John Wenlock- Smith Interviews David Longdon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JWS – I Love Rikard’s accordion on that.

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

JWS – And the story behind Obedience?

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

JWSWhisper is another great song…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

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

Review – Moonshot – Worlds of Yesterday – A Moonshot Retrospective

Though Moonshot may not have reached the commercial and creative peaks of celebrated Progressive peers such as GenesisPink FloydYes and King Crimson, they were arguably one of the best of the chasing pack and fully deserve to be named alongside the likes of Gentle GiantCamelGreensladeThe Yorkshire Parkin ExperimentBJHGryphon, PFMPrawnAnge and others ‘Worlds Of Yesterday‘ is a fine testament to a fine band.

From the Crimson-esque grandeur of The Sweetest Bitter Pill to the straightforward beauty of Before That Before, via the warped creativity of Lost In The Ghost Light and the engaging Pop of Stupid Things That Mean The World, this new compilation contains the band’s strongest work from 1971-1992.

I’ll let Tim Bowness give you his personal perspective on legendary Warrington Proggers Moonshot:

“My 2017 release Lost In The Ghost Light was a homage to the classic Rock album era. The album revolved around my interpretation of the contemporary musings of Moonshot leader Jeff Harrison, though the events in the songs took place between 1967 and 2017. During this period, Rock music had gone from a revolutionary force that defined the zeitgeist to the exact opposite (a safe and nostalgic reminder of a better time). Jeff’s career was of interest to me because he came from my home town and was born on the same date as me in exactly the same place (Victoria Park Maternity Home in Warrington as I’m sure you’re eager to know). It was 16 years earlier, but how could I not be curious?

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were no local musicians of note from the area, so (in both a good and a bad way) Jeff became something of a home town legend regularly played by DJs such as The Longford Lover.

On a personal level, I was interested in how Jeff and Moonshot had been passionately principled for its first 10 years, but seemed a little exhausted and compromised from that point on. Where did the inspiration / drive go? How was all relevance and credibility lost? Why did Jeff make the career choices he did?

Although some critics still rate the band’s early albums (as do I), it’s fair to say that Moonshot’s reputation was sullied by years of playing ‘golden oldies’ to diminishing audiences. Jeff’s 1980s penchant for wearing leopard skin outfits (a la Rod) and his dismissive remarks about contemporary music (post Punk) also had an impact on his critical standing.

In recent years, Jeff’s vocal aversion to downloading and streaming came across as bitter rather than insightful (he sometimes made a good point, but there was no moderation in the way he expressed his views). His latter-day obsessions with President Putin t-shirts and the falling standards of rice pudding production were a little (endearingly?) odd by any standards.”

I confess to having never heard of Moonshot until bass player David K. Jones got in touch about me reviewing this second compilation of material and I’m glad he did, their idiosyncratic music really piqued my interest and I confess to now becoming something of a fan.

The brilliant album opener Moonshot Manchild with it’s edgy, almost reggae rhythm and swirling keyboards is a wonderful piece of music, the vocals driving the storytelling along at a fair lick. The modern and up-to-date feel continues with Stupid Things That Mean The World with a powerful and stripped back bass line giving strong impetus and more of the excellent keyboards acting like the conductor to the vocals that have more than a hint of a certain Phil Collins to them and, let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing is it?.

This band may have their roots in the late 1960’s but the music is definitely of this century. The dreamlike and dramatic wonder of Worlds of Yesterday is an absolute delight to behold with it’s cultured vocal and intricate keyboards, an absolutely wonderful piece of music that shimmers and glows giving joy to the heart and soul. Lost in the Ghostlight is all mystery and cloak and dagger, an edgy and dark song that leaves you on edge as it befuddles your senses in an arbitrary manner.

This contorted originality continues with the slow burning brilliance of Nowhere Good to Go as it builds the tension to almost unbearable levels, the brooding keyboards intensifying in the background adding a hard edge to the vocals, a really clever piece of music. Moonshot show their storytelling originality once again on the utterly mesmerising The Great Electric Teenage Dream, eight minutes of spellbinding musical excellence. A hushed opening and atmospheric vocals play over lush keyboards. There’s a wonderful sparsity that proves beyond doubt that less is very often more. the wistful tone to the voice and the elegant piano add a nostalgic, melancholy tone and the delicately strummed guitar adds contemplation to create something sublime.

