Waterloo has cropped up several times before as the backdrop in various songs. However, the station I have probably come to know best is Euston. Unlike Waterloo, which provided my entry point to London, it has been the exit for heading North or a transition point for coming into the city. It was actually the first mainline terminus station in a capital city but it has never quite seemed in the same league as Waterloo. Eurostar never stopped there ,it has never had - to my knowledge - a cinema or hairdressers and, of course, it lacks a really famous song.
They do exist, however, and two of them either present a neat contrast between romanticism and cynicism or reflect the passage of time between the songs and the changing nature of the station . There was Euston Station, a mournful Irish lament by Davie Arthur and the Fureys, who painted a picture that seems unfamiliar to my experience of the place – “And the tambourine lady, and the saxophone man play a sad song of somewhere to go if you can…. So it's to Euston station, to the newsboy's harsh cries, Gypsy girls selling flowers have a glint in their eyes”. There was also A Night in Euston Station by Hungry Dog Brand, with a dubious invitation: “loonies drunks, tramps and whores…..come spend a night in Euston Station with strangers approaching to tell you things you didn’t want to know and then ask for change”. Just a normal Friday night then.
There was also the song here, also called Euston Station, by Barbara Ruskin from 1967.British female singers in the 60’s were in rather the same position as the doo-wop groups referenced in the last column. There seemed no obvious reasons why some were successful and others weren’t and every so often you come across a track and wonder why on earth it was never a hit. A few artists who were virtually unnoticed at the time did achieve success in later decades, notably Kiki Dee and Elkie Brooks. (In the mid-60’s, years before breaking through with Vinegar Joe , Elkie Brooks was sometimes described as “the sister of the drummer with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas”.) There were many others, however, whose names and works remain bewilderingly unknown. Sharon Tandy, for example, whose soul style got her a recording at Stax Studios backed by Booker T and the MGs but little success in the UK, though her version of the Lorraine Ellison classic Stay With Me is one of the best covers. Or Barry St John, who recorded a string of tracks only later snapped up by Northern Soul fans: she also did a rather creepy version of Come Away Melinda.
Or Tammy St John (no relation) who recorded the lost gem below, Dark Shadows and Empty Hallways , in 1965 at the age of 14 years. I find this a rather unsettling song, as it seems out of time in a weird way. It starts off sounding like St Etienne and then becomes as if it were a Bacharach-David hit you had never heard before. It is like someone creative in devising retro songs travelled from the present back in a time machine to deposit the track in 1965, only 1965 had already happened somehow so no-one noticed it at the time .In the real 1965, a much less memorable Bacharach-tinged song, Where Are You Now, by Jackie Trent, was actually at Number One. (20 years or so later, Jackie Trent became part of the nation's musical psyche when she wrote the theme tune for Neighbours)
Barbara Ruskin falls into this group of little-known 60’s women singers, though her work was more towards the poppier end of music than those mentioned, reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon.As a woman singer-songwriter she was also a relative rarity in the pop market at that time– artists such as Jackie DeShannon herself or Barbara Acklin notwithstanding. The difficulties artists like her faced seemed obvious with her first release, when her own stronger composition, I Can't Believe in Miracles ,was relegated to the ‘b’ side in favour of a rather pointless cover of the Billy Fury hit, Halfway to Paradise. Perhaps for the same reasons, another woman singer-songwriter of that time, Bobbie Gentry ,faced persistent rumours that she didn’t write her most famous song, Ode to Billy Joe, herself. (I once lived in a rented house in Reading where one of the other itinerant tenants would corner anyone he could and claim that he had actually written American Pie and that Don Mclean had swindled him out of his royalties. He disappeared one day leaving 2 months unpaid rent).
Euston Station appears to have been inspired by her travelling regularly on the Number 73, the bus that runs from the West End past Euston Station to Stoke Newington and Walthamstow .That makes it a most musically-celebrated bus route as there is at least one serious song about it: Busdriver by Kitto. That is unusual as songs about British buses are generally as intrinsically comical as songs about English counties. Paul Simon could make a Greyhound bus trip from Pittsburgh to New York into an epic statement on America. Boarding a Number 73 at Euston and counting the cars as you are stuck at the Angel is never going to sound heroic no matter how hard you try.
The song came out at a time that seemed to be popular for station songs- Waterloo Sunset and Finchley Central also came out the same year, as did a track by the Move called Wave the Flag and Stop the Train. Lyrically though it had more in comparison with another song of 1967, Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens – “watch them run down to platform one and the eight thirty train to Matthew and Son”. The station as a symbol of the grey drabness of the 9 to 5 day working for the Big Boss Man at a time when Swinging London was in full swing . Euston Station here is like one of those pictures of a signpost at a crossroads in a children’s story book. Platforms 1-7 This Way: monochrome life, grey suits, commuter train and the office . Platforms 8-11 That Way: Technicolour, Pegasus the flying horse, the giant albatross and Paradise People.
It is inevitably a bit of a period piece with its weighing machines and porters in blue – they sound as remote as a man walking in front of the train waving a red flag. However, porters in blue and detective inspectors sound more exciting than the ubiquitous Burger King and Boots –or, indeed, strangers approaching to tell you things. Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where they still exist and where compilation albums of Hits of the Sixties feature Tammy St John and Barbara Ruskin whilst record collectors eagerly search Ebay for a rare track by the little-known Cilla Black. And, really, Euston Station is not always the same.