Big Big Train release video for “Swan Hunter” from upcoming single

Three times Progressive Music Award winning band, Big Big Train, will be releasing the “Swan Hunter” single on July 13th, 2018. The single release features a remix of the studio album version and a live performance of “Swan Hunter,” alongside two previously unreleased tracks.

The film was recorded live at Cadogan Hall, London, on October 1st 2017.

Swan Hunter is an elegy for the shipbuilding communities of the north-east.

Vocalist David Longdon says:

‘Imagine being a child who grew up within this community, seeing these huge vessels grow daily until their launch. Imagine the relentless sound of machinery and construction workers. Your father most likely would have worked there and probably his father before him. It must have been almost impossible back then to imagine a time when this way of life would come to an end. This is what you knew and it defined you.’

Big Big Train will be playing at The Anvil, Basingstoke, England on July 11th and at Loreley, Night of the Prog festival, Germany, on July 13th.

Review – Big Big Train – Grimspound – by Progradar

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore.

Imagine, if you will, a deserted beach and a man in studious concentration, digging up the sand and then, like an artist who works in silica, crafting the most wonderful sandcastle. Like a medieval wonder it rises from the sand into a creation of unparalleled brilliance, a thing of spectacle for all to marvel at.

Fast forward twenty four hours to the same beach where the wondrous castle has disappeared, swallowed up by the unremitting tide, and the sand is pristine, not a single sign of the artist’s incredible work.

The artist may return to take up his labour of love once more but nature will always prevail, no matter what he does, and the sandcastles will always return to their constituent particles.

To me, this is something of an allegory of modern music. New records have such a short time-frame to impress the listener before the next big thing comes along. A lot of these albums will have been labours of love that the musicians have slaved over for months until they are as close to perfect as they can be. What do they do to make their achievements stand out enough for people to want to listen to and buy and to stay long in the memory to still be played in a years time or more?

British progressive rock stalwarts Big Big Train have long been known for their immersive musical productions with songs that tell stories from history and folklore and have been incredibly succesful. They are one of the bands that I turn to often for my musical fix and their pastoral progressive rock has been a big part of my life for the last four or five years.

April 2017 saw the release of their latest studio album ‘Grimspound’. On ‘Grimspound’, Big Big Train tell stories from the oceans and the skies, from the meadowland and the mead hall, tales of scientists and artists and poets and dreamers. Here can be found songs drawn from history and folklore, true-life tales of a flying ace, of Captain Cook’s ‘experimental gentlemen’ on his first voyage of discovery and the legend of a ghost waiting outside an ivy gate whilst the carriers of souls circle overhead.

Now, even though I liked the last year’s ‘Folklore’ (and still do!), I felt that, even though it had immediacy, it lacked the depth and endurance of albums like ‘The Underfall Yard’ and ‘English Electric’ and I don’t go back to it as often as I do the others.

Would ‘Grimspound’ be another engrossing tour-de-force that would take longer to really get into but, because of that, become a much loved classic? Let’s delve into the past and let the amazing story telling of Big Big Train do its magic…

“A statue of a young man
Defiantly stands
Glove held in left hand
With an Angel close by his shoulder…”

“The wonderfully atmospheric tale of Captain Albert Ball, a reluctant flying ace and hero of the Great War, “a young knight of gentle manner who learnt to fly and to kill at a time when all the world was killing … saddened by the great tragedy that had come into the world and made him a terrible instrument of Death”. DL

A haunting introduction paves the way for what is a classic Big Big Train track and really gives me the impression that the band have returned to their roots with this record. The build up is slow and measured before the guitars and drums herald the main part of the song and you are already rapt in attention. Lovely touches of flute and violin draw in David Longdon’s expressive and emotive vocal to tell the tale of this heroic airman. The music has a touch of pomp and circumstance in parts, befitting such a hero but also has gentle and subtle touches that would seem to mirror his compassionate soul. The build up to the chorus is spine-tingling and has you singing along with the words,

“I’ll be a brave captain of the sky.”

There’s a segue into a fast-paced instrumental section that has you on the edge of your seat, these consummate musicians once again showing their skill and class with guitar parts that are intricate and memorable and the mesmerising keyboards playing off against each other. Nick D’Virgilio’s drums and Greg Spawton’s bass are the glue that holds everything in place on this enduringly powerful piece of music before we are brought back down to ground and David’s voice over tells us more about Captain Ball and how he finally came to be shot down, aided perfectly by the stirring strings of Rachel Hall that almost seem to talk to you.

This amazing song closes out with another brilliant instrumental section interspersed by the repeated refrain,

“Brave Captain of the skies..”

Heart-wrenching guitars and that vibrant rhythm section hold your attention right to the suitably impressive end. Wow, what a start to the album!

On The Racing Line, this instrumental is a further piece about John Cobb, the racing driver, who was the subject of our song Brooklands on the ‘Folklore’ album.” GS

An immediate and expressive instrumental that seems to convey the impression of speed and racing from the first note. Just let the music wash over you and be transported back in history to a time of gentlemen racers who would drive their cars to the track before risking life and limb careering round at high speed. The drums, keyboard and piano seem to be the motive force of this song, the descriptive strings and compelling guitar painting the pictures in your mind, it is all really inventive and quite majestic in delivery. Not just a piece of music but one that recreates history right in the depths of your mind.

“Farewell, my friends,
taking leave of England
headed due south;
experimental gentlemen.”

In 1768, Captain Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, set sail from Plymouth. The voyage had been financed by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy and had a number of aims, including the observation of the 1769 Transit of Venus.

Along the way, the botanists aboard the ship were tasked with collecting specimens from all locations visited in the southern hemisphere. Cook called the scientists on the Endeavour, who included the astronomer Charles Green and the botanist Joseph Banks, his ‘experimental gentlemen’. GS

Experimental Gentlemen was the track that, upon first listen, made me realise that the band were reverting back to their older sound. The introduction is gentle and pastoral and lifts the soul, leaving you in some kind of reverie, flute and piano meandering around your mind before Nick’s drums direct everything into a more regimented sound. There’s a feel of ‘English Boy Wonders’ to the rhythm and vocals and the brilliantly evocative and descriptive guitar is a beautiful touch. Every time David Longdon sings the title line I find myself joining in  and a smile appearing on my lips, this is Big Big Train at their expressive and illuminating best. Rachel Hall’s violin takes centre stage half way through as a more serious note pervades the song, aided and abetted by some emotive keyboard playing to give a real affectional feel to the song. Her violin follows the motif of the chorus and we are off again on this jaunty journey into the wonder of it all. The climax begins with a brilliant, rising guitar solo that grabs your attention before calm and reflection settles over the track and it segues into a piano led section where Greg’s subtle bass playing joins Nick’s drums as the foundation on which a haunting guitar and ethereal strings raise the hairs on the back of your neck, quite clever and very touching as this superb song comes to a close, leaving you enjoying the silence and solitude.

“Here, with book in hand,
follow the hedgerow
to the meadowland.”

“One of the characters who featured on our ‘English Electric’ albums was David’s Uncle Jack. The Meadowland in this song is an idealised place where people gather together to share their thoughts about the things they love. You may bump into people when you are out and about and spend some time talking with them, creating your own such space. As the song is set in the countryside, I couldn’t resist a final appearance for Uncle Jack, who follows the hedgerows up to the meadowlands, as he did many times in his long life.” GS

A short song as Big Big Train ones go, coming in at under four minutes go, it opens with a wistfully delicate guitar and violin that immediately gets under your skin with its sentiment and warmth. This is an exquisitely graceful track that really plucks at your heartstrings, David’s vocal is heartfelt and just brings nostalgia flooding back. The interplay between the violin and guitar is genius, I don’t mind admitting that I had a tear of joy in my eye as it came to an elegant close.

“What shall be left of us?
Which artefacts will stay intact?
For nothing can last…”

Grimspound is a slightly older song than the others on the album. In fact, the drums were recorded by Nick at Real World back when we were making ‘Stone & Steel.’ Big Big Train music contains many historical and archaeological references, and this song is no different in that respect, because it is the name of a Bronze Age settlement on Dartmoor in Devon. When I came to write the lyrics for ‘Grimspound’, I decided that it would be a song about the folklore and myth that surround crows. It is specifically about life, from the perspective of Grimspound the crow.” DL

A slow building opening to the song, a gentle breeze blowing around your mind as the calming music settles upon your soul. There’s a touch of ‘Folklore’ to this track, a more folk edge to the music and the vocals and the repeated musical motif which has become a much loved instrumental earworm to me. Grimspound is a song that just epitomises Big Big Train and their wonderful brand of pastoral progressive rock with its unique Britishness that the fans can relate to. The music is catchy and grabs hold of you and won’t let go but in a gentle and jovial manner, it is music for long summer days in the meadows with meandering streams and for making lifelong memories. The delightful run out with the elegantly nomadic guitar line just adds to the class and charm.

