-alcoholic Kaliber.
A monthly folk train to Hathersage allows you to skip the pub bit and take a walk in the surrounding countryside instead. But that’s during the daytime, obviously, or people would get lost. Which could be great fun now I think about it. It’s probably just as well I’m not in charge of such matters.
The train back – another regular service appropriated for music ends – brought a third set from the band. The crowd were probably a bit looser at this point thanks to their mild inebriation, with my friend insisting that the singing was better. She’d been drinking too, though, so she was probably listening through rose-tinted ears. Whatever the hell they are.