The Permanent Way was written for All Change! – Living Archive’s revised musical documentary at the new Milton Keynes Theatre in October 1999. Its roots were in the original production’s Place Name Song by Rib Davis (now in LAMK’s music archive) which referred to local spots on the newly opened London to Birmingham railway line of 1838 – Simpson, Woughton, Loughton, Bradwell, Castlethorpe, and Shenley:
In Shenley all the children put their farthings on the track,
Cinders fly as up the line she goes,
They look as big as pennies by the time they get them back,
Listen to the whistle as she blows!...
Kevin Adams’ later song mentions local places too, like Linslade Tunnel, Fenny (Stratford) and Denbigh Hall – where the first trains had to stop while the rest of the line was being built up to Birmingham, with passengers taken on by coach.
Wolverton also features in the song – because from 1833, it developed into the world’s first large purpose-built railway town where a huge railway works was developing.
But the focus of the song is in the excitement and thrill of this huge, new thunderous machine which transformed so many local people’s lives - in work, in communal life, in leisure. As one former railway worker said:
Even now, I still sort of hanker for the smell the old steam trains had…
… For a sixteen year-old boy to be on the footplate of a steam locomotive, it was such a fantastic job. No two journeys were the same, no two locos were the same and for a young teenage lad, it was just such an exciting job…
(Paddy Proctor, LAMK 2005)
On them days, we had gaps in the railway lines which always was lovely when you were going on a train, ‘clickity, click, clickity click’ and you could sing a tune to it all…
(Syd Seymour, LAMK 2005)
In the Living Archive Band’s recording of the song, the steam engine's busy chuffing is imitated by rhythmic strumming across dampened guitar strings.
Images and interview extracts from LAMK archive. The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 1 (LAMK)