Reviews | Fast Trains at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: 'The craftsmanship underpinning the songs really shines'

The last time I was at a gig at The Wedgewood Rooms was for The Dub Pistols last March, a week before all venues were ordered to close.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 5:53 pm
Updated Friday, 16th July 2021, 6:09 pm
Tom Wells is Fast Trains, headlining at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea, July 15, 2021. Picture by Paul Windsor

Nearly 500 days later, gigs have finally resumed at the much-loved music venue, and the atmosphere in the room is rather different from that mad, sweaty night last March.

While it was lovely just to be back in the room, there was clear evidence that we’re far from out of the woods as far as this pandemic goes.

Some 30 per cent of those who bought tickets never made it to the show – one can only surmise that they got the dreaded ‘ping’ – which leaves quite a few of the socially distanced tables empty.

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Fast Trains. Picture by Paul Windsor

Even the bill, featuring all local acts, was effected – opener Tom Bryan had to pull out on the day after getting a positive Covid test.

Chris Peace commendably steps into the breach. The Foxer frontman performs stripped down versions of his band’s hard-rock/grunge songs, translating nicely to the acoustic format.

Next up are Me and The Moon, without their ‘Hanson lookalike’ backing band, the duo’s folky dream-pop hits the spot in a most pleasing fashion.

With Tamara Grzegorzek on acoustic and Jonny Elstone on electric guitar, the pair are hesitant at first, but visibly grow in confidence as the set progresses.

Headliner Fast Trains is the project of singer-songwriter and producer Tom Wells.

This is only his third gig under the name – the first two being in January and February last year – and on both those occasions he was backed by a full band.

While he may not have been able to perform live to an audience since the pandemic bit, he has performed alone on The Wedge’s stage this year, albeit to an empty room. He recorded a session for an online launch party to mark the release of his second EP, ourWorld: Volume 1.

And he’s alone again here, alternating between guitar and keys.

The set mixes material from those first two EPs with a smattering of new tracks, and it soon becomes abundantly clear that Tom knows his way around an earworm.

The recorded versions feature plenty of studio wizardry, but here, shorn of the other instruments, the craftsmanship underpinning the songs really shines.

Debut single Measure by Measure from 2019 is a strong opening hand, but it is the material from ourWorld that is revelatory.

Lyrically strong – skewering everything from men’s mental health (The English Way) to media corruption (I Work In Lies), self-harm (A Thousand Tiny Cuts) and addiction (On Being Poor), Wells is already building a remarkably assured canon of work.

There’s guest appearances from fellow singer-songwriter Andrew Foster, and support act Chris Peace, who prove to be valuable foils.

My esteemed colleague mentions halfway through the set how Wells reminds her of a young Roddy Frame of ’80s hitmakers Aztec Camera.

Quite uncannily, two songs later he performs a stunning cover of... Aztec Camera’s Somewhere In My Heart.

The seat finishes with Wells back at the keys Sea Change, and for the first time adding loops and beats as the song builds to its fuzzy, messy climax.

Honestly, if you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d be champing at the bit to see and hear more of the former Kassassin Street bassist’s solo work, I would have been rather surprised.

As it stands, I can’t wait to see what he does next.