“Upon nights this cold
So the story goes
Some folk say they see the ghost
of Thomas Fisher wait
Outside the Ivy Gate..”

“The origins of this dark song began when I was trying to write a piece called Folklore. This was way before we had decided to call our 2016 album by the same name. The Ivy Gate is a song about family and loss, the perils of childbirth, warfare and faith. It is also a supernatural tale concerning damnation. The Ivy Gate is set during a time of war and centres around the life and times of the ill-fated Fisher family. I met Judy Dyble when she attended the Saturday BBT show at Kings Place. We kept in touch and, as The Ivy Gate developed, I thought that it would make an interesting duet.” DL

The idea of The Ivy Gate being a duet between David and Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention fame borders on genius and gives an elegant fusion of traditional folk and the more pastoral, progressive rock tinged, version that Big Big Train produce. The deep and dark, banjo inspired opening gives real atmosphere and depth to the song right from the off. Judy’s voice adds drama and suspense to the song and a mysterious aura envelops the music, added to by the haunting strains of Rachel’s strings. I feel like I’m transported back in time to be in the middle of a supernatural Victorian spectacle and when David joins in it is almost spine tingling and dramatic. There’s a tense, nervous feel to the music, the violin and banjo adding real tension before the song erupts with Greg’s dynamic bass giving real drive and force to proceedings and progressive overtakes folk as the stimulus. Keyboards swirl, drums are pounded and we are back in the 70’s with a proper prog out instrumental section backing David and Judy’s vocal conjoinment, a powerful musical statement from the band.

“With an eye pressed to the spyglass
counting constellations.
On the shores of distant oceans
charting undiscovered lands;
the collectors and observers,
curators and explorers,
reflectors of light.”

A Mead Hall in Winter began life as a two-minute acoustic guitar and piano instrumental, which was originally intended for the ‘Folklore’ album. Somewhere along the way, Rikard developed his short instrumental into an epic progressive rock piece. Once we had received the initial demo from Rikard and had spent some time getting to grips with the complexities and twists and turns in the song, it was decided that, between the three of us, I would write the vocal melody and backing vocals and Greg would write the words. When I was developing the vocal melodies for A Mead Hall in Winter (which I demoed on the flute), I mentioned to Greg that the song reminded me a little of The Underfall Yard. DL

When David mentioned the connection to The Underfall Yard, I went back to that song and reminded myself of the words. The main theme of the lyrics is the concern that we are losing sight of the Enlightenment values which underlie much of the scientific and social progress that mankind has made in the last few centuries. I thought I would revisit that theme and explore it in greater detail on A Mead Hall in Winter.” GS

A proper ‘prog epic’ at over fifteen minutes, A Mead Hall in Winter is an early favourite of all the Big Big Train fans but, initially, it doesn’t grab me as I’m not a fan of the opening which I feel is a bit messy and almost sounds like an 8 bit Nintendo theme tune from the 80’s. Luckily, after 30 seconds or so, guitar and violin combine to good effect and, as far as I’m concerned, the blue touch paper is lit and we’re off. I love the way that the song seems to drop you slap bang in the middle of the Mead Hall, fire roaring, mead flowing and music playing, it’s really a rather immersive piece of music, one that asks the listener to get involved and become part off. David isn’t just the singer here, he’s a proper troubadour, a minstrel telling stories through the ages and his voice seems to go back in history to echo the early days of the band from ‘The Difference Machine’ and onwards. The captivating and addictive chorus will have you singing along with every word, the harmonised vocals are hauntingly memorable and the little snatches of violin and guitar are the glue that brilliantly hold it all together.

“Artists and dreamers and thinkers are right here by your side…”

Midway through the song we are treated to another entrancing and mesmeric instrumental section that leaves me open mouthed and slack jawed in appreciation. The vocals and instrumentals entwine and combine to deliver an intricate and yet amazingly accessible piece of music that demands to be listened to above all else, stop what you are doing and just concentrate on what is laid before you. The organ section that follows just leaves me transfixed as Rachel’s violin swoops in like Grimspound of the title and dances before your very eyes. Fifteen minutes of sonic delight come to a close with the beguiling vocals and enthralling music resounding in your ears, incredible stuff.

“All here is good,
still and quiet.”

“Sarah’s concept for the cover artwork of the ‘Grimspound’ album has always been that of a crow in flight. Amongst all of the pieces that we have written over the last few years about people and landscape and folk tales we have always featured some songs (or observations within songs) which are more personal in nature. This includes As the Crow Flies. One of the most profound experiences is caring for other people, whether that be for children or aged relatives or others who need support. As the Crow Flies is about the succession of moments of letting go as children prepare to take flight on their own.” GS

As The Crow Flies is perhaps the most personal and melancholy track on the album, when we talk of our children ‘flying the nest’ it is at once both a happy and sad time, it marks a big change in people’s lives and this song has a profound and yet and uncertain timbre to it, echoing perhaps the feelings when we must venture out on our own. The opening to the track has a very sombre tone to it, David’s vocal especially and the music feels like it is treading carefully, almost walking on metaphorical eggshells. The guitar work on this song is as exemplary as ever, almost as if the instrument is talking to you, an accompaniment to David and when Rachel Hall’s delicate voice joins in, it is a thing of ethereal grace and adds hope and longing to lift the feeling of loss that hung over everything. Ultimately our children are our hopes and our futures, we must let them out into the world to become what they are destined to be and to leave their own mark. The sentimental nature of the music and the vocals leaves its mark on my heart and soul and I’m left looking forward to the future, whatever it may bring.

‘Grimspound’ was a hugely anticipated album from one of Progressive Rock’s most revered bands and had to deliver on every front. And it has, many times over, songs like this are what have given Big Big Train the reputation they have today. They are not just music, they are historical tales that take that music and weave it around stories, factual and fictional, to deliver an deeply engaging and riveting spectacle that stays with you forever. This is one sandcastle that no tide will ever wash away…

Band photos by Simon Hogg.

Released 28th April 2017

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on CD from The Merch Desk

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on Vinyl from Burning Shed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview With Rikard Sjöblom – by Progradar

On the early May Bank Holiday Monday Rikard Sjöblom of Gungfly, Big Big Train and (formerly) Beardfish took the time to have a chat with me about the new Gungfly album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’ and we also discussed ‘Grimspound’, the new Big Big Train release, the demise of Beardfish and lorry driving.

Listen to the full audiofile here:

You can also read Kevin Thompson’s excellent review of (and find a link to order) the new album here:

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson

 

 

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson

Right! Listen up class! Roll call before we start, David Elliott, Martin Hutchinson, David Rickinson, Emma Roebuck, Tony Honour, Leo Trimming, James R Turner and Rob Fisher, all present and correct.

As announced in assembly this morning we have a very special guest in our music lesson today. Martin Hutchinson, down the front please, I am not having you and Leo Trimming messing about at the back of the class.

No David Elliott, it isn’t Denzil Dexter from the Fast Show.

As I was saying, we have a guest who is going to play the music from his soon to be released new album On Her Journey To The Sun, under the band collective name of Gungfly, so please give a big round of applause for Mr Rikard Sjoblom and his fellow musicians:

Petter Diamant (drums), Rasmus Diamant (bass), Sverker Magnusson (keys), Martin Borgh (keys) and David Zackrisson (guitar).

Those of you familiar with Mr Sjoblom’s previous work with Beardfish, recent forays with Big Big Train and solo output may have some idea what to expect from this accomplished multi-instrumentalist. If not, those admiring the opulent Santana/Mahavishnu type cover of this album may also hope to glean some clues as to what lies between the grooves of the latest from this excellent musician.

So pay attention, we will discuss each track on completion and there will be homework………

Well girls and boys that was the first track, Of The Orb, what do we think?

