|Big Big Train have recruited Alberto Bravin as lead vocalist following the tragic death of David Longdon in November 2021. |
Based in Trieste in Italy, Bravin’s career includes performing around 200 shows with progressive rock legends PFM between 2015 and January 2022, both in Italy and internationally, singing lead and backing vocals and playing keyboards.
Alberto Bravin says: “I am extremely honoured to have the opportunity to join Big Big Train. I was already a huge BBT fan and am looking forward to play my part in taking this great band forward while also honouring the memory of David Longdon.”
Big Big Train bassist and founder Gregory Spawton comments: “Before Covid-19 hit, Nick D’Virgilio and I had both seen Alberto perform with PFM. We were very impressed with his abilities as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist and therefore approached him earlier this year.
“We know that David is irreplaceable and we miss him deeply both musically and personally,” Spawton continues. “We were very clear that we didn’t want to bring someone into the band who would seek to mimic David; that just felt fundamentally wrong. Instead we wanted someone who could do justice with their own musical skills and personality to the songs that David sang for Big Big Train as well as being able to help to drive the band forwards. From his first audition singing some BBT classic songs and subsequently his work on some new material that we’re working on, we’re confident that we’ve found the right person in Alberto.”
“Aside from Alberto’s great voice and all round musical skills, it was also vital for us to find the right personal fit, particularly after being struck with David’s sudden death,” drummer Nick D’Virgilio comments. “We flew Alberto to London several weeks ago so we could hang together for a few days and the chemistry immediately felt right.”
|‘THE JOURNEY CONTINUES’ EUROPEAN TOUR 2022|
|Big Big Train are also pleased to confirm that their two previously announced UK shows in September 2022 will take place. In addition the band have scheduled six further shows for September in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.|
Keyboardist/vocalist Carly Bryant is unable to tour with the band in September 2022 for family reasons. “After over two years of being part of Big Big Train and involved in two studio albums, I was extremely keen to go on the road with the band. However a recent change in my family situation means that sadly I cannot be away from home in the autumn,” Bryant explains. “I love being part of BBT and will be on stage with the band at the earliest opportunity when my family commitments permit.”
Alongside Bravin, D’Virgilio, Spawton and longstanding guitarist Rikard Sjöblom, the Big Big Train line-up for the September 2022 shows will consist of guitarist Dave Foster, violinist/vocalist Clare Lindley, keyboardist Oskar Holldorff and the Big Big Train brass section led by Dave Desmond. Holldorff leads Norwegian band Dim Gray, whose debut album Flown was much acclaimed last year and who are preparing to release their second album later this year.
“Oskar came to our attention from his work with Dim Gray and is another tremendous talent to involve in Big Big Train,” Sjöblom says. “We’re very grateful to him for stepping in while Carly is unavailable. It’s also exciting that Big Big Train is becoming an increasingly international band – in September we will have an American, a Swede, an Italian and a Norwegian on stage with the Brits.”
During the September tour Big Big Train will be playing material from various stages of their career and also one new song.
“We were originally scheduled to play live shows in spring 2020 but then Covid-19 derailed our live plans repeatedly and since then we’ve prepared numerous different set lists,” Sjöblom continues. “We’ve released two full albums since we last played live and are spoilt for choice with the set list for September.”
“In addition to our UK shows, I’m really looking forward to getting back into continental Europe,” D’Virgilio adds. “As well as visiting the prog strongholds of the Boerderij and Z7, we thought it would be cool to play some smaller venues in France and Germany as we re-establish BBT as a live band. We can’t wait to get out and play again and show what this band can do!”
Big Big Train September 2022 tour dates
Friday 2 September – Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK
Saturday 3 September – HRH Prog festival, Leeds, UK
Monday 5 September – Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
Tuesday 6 September – Harmonie, Bonn, Germany
Wednesday 7 September – Kuz, Mainz, Germany
Thursday 8 September – Frannz Club, Berlin, Germany
Saturday 10 September – Z7, Pratteln (Basel), Switzerland
Sunday 11 September – Café de la Danse, Paris, France
Support bands for all shows (except HRH Prog) will be announced shortly.
Tickets for the UK shows are on sale now. Tickets for the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France shows go on sale at 10am UK time on Friday 29 April. See www.bigbigtrain.com/live for ticket links.
