Live from an empty Wedgewood Rooms for Fast Trains new EP launch
The Wedgewood Rooms’ main stage is one Tom Wells has played on many times before.
As bassist in the band formerly known as Kassassin Street (last seen trading pre-Covid as The Paradise Club) it was usually to a packed house of adoring fans.
But now, under the guise of his award-winning solo project Fast Trains, Tom has played there again – to an entirely empty venue – to mark the release of his new EP, ourWorld: Volume 1.
With just a soundman and a small camera crew for company, multi-instrumentalist Tom recorded a set at the legendary Southsea venue to be livestreamed tomorrow on his YouTube channel.
Like many other music venues, The Wedge has been shut to the public since the first lockdown bit last March.
‘It was eerie at first’, recalls Tom, ‘walking in and seeing the whole venue again, I'd forgotten how big it is when it's totally empty, there was no barrier at the front or anything like that – it was really odd.’
While Tom is the mastermind behind Fast Trains in the studio, he had assembled a band for live shows. Unfortunately they’ve only played twice so far – at Icebreaker Festival, and then their own headline show in The Loft both in early 2020.
So this was also the first ‘show’ Tom has ever performed entirely solo.
‘It was strange, because I've never done anything like this. It's a totally different way of approaching things.
‘Over the last couple of years I've gradually got used to it and watching myself. I've had to watch that video from The Wedge so many times now and the camera never moves off of me, and it's quite odd when you're a bit of an introvert.
‘I'm not a big "frontman” persona naturally, so I'm having to learn it. I analyse everything – should I have walked from that part of the stage to this part, slightly quicker... Luckily I've got good people around me I can ask: “Is this good, or am I overthinking this?”’
But with the ‘band’ running as Fast Trains, rather than his own name, it has given him more creative freedom.
The project’s debut single Measure By Measure had its eye-catching animated video screened as part of the 2019 British Animation Film Festival in Leicester Square, before appearing in numerous other festivals across the world, including in Russia and the US, and went on to win the Music category of the RATMA Film Festival.
‘I can be so creative within what it is – we can do the animated videos, the live band, or me. If I wanted to I'm sure I could take it into other kinds of mediums.’
This livestream though was born out of the current circumstances.
‘I had the EP coming out, and I knew I couldn't gig it, so I put something out on the socials asking what people want to see.
‘I put it over to my fans, and asked them to vote for what the want – do you want a gig, or a listening party, me jumping on for a Q&A? What do you want to see and I'll do that. It's a great idea in principle until everyone voted for a live gig...
‘I have no set, I can't get the band together, so doing it like this was the answer to an interesting problem and I'm really happy with it - I think it's come out well. James Sharp, who filmed it, he's done stuff for me before, and did loads of stuff for Kassassin Street as well back in the day – he's done an amazing job, and Joe, who does the sound has captured it really well.’
The four-track EP tackles some weighty themes. Not that Tom set out to make it like this.
‘It unintentionally came together that way – they're big topics that need to be discussed more.
‘From a songwriting point of view, it's easy to write about yourself, it's more challenging to tackle a topic that's bigger than yourself and hopefully do it justice. That's what was pushing me forward on this one.’
That's not to say the EP is intended to be a downer – far from it.
‘I don't want to be wallowing in these things – it's a fine balancing act, you want it to be positive, but you don't want to make light of it to the point where you lose the seriousness of the subject matter.
‘I don’t want people to think I'm making light of it, but I do want people to go away feeling uplifted.
‘Music, for me, and a lot of art, is about escapism and leaving the mundane, daily life behind to find something exciting.
‘I would hate it if people were listening to my music and getting bummed out by it – in that moment where they've chosen to listen to my music, I want them to feel better about life.’
Lead single The English Way looks at the culture of the stiff upper lip and the harm it wreaks on men’s mental health.
‘It's a topic that's close to my heart.
‘Having gone through problems with anxiety and depression and not being to talk openly about it to people, it took me a long time, and luckily I had good people around me that managed to get that out of me, and it was such a beneficial thing.
‘It was kind of a turning point really, once I had spoken to people about it and opened up about it,and saw how accepting people were of it once they understood. It was a drastic point in my life that changed everything after that – everything became a lot easier.
‘But you see it all the time – men's pride gets in the way of them talking out, and we've lost lots of people to depression when no-one knew what was going on. I've had friends and friends of friends who've lost people and it's crazy – if we only knew what was going on, if they had spoken about it at the time, maybe we could have helped, even just saying: "I'm struggling," can be enough.
‘It's getting better, I think, it's more accepted now that mental health is a serious issue and it's nothing to do with not being a man and “manning up” and all that kind of thing, but I think there's still a long way to go.
‘A lot of people who work in music or the creative arts have had anxiety or mental health problems, but very rarely do they speak about it. There's still work to be done.’
I Work In Lies was inspired by the book Dial M For Murdoch by then Labour MP Tom Watson and journalist Martin Hickman about the tabloid phone-hacking scandal.
A Thousand Tiny Cuts also has literary roots – it was inspired by the controversial best-seller, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It looks at self-harm and the title relates to a notorious method of torture.
And finally, opening track On Being Poor is about addiction.
‘With Fast Trains I try to make it so I can write about topics like these, but find a positive way of putting it out there.
‘If you listen to it, it might be a dark topic, but it's an uplifting approach to that, so A Thousand Tiny Cuts is more about being able to cope with someone who's going through something like self-harming and the bond of the relationship is strong enough to survive that.
‘On Being Poor is about addiction, not necessarily drugs or alcohol, but something that’s overwhelming, but it's more about fighting back against it and trying to push through your addiction, rather than wallowing in it.’
As restrictions ease, Tom hopes to return to performing in front of an actual audience again, in solo and band iterations.
‘I've got a couple of dates booked in, one in September, maybe one before that, with the full band, and then I'm going to be doing some solo shows before that as well.
‘I've always wanted to have it where I could do a show on my own – I just didn't know what that show was going to be.
‘As usual, the simplest option can be the best one – just stripping the songs back to acoustic guitar or piano, like this livestream. It's stripping back to the bare elements of the songs and letting them breathe, which I think is really interesting.
‘We've got three different things now – two different live shows, and the recorded music.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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