Yes Leo, I can see you waving frantically and please take off that top hat, we are not holding auditions for Alice in Wonderland. So you think it is reminiscent of some of your Dad’s old 70’s material, with the keyboard sounds, mixed with more contemporary progressive instrumentation. And you like the synthesiser and guitar harmonies David Elliott along with Mr Sjoblom singing the catchy line throughout of “Stay with me, care for me, I will be yours”. It is quite an epic track in length, Martin Hutchinson, and please try not to shuffle so much on your seat. Oh, you’re chair dancing because you think it’s catchy, well don’t get carried away.

Back to the music, this is the second track On Her Journey To The Sun….

You liked that did you Emma Roebuck, thought it was jazzier, had a bit of swing to it but is maybe more of a pop tune. Yes, Petter and Rasmus Diamant are brothers and yes their drums and bass do work well together to create an effective rhythm section. It’s Mr Sjoblom to you young Rob Fisher, not Rik, but yes he does have a high voice sometimes, anyone know what this type of vocal is called. It’s not ‘girly’ Hutchinson, it’s Falsetto.

Track 3 is entitled He Held An Axe….

Would you you like to take a moment out from digging a tunnel to your brain via your left nostril David Rickinson and give us the benefit of your opinion. You thought the acoustic beginning to this one was good and the way the same chords segued into the electric guitars which loop throughout parts of this track and then back to the acoustic sound. Yes Mr Sjoblom’s voice does change, he has quite an impassioned vocal range and the lyrics do seem to be about quite a gruesome story, I thought that would get your interest.

Number 4 is, I believe, My Hero….

It was an exciting, heavier track Tony Honour, I quite agree, but could you please remove your gum, there is no chewing in class. Don’t stick it under the desk put it in the bin thank you. You think the guitar work sounds quite complicated on this one and it is more up tempo. Well the guitars played by Mr Zackrisson and Mr Sjoblom do have some very fine interplay and yes, you could call this one a ‘rocker’ with some powerful drumming. Please note David Elliott you will get a headache if you keep trying to head-bang like that.

On to Track 5 class, If You Fall, Pt 1….

Emma Roebuck, you think this has a beautiful piano introduction and a gentler organ melody. Anyone else? Yes it does sound quite sad in a way Leo, maybe a bit wistful and it is quite a contrast to the previous track. It is shorter than the other songs which also enhances the change in pace, with a fading ending, which as you will hear, adds emphasis to the intro of  Track 6, Polymixia….

A ‘funky’ start you say James R Turner. Why are there no vocals you ask? It’s what is known as an ‘instrumental’, with no singing. It is the longest track so far James and yes it has multiple layers on top of each other which reveal themselves subtly and I’m sure you would be able to distinguish many melodies and time changes with further listening. You feel there is a sprinkling of whimsy do you Rob Fisher and it is bubblier, with more of an upbeat. I’m glad you think so and have decided to join in the discussion as I thought for a moment that you had nodded off. Please take note how the length of this track allows these wonderful musicians to stretch and show their instrumental talents to the best of their abilities.

Hand up again Martin, oh you need the toilet. Okay be quick about it and no, it isn’t an excuse for everyone else to go, you can wait until the end of  the lesson. Whilst Martin is out of the class, the band will have time to retune and I would like the class to ponder on the rather delicious keyboard contributions on this album from Messrs Sverker Magnusson and Martin Borgh which are most excellent indeed.

Now Mr Hutchinson has returned to the fold we can continue with Track 7, Over My Eyes….

You seem quiet Miss Roebuck, why don’t you take a moment from drawing love hearts on your exercise book and tell us what you thought of this song. Who is the lady playing the exquisite  violin on this one you ask? It is none other than the lovely Rachel Hall who plays in a band I consider to be one of  the front runners in Progressive music today, Big Big Train. If you remember I told you at the start of the lesson that Rikard, apologies Mr Sjoblom, plays in the very same band. Yes it has a rippling piano lead in, Emma, and the violin does float above it like birds over the farm fields under a darkening sky, very imaginative. You can stop the sniggering David Elliot the birds would not be plopping on your head, I swear shaking yours has done some damage.

We now have Track 8 which is called Old Demons Die Hard….

What are you whispering to David Elliott, Rickinson? You think the title is about me, don’t be so facetious, see me afterwards. Tony Honour the view out of the window is not that interesting, why not give us your thoughts on this song. It has a blues and jazz feel to this one in places with some intricate guitar work that at times reminds you of your Mum’s Steely Dan LPs. She still has LPs, I’m impressed. It has got some very good bass work too, yes I would concur.

Now class, we have another of those instrumental tracks, Keith (Son Of Sun)….

Mr Hutchinson your thoughts on this one? You thought it was quite ‘lush’, smooth and laid-back did you. A bit like Mr Trimming with his feet up on the desk at the back there, take them off please Leo.  That means you won’t be able to walk does it, very funny. You can wait behind with Rickinson at the end of the lesson as well. It sounds like a church organ at the start you say Turner, I suppose it does and yes there are intricate rhythms which show great restraint to create a ‘chilled’ tune. Well I can’t argue there Turner and I would say the jazz influences give it that sort of  vibe.

Does anyone know what ‘penultimate’ means? Your hand will drop off as well as your feet Leo, if you keep waving it that frantically, but please enlighten us. You are quite correct it means second last, which Elliott unfortunately was in last week’s cross country.

And so we come to the penultimate and longest tune on the album, The River Of Sadness….

Mr Fisher, you have your hand raised. You feel it takes you on an emotional journey with all the differing changes of tempo and you like the various soloing with whirling keyboards and guitars which go from laid back to more aggressive. Yes Emma, it does showcase everything the band are capable of whilst being a track that sums up the album nicely and despite it’s length it seems to be over quickly and you would like to hear it a few more times to hear all the subtle nuances. Well you all have a digital file of the album to listen to tonight as part of your homework so you can do so when you get home.

So who noticed it was actually two tracks and that The River Of Sadness leads straight into the final haunting tune with spoken vocals which reflect that maybe it’s All A Dream. Yes Martin, I agree that it is the ominous synthesiser rumble combined with the echoing piano keys that create the atmosphere on this and in being brief leaves you wanting more.

Well that’s it and there’s the bell for home-time, if we could give Mr Sjoblom and his associates a huge round of applause before we leave for taking the time to gift us the thought provoking music on this wonderful album. Please listen to it again tonight and I expect at least a two page essay on my desk tomorrow with your full review and no rude diagrams in the margins this time Trimming.

Make sure you consider the impressive mixing and production values and don’t fail to mention Mr Sjoblom’s accomplished 12 string fretwork along with his other talents.

By all means let your parents have a listen and please inform them the album is released on 19 May,  should they wish to purchase on 2 CD Special Edition and will be available on all digital platforms. You might also mention to your Mum, Tony Honour, that it will also be available on 180g double vinyl which may pique her interest.

Class dismissed! Not you Trimming, Rickinson. You two can stay behind and help Mr Sjoblom and his band take the equipment out to the van. Not fair you say Mr Turner and Miss Roebuck, anyone else think so? Very well you can all give a hand, but don’t be late home and be careful with the equipment.

Released 19th May 2017

Pre-order On Her Journey To The Sun on all formats from Inside Out

 

 

 

Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Gary Morley’s Top 10 With Statistics

I was supposed to have compiled a list of my top 10 ( I Think it was) albums of the year to be added to the sum worth of Progradar’s scribbling…

But I got sidetracked, applied work head and started an analysis what I’d bought and the statistics it presented me with. I blame being off sick with ‘flu or a cold as my wife insisted! J

So, an introduction is the formal way of working.

Set out the aims and objectives of this presentation.

Provide the data capture information etc.

Well ,all the CD’s were released in 2016 and purchased by my good self using either a credit card, PayPal or cash in a variety of transactions, involving human interaction, human to machine and machine to machine interfaces.

For statistical purposes, all are treated as “sales”.

Total number of “sales” of 2016 releases to the subject (me) was recorded at 159 units.[1]

These 159 units form the basis of our data extrapolation

Analysis and a breakdown into the main music food groups took place and we cross checked our data with the standard sources (A mate on Facebook, Wikipedia, a man at a bus stop and the local feline)

We then carried out advance statistical sampling and came to the following conclusions:

1 I spent far too much money on CD’s …again! Good job Wifey doesn’t read this J

2 I keep finding new bands and artists to listen to. This is a self defeating sub routine, s the more I listen too, the more get added to the library, so the more follow up CD’s and back catalogue CDs come under scrutiny, so the limited finances are spread across an increasing collecting field. Rationalisation will have to be implemented and decisions, tough decisions will have to be made in regards to future funding shortfalls.

