To celebrate and promote the forthcoming ‘The Journey Continues’ Tour this August & September, Big Big Train will be sharing videos of a couple of songs filmed on tour last year. The first of these is “The Florentine” which was recorded in September 2022 at The Boerderij in The Netherlands. You can see the video here:
Alberto Bravin says: “I was very pleased when we agreed last year that “The Florentine” should be on the set list for our shows last September. After all, what could be better for an Italian than singing about Leonardo da Vinci?! “The Florentine” is a wonderful song to sing and a perfect example of David Longdon’s songwriting genius. We’re very fortunate to have the song as part of the Big Big Train catalogue.
“Duetting at the start and end of “The Florentine,” with Nick D’Virgilio coming out from behind the drum kit, was fun. It has some great opportunities for ensemble playing as well as some showcasing some terrific solos – I really enjoyed being on stage watching Oskar Holldorff playing that keyboard solo and Rikard rocking out on the guitar solo every night. For the gig at the Boerderij we thought it would be interesting to have a camera on Rikard’s guitar too. I hope we will be playing “The Florentine” live many more times in the future.”
Nick D’Virgilio adds: “I loved singing with Alberto. Seeing the live film of us playing “The Florentine” at the legendary Boerderij venue in the Netherlands is so cool. It still amazes me that this was only our third show playing together with Alberto, Oskar, Clare Lindley and Dave Foster. Our performance may not be 100% perfect but we really rocked and it was very memorable – particularly for a Monday night!”
“Our Boerderij show was also the first time that we had played a standing venue since our Night Of The Prog gig back in 2018. The night had a different vibe to the shows we’ve done in seated theatres on previous tours and I’m really looking forward to us playing a mix of venues when we’re back out on the road in August and September this year.”
Saturday 26th August – Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands Sunday 27th August – Markthalle, Hamburg, Germany Monday 28th August – Stora Teatern, Gothenburg, Sweden Tuesday 29th August – Cosmopolite, Oslo, Norway Wednesday 30th August – Fryshuset Klubben, Stockholm, Sweden Thursday 31st August – Viften, Copenhagen, Denmark
Saturday 2nd September – 2 Days + 1 Festival, Revislate, Italy Sunday 3rd September – Z7, Pratteln (Basel), Switzerland Tuesday 5th September – Neuberinhaus, Reichenbach, Germany Wednesday 6th September – Carlswerk Victoria, Cologne, Germany Thursday 7th September – Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg, Germany Friday 8th September – Mozart-Saal, Stuttgart, Germany
Sunday 10th September – The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, UK Monday 11th September – Town Hall, Birmingham, UK Tuesday 12th September – Cadogan Hall, London, UK Wednesday 13th September – Cadogan Hall, London, UK
Support at all shows except Wednesday 13th September comes from rising Norwegian stars Dim Gray, who feature BBT’s Oskar Holldorff. There will be no support at the Wednesday 13th September show
Big Big Train will release the album titled ‘Ingenious Devices’ on 30th June 2023 on CD, double vinyl (black and sky blue vinyl) and hi-resolution (24/96) Bandcamp download. ‘Ingenious Devices’ will be available on all major streaming platforms from 28th July 2023.
‘Ingenious Devices’ features 59 minutes of music, including new versions of “East Coast Racer”, “Brooklands” and “Voyager,” which prominently feature an elite 17 piece string section recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and have been re-mixed for this release.
Additionally, ‘Ingenious Devices’ includes a previously unreleased orchestral piece called “The Book of Ingenious Devices”, which links “East Coast Racer” and “Brooklands”, as well as a live version of “Atlantic Cable”, which was recorded on the band’s tour in September 2022.
Yesterday saw the editor’s top twenty albums of 2022, today we see what made respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s list….
John says, “It’s been a great year for music, especially prog, with many fine releases from established and also newer acts. Here are twenty that really struck a chord with me, in no particular order but all worthy of inspection and consideration.”
