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Kevin Ayers

Ghost Train

Ghost Train appears on the excellent 1992 album ‘Still Life With Guitar’ and also on the rare 2004 live album ‘Kevin Ayers Alive in California‘. Whilst I was listening to the live album, I was emailing Richard Derrick to tell him how much I loved the track ‘Ghost Train’. He quickly replied,

“You do know that Ghost Train is about heroin, right?  Kevin asked me if I knew, and I didn’t, so he told me.  He said he was glad that it was so vague, because he liked the idea of the song meaning whatever the listener wanted.  I never would have guessed, but in retrospect, the line about “horses of smoke” is fairly obvious.  “Scratching myself,” “gathering the passengers and putting them down”… yeah, that’s heroin for you!”

I must admit I had no idea what the song was really about, so that came as a bit of a surprise. I just really liked the really neat guitar work and those eerie chords in the ‘shaking and a shuddering’ part.  I was pleased that Richard also mentioned what Kevin’s manager Jo Gielan thought about ‘Ghost Train’,

“After that gig in 1998, Jo Gielen told me that he rarely had the luxury of enjoying Kevin’s gigs, in the sense that he was so busy focusing on logistics, making sure the venues and bookers didn’t rip them off, etc.  But when we played Ghost Train, it was one of the few times he just closed his eyes for a few moments and relaxed and soaked in the music like the rest of the audience.  I thought that was a nice compliment!”

Ghost Train Lyrics

I’m sitting here picking the holes in my sneakers
Watching the moves of those Midnight Creepers.
There’s a smell of a song rustling through my head
Something about being somewhere else instead.

And the ghost train comes blowing on in — through this town;
Picking up the passengers — Then putting them down.
And the wind steals a leaf, Like the ghost of a thief,
And the autumnal wind blows around and around.

Oh those horses of smoke! — Sneaking in through the trees.
There’s a shaking and a shuddering that goes to my knees.
And I wonder what’s happening? Did I miss the joke?
Another year sleeping;
I never awoke.

There was plenty of war; And plenty of death.
Plenty of hunger and Wasting of breath.
And all I did was scratch myself and Dream a few dreams.
And I wrote a few notes on what I think it all means.

But reading them all now — They don’t amount to much.
There’s no meat to eat; No flesh to touch.
A few dreams of you — And a few fish to fry;
I just sat there watching
Another year go by.

Oh those horses of smoke! — Sneaking in through the trees.
There’s a shaking and a shuddering that goes to my knees.
And I wonder what’s happening? Did I miss the joke?
Another year sleeping;
I never awoke.

1 comment… add one
  • Charlie September 8, 2018, 1:03 pm

    I’ve read somewhere that Ghost Train also includes references to Kevin Ayers’ interest in Gurdjieff’s The Fourth Way. One part of that has to do with “waking up”. “Why Are We Sleeping” was also said to be a Gurdjieff influenced thing.
    As he himself said; “Philosophically, the only person that influenced me was Gurdjieff. What he said made sense to me. What I really liked about him was, he was a total charlatan. He didn’t make any bones about it. His thing was that you cannot present the truth to people in simple form. You have to elaborate. Otherwise they’re not interested. Did you ever read his book? It’s just bullshit, absolute bullshit. But he says, you have to write 100 pages to say one sentence, to make it interesting for people. Otherwise they won’t accept it as real. You have to say a lot in order to get a little across.”

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