From tragedy can often come triumph…
I truly did not know if I could write these words and review this album without the huge shadow of David Longdon and his tragic, untimely death hanging over me and influencing the words that this critique would be comprised of. Music, however, had different ideas and the overwhelming feeling of joy that emanated from my first listen to the last album that the wonderful Mr Longdon would ever record with one of my all time favourite bands, Big Big Train, just seemed to salve my soul and relieve me of the feeling of loss that had hung over me since it happened.
Featuring the band’s new line up of David Longdon on vocals; Gregory Spawton on bass; Rikard Sjöblom on guitars, keyboards, and vocals; Nick D’Virgilio on drums and vocals; Carly Bryant on keyboards and vocals; Dave Foster on guitars; and Clare Lindley on violin and vocals, ‘Welcome To The Planet’ carries on the resurgence of the band first heard on last year’s brilliant ‘Common Ground’.
I know I won’t be the only reviewer (and fan) of the band who feels that Big Big Train had been treading water a little bit since the release of ‘Folklore’ back in 2016 but ‘Common Ground’ had hinted at a reinvention of the band and the best music they had created since the groundbreaking ‘Underfall Yard’ from 2009. ‘Welcome To The Planet’ has continued that return to the heady heights that the band reached and could well be one of their best releases ever.
The wonderfully upbeat opening track Made From Sunshine, complete with elegant vocals, a chorus to die for and an incredible guitar solo, shows where the band are heading. The brass is simply sublime and the song left me with a nostalgic tear in my eye. The energy that flows throughout the brilliant Connection Plan, all driven along by the dynamic violin, infuses the track with a high tempo, feel-good rhythm and had me singing along at the top of my voice.
The fact that the album only has one song over seven minutes in length does not detract from the enjoyment in any way, there’s a feeling of musicians being let off the leash to just go and enjoy themselves and, boy, do they ever! making us, the listeners, the eager beneficiaries of this expansive approach.
My enjoyment of the music is tinged by melancholy as the shadow of the larger than life Longdon is always just there, out of reach. Listening to the gorgeous Lanterna seems to banish those feelings of sadness, almost as if David is willing you to just enjoy the music, like his final gift to us all. The songs starts in an ethereal and whimsical vein before opening up into a jubilant and heartwarming musical journey, simply delightful. The graceful, elegant (and criminally short) strains of Capitoline Venus give David’s voice the stage to work his magic on us once again and I have to admit that, on first listen, I did shed a tear or two.
A Room With No Ceiling, penned by Rikard, is a proggy instrumental that fuses all that’s best of the band with a touch of psychedelia at the start before it launches into an accordion infused, merry romp. Proper Jack Froster is the band’s Christmas track from 2021 and takes their pastoral progressive rock and transplants right in the middle of a medieval festive ode. To my ears it is one of the better Christmas songs of recents years and deserves its place on the album, if being a nod to BBT’s past, rather than a glance in the direction they are now heading. The second instrumental on the album is Nick’s engaging Bats In The Belfry, a very impressive take on the drum and bass solo that is oozing character and personality from every note.
There’s always moment of calm, poise and pause on a Big Big Train release and the enchantingly refined Oak and Stone fills that brief for this album. Achingly stylish vocals and a wonderfully laid back piano give the song a sumptuous feel. It really is seven minutes of pure class from these masters of the genre. Now, onto the intriguing final track on the album and a song that could be the most polarising that the band have ever released. Title track Welcome To the Planet is totally different from anything that has gone before and, to my ears anyway, is utterly brilliant! Exuding atmosphere and ambience, it is a theatrically inspired piece of music that takes the band in a totally different direction. With an almost ensemble vibe, the song relies mainly on Carly’s powerful and charismatic vocal performance to drive it along but the wistful and nostalgic music gives a 70’s prog feel to everything, reminding me of Pink Floyd at their height of fame, and there’s surely nothing wrong with that, is there? This track closes the album on a triumphant note and maybe hints on a the future direction than Big Big Train could take, I love it!