D’VIRGILIO, MORSE, JENNINGS – TROIKA
In which well known prog aficionados beguile us with their inner CSN&Y. It’s all acoustically in the main but a very strong collection of songs that must warrant a second visit – here’s hoping so at least!
Hats of Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Confidence Trick
A wonderful and diverse set of songs around the concept that we are being led by arrogant fools whose overconfidence is actually severely dangerous, examples being Trump, Johnson and, more recently, Liz Truss whose overconfidence nearly destroyed any chance of economic growth.
Stuckfish – Days of Innocence
A simply marvellous album that impressed many with its thoughtful lyrics and excellent music.
SiX By SiX – Self Titled
A bit of Saga, a bit of Saxon, add Robert Berry’s muscular bass and you have a blistering rock album with very progressive elements and leanings. Again this one impressed greatly.
Kaipa – Urskog
The long established Swedish folk-proggers delivered a truly graceful album with several epics and more than a touch of vintage Yes, a great set of songs.
Derek Sherinian – Vortex
In which the ex-Dream Theater keyboard man delivers a captivating, electric set of tracks supported by several big name friends including Steve Stevens, NunoBettencourt, Bumblefoot and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few. Blistering in parts and excellent overall.
The Mighty Ra – All Secrets Known
A new band of mainly Welsh prog musicians who began writing together with this rather fine album being the result. An excellent new album with great promise.
Verbal Delirium – Conundrum
This was new to me but what a find! A very classy album with a great vocalist, strong songs and great playing from all, definitely one to discover.
Arc Of Life – Don’t Look Down
The second album from Yes spin off Arc of Life. Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood delivering the album that Yes maybe should have. Epics like Real Time World and Arc of Life were standout tracks in an album of importance and strength.
The Bardic Depths – Promises Of Hope
Literature loving progressive band deliver a fine second album about suicide via a fictional tale of a suicidal queen whose death is prevented by the Gods. Enthralling and with many guests in tow.
Tribe of Names – Evolver
Evolutionary album from ex-Tinyfish man Simon Godfrey & colleagues that sees them stretching their legs musically. There’s a welcome strong Rush influence throughout and its a superb album overall.
Phi Yaan Zek – Interdimensional Garden Party
This very strange but satisfying album occupies a realm the sadly departed and much missed Frank Zappa would have graced with its blend of instrumentals and strong songs. Wonderful weirdness is obligatory with such stunning tracks as Wickety Wickety being enough to make anyone smile. A seriously good album that warrants investigation.
John Holden – Kintsugi
John lives close to me and he delivers a strong fourth album of various pieces with a stellar assembly of guests, a highly varied and ultimately satisfying and enjoyable album.
Pattern Seeking Animals – Only Passing Through
This is the third album from Spock’s Beard writer and contributor John Boegehold. With excellent support from existing members of the band, strong songs and catchy hooks abound.
Red Bazar- Inverted Reality
Another unexpected pleasure with a harder edged sound and excellent vocals from Peter Jones, this was very welcome indeed.
Dave Brons – Return to Arda
Simply divine and beautifully melodic Celtic-tinged music from Dave Brons and friends with a concentration on melody with moments of shredding brilliance. Totally sublime and utterly captivating.
Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames
A triumphant debut from ex-This Winter Machine men who, along with sublime vocalist Charlie Bramald, fuse melody and muscle in a devastating combination. Truly awesome, well received by many and rightly so too!
Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume 1
Entirely orchestral versions of songs that inspired Clive whilst growing up. His take on key songs from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp and Rush really are a must to hear. How he brings out hitherto hidden beauties to much loved pieces is gorgeous.
Evership – The Uncrowned King Act 2
The final part of the tale is a sobering statement of intent from fine US proggers Evership and the additional vocals from Saga’sMichael Sadler impress greatly.
David Longdon – Door One
Posthumously released after David’s unexpected death in 2021, this telling collection reveals his continued evolution as a writer and, whilst short, this bittersweet album reminds us of of the great man we lost last year.
