Girl On The Train

Clive James, in concert with Pete on September 20th 1998 at Buxton Opera House, said:
(after Pete had sung Where Have They All Gone and The Luck Of The Draw)

" ...and thirty years melt away. Those were two of the songs that we began writing, well, must be thirty years ago now and I'm extremely glad to be here to support Pete, if that's the word that I'm looking for -- I'll probably sabotage him, much more likely -- on this wonderful night in this most beautiful of theatres. I think you can safely assume through the night that when we started off I wrote the words and Pete wrote the music; so when you hear tonight the anguish of unrequited love, the jaded responses of a would-be Don Giovanni, and the angst of a collapsing civilisation, that's usually my bit; and when you hear a beautiful melody and a wonderfully precise singing delivery, that's Pete Atkin -- who's now going to sing one of the first songs we wrote.

"It's about a girl that I once saw on a train. Actually I probably didn't see her on that train. If I did see her on that train she wasn't reading a book -- it was a girl on another train who read the book -- when you write lyrics you tend to put things together in your head. The quicker-spirited among you will notice that the book she's reading on a train is by a French poet, Verlaine. There's a reason for this. Yes, its because 'Verlaine' rhymes, approximately, with 'train'. Actually it doesn't quite, in French, but when the French say 'train' they get that wrong too. Suppose she'd been reading a book by Brecht -- there is no English rhyme for 'Brecht'! So I had to leave that out. So I put in 'Verlaine'. Anyway that's enough explanation. Pete is now going to sing it and I'm going to sit down and try and control my floods of tears at the nostalgia involved."

What did I do yesterday? Well I'll tell you in brief
Ten quid from the bank and I got out of town with relief
And slowly but surely my life came to flower again
Falling head over heels for a beautiful girl on the train

She was reading a book, taking in every word the man wrote
And there in the margin she made the occasional note
And I couldn't deduce why she didn't once blink with surprise
As fathom by fathom I gradually drowned in her eyes

But she kept on the job of improving her single-track brain
Ploughing steadily onward through obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
While no further than seven-foot-six from her fabulous mouth
Sat the leading young poetic hope of the whole planet earth

Well apart from the chance of the driver accepting a cheque
For crashing his loco so I could be brave in the wreck
To boldly encounter this creature was not in my power
And so my heart mended and broke in the course of an hour

Well at last we pulled in and as straight as a three-sided knife
She got up and walked like a princess away from my life
And unless she remembers the day she was reading Verlaine
In a second-class coach on her way through the fields in the rain
She won't know it's her that I sing to again and again
Again and again

"Now, I know a good proportion of you here tonight are members of the Midnight Voices, the Website group who dedicate themselves to studying the songs of James and Atkin. There's been great discussion about what a 'three-sided knife' was, and I'd actually forgotten. One member of the group got it right, it was actually one of those daggers -- it's got three edges so that it doesn't break off when you stick it in somebody. I'll on the whole try and confine my remarks to general points and not go into scholarly detail except when strictly necessary. A general point about that song is that it was a precursor -- shall we say it set the tone of a recurring theme in my work as a lyricist, which is sexual obsession. Usually doomed to defeat..."
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