The Boxed Set #10: Train Songs

And so it ends, quite literally, as it began. The final reissue of the Boxed Set is my first EP, a humble cassette released in the first months of 2001 called ‘Train Songs’.

The context for it was quite simple, several years of C90 cassettes filled with songs and pieces of noise had preceded my arrival at Aberystwyth Uni in 2000. After a few months of getting to know people there, I plucked up the courage to bang out a brief demo cassette in my room, hand it to the president of Indiesoc and ask for a gig. This is not that cassette, though I do still have it. I forget the exact tracklist, save that it contained a song called ‘Semen in my eyes’ which has never been heard since….

But said gig was duly awarded, an opening slot on a bill with two other Aber bands called Deflour and the Jonny Narcissist – with whom I subsequently had a longstanding enmity which was largely in my head. The gig was fine, I nervously strummed my way through six songs, doing my best to be heard about the members of the above-mentioned Jonny Narcissist who continued to sit behind me on the stage and talk all the way through. I later created a fictional ‘T-shirts’ page on my website which offered this design:

Yeah, take that!

After the gig a few people took the time to tell me they’d enjoyed it, and one of them asked me if I had ‘an EP’ for sale. At the time I had nothing. But the idea stuck, and so over xmas 2000 I duly recorded the six tracks which would become ‘Train Songs’.

I made 30 copies of the tape, each painstakingly hand duplicated, each with a unique sleeve featuring cuttings from the Bolton Evening News. The tracklisting on each was also written by hand. It took quite a while, a tradition that persisted all the way through to the elaborate hand cut sleeves of Build Library Here and such.

I still have a few copies of it left (click for bigger):

if anyone has one they’d like to share a picture of it’d be great to see some of the other designs again.

Musically there’s not much to say. Five of the six tracks are acoustic guitar songs with little embellishment, save a little backwards guitar on one, and then there’s a long droney loop piece. Lyrically again there’s a lot of ‘girls/boo hoo’ material on here, but the very first track is one I could happily strum through today and it’d fit right in.

The songs:

The Cynical Little Train

Somewhat twee, but deceptively so. The recording was bettered on No More Roads, but this tape is where it belongs. The definitive opening statement of Pagan Wanderer Lu. I’ll quote the chorus in full:

‘Mix cynicism in with optimism/ and you will be funny/ and you will get laid/ If you smile all the time then you’re out of your mind/ but you know that a frown will only get you down’

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Someone Else

And then this. A nice enough guitar part and some ‘by numbers’ lyrics about a girl. From memory the same girl who inspired ‘Control’ from ‘Cliff Railway 1902’. Contains a line about waiting for the phone to ring.

Life’s too good (for other fkers and not for me)

The title taken from a long, incomprehensible screed which for many years adorned the wall of my bedroom at my parents’ house. This is a duller, longer version than the one on ‘Cliff Railway’. The lyrics just a general expression of longing and teenaged angst though I think they have a certain something. From memory this song was a year or two old even at this point.


A long guitar instrumental of a kind I churned out by the C90-load when I acquired a delay pedal with borderline loop-pedal capabilities. Nice enough. Named for the halls of residence I lived in – though not actually recorded there.

Defence Mechanism

Proudly announced onstage at my first gig as the only song I’d written since moving to Aberystwyth. I think this one was of a piece with ‘Xmas Song’. The same message of ‘leave me alone, I don’t want to talk about things’.

Fragile Thing

The only PWL song to be credited to me/someone else. In this case three or four people from school who’d given me a tape of some instrumentals they made together that had no lyrics. I duly wrote and recorded the words ‘after my tea’ and presented them the next day, to much excitement. The tape then got played to some of the girls at school who complimented me on my nice voice, saying the song reminded them of Phil Collins. They meant it as a compliment. This version is just me playing the chords on the guitar, rather than the full ‘piano and mush’ version played that day. Still a reasonable amount of mush, but I think the lyrics are pretty good, albeit a few bits nabbed from a godspeed press release/rant.

Disorder (bonus track)

I originally conceived of Pagan Wanderer Lu as being something like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy/Palace. The name, when I came up with it, seemed pleasingly of a piece with BPB. I never envisaged it turning into the electro-pop/laptoppy thing it has sometimes been – I just figured I’d churn out endless lo-fi acoustic records for years. So the first cassette included a bonus track cover of ‘Disorder’ by Palace Music. Recorded on a portable tape machine rather than the Tascam four track (to make it even more lo-fi). Not much to say about it either. The album the original is from, ‘Arise Therefore’, is one of the most impressively bleak things you’ll ever hear. I recommend it.

And that really is it. The vast majority of Pagan Wanderer Lu is now out there in the world for anyone who wants to hear it. Some 84 songs reissued in total, if I’ve counted right. Thanks to everyone who’s been downloading these over the past nine months, and extra thanks for those who opted to pay. It funded a not-insignificant chunk of a new record which you will be hearing about soon.

Until then…



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