So, there you have it, that’s it for 2022 from John and myself, see you on the other side…
As most of you know I am a very committed runner so the above picture is really my personal running highlight of 2022 (a 24 hour running event) but below you will find my top 20 albums of the year for 2022.
The first fifteen are in no particular order, they are just brilliant albums that I really enjoyed throughout the year but the final five are my definitive favourites of the year. So, without further ado, here we go…
David Longdon – Door One
A wonderful collection of songs that made a fitting and poignant epitaph for an amazing songwriter, musician and, above all, a wonderful man. I was lucky enough to meet David a few times and he was the least likely ‘rock star’ you could ever meet but, boy, what a voice and this album was the culmination of his musical career. One that was tragically cut too short.
Gandalf’s Fist – Widdershins
The ‘Clockwork Saga’ will always be seen as a monumental piece of work but, as a stand-alone release, ‘Widdershins’ sees Gandalf’s Fist at their absolute vibrant and dynamic best, every musician giving 100% and, while I’ve always been a fan of this very distinctive band, this new release sees them hitting an entirely new level.
Avandra – Prodigal
AVANDRA have created a thrilling and compelling take on the progressive-metal genre and one that is delivered with not a little expertise and finesse. ‘Prodigal’ is one of those intricate and influential albums that takes some understanding at first but when you peel back the final layer of this epic behemoth, it is a wonder to behold.
The Opening Song – Hidden Walls
Imagine music written like a classic novel of the 20’s and 30’s, there’s a wide eyed and wistful innocence that you just don’t get anymore in the world but behind that innocence, there’s also a world weary knowledge that the world isn’t always what you think it is or what you want it to be. ‘Hidden Walls’ is achingly beautiful but also wistfully painful at the same time. It’s made me quite emotional and that’s a rare thing but, isn’t what what music should do?
Comedy of Errors – Time Machine
After a long five year absence, ‘Time Machine’ is a fine return from one of progressive rock’s premier artists and an album that I am constantly revisiting. Cementing Comedy of Errors‘ status as one of the foremost artists in the genre, it is sure to be one of 2022’s most welcome releases.
Esthesis – Watching Worlds Collide
An object lesson in combining the stylish sensibilities of smokey jazz grooves with an almost 50’s noir film score to deliver a slick musical experience, all wrapped up in a sharp suit. Overall, ‘Watching Worlds Collide’ is a seriously good album with tons of Gallic flair, intelligence and inventiveness, it is also the coolest thing you are going to hear this year and I love it!
The Round Window – self-titled
A high quality release with wonderfully emotive songs and superb musicianship, this self-titled album may be The Round Window’s debut release but it shows a group of musicians who are already playing at a very high level and have creativity to burn. I can’t recommend it highly enough, this should be in everyone’s music collection…
Oak – The Quiet Rebellionof Compromise
Oak have a unique, innovative sound and you can hear it mature and transform on every album they release. Their approach to music is refreshing and sees them deliver meaningful music that has heart and soul and, with ‘The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise’, these talented musicians have created their most accomplished and consummate work yet.
Glass Hammer – At The Gate
Melodic, symphonic and, at times, monumentally heavy, ‘At The Gate’ is a superb, majestic leviathan of an album that enhances the band’s legacy as masters of the genre. This final instalment in the impressive trilogy brings things to a triumphant and proudly pompous conclusion, this is Glass Hammer at their finest, hugely expressive and sonically brilliant.
Threshold – Dividing Lines
For fans of the band it’s been a long five years since ‘Legends Of The Shires’ but when they return with an album as strong as ‘Dividing Lines’, you could say it has been worth the wait. Threshold are one of the pre-eminent proponents of prog-metal performing today and this fantastic new release has cemented their position right at the top of this particular musical tree.
VLMV – Sing With Abandon
There are times when you hear a piece of music that leaves you open mouthed in appreciation and, when I first heard ‘Sing With Abandon’ I was utterly stunned. Albums like this are more than mere music, they pervade your very soul, take over your life and almost bring you to tears at their beauty. VLMV have created something so good that it almost becomes a state of mind and I thank Pete Lambrou from the bottom of my heart for doing so.
