Fast Trains are on schedule to arrive at Icebreaker Festival in Southsea this weekend

An award-winning music project is set to make its first steps into the live arena this weekend.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 27th January 2020, 11:24 am
Fast Trains live band, from left: Michael Koullas, Dan Sawyers, Nathan Hill, Chris Peace and Tom Wells. Picture by Tammy Martin.

Fast Trains, the name of the electronic project put together by musician Tom Wells, announced earlier this week that they will be playing in the special guest slot at 9pm in The Wine Vaults in Southsea as part of Saturday’s Icebreaker Festival.

And they will then be playing their own headline show the following Saturday at The Loft, which is now sold out.

Tom began work on what would become Fast Trains while still the bassist of Portsmouth favourites Kassassin Street (who recently returned after their own extended absence as Paradise Club).

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He found himself writing songs that didn’t fit with what the band were doing at the time.

‘It doesn’t sound like Kassassin Street, and a lot of it is personal as well – they’re songs about personal experiences, so it would feel odd if it wasn’t sung by me.

‘But I had this new batch of songs that didn’t fit there. I felt like they needed a new visual identity as well, and they seemed like they all belonged to this same world, rather than trying to shoehorn them in to what Kassassin Street were doing.

This is Fast Trains. Picture by Sam Brandon

‘It was all done in my little flat, and I got other musicians involved to play bits here and there, but I wrote it and engineered it. It was very DIY.’

Tom began working with animator Sam Brandon on debut single and video Measure by Measure, which was released in January 2019.

Sam was initially lined up to work with Kassassin Street after Tom found him online.

‘I was just looking for creative people on Twitter and Instagram, like illustrators, animators and videographers, those kind of people, and I came across Sam’s university project from his dissertation online, and thought: “What is this? This is amazing”.

‘I showed him what I was working on, and we struck up a creative relationship around that.’

‘The Measure By Measure video took a year – we started that in 2018, while I was still in the band.’

Tom says he initially planned to remain in the band, but soon left to concentrate on his own project. They entered the distinctive Measure by Measure video in several film festivals, winning Best Music Video in the RATMA International Film Festival.

‘Sam’s not part of Fast Trains, but he’s a very good sounding board and he’s a very nice creative person to have looking at all the visual stuff because he’s ridiculously talented.’

The original plan had never involved the project being a live music entity.

‘I never had any intention of it being a band thing. Originally we were going to do a four-part animation, and that was going to be it. Four videos with four songs. But then Measure by Measure took a year, and we realised we can’t do one a year for four years, that’s ridiculous. That’s when it all changed.

‘So I put out the first song and it got picked up on by 6Music and BBC Introducing, so I thought I had better do some more music – there’s a bit of momentum here, I can’t wait another year to put the next song out!’

He put out a three-track EP in April, ‘and then people started asking if I’d play at their festival. I had to say: “I don’t really want to. Well, I do, but I don’t know what I’m doing”. I’ve never sung live before as a frontman...’

From there Tom began trying to work out how to bring the studio-bound material to the stage.

‘I basically spent a lot of last year fretting about it and turning down gigs, I was thinking: Do I do it singer-songwriter-style as an acoustic thing? Or do I do it with loops, because I’ve seen people like Ban Summers and Fugitive Orchestra doing amazing things with live loops and being able to pull off a show. Maybe I can do it that way? But it’s fraught with danger – it’s a very hard skill to learn, and I never felt very comfortable with that.

‘So in the end, I thought I’d get together a few of my favourite musicians together, put them in a room and see what happened. And that’s what I did at the end of last year.’

He called on guitarist Michael Koullas, Dan Sawyers of Offbeat Offensive and Mayfield Records' House Band, his former partner in rhythm in Kassassin Street, drummer Nathan Hill, and Foxer frontman and solo artist Chris Peace.

‘None of them knew each other, which was interesting – they knew of each other, but they'd never played together, or really talked.’

After the inevitably awkward start to their first time in the rehearsal room, ‘​​Tom says: ‘​Within 10 minutes everyone was clicking musically and seemed to be in sync. And they’re all really good players!

‘That’s been the final piece I was missing – the live band. I can do what I did on the record, but when they get their hands on it, someone will suggest: “How about this?” And take it somewhere I’d never even thought of, which is really interesting.

‘Last year, I was tearing my hair out, trying to work out how to do it. And it was such a simple thing to go: “You know what, why don’t I just get a bunch of musicians together?”

‘I think it was because I’d just come out of a band. I’d been in Kassassin Street for eight years, so I was a bit sick of being in a band, and thought I’d do my own thing.‘Where it’s not my name I use, it’s a “band” name, it makes much more sense to have a band live, and it’s been so enjoyable, even in the rehearsals – which has even been surprising to me!’

And working with the live band could change the way Fast Trains operates in the future, with the exchange running both ways between the studio and the stage.

‘Eventually, I think there will be a coming together of the two. They do sound very different – the band sounds one way, and the records sound another, which I really like. I get excited about that.

‘Live, it’s not a note-for-note version of the record – it’s going to be more exciting and more energetic.

‘But then for me producing it, it’s about taking the best bits of the live show and feeding it back into the music. And also maybe, taking some of the stuff on the record and making the live show more layered, but it’s just something that will happen naturally over time as we develop.’

FAST TRAINS

Wine Vaults, Southsea, 9pm

Saturday, January 25