John Wenlock- Smith Interviews David Longdon

In this piece I talk to David Longdon of Big Big Train about his latest album, a collection of songs recorded in collaboration with the late Judy Dyble entitled ‘Between A Breath and A Breath’, which was released on the 5th September 2020.

DLThanks for writing such and insightful and sensitive review of the album, I really liked it and appreciate the kind words you wrote.

JWS – It was a privilege to be able to do so, I wanted my words to express my respect for Judy as a tribute and to acknowledge what must have been a labour of love for you. I really enjoyed it and we had it on yesterday whilst we were driving in Wales. We were driving from Dolgellau towards Porthmadog through the mountains and it was lovely music to accompany us as we were traveling.

DLI am pleased that you are enjoying it, so I think Judy would approve of your choice of listening location too.

JWS – It’s obviously a labour of love for you really.

DLYes it certainly got that way at the end, I found out at the after show at the Hackney empire when she told me her diagnosis. I told her I can’t do anything about the medical side but I can get the album completed and so, a week later, I was in the recording studio getting things done and it’s been heads down ever since .

JWS – Well I feel that you have created a lasting memory and tribute to her.

DLThat’s very kind of you to say, I know shortly after she passed away I was kind of searching for it. It’s a strange thing because in my mind I thought she was in her house and that I could face-time her and talk about things and laugh about things as she has been such a powerful presence in my life for the last five years. If I need to find her I listen to the album, she’s there, very present in the music and that’s where her presence is. Rightly so too and I guess that is as she would want it to be.

JWS – I love the artwork for the album it is fantastic, Sarah has done a wonderful job with it.

DLSarah said that she wanted to give Judy the best of her and she was very happy to be involved in all of that. Sarah did a marvellous job of it all, along with the photographs by Sophocles Alexiou, who also shot the fabulous picture of Judy and I sitting by the fire where all great stories are told.

JWS – I have the CD version and there is a lovely picture of Judy with Jessie (Her greyhound).

DLAgain, another photo by Sophocles Alexiou. The portraits and the photographs are great, we were lucky to find Soph really.

JWS – I see Sarah incorporated jessie into the cover art too.

DL Yes, it’s sort of based on Victorian Funeral Art really. The flowers are a wreath and are traditionally associated with funerals. The lilies and the others, if you look at the flowers closely some of them are in a state of decay, sort of past their best which is a look we were after. The crow’s skull is supposed to represent me, the wing is Judy and me and the crow, Grimspound, is on there as well and is a reference to a track of Judy’s called Crow Baby.

DLI think the combination of Sarah, Sophocles, and Steve Vantis (who plays with Fish and who has worked with us since Merchants of Light doing graphics) working together, have all created something special that hopefully people will want.

JWS – Well everyone I have spoken to about this album is extremely excited about it and cannot wait to get hold of it which is encouraging.

DLYes, its very strange as when this comes out on the 25th that Dyble/Longdon will be done, completed. People have asked me if we will play these songs live and, at this stage, I cannot give an answer because everything is up in the air because of Covid. I feel like I’m living real life episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) at times, its all very strange. I’m talking about Judy a lot and that’s good and right too but its all very strange to me. It’s these strange times in which we are living at the moment.

JWS – Let us talk about some of the other tracks on the album like France, I wanted to chat about that because of my background in Progressive Rock.

DLJudy and I wanted to do an epic track and, as Judy and I shared a love of France, it was a natural subject. Judy’s late husband Simon had French ancestry, the first part is about Judy and Simon’s time in France and also about the Occupation by the Germans in the war. Simon’s family still own a Chateau which was where the poet Jean Cocteau made the film La Belle et la Bête with Jean Marais as the beast and he would be eating breakfast in full makeup and the children of the household would see him made up eating so, France part two, is about that experience.

The song also includes most of Big Big Train playing apart from Dave – he appears on the first track Astrologers though, Rikard plays accordion, Rachel plays violin, Danny plays double bass and Greg plays bass and Moog Taurus bass pedals. I contribute guitars, piano, mellotron, flute vibraphone, marxaphone and effects.

JWS – I Love Rikard’s accordion on that.

DLHe learned it from his grandfather apparently, I’m not sure if it was his first instrument, but he certainly learnt a lots of polkas and such like. He does a great job of it all, Rikard’s a really great guy, very big hearted and he’s a rapacious consumer of comedy, he quotes Black Adder all the time.

JWS – And the story behind Obedience?

DLIs about Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron. When she was small her parents split up and her mother gave her arithmetic and algorithms to occupy her mind and would save her from her father’s madness, but you can’t stop the mind from wandering, can you?

JWSWhisper is another great song…

DL – That song is about a friend of Judy’s called Jackie Morris who is an illustrator and writer and he was running a workshop about Faeries and asking if folklore had any relevance today. There was a lady who said that the distance between a breath and another breath could be an eternity in faerie world. It is also about an aunt of Jackie’s who, when she got older, lost the ability to speak loudly and was reduced to a whisper but I took it to be that it was about how, as we age, often older people’s voices are not heard.

We Didn’t want it to be old lady material, we wanted it to have some bite. It has teeth, it’s strident in places and it rocks in places. It has some huge soundscapes and comes back to these tiny fragile things too.