Dim Gray – Firmament
I was seriously impressed with Dim Gray’s debut release ‘Flown’ but the last forty five minutes has shown me that this band have elevated themselves to another level entirely. ‘Firmament’ is a magnificent achievement, twelve songs that ebb and flow superbly and sum up perfectly what music is truly about. These three truly inspiring musicians have created something that is prime and organic, their music can get under your skin and influence your very moods and my life would truly be a much sadder place without it!
Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames
This superb album was reviewed for Progradar by my good friend Leo Trimming and I have to agree with every single one of his words:
‘Scissor Games‘ is a remarkable debut album. It clearly owes so much to earlier eras of Prog Rock but when it is done with this sheer amount of brio and skill, allied with powerful, impactful lyrics, then it is entirely valid and worthy as a piece of music and art. Many Prog fans will absolutely fall in love the style and emotional content of ‘Scissor Games‘ which will very probably be rightfully be regarded as one of the best debut progressive rock albums of 2022.
Gustaf Ljunggren with Skúli Sverrisson – Floreana
Philosophical and meditative, ‘Floreana’ will leave you in place of utter calm and leave you ruminating on life, the universe and just about everything. It’s as much about the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves and the state of mind that your are left in. To me, it is one of the surprises of the year so far and an album that I implore you to listen to at least once, trust me, it will be worth it…
Omega Point – A Great Escape
Matt Cohen has brought together a stellar group of musicians and, in Omega Point, created a powerful musical statement, close-knit and cohesive. ‘A Great Escape’ is another fantastic addition to the ranks of accomplished new releases we have already been lucky enough to hear in 2022 and can proudly hold its head high along with the best of them. Let’s hope this is just the start of things to come!
So that’s fifteen of the best albums I’ve heard in 2022 and they all rightly deserve a place in this review but now for the top five…
In fifth place:
Bjørn Riis – Everything to Everyone
Music can make a world that seems to be falling into monochrome light up and be revitalised with blazes of colour and vitality and this wondrous new album from musical maestro Bjørn Riis brings all that and more. Power, soul and grace are infused throughout its six tracks and combine to make it one of the outstanding releases of 2022 so far.
Fourth place was taken by:
The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder
‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ is just a wonderful piece of work, The Tangent at their brilliant best. People need some cheer in the world and music has the power to lift people, after just one listen to this amazing album I was smiling again. Andy and the band could just have released their most important record yet…
Now on to the top three, starting with:
cosmograf – Heroic Materials
The sumptuous, questioning ‘Heroic Materials’ is undeniably brilliant. Robin has laid his heart and soul, his whole being in fact, down as music. Emotive, melancholy at times, this record is a story and history at the same time. A plea for the future of the planet it may be but, above all, it is an immersive artistic triumph and one of the best releases of recent years.
And, as hard as I tried,I couldn’t split the final two so we have joint winners of my album of the year and I’m listing them arbitrarily by release date:
Joint First Album of the Year – Marillion – An Hour Before it’s Dark
I have been a fan of Marillion for over three decades and, in a career of superlatives, ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ can truly be seen as one of their most accomplished albums. It is an outstanding piece of music that the band should be incredibly proud of and, even though we are only in February, it will take something amazing to knock it off the top of my album of the year list.
Joint First Album of the Year – Galahad – The Last Great Adventurer
When music is as good as this and touches you in a very personal manner, it can’t really get any better. In my opinion Galahad have returned with what can only be described as a modern progressive masterpiece and one that will stand the test of time and should be remembered as being one of the best albums of recent years. It’s my joint first album of the year and I really can’t give it any higher praise than that.