The tragedy of David’s death has hit the BBT community very hard and this new album should be the catalyst for the healing process to start. It is a fitting tribute to wonderful man but, and this is the important bit, it is also a sublime collection of songs from a group of talented musicians who are, once again, right at the top of their game. Whatever the band decide to do, they have given us one of the best albums of recent years and a totally memorable start to 2022.
Released 28th January, 2022.
Order from Burning Shed here:
I’ve had a little time to digest what was a rather wonderful year of music in 2021. Here is my review of the year with my favourite albums, in no particular order barring my number one!
Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe – Forevermore
A true return to form for the prog supergroup with melodies, tunes and overtures galore. Transatlantic gave us their best album since ‘Bridge Across Forever’.
Lifesigns – Altitude
I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.
Echoes & Signals – Mercurial
‘Mercurial’ trades some of Echoes & Signals’ signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly.
Cosmograf – Rattrapante
At the time, I said, “At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!” And here it is!
League of Lights – Dreamers Don’t Come Down
Not only a nod to the past but also a completely relevant piece of music in these present times, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is a perfectly crafted collection of pop and electronica infused songs that really hit home.
Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold
Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.
The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event
‘Extinction Level Event’ is shaping up to possibly be the best prog metal album of the last few years at least, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a prog metal album hit me so hard since Haken’s ‘The Mountain’.
Catalyst*R – self-titled
When everything that is happening around you is making your life jaded, just press play on this bewitching collection of songs, light the spark and let the music start to take your cares away…
Michael Woodman – Psithurism
A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.
Vestamaran – Bungalow Rex
Get your hands on this album and, when the sun shines, get the barbecue lit, an ice cold beer in your hand, put the stereo on, turn it up to 11 and just enjoy this incredible album for, as the press release says, “Life is not just bungalow all day long, it also includes a lot of rex in the evenings.”
Tillison, Reingold, Tiranti – Allium – Una Storia
Simple but perfectly formed and harking back to the days when music just put a smile on your face, this is one album that deserves success just because of how it makes you feel and I love it for that.
Big Big Train – Common Ground
Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!
smalltape – The Hungry Heart
I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. Hunger, Burning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.
Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes
If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography.
Great North Star – self-titled
Step out of this confusing and hectic world that we live in, if only for the thirty nine minutes running time, and allow your mind and your soul to recharge. A wonderful and insightful masterpiece that will stay with you for a very long time.
Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property
‘Love’s Lost Property’ is an exquisite creation, nine tracks of wondrously charming music with Rachel’s honeyed vocals lifting this release well above what you may have heard already this year. I suggest you get your hands on it as soon as you can, it is definitely worth seeking out.
The Holy Road – An Unshakeable Demon
Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me.
CYAN – For King And Country
A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?
Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach
Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, Glass Hammer have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.
Findlay Napier – It Is What It Is
‘It Is What It Is’ sees this fine musician and songwriter on a higher plane and is a must buy for anyone who appreciates and treasures original music with heart and soul.
And the top gong for album of the year goes to….
HFMC – We Are The Truth
This superlative gem of release is worthy of all the praise that is being heaped upon it and finishes 2021 on an utter high for this reviewer, the finest of a wonderful crop of albums released this year!
So, there you have it, my selection of some of the great albums that graced 2021 and I am sure that 2022 is going to be just as good!
‘Common Ground’ is the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.
‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots.
Following the departure of long time members of the band, the core of Big Big Train is now Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals). Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) will join the band for the upcoming tour and there will also be the welcome return of a five piece brass ensemble.
After finishing my first listen through of the new album, my first impressions were that, while it is familiar (especially with David Longdon’s distinctive vocals), there is something new and dynamic about it. Like all the best albums, it needs more investigation and listening to, but, to my ears, a subtle reinventing of Big Big Train is afoot!
So, a few days and many, many listens later, how do I feel about ‘Common Ground’ now? Read on and all shall be revealed…
It’s bloody marvellous, basically! I am a long time fan of the band and this is the first album that has really grabbed me and not let me go since the ‘English Electric’ series.
