Blues News talks The Blues Train

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Blues News talks The Blues Train

This year the Blues Train is celebrating its 25th anniversary. That makes it Australia’s longest-running Blues venue.

I interviewed Hugo T Armstrong about those years.

I asked Hugo, how did it all start? … “A moment of insanity!”

A group of Hugo’s friends in Queenscliff, some from Suma Park wanted to do a concert series to bring people to Queenscliff in winter. A train to Suma Park was suggested and Hugo was asked to organise some music. “We had Rose Bygrave, Marcia Howard, doing some basic songs … Little Red Rooster and such.”

They had A4 flyers in shop windows, one generator, one extension cord between carriages, and 70 people turned up.

“It was complete anarchy, and everyone wanted to know when the next one was.”

There has always been a synergy between blues and trains, but the Bellerine was not really a destination then and the Geelong Steam Preservation Society had not done much at night. They were really struggling.

“We started before the internet. A fax machine, no on-line ticketing, no social media. The sound would break down because the extension cable sheared off.”

Mainstays back then were Kerry Simpson, Ian Collard, Collard Greens & Gravy, Jimi Hocking – the acts hardly changed for quite a few years.

“Started to be serious in about 1996 when Chris Wilson & Andrew Pendlebury contacted us. I thought they were joking. Chris Wilson was not only my idol, but I said we couldn’t afford him, but his agent, Gerard, said he wants to do it – end of story. That was when the penny dropped. People might actually want to play.”

The essence of the Blues Train has not changed over the years. It presents a wide range of blues — piano, electric guitar, soul blues, funk blues, rock blues.

“The people who have played are the special memories – Lloyd Spiegel, Shaun Kirk, Spoonful – a lot of the amazing artists who have played. But also when they come back is pretty special.”

Quite a few customers came for the train and the event, despite the blues, and liked the music in spite of their expectations.

“People say I never knew that was blues. They’ve discovered blues through the train.”

One special year was working with local group Chubby Rae and the Elevators towards their debut album. “How many venues can give a band 25 gigs in a year?”

There have been a lot of special moments, “proposals, weddings, one proposal, and wedding!”

What of the music venue scene in the future?

“We can’t continue giving away free music all the time. I remember when everyone had a small cover charge. Now I don’t know where it’s heading, I’ve seen musicians drop their income from CD sales, the effect that Spotify has had on musicians and I’ve seen venues where you have to pay for everything but the music, even a packet of chips, but the music is free? There’s a place for free music, but there has to be something between that and stadium prices. What’s five bucks to get in and see a good little band?”

Written by John Lamp