November 20, 2022
It's gone dark. It's 21:15. And you're standing on platform 1 of the railway station in Penzance. Bright lamps light the long platforms, and seaside smells waft in the air. Wheely bag at your side, you're waiting to board the legendary Night Riviera. A long, impressive line of carriages hiding stylish cabins and bunks within. Departing Penzance 21:45. Arriving London Paddington 05:04. Far away at the front of the train thrums a Class 57 locomotive. It's charging the air with a subsonic, deep brown hum.
As you wait, a motorbike speeds along the road behind the station. It makes an arc of wide reverberant sound. You listen to its drone stretching away. Then, to the luscious spacious echoings, of this tranquil, end-of-the-line Cornish railway station, after dark.
Suddenly a handful of people are discreetly hurrying up the platform. Passing by humming coaches, pulling down cold metal handles and heaving open doors. Climbing and lifting bags aboard. And being introduced by smart uniformed stewards to the cabins. Each is equipped with two neat bunks, the slimmest of slimline wardrobes, and an interestingly shaped bulbous sink with a lid that doubles up as a shelf. You unpack your bed things, then return to the vestibule to witness the moment the Night Riviera sets off. A nocturnal journey across Cornwall, over the Tamar bridge, along the Jurassic coast and through the long stretch of Wiltshire and Somerset.
As the train pulls off, you can just make out the wild sea, the crashing waves, and a dark shadow that is St Michael's Mount.
Swaying carriages, knocking rails, squeaking suspension and steel wheels rolling along miles of steel rails.
Now it's time to make your way back to your cabin. Head down the shoulder-width corridor lined with smart panel doors. With a sturdy slam enter the cabin and notice the change in sound! The velvety quietness is almost deafening. Like falling into a soft duvet! Climb into pyjamas. Lift lid of bulbous sink, and brush teeth. Roll into bunk bed, set alarm, adjust covers, and, sleep?
The aural experience of being in a bunk on a sleeper train is completely spellbinding to us, which is of course why we wanted so much to make and share this recording. The thumps and clunks. The squeaks and bangs. The dull thudding as people walk along the corridor outside. The thrum of the rails. The whine of the electrics and the locomotive, as it pulls you through the night. It's enchanting. It's aural poetry. Rich, soporific sounds, that meld together in rocking rhythms. Dark, brown, cushioning noise, that sends some off to sleep. Others may find themselves held in a deliciously mesmerising doze, a state of semi-conscious slumber. What is even more special, is when the train calls at a station along the way. Gradually slowing. Then gently stopping, with doors distantly slamming, and people muffledly boarding. Then, with a steady sumptuous rising tone, the locomotive powers up again, to haul you and the new passengers onwards, over the rails, and into the night.