The wondrously upbeat Strangest Times with its brilliant Elton John inspired piano lines (take a bow Rikard Sjöblom) opens the album in fine style. David Longdon is in fine voice, especially on the ever so catchy chorus, and the guitar playing throughout is sublime, I’m left with a huge grin on my face as the track comes to a satisfying close. The track sees David writing about the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band “After the death of a collaborator Judy Dyble in July 2020, I time spent shielding with an ill relative. With everything that was happening around me and for the world with the relentless doomwatch tone of the news broadcasts, I spoke with Greg. I said I couldn’t just be writing songs about historical figures and scenarios. I felt that I needed to write about the here and now. In ‘The Strangest Times’.”
All The Love That We Can Give is a more laid back affair with a wistful feel to the keyboards and David’s vocal with a deeper tone. There are swathes of contemplative Hammond Organ and the guitar just sits in the background, like a conductor leading the band. Vocal harmonies abound and Greg and Nick prove what a fantastic rhythm session they are and then the track goes off into proper progressive rock territory, full of energy and intricate musicianship, another rather fine song indeed!
When the intro to Black With Ink starts I’m immediately drawn to a comparison with Kim Wilde’s Kids In America (wait until you hear it, then it won’t sound so daft!). The edgy keyboards and vocals sound like a call to action and the song just picks up and goes from there, it’s certainly up there with the best upbeat songs that the band have ever recorded. The vocal interplay is excellent and gives a real urgency to the track. If this is part of a new direction for the band then please count me in on the journey. To my ears, things get even better in the second half as a distinctive musical refrain starts to be heard (it’s one that continues to surface throughout the rest of the album too…) and becomes an earworm that you can’t get rid of, and don’t want to actually! Dandelion Clock is a nostalgic and thoughtful song that is dear to Greg’s heart a beautifully written piece of music with David’s vocal at its most plaintive and heartfelt. The chorus is a work of art and the whole track just works its way into your affections. A quite exquisite song that leaves you in a totally reflective and introspective state of mind.
Headwaters is the first of two instrumentals and is Big Big Train at their best when it comes to telling stories without words, a dreamlike, meditative piece that is painstakingly and perfectly created, just beautiful. Then we go to the opposite end of the musical spectrum with the vibrant notes of the energetic and dynamic Apollo. Nick D’Virgilio wanted “…to write the band’s version of Genesis’s Los Endos and to make a track that really showed off the talent of all the amazing musicians in the band.” And, boy, he certainly did that and has created one of the best progressive instrumentals of recent times.
The title track of the album sees the band in anthemic mood, Common Ground is a powerful piece of music, a statement of the state of humanity but delivered in a way that only Big Big Train can. Soaring vocal harmonies, powerful melodies and excellent musicianship create a an energetic and passionate song that grabs your attention and makes you listen and absorb the message within. The guitar and violin interplay is absolutely superb, this is a song that will have the audience at the live shows singing their hearts out, just outstanding!
It wouldn’t be a Big Big Train album if there wasn’t an epic song with a dramatic historical narrative that shows British pastoral progressive rock at its very, very best would it? Well, the band don’t let us down and deliver a transcendent fifteen minutes of heart and soul in the majestic Atlantic Cable. There’ll always be a place for tracks like this in the musical universe, soaring crescendos mix with intricate musical passages to create musical works of art that will always pass the test of time. Take songwriters of consummate skill and musicians at the top of their game and you will end up with superb songs of substance and heart and soul that have meaning and that tell the grandest of stories in the perfect manner.
Endnotes closes the album on an emotive note. Another one of Greg’s favourites (and mine), it is a perfectly composed song with heartfelt vocals from David that just bleed compassion and sentiment. The musical accompaniment is exquisitely elegant and the harmonies just make your heart sing and then, the brass! Oh my god, the hairs just stand up on the back of your neck as the notes sound out, there’s just something about that sound that makes my soul soar and Big Bg Train do it so well. What an incredible end to the album, I don’t mind admitting it has made me quite emotional.
So, there you have it, ‘Common Ground’ is recognisably Big Big Train but a Big Big Train that have moved the game on a little and given us an album of its time. Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!
Released 30th July, 2021.
Order the album here:
First single and video for title track out today!
UK tour dates revealed for March 2022
July 30th, 2021 sees the release of ‘Common Ground’, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.