So, in a year of high quality releases, this is my definitive top twenty, a collection of superb albums that would grace anyone’s music collection, tomorrow will see Progradar’s respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s top 20 albums and I am already looking forward to what 2023 will bring…
When David Longdon died suddenly and unexpectedly from a fall last year, the world of music was deeply saddened. His loss, especially as he was gaining respect and stature as a fine frontman, singer, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist and visionary part of Big Big Train, was both unexpected and shocking. David had also finally, after many years, begun to gain both widespread acclaim and respect, furthermore he had found satisfaction in his life with partner Sarah Ewing. His legacy thankfully remains with this album that was 90% complete at that time having now been completed by his friends as a tribute to a good man, a Brave Captain, to coin one of his songs.
This album is different because of his passing but it is still a good listen, even if it is painful, for what has gone and for what could have been in his future. Thankfully, Big Big Train have chosen to continue, albeit in a different configuration and one that pays tribute to their deeply missed colleague.
The album is not actually very long in duration but it has flashes of brilliance and will need several plays to really understand, which is fitting really. It opens with IntoThe Icehouse, an instrumental, ambient piece of birdsong and minimal piano tones playing almost a lament. Watch It Burn is rather upbeat and urgent with an almost indie sound to it, all jangly guitar lines which lead into a memorable chorus. This is a fine second track and it is a joy to hear David’s voice as he swoops and soars in a familiar manner, the song is certainly stirring with some great guitar.
There’s No Ghost Like An Old Ghost has a strong vocal and great lyrics. The song talks about hidden feelings that haunt you as they continue to effect you. This is a very personal song and its lyrics reveal much about who David was, so it’s good that he found peace with Sarah, even though that was ended abruptly. The Singer AndThe Song continues the autobiographical tone as this track is about how singing his songs enlivens and satisfies him. This song also has a graceful guitar break that adds to the power of the words. Forgive (But Not Forget) is a further revealing song that deals with the hurt of a failed relationship. Sangfroid follows and is another song about relationships and their transient nature, this track has great lyrics that are really heartfelt and poignant.
The album’s longest track, The Letting Go, is about loss, which is painfully ironic as David died not long after its completion. The song deals with a difficult issue, letting go of grief and moving forward. Accepting the change that has occurred and facing it bravely whilst keeping the memory alive, even though the loved one has gone. A situation many listeners will have had to do for themselves with the loss of David himself. The song then enters a haunting melancholic flute section backed with piano as David sings “The Letting Go” over an ever increasing drum pattern which, in turn, leads to sustained chords and it’s a suitably strong ending to an excellent track. The final track, Love Is All, is a far gentler piece as David exorts us that love is all that matters and, indeed, it does matter and if you find it then work hard for it, treasure and guard it as love is precious and vital to us all.
So the album ends positively and with a strong message of hope that we can all accept and employ in our own lives. So from the tragedy of David’s death, we can find hope and purpose and celebrate his memory with this fine collection of songs. David will certainly be missed but his legacy lives on in his recorded works and this album will certainly be a part of that legacy that he leaves us.
This is a difficult album if you knew the man but it’s wonderful to hear what he had been working on in these days before he left us. Give it a spin if you can and enjoy it for what is is a fine collection of promise and, ultimately, of hope.
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.
‘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’sKids 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’sLos 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!
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 5. Headwaters 6. Apollo 7. Common Ground 8. Atlantic Cable 9. Endnotes
‘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
If there is anything positive or good that has come out of this tough time of the deadly coronavirus pandemic then it is that many musicians have been able to utilise this difficult time and lack of touring activity to create and craft a whole slew of new albums.
Many of these surfaced in autumn, like ‘Halcyon Hymns’, the new album from Geoff Downes and Chris Braide and the next chapter in their fantastic collaboration that has thus far yielded three albums, including the fabulous ‘Skyscraper Souls’ along with the excellent recording of their live debut concert at Trading Boundaries in East Sussex in 2018.
Geoff had been working on music for Chris to work into complete songs and he used the suspension of activities with his main band Yes (who were due to play full shows highlighting the Relayer album from 1975) to finalise these ideas.
