Lost Trades; The Bird, The Book & The Barrel

Even though they put a man on the moon four years before I was born, I swear it’s the little things summoning me to a care-home for the terminally bewildered. I’m pre-empting what-they-can’t-do-these-days scenarios, but why so soon? All the years of diluting the kid’s squash, I observed they look rather stout of recent. My daughter calls it a ‘senior moment,’ pointing out, it’s double-strength squash. She was right too, says so on the bottle, in huge, unmissable letters.

In a way, it’s kinda like the highly anticipated album from The Lost Trades. Because, if in the past I’ve put them deservedly on pedestals as individuals, when they first joined together, they shimmed said pedestals closer, and nicely complimented each other’s voices. This can be heard in the three tunes which reappear from the earlier EP, Robots, Good Old Days, and Wait for my Boat; the first one being definitively Phil’s song while the latter two have the marks of Jamie. Awesome as these are, it’s the unreleased tunes which I need to draw your attention to, as they’ve balanced the pedestals atop of each other, like a daring circus act; the lines between them as individual performers are now totally absorbed, in both writing and vocals, akin to the double-strength squash, this is triple-strength!

If you’ve never known them as individual performers, you’d be forgiven for mistaking that they ever were, with these new set of songs. And with other tricks up their sleeves, The Bird, the Book & The Barrel exceeded my high expectation. Solving the conundrum of what else to write about a trio we’ve already covered so much on Devizine.

The Bird, the Book & The Barrel, released on Friday, the 4th June, can be pre-ordered, and you get two tracks in advance, if you cannot wait, which is understandable. With a rustic wood-cabin corporate identity they don’t waiver from, the essence of folk-roots of yore are embellished with modern themes, from which they project the perfect balance of vocal harmonies one could only compare to family groups. Save Simon & Garfunkel and The Drifters, who could do it, we have to think from the apt genre, of the Carter Family, to The Carpenters, and The Everly Brothers, but perhaps onto The Jacksons, for in soul their voices harmonised with similar perfection. Yes, it really works akin with the Lost Trades, I’m pleased to announce, and here more than ever.

And in this, the opening tune could be constituted as somewhat boastful about their precision, if not a simple premise of unification; only in sharing one vision will the world be ours for the taking; if you got it, flaunt it! One Voice sums up my own overall thoughts on the album, and makes for a beautiful introduction.

The second track is where the magic really starts. The fleeting romantic interlude of a fast-paced, maybe dodgy, roamer is the theme of Road of Solid Gold, which is as the road, solid and gold. An unusual composition, being the fiddle is habitually played during instrumental breaks, but here it accompanies the vocals. This violin mastery is performed by legend of folk, Peter Knight, a founding member of Steeleye Span, undoubtedly the most renowned group of the British folk revival alongside Fairport Convention, and secretly was Uncle Bulgaria of the Wombles band too! Additionally, this is where we hear the Trades really melding their voices into one, which occurs more frequently as the album progresses.

Elements combine, regardless if one takes the lead, or verses are harmonies too, it’s all a big slice of wonderful. The astute song writing weaves narrative timelessly, be it nostalgic-based such as Good Old Days, unification against the odds like Distance Brings us Closer, both where Jamie leads, and the most poignant, Kingdom Falls, a tale of the pen being mightier than the sword through the eyes of a prisoner of war.

Then there’s lighter subject matter, often where Phil leads, such as the trickling Your Winning Days, but his lead also offers one of most divergent tunes, Robots, an apprehension of automation, in which a steady guiro offers a pertinent clockwork effect.

At seven tracks in one could wonder where’s the girl power, but when Tamsin takes lead on Hope Cove, it’s been worth the wait. A heartfelt romance actualised as a geographical location isn’t an uncommon concept, but you know Tamsin handles it inimitably and spectacularly, like only the finest tunes of her solo album Gypsy Blood. Shanty theme continues with Jamie leading on Waiting for my Boat, equivalent to the sentiment of his classic solo songs, Not Going Anywhere and As Big as You, this is nothing less than sublime.

With just two tunes remaining, Silent Noise of the Mind sums my “triple-strength” notion of the progress of the Trades, fusing the vocals entirely throughout, the beauty of it embraces the air, drifting your mind like a feather in a gentle zephyr. Tree-hugging Oaks light-heartedly polishes the journey off wonderfully, with a ukulele exhaling a Hawaiian ambiance and a cheery whistle, it leaves you knowing you’ve arrived somewhere where you wouldn’t mind travelling to time and time again.

But I’d wager you knew I’d only have good things to say about The Bird, the Book & The Barrel, therefore I implore your faith in my honesty, it’s as amazing as I say, and a little chipping more.


FREE Halloween eBook!