3 I’m a sucker for a pretty cover. There are a number of “wild card” CDs here that have no discernible links to the others, they were chosen purely on a whim as I liked the look of the cover. To avoid embarrassment to both creator and listener, these will not be separated from the data and will be treated as equal contributors to the sum of all musical knowledge.

[1]  Unit – a physical Compact disc, either as an individual or as a multi unit (known as a “box set”)

Breaking down into the 9 detailed groups, we see that Prog is the most voracious in terms of numbers, accounting for 30% of my “spend”

Generic “Rock came a close second, at 28% , with Blues taking the final podium position with a sterling take of 20%. Specialist genres spilt the remaining funds between them with Soul and Ambient / Dance taking 14% each – a merger there could reap dividends next year.

That was the gross figures; there was no taste bias or cultural drift applied.

No additional “worth” was assigned to individual persons or products.[1]

The second part of our research was to “rank” the releases in order of “enjoyment” and “appreciation.

We pored over the raw data and assigned arbitrary plusses and minuses to each, factoring in musical dexterity, lyrical relevance, aura of cool, instrumental prowess, humalongabilty, ability to raise goose bumps, and “star Quality”

[2] For our research purposes, all “units” are assigned an equal cost, regardless of actual cost. This is to remove smugness bias and inferred value capping

The top 50 were assembled and separated from the 2016 subject group and were reassessed using the “Wallet emptier matrix”

Results were then sense checked and subjected to a “blind “listen to confirm that there were no tactical substitutions or last minute reappraisals.

And the top ten were dusted off , polished and are here for your pleasure.

In reverse order:-

10 – iamthemorning – Lighthouse

Glacial Russian Prog duo take everyone by surprise , this is a thing of beauty , genre defying and a Prog album that you can play to your non prog friends ( you do have them , don’t you? )

Beauty in both voice and spirit with a beast of a piano player, play it loud and get lost in their world.

9 – Joe Bonamassa – Live At The Greek

Yes, I know, Progradar writes about Prog. My ears listen to all sorts, this is my top ten of the year, and a lot of great music passed through my ears to get here.

Joe pays tribute to the 3 Kings of the Blues as only he can. By assembling a crackingly good live band, rehearsing them and then letting them loose in a concert environment. Where the joy and blues magic is captured by Kevin Shirley for us to enjoy, and I for one did. Highlight – the good vibes shining through the whole project and a full horn section powered blues band.

8 – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

The first one in my list that I reviewed, so I can happily put this here. Hawkwind sound reenergised here, no more rehashing their own past, instead a thought provoking and relevant concept album about modern life, based on a story written 75 years ago. Fired up, rocking away, an album that thoroughly deserves the accolades it has received this last year.

7 – William White – Open Country

Switzerland, land of many things, but Rastafarian hotbed home of politically charged soulful reggae in the personable Mr W is not top of most people’s lists. In fact, after chocolate, mountain views and tax evasion, most people couldn’t provide much more of a picture of Southern European Alpine lining until Toblerone changed the shape of a chocolate bar- then every pub “expert” trotted out a variety of half facts, none of which prepare you for the sheer charm of this album. A double, one side is a fine collection of politically charged songs that anyone familiar with Ben Harper or Michael Franti would approve of .CD 2 is where the top 10 votes pile in. Live, William and his band are downright funky! Superb playing in front of a lucky crowd elevates this album into the top 10. Just listen to “Soul Rider” and defy your legs not to get all funky on yo’ Ass!

6 – The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

I’ve reviewed this, but you won’t know that yet, as review is still being written. This is a Prog fan’s dream Prog album. Concept album – tick, double album in fantastic artwork – tick. Musicianship bordering on the fretwankery – tick.

Songs – oh yes , it has more tunes that an entire karaoke bar in Kyoto on a wet Wednesday ( traditionally the optimum time and place for karaoke )

Deep Purple collide with Genesis , listen to Queen and Led Zeppelin , all get kidnapped by God fearing Christian fundamentalists with an overzealous approach to redemption . All that and more wrapped up in the Prog Concept album of the year. It’s another exciting chapter in Morse’s book of tunes, not a radical departure from Spock’s Beard / Transatlantic output but still head and shoulders above many of the releases from the “big boys” this year.

5 – Big Big Train – A Stone’s Throw From The Line

To capture that rarest of events, a Big Big Train live concert required an engineer of skill and dexterity: Rob Aubrey proves that he is both with this album. Recorded last August in front of a, shall we put it politely, “devoted” “slightly biased” crowd ( I plead guilty to attending the first night) you can relive the experience in glorious Technicolor on the blu- ray  released earlier this year. But the release of the entire set as a 2CD set is the icing on the cake. Stripped of the need to spot faces in the audience, here you focus on the sound made on that stage. A glorious, very “English” sound too, but in an inclusive melting pot of traditional folklore , contemporary urban life and a celebration of the common man.

Listening now, with 2016 fading into the night, it heralds a better place than the one we are in now. Our heroes were still with us, we were united as a people, hoping for better times and reflecting on the past, not with rose tinted glasses, but the lenses of modern technology and science.
One modern “myth” is that the death of David Bowie in January started the slow unravelling of the space time continuum that played out in 2016, ?I think that without the white heat of beauty this event generated, things would have been worse. Not quite sure how, but we are still here, I’m writing this, and if my theory is correct, the chance of someone reading this far is greater because of the subject within.

Just listen to the glory that is / was “East Coast Racer”.

4 – Colin James – Blue Highways

Colin James made this album for me… Or so it felt when I saw that he’d done an album of his favourite blues tracks, a sort of musicians mix tape. On here are 13 reasons why he is the greatest Canadian guitar player / singer out there. Greater than the God, Neil Young by virtue of the fact Colin plays the blues and is therefore probably human whereas Young is almost certainly not  .

Over the years I’ve followed James from a hot shot hyped up “future of the blues” gunslinger period through his “Big Band” period where he made Jools Holland sound like a school music project, to his dabbling with funk and soul up to his 25th anniversary celebration live album, always a bit of a secret pleasure for me, until this album cracked it for him. From full blown funky band to solo acoustic, all facets of his talent are here , impeccably produced ,an album that just oozes class.

3 – Skye & Ross – Skye/Ross

Morcheeba were the band that turned my head onto contemporary UK music , post rave. I’ve always loved soul and funk, but the rave scene and the endless splintering of genres across the spectrum meant that a lot of good stuff passed me by at the time. However. Watching “the White Room” TV show back in the day , 2 bands caught my ears . One was Kula Shaker with their retake of psychaedelia , the other wasn’t so much of a band , I heard this stunning slide blues guitar over a wash of samples and rhythm duelling with an angel. Looked up and there were 2 geezers and an angel! My first experience of the genius of Morcheeba. I tracked down their debut album and started a musical journey that continues to this day. Through line up fluctuations, fame and fortune, downsizing and fallow years, I persevered, collecting their albums, solo material and those of other bands they turned me onto. The whole “trip hop” fashion scene produced some great musicians, all of which now form part of my musical DNA – Banco De Gaia , Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Desert Dwellers, Shpongle, Ott, Dreadzone  , The Orb and Leftfield, all these unfolded from that first Morcheeba experience) .

So my excitement was piqued when I saw that 2/3 of the original line-up were promising a return to their roots. Not a rehash of old material nor old demos but new material! I paid my money ( a pledge music adventure) and waited.

That wait was worth it, 10 tracks of class and beauty, a “proper “ album of 2 sides , all killer , no filler as the clichés states. These are perfect “pop” songs with sparse instrumentation that allows Skye’s voice to pour like honey from the speakers. No showboating guitar fretwankery drowning everything, just well crafted songs played and sang to the benefit of the listener.

2 – Banco De Gaia – The Ninth of Nine Hearts

Coming from a very Rock centered youth, my musical tastes expanded rapidly as I was exposed to new sounds. My youth was spent emulating Friends elder siblings, declaring allegiance to the Gods of Rock – Free, Deep Purple and  Led Zeppelin were our local pantheon, I added Pink Floyd, Santana, Queen , Bad Company and more by the time punk exploded in our area.

XTC were our hometown band , we al rushed out and bought the 3D Ep, placed it on the communal stereo… and half got up and left after 2 chords!

