My good friend Rob posted on his Bron Hebog blog the other day about a commission for a very particular vehicle – the Ffestiniog Railway Disco Carr, number 121. In it, he makes reference to a “rudimentary sound and light system”. I thought that given I was involved in the running of these events, I’d do a few posts on disco trains on the Ffestiniog Railway and how it evolved from a very rudimentary system to something that got requests for outside contracts – as always on the FR, if you’re going to do something, do it proper!
The discos were mainly in various fixed locations, but occasionally appeared on an evening staff-only train. The first one was a “one-off” for RicketRescue but it was such a hit that it returned for a number of sequels. Over the years of volunteering I got involved with the discos when we had staff parties until I was eventually let loose on “the decks”. This name is a bit of misnomer for what we had. Back then the set up really was rudimentary with the music playing system consisting of two domestic CD players and some speakers. One of these CD players would only play track 1 from any CD you put in it.
Simple, you say, Singles. Not simple. We were all skint students at the time and given the choice of paying £10-12 for an album of a dozen songs or a single with a dodgy B-side for a couple of quid, you didn’t need to be an engineering undergraduate to work out which was the better value for money as long as you could keep off the sauce long enough to save up for the album.
This handicap often meant you required two DJs on duty, one to play the tunes and one to hunt round for a CD with a decent track 1 to stick on, which is how I got involved, hunting through piles of CDs towards the end of the evening peering at the slip in the half-light trying to work out whether you could get away with playing Bohemian Rhapsody for a fourth time in the last two hours (we’ll never forget the disco when we all forgot to bring our CD collections and ended up with about five CDs for the entire night).
Through the excellent medium of extracting donations out of the staff at these events, eventually a proper all signing, all dancing, gimballed 2 CD mixer was purchased, which was promptly modified by one of the volunteers to have an additional stereo jack input to enable you to play tunes from another device if so desired.
This, with the addition of a decent amp, light generator, light boxes, a strobe light, mirror ball, and smoke machine all procured over the years enabled a pretty professional set up to be devised. What we produced was professional enough that after the Boston Lodge Works Dinner in 2005, the venue asked if we could be contracted because we played so much better music than their usual DJs and we had got all their staff dancing too.
Putting the disco kit onto the train was a whole different ball game, which I’ll cover over the next posts including some ideas that never materialised.