Halloween, Mwhahahaha! If you’re not venturing out tonight, armed with a sugared-up face-painted youngster, lucky you! Perhaps you’d like to lounge on the sofa with a scary story. Here’s one I wrote, back when I wrote stories and Devizine didn’t occupy my every waking minute!

Wrote in 2016, only a novelette size, but creepy enough. Blindfold is the telling, first person, of a professor of science, now in a care home, and his story of how he got there.

“Ghosts are a figment of the imagination, we proved it here today.”

If you’ve an ereader or tablet you can download the book here at Smashwords. If you buy it, use this code XG89W and it will be free! Happy Halloween!



Reaction to Wiltshire Traction

Waiting in the bushes by the railings of the train station my adolescent friends and I would crouch. Timed to perfection, upon seeing the train coming under the bridge, we’d start running.

Our eighties equivalent of electronic ticket gates was a lengthy leg, wrapped in dark grey trousers. Said leg was attached to a stout, greying moustached Scotsman, who, from his ticket office would suspend it to reach the wooden planked wall at the other end of the corridor leading to the platforms, infectively creating an impenetrable barrier.

If judged just right, we could enter the station at speed, skid on our knees under the protruding leg, pretend we didn’t hear his aggressive howl nor see his waving fist, pray he didn’t take up chase, scamper down those cast iron stairs onto the platform, and board the train to Chelmsford seconds before the whistle was blown!

There it is, the train station at Witham; very little has changed save the digital clocks, you can even see the road bridge in the background we used to hide by!

Looking back the risk was hardly worth the reward; Chelmsford hardly a utopian paradise, yet it was our nearest larger town and had amenities above our own; namely a cinema and Wimpy bar.

We lived around trains, marvelled at their abilities and played by the line; the highly dangerous “chicken,” or at less extreme times laying slow worms on the track and betting sweets on which one would make it off before the train crossed; it was our sadistic version of pooh-sticks. But our obsession with trains was entirely practical, unlike my elder brother, who for a short chapter in his life paid pennies, actually paid, not for a ticket to travel rather for a “platform” ticket in which he and his nerdy, anorak-clad mates would stand writing train numbers in a book; God, how I laughed then, still do today.

Trainspotting was real, unsure if it still is, until Stroud’s Amberley Publishing kindly sent me a book to review titled Wiltshire Traction by Mark Jamieson. To buy a copy would confirm.

I confess I was intrigued by the prospect of reading a history of Wiltshire’s railways, being while home of the GWR plant in Swindon, anyone from our area under the age of Dr Richard Beeching’s act of axing several main lines in the sixties, doesn’t share similar fond but mischievous railway memories as mine above.

Trains; choo-choo!

So, there’s me expecting an informative history of the railways here, from days of steam to date; my ignorance at the term “Traction” in its title. For what it’s worth it begins as such, a brief explanation of Wiltshire’s landscape, agricultural and industrial trades in an extract taken from Bradshaw’s 1861 Handbook of Great Britain and Ireland. The introduction then mentions the existing main lines, and GWR works, but only breezes over past lines before rambling headlong into some serious train-spotter jargon about major freight operators and where they operate.

This is the fashion this photo-book continues on, ergo I’d wager the series, which are all ingeniously titled “[enter county name] Traction,” are much the same. With no text hereafter the two-page introduction, save a complex blurb detailing traction models, serial numbers and which line it ran on, to which a train obsessed fruit bat might view the series as a biblical, the rest of us would remain baffled and mind-numbingly bored with at the passing of the second or third photo.

More trains!

If you’ve only a passing interest in trains, as I, or you’re thinking “hey, maybe trainspotting might be a worthy hobby perusing,” I guarantee this book will put you off. You’d surely have to be a dedicated enthusiast to be entertained by this, but if you are, well then, buy Wiltshire Traction.

Perhaps I’m over-reacting but I’d like to have seen some narrative, what the trains meant to Wiltshire folk, how the Beeching Act affected their lives, what it’d have been like working at the GWR; all queries which could be answered with a visit to Steam in Swindon I suppose, yet this is a local book about trains I’d be hoping for, not an endless stream of similar photos of dirty trodden engines scooting through our green and pleasant land.

And yeah, you guessed it. I don’t know what else I expected from a book about trains.

All said and done, needles are in the haystacks (an endless stream of traction engines running on lines images) as in between the barrage of train-spotter’s wet dreams, there are a few photos which caught my attention; one of the Intercity 125 in it’s glorious retro colours, the D818 Glory being scrapped at Swindon’s works, a class 08 overhaul also at the factory, and the new Hitachi-built class 800 units at Swindon station, but that about wraps it up for fear of donning an anorak; you, though, might like it.

