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Running Out Of Steam

“Hello railroad. Is this the railroad? I want a one-way ticket down to Tennessee. I’m leaving immediately, Chattanooga here I come. Pardon me, boy, is that the Chatanooga Choo Choo...?”

“No, it’s the 11.00am to Rawtenstall, calling at Ramsbottom, Burrs Country Park, Summerseat…”

It’s East Lancs Railway 1940s Weekend. I’m on Bury station. It’s day three of the annual event – and it’s raining heavily. Day three, of course, means it’s a Bank Holiday weekend, and today is the Monday, with Saturday and Sunday now behind me. That first day saw me here, at Bury. Yesterday I was at Ramsbottom station. And today sees me back at Bury again. Arriving at 8.00am, set up by 9.00am and performing intermittently throughout the day up to 5.00pm; from a performer’s perspective it’s a long day in itself. By day three I’m beginning to feel it.

It’s all worth it, though, to be a part of an event I have been performing at for many years now, and really look forward to. Nowadays, it’s perhaps not so busy or popular with the 1940s re-enactors but the public still seem to love coming to it, and the usual negativity that events invariably have to suffer on social media is overwhelmingly from the former. That’s not to say I don’t have sympathy with many of the comments being posted, because I do. I also try to see it from the event’s perspective too. So many of the these major 1940s Weekends have bitten the dust in the past two or three years, due to a variety of factors, chief amongst that the costs involved, that there is now an added pressure to preserve the ones that are still running. And that is the responsibility of both the event itself and booked entertainers, like myself, to give of our very best.

Although I always have a wealth of ideas that, were I involved in the delivery of the event, I would like to see introduced, in reality all I can control is my role in the whole event; think positively and be positive… and entertain to the best of my ability. The feedback from visitors, both on the day, and afterwards from random reviews received via my website or the all-important Google reviews, indicated that I’d managed that successfully. 'I had a wonderful day out at the East Lancs Railway 1940s weekend,' wrote one visitor, Colin, who continued: ‘Jane was on the station at Bury and was a highlight of the day, with songs that got people dancing and put a smile on many faces. Certainly worth going to any other events to be entertained by her and would recommend a booking if you are organising a 1940s themed event.’ Another, Lisa, gave me five stars, saying simply: ‘Brilliant entertainer and a pleasure to watch at the ELR 1940s weekend.’

As an entertainer, no matter how happy you are with your own performance, how you evaluate the engagement with your audience on the day, how generous the applause is in the moment, you still need the reassurance of positive reviews and constructive feedback.

One of the nicest things about events such as this is catching up with old friends and familiar faces - visitors and railway staff alike. As usual, across the three days, there was plenty of that. Each day of the event I was also working alongside another act – this year, two bands and a singing group in between. At ELR, we are left to work it out for ourselves, usually on the day, what performances we are going to do, and when. It requires a bit of discussion between us, a bit of give and take, and a good helping of co-operation. Happily, it all worked like clockwork at Bury, alongside bands we’d shared the platform with last year.

But as so often happens in this job, you often find yourself working alongside an act you might not have seen or heard before. In these instances, the friendlier and more co-operative I can be, the better the day is going to be for me, and everyone involved. At Ramsbottom station on the middle Sunday, I was paired alongside a harmony trio called Christopher & The Robins. They proved to be a delight to work alongside, not least of all because we had very contrasting styles. The fact that I never arrive at an event with a pre-prepared set list, coupled with my (modest cough) extensive repertoire, means that I can easily avoid replicating the same or similar material, which is sometimes the case when I find myself sharing a stage with a similar act to my own.

I’d already been greeted like a long lost friend by Chandra, the station manager at Ramsbottom, which was appropriate as I hadn’t performed on her station last year, and I was left in no doubt that she was pleased to see me back. As I was to see her and to be back! It set up the day, and we had a great time. Finding it far from easy trying to fit our respective performances between the arrivals and departures eventually had us in fits of laughter, but somehow we managed to make it work and we finished the day, much to the delight of Chandra, the station staff and visitors alike, with a rousing joint rendition of We’ll Meet Again.

And as for East Lancs Railway, the wonderful staff, all volunteers, who keep this iconic railway running, Lorna the overall event organiser who shows the utmost faith in me and works so hard to bring it all together, and everyone who visits, like Colin and Lisa, and clearly enjoys their day or weekend… I hope we do meet again, and for many more years to come.

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