Through the punk years and the new romantic desert afterwards, we were student, learning about life , love and David Bowie.

Employment beckoned it’s fickle finger and I followed my ears. Discovering Reggae, Soul, Funk, Jazz, African , “Electro”( hip hop ) , Acid House, and so on.

Throughout ll of these expansions, the one thing that linked the music that became part of me was melody. I love a good tune, no matter what label is put on it. Through the new romantics I discovered early electronic pioneers, the post punk movement produced This Mortal Coil for me to love , We Banco De Gaia latest album sits firmly in that melodic bag. It’s not “dance “music, it’s not “Electronica” , neither is it folk or classical. IT sits at the centre of a web with strands linking all of these . Pat Metheny group influences the vibe, as does Psych dub via hallucinogen style rhythms and synth use. It’s very trippy, but not in a 4 to the floor house / euro beat manner.

The only album that springs to mind as I listen is Jakata Visions with it’s up beat up-tempo tracks. Much of 9/hearts is a slow unfolding of layers of beautiful sound, sculpted to lose yourself in. Time is outside this album. Listen on headphones and the world around you fades and you are on a trip Toby Marks has constructed for you to enjoy. A rollercoaster between your ears, one I loved riding time and time again.

Listen to “Burn the Witch” and tell me that’s not “Progressive”!Isten to the Sax and synth on “the Princess and The Skygoat” – Pink Floyd meet Sly n Robbie . Bliss, sheer aural bliss.

1 – Prince – 4Ever

It took me months to accept that he had died. The cornerstones of my musical DNA took a battering in 2016. Losing Lemmy in December last year was a shock, he was an old festival warrior that wifey was friends with. David Bowie went out inder his own terms, leaving behind a final “great” album , Blackstar that I cannot listen to without getting the feeling that it’s an elaborate joke on his part. He knew that he next journey for him was imminent so left us with an enigmatic, dense jazz puzzle , guaranteed to sort  the men from the boys as it were.

Come April,  I get home from work, sit with a green tea and turn on my PC. Before it’s even on, my phone explodes with friends asking how I feel, that it’s a joke. Not a joke. Not true . can’t be… Life sucks., Raging friends “FUCK FUCK FUCK NO NO.

The greatest musician It was my pleasure to see, hear or be aware of had died.

The world has not been the same since. Prince was my world in many ways for the last 30 years, my family and friends were aware that I devoted hours listening to, talking about and sharing music produced, composed, arranged and played by this man.

IT took his death for them to see the genius.

His notoriously robust removal of unapproved live footage from the internet meant that most people saw the skills I (and my virtual family) had been banging on about.

Guitar players- this guy could eat them all for lunch (except, as a strict vegan, no animals were harmed in the playing of his guitars)

He was a master musician, able to play any instrument, ant style, at any time.

Not in a look at me techno-wank speed guitar ego boost, but in a very understated but forceful way. Live, when he let rip, you stood there, jaw dropped, staring. And he knew it. Impish smile as he solo’d furiously during the secret 3rd Eye Girl gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 3 hours of high octane funk n roll guitar melting fun that I’ll always remember.

He controlled that stage, the others following his lead as he took the band (and us) with him on his trip.

Then there are the songs. Throw away ditties, ballads, songs he gave away, songs people didn’t realise he’d been involved with, let alone written…

Kiss, Sign O The Times, Purple Rain, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Raspberry Beret, Nothing Compares 2 U. I could carry on listing them, but I think you get the picture painted here.

So 4ever is the first posthumous Prince album, and a corker it is too. Planned by him as a career overview, it contains all the hits, a smattering of rare edits and, for the hard core faithful, an official release of “Moonbeam Levels” at long last.

His vault contains much material unreleased, unheard and unreleased, how much of it gets released depends on the lawyers, but I’ll be there, in line saying take my money, I want that live album, and that one, that box set too.

Live the man was untouchable. In 40 years of gig attendance, he was the apex performer. Better than Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, better than Stevie Ray Vaughan at Reading, better even than Marillion in the Brunel rooms Amphitheatre in Swindon, where I watched them stun a crowd from the relative safety of my DJ booth.

No, there could only be one album of the year, one artist of the year and this is that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Leo Trimming’s Top 10

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Robin Armstrong’s multi-instrumental ability would be nothing without the excellent song writing and fascinating concept of this outstanding album. Undoubtedly, Album of the Year for me, from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

(I’ve put Cosmograf as my Album of the year… the rest are in no particular order… they’re all great albums.)

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

‘This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.’

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Marillion – F.E.A.R

This is a remarkable release from the Prog veterans that rightly propelled them back to wider prominence with an album full of anger and insight in to the state of the world, with the dominance and influence of the ‘super rich’. Of course, none of those political thoughts or feelings would count for anything in an album without outstanding music – Marillion have conveyed their message with powerful rock passages and also subtle melody. Three epic songs with ambitious scope are clearly modern and truly ‘Progressive’ without lazily resting on ‘Prog’ tropes.  A late contender for album of the year, but who would guess that well over 30 years in to their career that Marillion would pull off an album that truly has something to say about today’s world with such impact and sensitivity, and really mean something.  Beautiful at times, dramatic at other times… thought provoking throughout.

The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt

Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama. The Gift have skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. Just brilliant.

What more could one want from an album?!

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

This is an outstanding album musically and lyrically, with this young band fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix.

Paradigm Shift create finely played music based on well known influences with a largely retro feel. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album, addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

TILT – Hinterland

TILT have delivered a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done. It is a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT their own definite sense of identity. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.

Yorkston,Thorne and Khan – Everything Sacred

Finally, and completely out of ‘left field’ for me after seeing them at a festival.

What do you get when you combine a talented Scottish folk singer-songwriter, (James Yorkston) with a reknowned double bass jazz player (Jon Thorne) and finally an award winning Sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi ( Suhail Yusuf Khan)?

You get an album of beguiling beauty, heart breaking emotion and diverse sounds, blending styles and cultures in a fascinating mix. Listen to songs like ‘Broken Wave’ and ‘Everything Sacred’ and try not to dab the corner of your eye. At other times you are drawn in to hypnotic Indian rhythms with hints of folk, and always played with such delicacy and skill.

Is it ‘Prog’? Of course it bloody isn’t!

But what is more ‘Progressive’ than skilfully and intuitively blending musical and cultural influences to create something so new and so beautiful? Go on… challenge yourself – it’s a great album.

 

Progradar Best of 2016 – Craig Ellis Bacon’s Top 10

Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

Expansive and spiritual in the vein of Tales From Topographic Oceans, this album–like all things Yes these days–has sharply divided the prog world’s opinions. And everyone’s got an opinion on this thing. Well, I’m firmly in the camp that Jon Anderson, Roine Stolt, and Co. have gifted us with a masterpiece. The album is a singular experience, a meditative exercise in four movements. The unrelenting positivity might sound out of place for these dark days, but it’s nonetheless needed. Strong contender for album of the year, for those with ears to hear.

Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train keep adding members, and with each addition they get a little–scrap that, they get A LOT–better. I think they’ve hit on a perfect line-up, because they’ve just released a perfect album. They continue here with themes of the English countryside and fading cultural artifacts, rocking a ‘pastoral prog’ approach that owes a lot to Selling England By The Pound and Wind & Wuthering. Be sure to listen to the extended version as released on vinyl and hi-res download.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover and Ludwig Göransson deliver the funk with plenty of 70’s heart and…well, y’know. There’s lots of organic percussion, fat synths and keys, deep grooves, and vocal effects to fill out the tracks. Childish Gambino keeps things varied here, but centered on those 70’s funk tropes, and somehow manage to inhabit rather than merely imitate. If Prince had released this album in the last few years, it would have been hailed as a renaissance and return to form.

Ben Craven – Last Chance To Hear

Great & Terrible Potions is quite an album to follow up, but Ben Craven has managed it with Last Chance To Hear. Loosely a concept album about the end of the music industry as we’ve known it, this album features William Shatner, prog-a-billy, a spot-on James Bond theme, and even a lovely piano elegy. It’s also a contender for best album art and packaging, with gorgeous designs by Freyja Dean. Cinematic, progressive, singer-songwriter with lush production.

The Fringe – The Fringe

Nick D’Virgilio, Jonas Reingold, Randy McStine. I was sold on the first two names alone, and I wish I had known about the third sooner. Perhaps the album I’ve listened to the most this year, The Fringe incorporates the more alternative rock side of prog into a garage band ethos with my pick for the best production work of the year. The album is stacked with deep grooves, vocal harmonies, and guitar solos. The Fringe are too good to remain a side-project, so here’s hoping that we hear more, and soon.

