We chatted to legendary music producer and railway enthusiast Peter Waterman OBE about the launch of Making Tracks – a 74ft model railway display that honours the work of Thomas Brassey:
“Following the Lego exhibition a few years ago The Dean wanted something a bit different, he wanted a model railway really. As we had the Thomas Brassey Chapel here, we wanted to look at Brassey and his workers and base the model around him. I naturally thought of the West Coast Mainline, which most people in their lives have been up and down at least twice. Its full of structures that Brassey built, to be honest when you have 70ft to play with its a bit of a daunting task. We had less than 6 months to build, it had to be simple but look good.
“Thomas Brassey is a man from Chester who has not gone down in history, yet he built two thirds of all the railways in the world, not just here, in the world! Sometimes he employed 96,000 men, he didn’t have a secretary he didn’t have an office, he paid all the wages by cash on horseback, and that’s all over the world by the way. He never went over budget, he started off building canals, he then went onto railways, he built all the Bazalgette sewers in London, he also worked on the Great Eastern Steamship with Brunel, and he also went on to lay the first transatlantic cables. He is a Chester man who should get a lot more recognition than he does. ”
Pete has loved railways all his life: “I was born next to railway line. If you’re lying in your cot you hear the trains going by it becomes an opiate, it becomes addictive. I spent most of my time sitting on the bank watching the trains go by. I worked on the railways, I joined in 1962, the awful winter of 62-63 and i stayed with them for just over 12 months. They were phasing steam by then, i knew it would be all gone by 68. They wanted to move me from Wolverhampton to Swindon and I didn’t want to go so I went into the aircraft industry. ” Pete knows Chester well : “Going back to when I was in bands, Chester was the furthest north we would play. There were two places just round the corner from here, it was a big deal for us, a Coventry band coming to Chester .We had a good little crowd here! ”
His love of modelling has also been with him from an early age : “I had a train set in 1948, I’ve had it all my life! My dad and my grandad went to see Coventry City see Northampton town in 1948 and there was a very famous model railway shop in Northampton called Bassett- Lowke. My grandad bought me a clockwork train set. All of my early pictures as a child I have a toy train in my hand!” I started seriously modelling in 1952. Even when I was working in Los Angeles on films and the like, I always took trains with me, for whenever I had some spare time in the hotel. In those days you could actually work on the plane as well, I would do some modelling on an 8 hour trip. ”
The exhibition is a team effort: “This is a team of guys that I work with, we have a club in Daresbury theres about 7 of us, real die-hards. It really is the Leamington Spa team that’s built it, I’m only one of the builders, we all have different skills. The truth is if lockdown hadn’t happened we couldn’t have built this in the time that we had. Now we look back and we think “that was a bit ambitious!” One of the highlights says Pete is two model houses on top of a railway tunnel. “In reality in Berkhamsted, theres 2 1940s houses right on the top. It would be an amazing thing to be sitting on top of a railway tunnel, every time the train went underneath it must have shook the houses!”
Off topic I asked Pete his thoughts on the modern music industry: ” I like modem music. I think the problem is, with the streaming, its not a level playing surface. the multi national companies are fixing what you hear, and we have never had that in Britain. We have never had a chart where you can fix it, ever. I sat on a chart committee for 14 years, anyone who got caught trying to tamper with the charts, we had a way if spotting it. Now with all the streaming services, if you’re not on the front page, you’re dead, its as simple as that . the internet probably has 50 million tunes on it and probably less than a 1000 are listened to regularly. You’ve got more chances of winning the lottery than ever getting on the network chart. Music is positive, theres all sorts of great music, I love some of the urban rap, I love some of the country stuff at the minute. The problem is, I’ve been in this industry all my life, I can pick a good tune, when I’m on the radio people like what I play. I never look at the chart because I know the chart doesn’t reflect what people like.
Making Tracks – Discover the West Coast Main Line – Chester Cathedral open 10 -5 until September 3rd