Why All the Stations was/is special
Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, sickened by 2016, resolved to do something, anything. The thing they resolved to do was visit all of the UK’s stations over the spring and summer of 2017, and to make ‘a documentary’ about the trip.
Here are the Rules, and what counts as a station ; http://allthestations.co.uk/about/
There are 2563 stations, between Penzance and Wick. The trip started at the beginning of May, and finished on August 19th. To make the trip and the documentary about the trip possible, Geoff and Vicki raised £38k via Kickstarter.
As they visited all the stations, they documented what happened. They made short films, presented to camera by both of them, from the footage that they collected during a day of riding trains. They uploaded four a week, but there were bonus videos too; all on You Tube. There’s live live Facebook stuff, action on Twitter and Instagram, and a series of albums of good looking photos. They ticked off the difficult stations; Shippea Hill, Pilning, Manchester United FC Halt, and looked again at the crowded ones, finding interesting images and something good humoured and intelligent to say, wherever they went. Unscripted, sometimes they appear together (always at the beginning of each film), sometimes on their own, presenting mini-packages, quick guided tours to the places around the station, and talking to interesting varied interviewees along the permanent way, happy to talk trains. Like me; I hooked up with them as they came through Radnorshire on the Heart of Wales line, and rode from Llanwrtyd Wells to Knighton.
It’s all done with a light heart, goodwill, and a mildly political agenda about using rail. The films are a treat, not just because they go to interesting out of the way places, but because of Geoff and Vicki. Geoff is like your mate who you really want on your quiz team; your phone-a-friend for a million. Geeky, but funny with it. Ready to forgive your geekiness, in return for being able to indulge his. Vicki is like Lucy Worsley, with that same warm enthusiasm, and bright-eyed intelligence, but Vicki is more engaging than LW, if you can imagine such a thing. She and Geoff share a capacity for wonder at the everyday. You want them both on your quiz team. Together, they are beautiful. The fans are caring about them. I care about them.
Visiting all those stations in a relatively short period of time, living in Premier Inns, out of a rucksack, you can see that it is taking its toll. Sometimes, they are tired. Something went wrong in Peterborough; the leaving of North Wales looked hard. But they keep battling on with their good hearted marathon documentary, waiting for the sunny days to come back, and for Vicki to smile and say ‘Yaaay!’
I love it that they go to places that no one cares about, no one uses. Stations used by 12 passengers a year. Stations that are hidden behind film studios and oil refineries. They go deep into the quotidian; what news from Heysham? How are things in Urmston? Can adventure be had in Ardwick? They find out. By the end of the trip, they will have covered a lot of ground and documented it in some detail. It’s a Whole Island snapshot, done in one summer. It’s like something Mass Observation might have come up with, and the project is generating spin off videos, fan flics made by people trying to relive moments from early in the series.
Through no fault of my own, I still know a bit about railways. If I see ludicrous pantaloon Portillo on one of his interminable train travel shows, I shout at the telly. Geoff and Vicki just made me smile. It’s very clever. At the end, they’re going to make a feature length documentary, which I hope we get to see on broadcast TV when it’s done.
But, I reckon that what they’ve done here, is invent a new genre. Simon Jenkins has a new book out, called ‘Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations’, but Geoff and Vicki have made it obsolete. They didn’t go to the best stations. They went to All The Stations. All of them. Whenever you find yourself on a lonely platform at night, you can think ‘Geoff and Vicki came here.’ It was funded in the same way that travel books are; in advance, with the expenses coming from the advance, and the films read like a book, rather than a TV series. The music developed in a way which would be impossible in a conventional TV series. In the preview episode, where Geoff and Vicki set out the idea, the music is a raw motorik Kraut rock influenced theme; by the end, it has developed and grown into something lyrical and new (with a nice little joke by way of the last note). It’s a real theme tune, but because of the wawy the episodes grew, so does the music. It became the soundtrack of my summer.
There’s merch – t-shirts, mugs, a CD, – and I hope that at the end there’s a book, too. I hope that they get the viewers they deserve. Above all, though, I hope that Geoff and Vicki live happily ever after. The remake of Brief Encounter, the will she or won’t she moments at Gretna constitute something like romance. This was a real journey, filmed in real time, showing real lives and real places. If you haven’t watched it yet, you are in for a real treat.