Frost* – Falling Satellites

Prog has always been a Populist musical venture, however strange that may sound these days. Why shouldn’t pop be progressive, anyway? The latest from Frost* is the most modern-sounding album of the year; it’s ahead of its time, really. All pop music will sound like this in ten years (we can hope). Hooky, layered, accessible, rich, and emotional–it suits a wide range of musical needs.

Steve Hindalong – The Warbler

Incorporating elements of his work with The Choir, The Lost Dogs, and his previous solo album, Steve Hindalong turns in another batch of so very human songs. His descriptive lyrics are so mundane–that is, they essentially capture the mundanity of everyday life–that they bypass our receptors for aesthetic filigree and hit straight at the heart. It’s not unusual for a song to prompt tears, chuckles, and tears again in the course of a verse and chorus. Essentially a singer-songwriter album, the rich production frames the lyrics while never obscuring them. Don’t let the religious backdrop scare you away; this is less of a ‘Christian’ album than what Neal Morse was writing before he was a Christian, and it captures themes of friendship and everyday existence so very well.

Marillion – F.E.A.R

Wow. Of course I want my Prog to be beautiful, grandiose, immersive, but to get one that’s also so…so important? If I were ranking albums, this would have to be #1, and I’ll happily listen to it twice for every person who’s turned off by the message. Political prog at it’s finest, and Mark Kelly is going to win an award for his keys on this album, right

Muriah Rose – Beneath The Clay

Muriah Rose hits the ground running with this gorgeous debut, comprising folk, country, Americana, and singer-songwriter forms recalling The Carter Family, Julie Miller, and The Byrds. Beneath The Clay is Appalachian music through and through, not only musically but thematically and emotionally. Her husband, Bill Mallonee, holds down the rhythm section and adds textured guitar, but Muriah’s voice and lyrics stand front and center in the spotlight, where they belong.

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

Continuing in the vein of Sky Blue but with some Ocean Machine thrown in for good measure, Transcendence finds Devin Townsend working the “emotional mid-tempo rock” thing the DTP have perfected over the last several years, except that here they perfect it even a little more. While I’d love to hear more of Anneke Van Giersbergen’s vocals, the decision to lean on her vocals a little less really brings Dave Young’s guitar and Mike St-Jean’s keys more to the forefront. It’s not just marketing, folks: this album sounds less like a Project and more like a band effort. Nolly’s mixing and production also add some breathing room to Devy’s typically dense arrangements. It’s heavy, proggy, inspirational, and good.

 

 

 

BE PROG, MY FRIEND! 2016 part 2 (t-shirt wars) – by Kevin Thompson

KF_Amorphis_PosterA1.eps

Day two arose to bright sunshine and we ate an ample breakfast in the hotel before a morning in the wonderful Museum of Art, with so many treasures to see. But enough of that, I am not here to talk about the wonderful historic sites in Barcelona, the colonnades  lining the street to the museum, waterfalls and twin towers replicating the style of San Marco Campanile in Venice. Nor am I about to tell you of the excellent Spanish guitarist delighting a crowd in front of the museum, on his ‘silent guitar’. No, we shall leap forward to our much needed early afternoon siesta from which we woke abruptly, making haste to reach  the Pobel Espanyol and the beckoning sounds of day 2, at Be Prog My Friend.

Unfortunately the second day started an hour earlier and we joined the queue of latecomers as we fed into the square just in time to catch the last three songs from the ravishing Anneke Van Giersbergen and The Gentle Storm. This lady’s voice as those who have heard her will know, is a tour de force and her powerful vocals tore through the tracks with gusto engaging with the slowly swelling crowd in some grand Prog Metal. Her energy was infectious and warmed the audience up nicely as did the mid afternoon sun and we watched from floor level partaking of much needed liquid refreshment.

Anneke

Buoyant from the night before and with a rousing first act to start the day we were feeling rather pleasant and whilst we waited for the next band we wandered round and checked out the t-shirts. No contest as I have to say the lovely Sarah Ewing’s artwork conquered all comers. I thought I had done well in the t-shirt battle yesterday but Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ drew so many admiring glances it felt like being on a catwalk.

Grimspound

We briefly met the gang from yesterday for a chat, but they wanted to go down the front and we decided we would hang back and find a seat somewhere with a decent view, if we were lucky.

And so to the second band, whilst I had only heard a couple of tracks from Between the Buried and Me which sounded promising. They appeared to be attracting favourable attention from the media recently and I was looking forward to being impressed as they had travelled over from the US of A. I’m still waiting I’m afraid. The sound wasn’t brilliant, louder than clearer and Konnie and I agreed it was like listening to an extended promo reel, with clips from songs cobbled together.

Konnie said she was unable to decipher when one track ended and another began as it sounded so disjointed. Despite an enthusiastic following nearer the stage and you may read differently elsewhere, we didn’t seem to be the only ones and for me the guttural vocals only added to my disappointment, sorry guys I’m sure there are many disagree with us including those at the front, but here’s a photo.

Between

I was a child of the 70’s it was the blossoming of my teenage musical years and the awakening of my eyes and ears to Prog. Now I’m sure many will agree, some records are timeless and transgress all era’s without ageing badly and some you raved about then, you find hard to reconcile why in the present day. I would not have bought the next band’s albums then and wouldn’t now as I will happily tell you, ‘it’s not my sort of thing’. So on an increasingly hot and sunny, Spanish afternoon surrounded by a sizeable crowd of MAGMA t-shirts, what happened?

Like a rabbit in headlights or with myxomatosis, I stood rooted to the spot as MAGMA took the stage. They seemed quite the perfectionists and had taken some time to set up which may have explained why they couldn’t play as long as they wished, but as they strode on to the stage and the music and chanting of the first song began I was transported to Summerisle. I was transfixed as if drugged and the tune grew like some creeping, Dario Argento film soundtrack as it swelled most disturbingly. I forced myself to look away from the stage and those around me seemed entranced and swayed to the the throbbing rhythms. I’m glad there was still daylight to bring me comfort.

Magma

As the music continued the young man in his twenties standing in front of us took up the song. A cherub faced middle aged man, with rosy cheeks and glasses, clad in walking gear with a backpack, wandered through the ranks of the audience singing the lyrics in a deep resonating tone, an angelic smile spread across his face, arms wide in subjugation. Had I stepped into a pagan festival? Konnie stood on my left enraptured and I glanced to my right and the terrace above. A boy of no more than twelve stood in front of his father, chanting in the knowledge of every word, his small hands air drumming without missing a beat.

And then they finished , disgruntled they could not extend their set, with a shorter tune (over 10 minutes) and the veil lifted from everyone’s eyes. Konnie talked enthusiastically and I tried to figure out what had just happened. Would I buy the music, no. Would I travel and pay to watch them, I don’t think so. Would I be able to resist the lure of their unique performance if they were on a festival bill again, probably not and they have a new disciple in Konnie. Strangely watchable, if you have never seen them and happen upon them, watch, you may be enchanted but rest in the knowing you don’t have to weave flowers in your hair and there are no human sacrifices required during the performance.

Opeth 1

It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the transitions between bands was not as smooth as the previous day. Whether the crew were different or more likely the bands on the second day were more demanding, either way the wheels were not as well oiled. This gave us more time for food and liquid sustenance and to soak up the atmosphere. A couple of large tattooed Scandinavian  bikers asked we take their photos and they kindly reciprocated snapping the ‘Grimspound’ shots of Konnie and I. They also gave some of their stone step space so we could sit for a while which was most welcome until we found seating a little further back with a better view.

Opeth 2

It was time for the main acts of the day, first came Opeth. I am a late convert and up until now only have ‘Pale Communion’ and still feel some of their older material may not be to my liking. But I have since ordered a couple of older CD’s to try and Lamentations DVD on the strength of their performance and what a show. The sun descended as the atmosphere grew, Michael Akerfeldt and the band striding the stage as giants of the prog metal genre, rousing the crowd who need little encouragement. With acknowledgement to the long faithful that the newer material has not always received favour, they pulled old favourites from their earlier albums to rapturous applause and drove them like giant machines crushing any doubters under the sound, loud and clear with the lighting matching the moods. It is well known Michael and Steven Wilson have become firm friends and you can catch elements of influence in the work, enhancing the massive production here.