Well, this album is really impressive stuff with a fantastic set of songs and opens with Love Among The Ruins, which pretty much sets the standard for all that follows. This is a very fine track indeed, the video brings things to life with its portrayal of days gone by and how we look back with much fondness. The song is very upbeat with a great chorus that stays in your mind, there is also a fabulous guitar solo that elevates this from excellent into truly spectacular.
This followed by the more sedate but ever building burn that is King Of The Sunset, with its evocative imagery of England, Avalon. I must commend these two for the surreal and complex soundscapes that they evoke so well. Also worthy of note are the fabulous vocals by Chris Braide who really shows his class on these performances. This track will appeal to modern day followers of Marillion as they might see a similarity to that fine group. There are lots of interesting tones and textures that run through this song, along with some superb and striking guitar lines. Also adding to the mesmerising brilliance of the track are the dulcet tones of David Longdon of Big Big Train.
Your Heart Will Find The Way is next and this one has a great bass line that propels the song along with a lot of funk! Indeed, the bass on the whole album is exceptionally fine indeed, right on the beat, upfront when needed and very fluent and supportive throughout. There are lots of fine keyboard flourishes from Geoff that add to this heady recipe that they have concocted.
Then it’s onto the first of the three longer songs that this album offers. The first is called Holding The Heavens and, again, there is a prominent bass line that really drives the song along. The great lyrics make this song exceptionally fine too with another great vocal from Chris and good backing vocals that create a great sound. This is a fine album vocally and one that sounds good on headphones too. The chorus is also both very compelling and strong. and the song also has a good acoustic guitar section before returning to the chorus. A distinguished spoken section adds emphasis to proceedings while there is also a recurring chunky guitar riff that really adds value to this song.
Beachcombers is the next song. Shorter and opening with a brief spoken section, this one has a drum patter that percolates and brings the song to life. There is great imagery too as Chris tells of nightingales singing in the night, this is all topped with another spectacular soaring guitar break.
Warm Summer Sun opens with sounds of summer including church bells chiming and bird song, it is all very English and pastoral even before some strong keyboard sounds are introduced. The velvet tones of Marc Almond of Soft Cell fame are a brilliant addition. This is another shorter song but is none the worse for it with a great chorus. This track really shows off Geoff’s excellent keyboard sounds, textures, and tones fabulously.
I think this album will also appeal to fans of Big Big Train, not least because David Longdon appears on this album but also because of its pastoral imagery that will resonate with those fans. Today is the second of the longer tracks and speaks of summer days gone by and very evocative imagery and fond memories are voiced. This song is pure escapism, the lyrics are interesting, speaking of friendship and shared experiences and the desire for the day to never end. The song then moves into another spoken section from Joe Catcheside before another fabulous guitar break appears. David Bainbridge is a phenomenal guitarist on this entire album, playing with a good feel and soaring solo lines that really add to this fantastic ensemble piece.
Hymn To Darkness is a shorter track with mandolin playing throughout. There is rather a darker tone to subject matter as the song talks of putting the darkness to sleep, it is a nice mellow song with some more great acoustic guitar lines woven throughout.
She’ll Be Riding Horses speaks of a love gone by and a memory of her riding horses somewhere where they do not have telephones, they lose touch but find each other in later years. This is another very upbeat song, happy even, although the lyrics seem to suggest that she has gone and yet great memories of her live on in his mind. Another brief but very satisfying song. This is followed by another shorter piece, Late Summer. This is another song of memories asking why cannot it not last?
The last, and longest, track is called Remembrance and this opens with a spoken section that again evokes memories of the long summer of 1976 and the remembrance of passion walking along the Dorset coastal path. The song mixes vocal and spoken passages to great effect as it talks of loving this dirty old ground, ice creams, love in open places, holiday romances and many other seaside attractions. This song unleashes a treasure trove of memories, a memento-mori if you will, of one who has gone as have the days as it ends with a sad goodbye.
