Track Record came about due to the fondness that local Bristol poets and musicians Eyebrow and The Spoke had for the Severn Beach Line. They wanted to fuse music with the written word to create a soundtrack for the line that passengers could download and enjoy while making their journey.
Supported by the Severnside Community Rail Partnership, the main aims of the project were to celebrate the line, provide an enriched travel experience for regular passengers, and attract new visitors to the area to enjoy the lower Severn Vales.
The artists used the station stops on the line to divide the ambient jazz music into eleven tracks of varied lengths, layered together with eighteen poems inspired by history, with themes including urban, suburban, industrial, post-industrial, rural, picturesque, homespun, and spectacular.
The poetry was informed by a series of creative writing workshops held in communities along the line, identified as areas of restricted cultural opportunity. Participants used the sessions to share their memories of the line and describe how the stations and the journey had evolved over time. The workshops not only fostered new connections between the people involved and their local railway, they also built their confidence in writing for enjoyment, an opportunity they said they rarely received.
The launch of the project saw two sold-out journeys of the line, with 120 passengers enjoying an innovative ‘silent disco’, listening to the soundtrack through headphones. One participant described the experience as “evocative, thought-provoking, and different”, while another said the journey had been “enchanting, educational and charming.” The afternoon culminated in an extremely well-received performance of the full soundtrack to an audience of around 500 people at the Severn Vale Festival.
A book of the poems and a CD of the soundtrack were released in September last year, and an initial run of 500 copies quickly sold out. The soundtrack was then made available as a free download from the Track Record Arts website for people to access via their own devices as they travelled along the line, receiving more than 400 downloads during its first six months.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown brought strict travel restrictions, the number of downloads of the soundtrack actually increased, as while they couldn’t travel on the line, people could still enjoy the rail journey experience from the comfort of their own homes.
The project has been praised for its “fabulously creative” multimedia approach, one that could potentially be replicated on other lines to promote community rail and the arts.