JWS – So what is happening with Big Big Train now?

DLWell, we didn’t get to America or do the European dates as they were all cancelled until this virus situation goes away. The whole entertainment world is in a state of confusion at the moment as no one is sure when it will be safe to operate again, so, in the meantime, we have written the next BBT record and will look to record it later in the year. Next year I’ll do a solo album as well because it looks as if it will be this way for the short term future. Sarah and I are supposed to see the Who next year but if its still looking dodgy, then we wont be going, I simply won’t risk it.

JWS – Understandable, we’re supposed to see Genesis but its been put off till next year too. Although we did get to see you with BBT last year in Birmingham, it was a great show. We were on the front row and we really enjoyed it, we also saw you the year before in Basingstoke at The Anvil.

DLYes that was the night that England played. I thought we might not get many people but we did, we got a good crowd although England took a beating.

JWS – Anyway David, my time has gone, so thank you for your time and the information. We’ll get this all into shape and get it up online as soon as we can. (Ed. – You obviously mean the ‘Royal’ we, John?)

DLThank you John, it’s been great talking to you thank you for the review and all that you do, it really helps. Keep safe and well until next time, it is really appreciated.  

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/dyble-longdon_between-a-breath-and-a-breath_cd

Review – Dyble/Longdon – Between a Breath And A Breath – by John Wenlock-Smith

Many of you will be saddened with the cessation of daily routine and life, especially in the area of live music. Big Big Train have certainly had a rough time of all this with their inaugural headlining show at Rosfest in Florida being cancelled due to the virus. During this time David Longdon has not been idle, instead he has been able to complete a rather significant and a very personally special project with Judy Dyble (whose pedigree includes being Fairport Convention’s original vocalist and also being latterly of Trader Horne, alongside an interesting solo career of late). When Big Big Train undertook a run of shows at King’s Place in 2015, Judy was introduced to multi instrumentalist David Longdon and they bonded over their shared love for words and history to the extent that Judy performed a duet with David on The Ivy Gate from the band’s ‘Grimspound’ album and they expressed the desire to work together further at some point. 

This new album is a further and, sadly, final chapter to that friendship as Judy passed away shortly after the completion of the album. So this release will be a celebration of that very special friendship and act as both a testament and a tribute to Judy. 

‘Between A Breath And A Breath’ is a very fine album indeed, there is a lot of very fine music compositions and sublime lyrics on offer on this release. The artwork by Sarah Louise Ewing is exquisite & sensitive and the photos are lovely and dignified, especially the lovely photo of Judy and her beloved greyhound Jessie. 

Of interest to many will be the appearance of most of BBT in some form or another and whilst the music is far more folky than rock, there is still enough punch to bring this into the progressive rock realm, especially on the longer tracks like the epic France and Whisper, both of which are intriguing compositions. 

Judy wrote interesting lyrics and she often said strong things within her songs, as evidenced by her scorn for Astrologers who dupe people with their false promises. This song is the first single from the album and it is a great opener with a fine guitar line from Dave Gregory, whose complex playing adds layers of depth to the song. Obedience follows which is a wonderfully expressive track that swoops and soars with David providing an impressive vocal performance, especially on the chorus. Possibly the most powerful track on the album and one on which the BBT influence can be heard the most.

Tidying Away The Pieces is another song that speaks of preparing for death but is still somehow a positive experience. It is a beautiful song, very emotional but not cloying, rather it is practical and decisive. This song made me smile and cry at the same time. Between a Breath and a Breath is the title track for the album and is a duet between David and Judy in which they swap lines to great effect. A subdued song that has a totally other worldly feel to it.

Then we are onto side two of this remarkable record and the lengthy epic track France at nearly eleven and a half minutes. The song is split in two sections linked by a mirror ball dance section and is about impressions captured on a trip to France and the history encountered whilst there, how war came and changed the home again. This is a sombre piece but the music it contains brings great pathos to the proceedings. It is very expressive and has great guitar solo performed by David Longdon, sweeping accordion from Rikard Sjoblom, in fact pretty much all of BBT bring this song to life beautifully and sensitively, a truly magnificent piece of music. 

Whisper is next and is another strong  piece, the playing on this track is graceful and full, very satisfying. It rewards the listener with repeated playing, unlocking different nuances as the song plays on. It is about being isolated and left out but still being able to listen. 

Final track Heartwashing is a bit different in that Judy doesn’t sing on it but she does speak the words. I gather that illness had consumed Judy by this stage and she couldn’t sing but she did speak with the final lines telling much of the tale when Judy says, “For what will be the next adventure, should there be such a thing…” Sadly it was not to be as she died on the 12th July in advance of the release of the album. 

It is an absolute pleasure to be able to recommend this music to you all, between them David and Judy have gifted us with a graceful poignant and touching record that is a fine testimonial to the unique gentle talent of Judy Dyble and one that is brought to life by the great skills of David Longdon, the members of Big Big Train and a few others. 