Watch the new video for the title track, created by Christian Rios, here:
“This is unashamedly a love song. It is about finding things that we share and have in common with other people. When my partner and I first came together as a couple, we lived not far from Avebury in Wiltshire, a very Big Big Train kind of place. The chalk hills and standing stones were part of the imagery of our ‘Folklore’ album, and once again I was writing what was literally happening in the location in which we found ourselves. I remember seeing my white chalk dust footprints upon the black of the car mats after we’d been walking around Avebury. I’m pleased that we both get to have this time with each other and ‘Common Ground’ is about finding out the things that we have in common with each other and deciding what we want to do in life together.” – David Longdon
1. The Strangest Times
2. All The Love We Can Give
3. Black With Ink
4. Dandelion Clock
7. Common Ground
8. Atlantic Cable
|‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the UK 5pm pandemic press conferences (’The Strangest Times’) to the library of Alexandria (‘Black With Ink’) to the bottom of the ocean (‘Atlantic Cable’).|
For the ‘Common Ground’ tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate in the UK with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble. The band expect to announce North American tour dates shortly.
Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with ‘Common Ground’, they are making such a surge themselves.
|BIG BIG TRAIN UK TOUR 2022|
TUE, MARCH 15TH – YORK, BARBICAN
WED, MARCH 16TH – CAMBRIDGE, CORN EXCHANGE
FRI, MARCH 18TH – BIRMINGHAM, SYMPHONY HALL
SAT, MARCH 19TH – BATH, FORUM
MON, MARCH 21ST – GLASGOW, ROYAL CONCERT HALL
TUE, MARCH 22ND – MANCHESTER, BRIDGEWATER HALL
WED, MARCH 23RD – LONDON, PALLADIUM
TICKETS ON SALE FROM MAY 14th, 2021
In this piece I talk to David Longdon of Big Big Train about his latest album, a collection of songs recorded in collaboration with the late Judy Dyble entitled ‘Between A Breath and A Breath’, which was released on the 5th September 2020.
DL – Thanks for writing such and insightful and sensitive review of the album, I really liked it and appreciate the kind words you wrote.
JWS – It was a privilege to be able to do so, I wanted my words to express my respect for Judy as a tribute and to acknowledge what must have been a labour of love for you. I really enjoyed it and we had it on yesterday whilst we were driving in Wales. We were driving from Dolgellau towards Porthmadog through the mountains and it was lovely music to accompany us as we were traveling.
DL – I am pleased that you are enjoying it, so I think Judy would approve of your choice of listening location too.
JWS – It’s obviously a labour of love for you really.
DL – Yes it certainly got that way at the end, I found out at the after show at the Hackney empire when she told me her diagnosis. I told her I can’t do anything about the medical side but I can get the album completed and so, a week later, I was in the recording studio getting things done and it’s been heads down ever since .
JWS – Well I feel that you have created a lasting memory and tribute to her.
DL – That’s very kind of you to say, I know shortly after she passed away I was kind of searching for it. It’s a strange thing because in my mind I thought she was in her house and that I could face-time her and talk about things and laugh about things as she has been such a powerful presence in my life for the last five years. If I need to find her I listen to the album, she’s there, very present in the music and that’s where her presence is. Rightly so too and I guess that is as she would want it to be.
JWS – I love the artwork for the album it is fantastic, Sarah has done a wonderful job with it.
DL – Sarah said that she wanted to give Judy the best of her and she was very happy to be involved in all of that. Sarah did a marvellous job of it all, along with the photographs by Sophocles Alexiou, who also shot the fabulous picture of Judy and I sitting by the fire where all great stories are told.
JWS – I have the CD version and there is a lovely picture of Judy with Jessie (Her greyhound).
DL – Again, another photo by Sophocles Alexiou. The portraits and the photographs are great, we were lucky to find Soph really.
JWS – I see Sarah incorporated jessie into the cover art too.
DL – Yes, it’s sort of based on Victorian Funeral Art really. The flowers are a wreath and are traditionally associated with funerals. The lilies and the others, if you look at the flowers closely some of them are in a state of decay, sort of past their best which is a look we were after. The crow’s skull is supposed to represent me, the wing is Judy and me and the crow, Grimspound, is on there as well and is a reference to a track of Judy’s called Crow Baby.
DL – I think the combination of Sarah, Sophocles, and Steve Vantis (who plays with Fish and who has worked with us since Merchants of Light doing graphics) working together, have all created something special that hopefully people will want.
