LIVE REVIEW: Zion Train @ Rockaway Park (17/06/23)

Zion Train return to the scene of the grime, Rockaway Park

Art, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.  One person’s unmade bed is another’s work of genius. Rockaway Park therefore,  could be seen as a scrap yard, a bolt-hole for weirdos or one of the most fascinating incubators of industrial art in the UK. For us at Peppermint Iguana it is definitely the latter. We loves it.

It evolves and grows every time we visit.  Which is all the more amazing when you consider that wherever you point your eyes, your gaze will be met with the one of many thousands of pieces of art that litter the former scrap yard. From huge set-piece works made out of scrap cars,  to mythical creatures made out of car parts welded together, to road signs subtly changed to give them a new meaning. Oh, and shed loads of pre-loved fun fair paraphernalia.

I could go on for ages, but I think a dedicated article looking at the venue is well overdue.

For now, let’s talk about the reason for our visit. Zion Train.

Zion Train is a many-headed dub hydra that has been vibrating dancefloors and shaking walls with their basslines and grooves since 1988. In that time they have occasionally troubled the charts, but prefer to boldly go where no other band has gone before, or at least follow the branch line less travelled.  Which makes Rockaway a perfect venue for them.

They were the first band ever interviewed for the fledgling Peppermint Iguana Zine, back in 1895.  It would be wrong to say we have been hanging out together ever since, but we have kept in touch whenever we can. One of the beauties of social media is that you can keep in touch without worrying about distance and time zones. So on the run up to the gig we contacted Perch, over there in that there Germany, and arranged to do another interview,  twenty eight years on from the first.

We arrive early, parking on the farmer’s field adjacent to the yard. It is appropriate at this point to mention Rockaway’s one major flaw. It is out in the sticks, so if you are reliant on public transport, it is a bugger to get to. If you have your own vehicle you can park in the field next door.  If it is dry. If it is raining,  or has been raining, the field gets muddy, or rather, it would get muddy. So they don’t open it. And parking nearby is a bit of a ball-ache. What is does mean though, is that the crowd is usually made up of fans who are keen enough to make a bit of an effort to get to the venue, plus a nice smattering of locals who have just walked up the lane from Temple Cloud.

But tonight the field is open, so we park up and pile into the vegan cafe for sustenance. After a wander, camera in hand, we go back to the cafe and sit down with Zion Train for a chat. We talk about the meaning of Zion Train, the joys of travelling the world and the new album. (I’ll post a link to the interview when transcribed.)

As we are chatting, Sledgehead is spinning a selection of reggae mash ups in the main gig room. The basslines slowly get heavier and the volume slowly creeps up, til recording an interview becomes challenging. But no matter, by the time it becomes hard work, the Train are ready to make a start.

And it is an early start, 8:30pm, to allow dedicated Train fans time to catch the entire set and still make the last bus back to Bristle.

It is still light when they start. We are just a few days from the summer solstice, after all. But the opening basslines and the beckoning by tonight’s vocalist Cara soon pull the misfits and the sun-baked ravers indoors to shake their booties.

No two Zion Train gigs are the same: they improvise each time depending on their mood and who is actually in the lineup that night. Tonight they are in the mood to get everyone dancing from the off. And they take the crowd with them. Bass heavy riddims move the hips and feet, Cara’s dulcet tones and lyrics move the heart and feed the head. The brass section adds an extra dimension, applying a rootsy vibe to proceedings.

There is a healthy sized crowd in tonight, but there is enough room for everyone to dance and most do. The result being the crowd throbs enough to look twice the size.

The sun goes down but it still remains hot and sweaty, We head outside to get some fresh air. We still feel part of the gig though because the sound system can be heard throughout the yard. And the yard is changing: the artwork takes on a new life when illuminated. The sights,  the sounds, the smells. It truly is as close to being at a festival as you can get, without being at a festival. In fact, it is better than many festivals.

I’m sat outside people watching and soaking up the vibes, when things go up a gear. I hear the unmistakable sound of ‘War in a Babylon’. I head back into the gig and the place is bouncing. The set draws to a close and I’m disappointed they have done such a short set. Then I look at my watch and see they have been playing for two hours! Time does indeed fly when you are enjoying yourself.  And, boy, did we enjoy ourselves.

The band fades out, Sledgehead fades back in with more mashups  and we slink back to the car and back to Wales. Blissed, blessed and contented. But we travel home safe in the knowledge that their new album drops this week, so we will have even more Zion Train in our life. Which is nice… 😉