A thoughtful and beautiful addition to this compilation, Before That Before is a delight that touches you with its simple grace and heartbreaking mournfulness that leads up to the classic splendour and unashamed pomp of The Sweetest Bitter Pill. Complex and grandiose in scope, this is intelligently crafted music that accompanies the listener on this fascinatingly baroque journey, transfixed and transformed as it comes to a close.

The final track on the album is the towering and imposing Distant Summers, a wall of dynamic sound that washes over you with its unrelenting and almost primeval urge, a towering close to a great compilation of fantastic songs…

…did I say final? If you get the CD then you, lucky listener, get two bonus tracks. The first bonus Track is an enchanting Moonshot version of the Tim Bowness track You’ll Be The Silence and the second, Shadows, is a staggeringly good instrumental that includes themes from the songs on the album along with a new piano theme. To quote David K. Jones:

“We were thinking of Los Endos by Genesis!!!”

So, how to sum up this rather stunning compilation? ‘Worlds of Yesterday’ is, to me, like one of those great lost albums that resurfaces after decades in someone’s attic. I’d never heard of Moonshot before this but, boy, do I wish I had! Brilliantly crafted and delivered songs that feel bang up-to-date and resonate on every level. Believe me, this album should be on everybody’s wish list, it really is that good!

Released 17th January 2020 on Plane Groovy Records.

Order both the vinyl and CD version from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/index.php?route=product/search&filter_name=Moonshot&filter_sub_category=true

If you order the vinyl then you will receive a download that includes the 2 bonus tracks.

New Moonshot Compilation to Be Released 17th January 2020 Through Plane Groovy Records.

Curated by Tim Bowness, Worlds Of Yesterday is Moonshot‘s first official compilation since Shot Hits in 1979.

From the Crimson-esque grandeur of The Sweetest Bitter Pill to the straightforward beauty of Before That Before, via the warped creativity of Lost In The Ghost Light and the engaging Pop of Stupid Things That Mean The World, WOY contains the band’s strongest work from 1971-1992.

Though Moonshot may not have reached the commercial and creative peaks of celebrated Progressive peers such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and King Crimson, they were arguably one of the best of the chasing pack and fully deserve to be named alongside the likes of Gentle Giant, Camel, Greenslade, The Yorkshire Parkin Experiment, BJH, Gryphon, PFM, Prawn, Ange and others.Worlds Of Yesterday is a fine testament to a fine band.

The album is available from Plane Groovy Records and includes the bands’ hit singles Before That Before and Stupid Things That Mean The World.

My 2017 release Lost In The Ghost Light was a homage to the classic Rock album era. The album revolved around my interpretation of the contemporary musings of Moonshot leader Jeff Harrison, though the events in the songs took place between 1967 and 2017. During this period, Rock music had gone from a revolutionary force that defined the zeitgeist to the exact opposite (a safe and nostalgic reminder of a better time). Jeff’s career was of interest to me because he came from my home town and was born on the same date as me in exactly the same place (Victoria Park Maternity Home in Warrington as I’m sure you’re eager to know). It was 16 years earlier, but how could I not be curious?“, says Tim Bowness.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were no local musicians of note from the area, so (in both a good and a bad way) Jeff became something of a home town legend regularly played by DJs such as The Longford Lover.” Tim carries on to say.

“On a personal level, I was interested in how Jeff and Moonshot had been passionately principled for its first 10 years, but seemed a little exhausted and compromised from that point on. Where did the inspiration / drive go? How was all relevance and credibility lost? Why did Jeff make the career choices he did?”

The Moonshot album will be available via Burning Shed and will come with a free download of the album plus extra tracks.  Details of the extras will be confirmed closer to the release date, pre-order at the link below.

https://burningshed.com/moonshot_worlds-of-yesterday_vinyl?filter_name=Moonshot&filter_sub_category=true

Here is the title track from the album:

Moonshot are

John Comish – keyboards

James Cooper – drums and percussion

Darren Dean – guitars

David K. Jones – bass guitar, bass pedals, 12 string guitar and backing vocals

John Wilkinson – vocals

with

Sian Doyle, Janet McKinney and Selina Wexler – vocals and Colin McKay – additional programming.