JWS – Well everyone I have spoken to about this album is extremely excited about it and cannot wait to get hold of it which is encouraging.
DL – Yes, its very strange as when this comes out on the 25th that Dyble/Longdon will be done, completed. People have asked me if we will play these songs live and, at this stage, I cannot give an answer because everything is up in the air because of Covid. I feel like I’m living real life episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) at times, its all very strange. I’m talking about Judy a lot and that’s good and right too but its all very strange to me. It’s these strange times in which we are living at the moment.
JWS – Let us talk about some of the other tracks on the album like France, I wanted to chat about that because of my background in Progressive Rock.
DL – Judy and I wanted to do an epic track and, as Judy and I shared a love of France, it was a natural subject. Judy’s late husband Simon had French ancestry, the first part is about Judy and Simon’s time in France and also about the Occupation by the Germans in the war. Simon’s family still own a Chateau which was where the poet Jean Cocteau made the film La Belle et la Bête with Jean Marais as the beast and he would be eating breakfast in full makeup and the children of the household would see him made up eating so, France part two, is about that experience.
The song also includes most of Big Big Train playing apart from Dave – he appears on the first track Astrologers though, Rikard plays accordion, Rachel plays violin, Danny plays double bass and Greg plays bass and Moog Taurus bass pedals. I contribute guitars, piano, mellotron, flute vibraphone, marxaphone and effects.
JWS – I Love Rikard’s accordion on that.
DL – He learned it from his grandfather apparently, I’m not sure if it was his first instrument, but he certainly learnt a lots of polkas and such like. He does a great job of it all, Rikard’s a really great guy, very big hearted and he’s a rapacious consumer of comedy, he quotes Black Adder all the time.
JWS – And the story behind Obedience?
DL – Is about Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron. When she was small her parents split up and her mother gave her arithmetic and algorithms to occupy her mind and would save her from her father’s madness, but you can’t stop the mind from wandering, can you?
JWS – Whisper is another great song…
DL – That song is about a friend of Judy’s called Jackie Morris who is an illustrator and writer and he was running a workshop about Faeries and asking if folklore had any relevance today. There was a lady who said that the distance between a breath and another breath could be an eternity in faerie world. It is also about an aunt of Jackie’s who, when she got older, lost the ability to speak loudly and was reduced to a whisper but I took it to be that it was about how, as we age, often older people’s voices are not heard.
We Didn’t want it to be old lady material, we wanted it to have some bite. It has teeth, it’s strident in places and it rocks in places. It has some huge soundscapes and comes back to these tiny fragile things too.
JWS – So what is happening with Big Big Train now?
DL – Well, we didn’t get to America or do the European dates as they were all cancelled until this virus situation goes away. The whole entertainment world is in a state of confusion at the moment as no one is sure when it will be safe to operate again, so, in the meantime, we have written the next BBT record and will look to record it later in the year. Next year I’ll do a solo album as well because it looks as if it will be this way for the short term future. Sarah and I are supposed to see the Who next year but if its still looking dodgy, then we wont be going, I simply won’t risk it.
JWS – Understandable, we’re supposed to see Genesis but its been put off till next year too. Although we did get to see you with BBT last year in Birmingham, it was a great show. We were on the front row and we really enjoyed it, we also saw you the year before in Basingstoke at The Anvil.
DL – Yes that was the night that England played. I thought we might not get many people but we did, we got a good crowd although England took a beating.
JWS – Anyway David, my time has gone, so thank you for your time and the information. We’ll get this all into shape and get it up online as soon as we can. (Ed. – You obviously mean the ‘Royal’ we, John?)
DL – Thank you John, it’s been great talking to you thank you for the review and all that you do, it really helps. Keep safe and well until next time, it is really appreciated.
Order the album from Burning Shed here:
This list is just an opinion, my opinion. These are the albums (and one E.P.) that resonated most with me in the fine music year of 2019.They are not in any particular order apart from my top album of the year…
Not an immediate favourite but an excellent grower that slowly insinuated itself into my affections. Big Big Train are very, very good at what they do and the songwriting and production values are on point as ever.
I have no idea what Steven (Wilson) and Tim (Bowness) were on when they came up with the idea for this pulsating masterpiece but, by golly, can they please give some to the rest of what is becoming a very moribund music scene.
