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Trains and Boats and Planes - Dionne Warwick

In the second summer of the pandemic things are beginning to loosen up. Much has been made of the possible slowing of the emotional development of children, forced to miss the day-to-day contact with their peers, week after week passing with them unable to experience daily life within the school environment.

I mentioned this to a youngish adult the other day and he scoffed, remarking that in recent years it has usually been the case that youngsters have been voluntarily physically isolating themselves via mobile phones and laptops and so this was nothing new.

Back in the seventies, when I was a teenager, one of the things that really opened up the possibility of independent travel in Europe to ordinary young people was the introduction of Interrail. This was a ticket that in those days entitled the owner to free travel anywhere in non-soviet Europe for a month. As I recall, it cost about £100 and was only available to young people 25 and under. You just had to go to the ticket office at any station, get your book stamped with your proposed destination in writing and you were off on your journey.

On my very first train ride, I, a shy seventeen year old, found myself heading south east from Calais, toward the north of Italy, in a compartment containing four Swedish teenagers, a kind of "ooh er missus" English cliché: in those sexist days, for reasons which, looking back, seem totally unjustified, Swedish women were considered to be the embodiment of fun-loving sexual emancipation and I, embarrassingly self-conscious in the first place, found their outgoing joie de vivre intimidating in the extreme. I knew they were Swedish as they all had the blue and yellow Swedish colours sewn on their rucksacks and this scared the hell out of me.

After a while, cowering demurely in a corner, pretending to read my Herman Hesse paperback, I became aware or more probably imagined, that they were laughing at me, at my shyness. Suddenly it came to me that I was on my own, no-one knew me, that I could be anything that I wanted to be, and, piqued that they found me amusing, I turned the tables by pretending to be mute. Despicable I know, but this was the only way I could account for my hitherto quietness. I gestured to them in pigeon sign language, and made copious use of a small notepad I had brought along to serve as my picaresque diary. Their English turned out to be good so this worked better than I could possibly have imagined. They felt, it seemed, guilty for laughing at me, they pitied me, and they were full of admiration for my courage in travelling Europe on my own. They made a fuss of me, insisting I shared their food, coffee from their thermoses, and snuggled up to me when one of them produced her guitar. They all began to sing, me pathetically miming the words of Bob Dylan and Beatles songs, silently cursing that I was now unable to impress them with my manly tenor. Later we shared a bottle or two of red wine, and I dosed off, leaning against one of them as the train sped southwards into the night.

Somewhere around about 2am, we crossed a border, Switzerland or perhaps Italy, and I was woken by the attendant calling out my name to return my passport to me. "Mr Stylus" he called, "here" I replied, and the game was up. The Swedes wouldn't talk to me after that, wouldn't even look at me except in scorn, and somehow, I redescended into an uncomfortable doze. I woke up to an empty compartment, as silent as my subterfuge, forbidding mountains rising on either side of the tracks, alone again and pondering the uncomfortable truth that, even where no-one knows you and you can be anyone, it's best not to lie, as the truth will out.

My friend Neville, I suspect, learned this the hard way. He never told me what had happened, how he had been caught out, but, as a result, he never, ever told a lie, no matter how small. I remember, in our Islington office, he took a call for our boss who, on learning the identity of the caller said, "tell him I'm out". Neville turned to the wall and spoke down the receiver: "I'm afraid I can't see him at the moment. Can I take a message?"

"Trains and Boats and Planes" is one of the best examples of the long-running partnership between Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Originally released by Bacharach himself in 1965, it was a top ten hit in the UK. He would have sold a lot more copies - maybe even made the coveted number one spot - had not Brian Epstein - Cilla Black's manager - been up to his old tricks and released a version by Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas which also charted in the UK.

A hit in the US a year later, and produced by Bacharach and David, Dionne Warwick's version is the best of the three, her cool, cool vocal simultaneously laid back and yet suffused with smouldering passion, anchored by the wonderfully subdued electric organ. It took me years to stop being annoyed by the grating trainwheel slowturn noises made by an electric guitar (is it?) and to just go with them, and now it works, counterpointing the uplifting panoramic strings in the middle eight.

As to the last post's question about which version of "Anyone who had a Heart" is best, Dionne's or Cilla's, I was surprised to find the vote going in favour of Dionne. As one respondent put it, "the smouldering sax solo on the Warwick version just shades it". Certainly the solo in question beats the Cilla Black solo - a George Martin concoction comprising a bassoon and an oboe playing together, at least that's what Neville, nowadays my resident brass and woodwind consultant, reckons it is - but in the end it's the exquisite restraint and delicacy of Warwick's singing that give her the edge.

The opportunity to travel is as important as ever for the young and this is another way in which the pandemic is having an important detrimental effect on their development. More than what you learn about other peoples and places when you adventure abroad, is what you learn about yourself.


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