This is an album that you must listen to or you miss it at your peril. I cannot recommend this highly enough, I think it is one of my albums of the year. Indeed the beautiful music and the grace that the album offers make this worthy of a place in any albums of the year listing. Yes, it is that good, truly remarkable in fact!

Released 25th September 2020

Order from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/dyble-longdon_between-a-breath-and-a-breath_cd

Dyble Longdon Announce Release of Between A Breath And A Breath

Dyble Longdon is a collaboration between iconic vocalist Judy Dyble (ex Fairport Convention, Trader Horne) and Big Big Train songwriter and frontman David Longdon.  They release their highly anticipated album Between A Breath And A Breath on 25th September.  The CD edition is released on English Electric, distributed by RSK, and the gatefold vinyl edition is released on the Plane Groovy label.

You can pre-order the album here: https://burningshed.com/tag/Dyble+Longdon

The album contains seven original compositions with all lyrics by Judy Dyble and music and production by David Longdon. The songs are, at times, haunting and, at others, beautifully fragile.

This collaboration with David Longdon is something Judy Dyble has hoped for for some time. “I first heard David sing with Big Big Train at King’s Place in London 2015 and immediately decided that I really wanted to sing with him someday. And here we are with a collaborative album, which I think is wonderful!” she said.

David Longdon added: “Judy asked if I would like to work with her. She sent me some great lyrics which inspired the music and over the years we’ve become good friends. Judy duetted with me on The Ivy Gate, which appears on Big Big Train’s Grimspound album. The Dyble Longdon album is a natural development on from this piece.”

Judy, who is fighting serious illness, expanded on the subject matter of the songs: “The lyrics for these songs virtually wrote themselves, with minor tweaks, as music grew around them. All were written before I was diagnosed and before the dreadful virus stamped its footprint on our world.

Quite a few of my lyrics have a touch of sadness about them but always with an optimism for the future and a desire to know what happens next. France, Whisper and Obedience tell stories suggested in conversations and Between A Breath And A Breath is sheer magic. Astrologers was a simple ‘Hmmpph! Stop it!, while Heartwashing and Tidying Away were just poems which wrote themselves.”

Between A Breath And A Breath was recorded at Real World Studios in Wiltshire and Playpen Studios in Bristol. The album was produced by David Longdon and mixed by Patrick Phillips (Elbow, Kate Bush and Sir Paul McCartney). The artwork for the album is by Sarah Ewing.

Track listing for Between A Breath And A Breath

1. Astrologers

2. Obedience

3. Tidying Away The Pieces

4. Between A Breath And A Breath

5. France

6. Whisper

7. Heartwashing

Judy Dyble (vocals, autoharp) and David Longdon (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, piano and keyboards) are joined by Jeff Davenport (Jade Warrior, drums) and Longdon’s Big Big Train bandmates Danny Manners (double bass), Rikard Sjöblom (accordion), Rachel Hall (violin), Greg Spawton (bass guitar and Moog Taurus pedals) and Nick D’Virgilio (drums). Other featured musicians are Dave Gregory (ex-Big Big Train and XTC, guitar), Andy Lewis (Paul Weller, bass guitar), Luca Calabrese (Isildurs Bane, trumpet), Dave Sturt (Gong and Steve Hillage, fretless bass).

About Judy Dyble

Judy Dyble intended to be a librarian but got side tracked into joining many bands in their infancy, and became one of the pioneers of the English folk-rock scene in the 1960s, most notably as a founding member of Fairport Convention and vocalist with cult band Trader Horne.

Judy largely withdrew from the music scene in the early 1970s to concentrate on her family before being invited back to the Fairport fold in 1997 for the 30th anniversary reunion at Cropredy. To Judy’s great relief, her worries, ahead of the event, disappeared as ‘suddenly the years fell away.’ Further Fairport anniversary appearances reassured Judy and showed that her passion for music

had remained through the years and she made three albums with Marc Swordfish, of Astralasia, as she began a revival of her solo career.

This has included numerous guest appearances on albums by a host of artists including, in 2017, Big Big Train, with Judy forming a close working relationship with Big Big Train’s multi-instrumentalist frontman David Longdon

About David Longdon

David Longdon is best known as the vocalist for multiple award winning progressive rock band Big Big Train, whom he joined in 2009. Since then David has recorded six studio albums with Big Big Train, including 2019’s Grand Tour, and has fronted the band for a series of acclaimed live shows in the UK and Germany.

Prior to joining Big Big Train, David pursued a variety of musical avenues. These included leading Nottingham based band The Gifthorse, playing within Louis Philippe’s band alongside future Big Big Train member Danny Manners, reaching the final two in the auditions to replace Phil Collins in Genesis and performing on The Old Road, 2008’s farewell album by former IQ keyboardist Martin Orford, which brought him to the attention of Big Big Train.

An accomplished producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and arranger, David has also previously released a solo album, 2004’s Wild River.

Between A Breath And A Breath

Release Date – 25th September 2020

Pre-order link for the album:  https://burningshed.com/tag/Dyble+Longdon

Catalogue Numbers: EERCD0026 (CD); PLG084 (black vinyl); PLG084(c) (blue vinyl)

CD through English Electric, distributed by RSK

Gatefold vinyl edition on the Plane Groovy label.