Love You To Bits is a utterly fascinating and overwhelmingly entertaining musical adventure with superb dynamism and a diversity rarely seen in the strictures of conventional music.
Just do yourselves a favour and go and buy it, you will not regret it!
Lushly produced by Soord himself and lovingly mastered by fellow The Pineapple Thief member Steve Kitch, All This Will Be Yours is a cultured gem of a record that has created music as a definitive art form. Born from the joy of bringing life into the world and the pain that Soord sees in the privation and hardship of his hometown, this is an album that will linger long in the memory.
‘The Thing With Feathers‘ is an utterly absorbing twenty-one minutes of music and delivers an undoubted new talent onto the music scene. Serene and graceful yet with a deep intelligence running throughout, I haven’t been this excited about a new artist in a very, very long time.
Bent Knee have knocked me sideways with this new release, You Know What They Mean is a collection of amazing musical journeys, some of them seemingly fraught with danger and all of them apparently from minds that seem to exist in an alternate reality to most people. Utterly mad at times and utterly magnificent at others, it has certainly changed my perspective and deserves to be on the awards list at the end of the year. Just one thing, who, exactly, are They?
The Answer leaves a huge grin on my face, a highly enjoyable cornucopia of musical delights taking you on an amazing journey through 70’s progressive rock, hard rock, funk and pure rock and roll. Containing some utter Carducci gems, this album just keeps getting better and better with every listen and is by far Franck’s most cohesive and impressive work yet.
I think Paul and the rest of Human Pyramids have given us what is possibly the most playful, captivating, bewitching and beguiling album of 2019, it’s like a celebration of all that is good in this world delivered wrapped up for you to open on Christmas Day (Yes, that is the release date!). By golly, we really must all have been very good this year…
Music for long winter evenings in the company of someone you love, ‘Klingra’ will make time stand still as you listen to every nuance and subtlety, it is an incredibly involving experience that I believe everyone should enjoy at least once.
Music truly is the literature of the heart when it comes to releases like ‘Strangers’, this album is truly a work of musical art created by one of the most avant-garde folk songwriters currently alive. Each track has layers of texture that are almost primeval in nature, each is a living and breathing entity that will take each listener on their own personal journey. I suggest you get your hands on a copy and see where this incredible record takes you.
What League of Lights have done is written a wonderful homage to the synth-pop highs of the late 80’s and early 90’s and brought it bang up to date for a modern musical world. For me it is chock full of nostalgia and is a wonderful and involving listening experience. Another highlight in a year that is beginning to produce quite a few but don’t take my word for it, go out and buy it and see for yourself!
Rise Twain have delivered one of the most impressive debut albums I have heard in quite a long time. The fragile beauty will touch you and the profound depth will move you like nothing else, if you only listen to one new album this year then I implore you to make it this one.
IZZ have returned with what should become an American progressive rock classic. Don’t Panic brings classic prog rock bang up to date for the 21st century and should cement this musical collective as one of the pre-eminent bands of the genre at this moment in time and for many years to come.
I’m a huge fan of Bjørn Riis and “A Storm Is Coming” has just emphasized what a huge musical talent this man is. Six songs of loss, love and human relations that everyone can relate to make this an album that touches you on a personal level and one that is already one of the year’s outstanding releases.
“Mind Over Depth” is another impressive offering from the talented Mr Armstrong under the Cosmograf moniker and the lack of a narrative proves no detriment at all. Powerful, cinematic and enigmatic, all the plaudits this release is garnering are richly deserved and will hopefully attract a new audience to Robin’s music.
And so we come to the album that has stood the test of time and really deserved the ‘Album of the Year’ gong from me…
I honestly cannot remember having this much fun listening to a record in a very long time, there’s an utter freedom to the songs and the music, an almost childlike immunity to the cares of the world. With everything that is happening in the so-called civilized world today, we could all do with a dose of the magical Moron Police in our life so do yourselves a favor and buy this album, you will never regret it!
So that wraps up 2019 but 2020 is already looking like another year of stellar releases. This list is as subjective as they come and it is just my opinion, see you on the other side for more of the same…
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.
“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,
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
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;
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
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
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: