TRANS-ATLANTIC SUBWAY (Cambridge, MA)

The pensive Prophets, July 1965. From left: Tom Hesse (lead vocals), Paul "Mac" MacDonald (drums), Steve Ning (bass), Ken "Skip" Curry (rhythm guitar), Mark Byrne (lead guitar). All photos courtesy of Mark Brine.

Trans-Atlantic Subway were five high school pals from Cambridge, Mass., who set out to perform rhythm & blues and rock and roll. The lineup featured Mark Byrne (lead guitar), Tom Hesse (lead vocals), Steve Ning (bass), Ken “Skip” Curry (rhythm guitar) and Paul “Mac” MacDonald (drums). All lived in the Agassiz School area except for Mac, who was from nearby Somerville.

The band was originally called The Prophets and Mark made up business cards freshman year at Rindge Technical High School (see photos below).

In late 1966, The Prophets went into Lightfoot Studios in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and recorded two original Hesse/Byrne compositions: the upbeat “Servant Of The People” and the somber “Winter Snow.” According to Mark, the band originally planned another slower/moody song to back “Winter Snow,” but the studio executive wanted an upbeat one instead. The band considered “Servant” more of a novelty — their take-off on the Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man,” about a cop named Tony who used to bug them at their local hangout — but obliged and recorded it for the A-side.

(Lightfoot Studios was owned by and operated by Gordon G. Lightfoot, no relation to the Gordon Lightfoot. The studio became Third World Recordings, infamous for recording and releasing The Shaggs “Philosophy Of The World” LP.)

Mark's recollections of that day:
Lightfoot Recording Studio was located on Centre St. in Jamaica Plain.. ‘n though I can’t recall how Tom ‘n I got there that day (Probably via bus-line), I do remember standing in the doorway (it might’ve been raining..?) waiting for Gordon Lightfoot (Not the same as the famed artist, but a lesser ‘Country’ music one .. with a small-time hit called “Drugstore Cowboy”, I believe it was?) to appear. We had called ‘n made an appointment with him (I assume) to check out his set-up. I remember the little office in the front with its desk and slight-of furniture.. as well, as the doorway ‘n the beyond-it big back studio ‘n (street-side..) bordering control room. I say ‘big’ (as it was very impressive to a young kid then!), but it was not as huge as the many older ones that I’ve seen or worked in since! I don’t recall if it was that day or soon after, but we discovered that the engineer that worked there (‘n would also handle our session) was Ed Welch.. a former neighbor of mine on Crescent St. He & his band used to sit around in the backyard in the Summertime (only a few houses down from mine) ‘n pick their electric guitars. I, of course, was a big fan of theirs (they all being a bit older than me..’n much more proficient!) .. so, it was exciting to know that he’d be involved!
       
Either way, a date was secured.. ‘n when, at last, it came.. we were all pretty hyped-up to go! We had originally hired the studio, but by the time we finished, Gordon offered us a contract to record 6 more sides for his Lightfoot Record label. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. 
I can still see it all in my head now.. the exact band set up ‘n our placement in that room.. ‘n what transpired. Originally, we had rehearsed ‘n planned for two original numbers.. “Winter Snow” (a song lyric of Tom’s, that I had added music to) and “Undoubtedly, Mr. Smith” (a song I had written by myself, words ‘n music.. Though, as a team we had always shared credits despite!). But, being that “Winter Snow” was the first recorded that day.. ‘n Gordon having a friend/record executive visiting from Nashville ‘n attending the session.. the latter pointed out that these two numbers had basically the same mid-to-slow, ballad-like tempos. So he asked if we had anything more ‘up’. And, randomly grabbing “Servant of the People” ‘n playing it for them, the exec said.. “There’s your Hit!”.. ‘n (on his advice), Gordon pushed it ‘n won out. 
I still can’t help wonder to this day though, just ‘who’ that Nashville Exec was… ‘n greater, if (when I grew older) I might’ve known or even worked for him..? 
— excerpted from an unpublished, private memoir by Mark Brine (© 2017)

The 45 was released in Spring 1967 under the name Trans-Atlantic Subway, as Lightfoot suggested they come up with a new name on account of another, more well-known group calling themselves The Prophets. But within six months the band would dissolve, playing their final gig in October or November of that year. Friend Donny Coughlin joined the band as organist for the show.

Mark and Mac went on to a heavier outfit called Instant Up, who opened up for Procol Harum and Moby Grape, but never released any records.

Mark switched around his last name from Byrne to Brine and moved to Tennessee to pursue a career in country music, with numerous releases under his belt to date and critical acclaim. In 2012 he published a book, The Book Of Odes (Factory Boy), a not-so-thinly-veiled account of his time with Trans-Atlantic Subway. It can be found here.

Sadly, Steve Ning died of a brain aneurysm in 1989 at the age of 38, and Tom Hesse, a U.S. Army veteran, passed away in May 2016 at age 67.

Visit Mark Brine's website at markbrine.com.

Dedicated to the memory of Tom Hesse.

Jan/Feb 1967, from left: Paul MacDonald, Steve Ning, Tom Hesse, Mark Brine, Skip Curry.

July 1965

July 1965
March 1965

February 1965: earliest band picture
1965 basement practice

"Rindge A Go Go" rehearsal, Winter 1965
March 1965 practice

Final gig, Oct/Nov 1967. Donny Coughlin on organ.
1965

First business card, printed in Rindge Tech printing class.
Later card design


TRANS-ATLANTIC SUBWAY
Servant Of The People / Winter Snow
Lightfoot
(100,333/34)
Spring 1967