Opeth 3

Revelation of the day was Konnie’s response, she has never taken interest in Opeth before and had neglected to listen on the occasions I have played ‘Pale Communion’, fearing they weren’t to her liking. By the end of the first song she was hooked, loving every minute, extolling the virtues of their live performance and on completion she was grinning like a kid at Christmas. Had they been the only head-liner, the day would have finished on a tremendous high. As it was, we were to be spoiled further…..

Opeth 4

We knew what to expect from Steven Wilson as we have seen him on his last three tours, but this did not lessen our excitement, merely settled us in the privy we bestowed upon our Spanish friends, eager to watch a man who verges on deity status in the genre and learn all they can about him. Mr Wilson has developed and perfected his style with such precision he holds all in his sway and has carefully honed his stage craft since we first saw him. Again I feel his friendship with Michael has influenced and benefited him especially in performing as he seems more at ease talking to and joking (yes, joking), with the crowd. His live sets are always louder these days, the tracks played are heavier and rockier than the album versions. We always pack our ear defenders, but that could be our age, yet he balances the delicate, ‘Lazarus/Routine’ finely, gently sprinkled like fairy dust on the sounds emanating from his current band.

Steven 1

All masters in their own fields, with none finer on the drums than Craig Blundell, as readily recognised by the work he has done as an international clinician for Paiste, Premier, and RolandAdam Holzman is a rare keyboardist, having moved from the jazz fusion field to his current position in the band, he consistently earns critical acclaim as one of the most daring and best contemporary keyboardists alive.

No one could have predicted back in the Kajagoogoo days that Nick  Beggs would go on to be such a luminary in Bass guitar and Chapman Stick, his mighty presence up front ably bookending Steve with current guitarist Dave Kilminster. Having spent the last few years as principal guitar player in the Roger Waters band, Dave brings his own, skillful style to the well renowned tracks and my only regret is that they didn’t play Drive Home, as I would like to have heard his take on the beautiful guitar solo.

steven 2

It’s a commanding show and a fitting end to a wonderful couple of days though the fuzzier lighting employed for the majority of the set prevented my getting many photos.

But not quite an end: it was by now 02:00, weariness took hold and with an early start the next morning we elected to leave with the majority and head for our hotel. Which leaves me to apologise to metalcore band Textures, who bravely came on after we left and played to a greatly reduced crowd, so I cannot comment on their performance.

It only remains to say ‘Gracias’ to the organisers of BPMF, everyone who helped make it possible the bands themselves and the Spanish people we met along the way. Watch for next year’s line up, take the leap, make the trip and revel in what Barcelona and Be Prog My Friend have to offer, you won’t be disappointed.

Adios, hasta pronto………

Review – Big Big Train – Folklore – by Progradar

Cover

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.” – Steven Chbosky – The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

If you’ve been a follower of my reviews then you’ll know that I like to open with a pertinent quote so, when it came to reviewing the latest release from one of my all time favourite bands, I searched long and hard for one that I thought captured my feelings the best.

In the last five or six years I have been through some exceedingly tough times, some of the lowest of my life and yet, throughout, I have been kept sane by my love of music and, especially, by the emotionally uplifting songs of Big Big Train so, when I first saw the quote above, it resonated with me immediately and on a very intimate level.

The new album is called ‘Folklore’ and yet the press release states that,

“Despite the album title, ‘Folklore’ is by no means a collection of traditional-sounding folk music pieces. On ‘Folklore’, Big Big Train are reimagining and breathing new life into traditional themes, and also creating a few new ones along the way. The crafts of songwriting and storytelling beat strongly at the heart of the Big Big Train and inform every track on the new album.”

Well, this got me thinking about how folk and, in particular, how storytelling through song actually began? Are you sitting comfortably? then we’ll begin…..

orpheus

Older than civilization, storytelling has always played a central role in in our lives and societies.  Tales were told to replay and celebrate historic events. They were salutary and cautionary tales, lessons.

Some of the oldest, greatest tales, myths, and legends are written in verse– the Iliad and the Odyssey, the old testament, and some of the traditional Irish epics. Even Tolkien used song in the Hobbit and LOTR as back story. Just as in our world, the people of Middle Earth told the tales of the great heroes through verse.

Think of Orpheus, arguably one of the most famous musicians. Gifted by the gods, he was a man who, armed with only his lyre, was able to charm beasts, defeat the Sirens, and brave the Underworld to win back EurydiceHe used music to fight his battles.What a concept! Now, if everyone did that, the world would be a much better place.

Throughout history, people have used song to convey their messages. Troubadours would travel the countryside, telling their tales and singing their songs to kings and noblemen. These songs were silly, they were tragic, they were entertaining.

Slaves in the American South would create and sing songs while they toiled away in the hot fields, they were a distraction from the horrors of their everyday lives. During the Depression, folksingers used song to fight back against the government, to raise awareness, and again, to give hope.

Songs are a powerful way to get your message across. They are our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our losses, our celebrations, our sorrows, our joys, our memories, our experiences. They are, each and every one of them, a story.

(adapted from Caitlin Nicholl’s Storytelling Through Music)

And, in Big Big Train, we have the modern troubadours and storytellers of our generation. They keep history alive by reimagining it to music and verse.

‘Folklore’ features the same line-up (eight piece band and brass quintet) that performed three sell out shows at Kings Place in London in August 2015, with the addition of a string quartet. The album was mixed and mastered by the redoubtable Rob Aubrey.

band

 

Folklore – Ancient stories told by our ancestors around the campfire, being passed from generation to generation. The passage of time sees the coming of a written language and electronic communication, but we still tell our stories and pass them on.”

The opening to Folklore is quite inspiring with the strings and then the brass building your anticipation before a short lull. And off we go….. The intricate drumming of Nick D’Virgilio backs the instantly recognisable vocal of David Longdon on what definitely feels like a folk inspired opening to the track. A song about the history of folk songs and storytelling, the guitar riff, though intentionally low in the mix, is really addictive and then the vocals build up towards the memorable chorus that has you singing along immediately. This song is anthemic in style and delivery, intended to fill the listener with a passion and pride and the powerful voice of Longdon, aided and abetted by some impressive backing vocals, really delivers in that aspect.

“For it is said, so it lives on
we pass it down, it carries on
Oh down we go into folklore….”

When I first heard the song I must admit that I thought it was very much in the vein of Wassail with its intricate instrumental sections and rather upbeat tempo. The guitar solo is absolutely wonderful and quite inspiring. To be honest, although I liked it, it was not one of the tracks that resonated with me immediately but, after a few listens, I was singing along to the chorus with the best of them. It is motivating, uplifting and inspirational and the way the song runs out is just brilliant.

David

London Plane – Once upon a time, a great tree took root on a river bank and watched through the years as a city grew around it…”

Across their burgeoning discography, Big Big Train have given us many poignant, emotional and moving songs and London Plane falls immediately into that category. The second longest track on the album, it opens with a gentle guitar and flute that immediately pluck the heartstrings before David’s lush voice sings a tale of a mighty tree that sees the birth of London and it’s growth and aggrandizement across the centuries. The heavenly backing vocals give a wistful and whimsical feel. It is contemplative and reflective and leaves me with a lump in my throat, especially when the quite wonderful chorus breaks out with its delicately harmonised vocals and that ethereal flute playing in the background.

“Time and tide wait for no man
and now the ship has sailed
and the crowds fade away.
But by the water’s edge
at the end of the road
I still reach for the day’s last light.”

A song that draws you into its warm embrace to a place where time stands still and the weight of hundreds of years of history just washes off your shoulders. The humbling guitar solo in the middle of the song just seems so perfect and well, right and leaves me on the edge of joyful tears. No one writes music about the history of our Island like this band and it connects on so many levels. There’s a nice intricate instrumental section where the strings get to come to the fore, backed by that fantastic flute, and there is some rather excellent guitar work, all adding a progressive gravitas to the warmth and emotion of the pastoral feel to the music. As the song comes to a memorable close, the emotive guitar solo (and, oh, what a solo!) and the music filling your heart with joy, I find myself thinking we have another Big Big Train classic on our hands.

strings

Along The Ridgeway – A journey along an ancient pathway, where legends are reborn…”

A dolent sound signals the introduction to Along The Ridgeway, another tale rooted deep in the history of this magical land. Graceful piano and plaintive brass usher in David’s vocal, this time with the merest mournful hint to them. David Longdon was born to be a storyteller, his emotive, stirring voice draws you in and leads you on a journey that becomes more life affirming the further this amazing album goes on. You ride along a mystical pathway buoyed by the music, the brass adding a further depth and the brilliant violin of Rachel Hall counter-playing with Rikard Sjöblom’s lively keyboards.

