By rights Train Sets shouldn’t happen. On paper there’s no way East Midlands Trains would let a host of unusual creative people take over their forecourt on a semi regular basis – but they do, and they should be praised for taking that risk.
Started by Adham Fisher, who DJs under the name AFS at every event, it’s December edition welcomes the House of Verse family of performers under it’s wing for an afternoon – with acoustic music, spoken word, poetry and DJs crossing paths with unwitting commuters and Chritmas shoppers. We spoke to Adham about how this wild idea came to life.
How did the idea for train sets come about?
It didn’t specifically. The station front had been used for some installations, exhibitions and table tennis before, so I wondered if I could do something. I had a few ideas, and one was DJing, but it was an afterthought as I was convinced that they would like that idea the least.
The first time I just played some records along with a couple of other people, and photographer Hardeep Dhinsa was there to capture some action. Further along the line we’ve had live artists, live musicians, breakdancers (dancer SuperCed was just walking by, started breaking, loved it and brought his colleagues to the next one) and rail-related puzzles and books – and of course actual train sets that travel along their tracks to the music.
I’ve taken it to Stockport (as part of a Change The Lives charity festival that took place on the station) and Sheffield too.
Was it difficult to persuade East Midlands trains to let you do it?
No, which is why they are the greatest National Rail operator in the country. They discounted the other ideas as they were impractical. But they were strangely keen on me DJing on the station front, and asked how soon I could do it. I started the following Tuesday.
How do people generally react to you taking over the foyer of the station?
I do not play in the foyer, but on the station front, so announcements can be heard and the staff are not distracted, but they do come to see what’s happening on their breaks, along with the British Transport Police. I am next to the Gourmet Coffee Bar, which is a huge supporter of the event, and when Handmade Festival musicians played live in April, the bar obtained more business from fans and stayed open for an extra hour. It is good that I can try and help them make more money.
I always have a record called The MMs Bar Recordings by London-based Leicestrian artist Sandra Cross with me, and play it to mimic a railway journey. It only consists of buffet car announcements from former Midland Mainline trains. But I don’t think anyone understands the reference.
Whats the most interesting reaction you’ve had from a commuter?
She wasn’t a commuter, but a passer-by. A teenage girl sat on the steps and at the Gourmet tables for well over an hour, never moving far away from where I was playing, talking to her companion and looking at her phone. When she left the station, she came up to me and said “You need to sort your s*** music out.” If she didn’t like it, I really don’t know why she didn’t go away sooner.
There was also a woman who saw me and wanted me to DJ at her 50th birthday party. Despite me meeting her beforehand to discuss the music that she and her friends might like, whatever I played at the party, based on the given suggestions, was not good enough. It reached the stage where two guests plugged their phones into the mixer and played from them, so I went to watch Rich Bee play at The Cookie instead. It was a complete disaster. AFS does not do birthdays, weddings, baby showers or similar social engagements any longer. Unless it is for a lot of money.
On the other hand, there were three ladies whose train had been delayed. When I played Love Action by the Human League, they started dancing by the foyer doors and continued until they had to leave.
If you could do anything with the idea in the future, what would it be?
The events are normally chronologically numbered; House of Verse’s Train Sets (17) has the number seventeen in brackets. However, I have not used the number seven yet because I want to play at a station with that number: Seven Sisters, Seven Kings or Severn Tunnel Junction. I do not anticipate that will happen, at least for the first two, because transport operators in London are the most bureaucratic in the country.
I would also like to play on a train.
I have had two artists, John Boulter and Mr Inkspillage, come and create work on the station front during Train Sets. I would like to open a pop-up gallery with the Gourmet Coffee Bar to display artwork and photography that has specifically been produced at Leicester station. We will need some more pieces first, though.