Wiltshire Traction by Mark Jamieson


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Angela’s Secret Swindon

My satirical rant, No Surprises Living in Devizes, once popular Sunday reading, now lies dormant. I’ve deliberated writing a conclusion, but that would be the final nail in the coffin I’m not ready to hammer in. The issue; I loved trudging my week, hunting a subject to bombast about the town I live in, and receiving the relative responses, be they positive laughs or death threats.

The reason for its gradual demise is simple; there’s finite topics to explore, and while at first the obvious flooded me, as time progressed I struggled. Methods to keep it running when subjects wore thin were many fold; more positive episodes transpired into what we now have, Devizine. The negative I’ve abandoned under the premise life is too short to be whinging, even if some thought it amusing. One of my earliest methods of trapping a good rant when nothing in Devizes sprung to mind though was to take the column to other towns, as a kind of “unwanted roadshow.”

Chippenham took the brunt of these outings, but one Sunday, when the subject centred on Swindon, I predicted many would assume it’d be the icing on the cake, as it’s a common joke that Swindon has a lot to rant about. However, for this episode I twisted the cliché, determine not to follow sheep and waffle how cultureless and uninspiring our nearest metropolis is, rather share my opinion that while, as any large town does, Swindon has its social issues, it is far from the negative stereotype it’s frequently perceived as.

This turned the head of a fellow writer at Index:Wiltshire, Angela Atkinson. Angela was brought up in a Derbyshire mining village and moved to West Swindon in the 1990s. It’s fair to say she has fallen head-over-heels for Swindon, and alongside her proofreading business, AA Editorial Services, scribes a popular local blog called Born Again Swindonian. The original blog entries were the exploration of her new surroundings; a guidebook to the Magic Roundabout or a piece on the West Swindon sculpture trail, and, akin to the direction I took my article the aforementioned week, it now centres around her conviction that Swindon is actually a great place with more than first meets the eye.

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Her argument is convincing and thorough, to the point where she was approached by Gloucestershire publisher, Amberley Books, to pen a title on Swindon in its ‘Secret’ series. This week sees the book “Secret Swindon” released, and its launch is at Swindon Central Library, between 11am and 1pm; July 28th. Angela will be there to sign copies, and it’ll be available in the library shop afterwards.

Intrigued to know what “secrets” Angela could uncover to challenge my assumption everything that may be of historical or contemporary interest in the town I’m already fully aware of. That then, some topics did not spring surprise, Angela commences with a brief general history, from it’s namesake “pig hill” origins to the birth of its industrial revolution; the GWR. But it’s the depth Angela goes which is informative, and in the loose, blog-style, she writes which entertains.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, gaining knowledge of many aspects and artistic properties of Swindon I could’ve driven past and only causally pondered their history. From the wonderful mural on the side of the house near Lion Bridge, which I pass, like, but seldom aspire to seek any knowledge of its artist or background, to the thought process of the contemporary architecture which Swindon holds, with all its 1970s futurism; the Meccano-fashioned “Renault” building, or the curvaceous landmark David John Murray tower. All of these popular sites of Swindon are featured and detailed, with fascinating facts you never thought to ask about. And yeah, the Magic Roundabout is covered too!

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There’s quantity and a vast array to subjects, meandering off the concept Swindon has a magic roundabout and that’s about it. One would be forgiven for assuming “Secret Swindon” is going to be a mammoth read and ponder why they’d want to take up so much time reading about Swindon. But while it’s arranged with copious facts, it remains brief enough not to grow tiresome of, and with informal speech style of writing, doesn’t aim to baffle.


Angela covers art, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, industry, war eras, and many notable Swindonians. In one neat, ephemeral but enlightening package Angela challenges Swindon’s negative stereotype, steps in the ring and knocks it for six in the first round. It’s a perfect natural progression and extension of Born Again Swindonian.

It also highlights areas I was totally unware of, agreed I’d heard of Spitfire Way, having worked on South Marston Industrial Estate, but confess I was ignorant as to why it was named thus. So aside the fascinating facts about the more renowned landmarks of Swindon, and people, such as a captivating insight about Edith New, there are some completely new things I learned, awarding the book’s apt title.


Here is a book which will inform and entertain the proudest Swindonian, the curious history hobbyist, and any mere window-shopper of local history. A perusal for students, or general passing interest, I tick none of the above, but still adored this. I only apologise to Angela for waffling on about my own little column at the beginning of this review, but it was necessary to elucidate my personal relevance to it!

If you ever pause while shopping, look around for a brief second, in any town you’ll note something you may not have ever noticed but bears heavy importance to the history of the area; “Secret Swindon” proves Swindon is far from the exception.

Secret Swindon’s RRP is £14.99. It can be bought through Amazon and via Amberley Books at https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-swindon.html.
To follow Angela’s blog visit http://swindonian.me/ and for more information about AA Editorial Services go to: https://www.aaedits.co.uk/



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