“And by the light of the moon
Alfred sounds his stone
and legends are reborn.”

The soaring chorus, backed by the wonderful brass playing just takes you on a high before the voices sing the repeated mantra of the Salisbury Giant and we segue straight into the instrumental of the same name…..

brass

Salisbury Giant – Big Big Train tell the true story of a medieval giant.”

An instrumental telling the tale of the Salisbury Giant, a pageant figure of the Salisbury guild of Merchant Tailors who would be led, by the hand, through the streets, first recorded in 1496 when led by the Mayor and Corporation, they went in procession to meet King Henry VII and his Queen, who were staying at nearby Clarendon Palace.

“Here comes the Salisbury Giant
here comes a lonely man
a crowd of people lead him by the hand.”

It has an urgency to it, the staccato strings, deep in tone, are almost apprehensive. The Hammond organ adds a feel of  Hob-Nob, the giant’s companion, who was the mischievous character who cavorted in front in the procession clearing the way for the Giant. There’s a definite capricious feel to the music as it leads you on a merry dance, occasionally opening up to soar high with the sparkling strings and then that repeated mantra runs this delightful little track out to a close.

Kings place

The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun – When the astronomer lost the love of his life, he set a course for the stars. Inspired by the much-loved astronomer and educationalist, Patrick Moore.”

Damn, I’ve got something in my eye again, a love song and a song of love, The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun opens with some signature Big Big Train brass that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and the violin just adds that extra bit of poignancy and emotional blackmail. A better opening to a song you will not hear this year, I’m already transfixed and we’ve only just got started. As the brass fades away the song expands with some delicate guitar and piano before David Longdon takes on the role of Bard and takes us on a magical mystery tour of the celestial heavens. Take a minute and just let the music and lyrics wash over you and absorb them into your very being, this is music that soothes the soul and calms any fevered brow. The soulful chorus is a thing of wonder and beauty that leaves you becalmed and in a place where nothing can hurt you.

“So many words left unsaid
so many deeds left undone
so many tales without an end
the transit of Venus across the Sun.”

Take some more spine tingling brass and add it to the mix and you are, literally, in a musical heaven. When I first got the album, I played it back to back five times and was impressed more and more with each listen and it is songs like Transit that touch you to the core, the guitar solo elegantly played at the end is just fantastic.

Signed album

Wassail – The old ways get a 21st century reboot in this pagan inspired progressive-folk groove.”

The title track from Big Big Train‘s ‘Wassail’ E.P. that was released last year, it gets a fine reworking here. The guitar and flute opening brings the memories of the live Kings Place gigs flooding back and David’s frontman antics with his Wassail mask. Perhaps, on first listening, it has less of an impact because it isn’t a ‘new’ track, so to speak. However, after you’ve sung the catchy chorus at the top of your voice a few times, it certainly comes flooding back. Definitely a more folk-direction for the band, this song had some thinking that the whole album would be like this but, paired with the title track, they just add another string to this celebrated band’s already imposing bow.

“We sing our song
Stand fast, stand strong
Bough and leaf bear fruit aplenty.”

A more direct and powerful track, compared to the delicate nuances of some on this album, it is still cleverly written and, as expected with musicians of this calibre, superbly performed. I always find myself gravitating to the more emotionally complex tracks that Big Big Train produce but, when the moment takes you, this rollicking, roller coaster of a folk-fest really hits the spot.

Tobbe & Greg

(Me, Tobbe Janson & Greg Spawton at the Real World launch)

“Winkie – A ripping adventure story about a true life war heroine, the first to receive the Dickin medal in honour of her achievement. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first prog epic about a pigeon…”

Well, where do I start, a Boy’s Own prog epic in 7 parts about a famous pigeon, the Winkie of the title, that saved the crew of a bomber lost in 1942. It’ll never work will it? Well, on first listen, I wasn’t convinced but, once again, give this song time to work its way into your affections and you will be hooked…..

The opening does nothing to prepare you for what is to come, flute and the cooing of pigeons before a folkish rhythm takes up the mantle, foot tapping commences and off we go. David takes on a more literal storytelling role on this track and relates the story verbatim as almost a chant with parts of this ripping yarn given like radio messages. The whole tale is gripping and involving and the music rushes you along all the way on the edge of your seat. Intricate keyboards, powerful guitars and clever drumming all add to the authenticity of the account of the loss of the crew and their subsequent rescue.

“You flew safely home Winkie
Hey, the inaugural recipient
You flew straight, flew true,
Winkie….”

The use of the keyboards and flute to denote Winkie’s flight is really clever and has you rooting for our heroine all the way through. It’s a hopeless task, with only an S.O.S from the radio, can Winkie save the day? Come on, you didn’t think it was going to end in heroic failure did you?

“But thank God, fifteen minutes in
the crew are found, safe and sound
Thanks to their winged saviour…”

A true prog epic about an heroic pigeon, who’d have thought it? Well, thankfully for all of us, Big Big Train did…..

Brooklands

Brooklands – John Cobb, racing driver, lived life at high speed on the racing line. Time passes, but the ageing driver yearns for one more adrenaline filled lap of the track…. Cobb died in 1952 while attempting the world water speed record at Loch Ness.”

Great songwriters are inspired by their surroundings and experiences and a visit to the historic racing circuit at Brooklands is what gave Greg Spawton the idea for this almost biographical tale.

The longest track on the album, Brooklands opens with an almost melancholy feel engendered by the violin, guitar and drums before opening up with sepia tinged hues of nostalgia and a much more upbeat note. David sings about the car travelling around the track and the experiences that the driver remembers from his youth. Intensely visceral, you almost feel like you are there in a time before the track became weed infested and broken and life was much more carefree. The driver recounts how he was lucky to be able to have lived such a life.

“I was a lucky man, a lucky man.
I did the things I can,
the things I can’t explain.”

Things are brought sharply back into focus and up to the present day, the racer, now in the twilight of his years, wants to feel the wind in his hair and experience the excitement one more time. The brilliance of the songwriting leaves you completely involved in the narrative, these are songs that all share a story with the listener, one that is involving and intimate and affectionate. The intelligently crafted music is almost lyrical in the way that invokes the wind in the hair feel of the car flying round the race track, dangerously exhilarating and bracing.

“On the racing line
lived life at high speed
too fast too far.”

To use music to evoke feelings and emotions and to do it well is a seriously impressive skill and is, for me, what separates proper songwriters and musicians from the run of the mill artists that churn out insipid chart fodder and Big Big Train are true masters of that art. The rolling piano, flowing guitar and powerful drums all paint pictures in your mind that are finished off by the exquisite flute playing, add in the engrossing and captivating vocals and the musical tapestry is complete.

Telling the Bees

Telling The Bees – Traditionally, bees were told of births, deaths and marriages within the bee-keeper’s family, as it was believed that otherwise they would leave the hive.

Once again, taking a traditional piece of ‘folklore‘ and reimagining it, Telling The Bees is a moving story of how, when his father dies in the First World War, a young boy takes on the responsibility of the bees, grows up to become a man, finds love and starts his own family.

“The bees are told…..and we carry on….”

Written by David Longdon, the guitar introduction gives it a feel of his ‘Wild River’ solo project. Imagine yourselves sat around in a circle, rapt in concentration, as this modern day troubadour relates another nostalgia soaked tale rooted deep in the history of England. Telling The Bees is a wonderful piece of music that has the ability to whisk you away to the sun drenched summer fields and to a time when life was much more simple and easy going.

“The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness..”

David’s vocals are honey sweet and velvet covered as they seem to lift any worries or cares from your shoulders and the music is just beatific and awe-inspiring. The musicians produce something akin to delicate reverence, a guitar solo that drips honesty and love and the vocals are nigh on perfect. As this charming and graceful track brings a close to what can only be described as a stunning album, I honestly do wipe a glad tear of joy from my eye…..

Folklore Banner

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life……..

Released 27th May 2016.

Buy ‘Folklore’ on CD direct from Big Big Train

Buy ‘Folklore’ on vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the ‘Folklore’ download from bandcamp