This is a truly sensational album, one that really deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible as it is truly worthy of that acclaim. Downes Braide have really made and delivered a very well realised album with lots of references to the past. Along with lots of imagery about death (which is a theme that runs through much of the album), this makes the memories bittersweet at times yet it is still an album to make you smile in these days.
‘Halcyon Hymns’ will reach into your soul and touch your emotions. It is very moving, well-conceived and produced. I think it is the best album I’ve heard this year but, then again, it’s only January so there is lots of time for more great releases this year. However, for now, this is definitely a strong contender, I urge you to listen to this if you can as you will find much to enjoy on this excellent album.
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.
Many of you will be saddened with the cessation of daily routine and life, especially in the area of live music. Big Big Train have certainly had a rough time of all this with their inaugural headlining show at Rosfest in Florida being cancelled due to the virus. During this time David Longdon has not been idle, instead he has been able to complete a rather significant and a very personally special project with Judy Dyble (whose pedigree includes being Fairport Convention’s original vocalist and also being latterly of Trader Horne, alongside an interesting solo career of late). When Big Big Train undertook a run of shows at King’s Place in 2015, Judy was introduced to multi instrumentalist David Longdon and they bonded over their shared love for words and history to the extent that Judy performed a duet with David on The Ivy Gate from the band’s ‘Grimspound’ album and they expressed the desire to work together further at some point.
This new album is a further and, sadly, final chapter to that friendship as Judy passed away shortly after the completion of the album. So this release will be a celebration of that very special friendship and act as both a testament and a tribute to Judy.
‘Between A Breath And A Breath’ is a very fine album indeed, there is a lot of very fine music compositions and sublime lyrics on offer on this release. The artwork by Sarah Louise Ewing is exquisite & sensitive and the photos are lovely and dignified, especially the lovely photo of Judy and her beloved greyhound Jessie.
Of interest to many will be the appearance of most of BBT in some form or another and whilst the music is far more folky than rock, there is still enough punch to bring this into the progressive rock realm, especially on the longer tracks like the epic France and Whisper, both of which are intriguing compositions.
Judy wrote interesting lyrics and she often said strong things within her songs, as evidenced by her scorn for Astrologers who dupe people with their false promises. This song is the first single from the album and it is a great opener with a fine guitar line from Dave Gregory, whose complex playing adds layers of depth to the song. Obedience follows which is a wonderfully expressive track that swoops and soars with David providing an impressive vocal performance, especially on the chorus. Possibly the most powerful track on the album and one on which the BBT influence can be heard the most.
Tidying Away The Pieces is another song that speaks of preparing for death but is still somehow a positive experience. It is a beautiful song, very emotional but not cloying, rather it is practical and decisive. This song made me smile and cry at the same time. Between a Breath and a Breath is the title track for the album and is a duet between David and Judy in which they swap lines to great effect. A subdued song that has a totally other worldly feel to it.
Then we are onto side two of this remarkable record and the lengthy epic track France at nearly eleven and a half minutes. The song is split in two sections linked by a mirror ball dance section and is about impressions captured on a trip to France and the history encountered whilst there, how war came and changed the home again. This is a sombre piece but the music it contains brings great pathos to the proceedings. It is very expressive and has great guitar solo performed by David Longdon, sweeping accordion from Rikard Sjoblom, in fact pretty much all of BBT bring this song to life beautifully and sensitively, a truly magnificent piece of music.
Whisper is next and is another strong piece, the playing on this track is graceful and full, very satisfying. It rewards the listener with repeated playing, unlocking different nuances as the song plays on. It is about being isolated and left out but still being able to listen.
Final track Heartwashing is a bit different in that Judy doesn’t sing on it but she does speak the words. I gather that illness had consumed Judy by this stage and she couldn’t sing but she did speak with the final lines telling much of the tale when Judy says, “For what will be the next adventure, should there be such a thing…” Sadly it was not to be as she died on the 12th July in advance of the release of the album.
It is an absolute pleasure to be able to recommend this music to you all, between them David and Judy have gifted us with a graceful poignant and touching record that is a fine testimonial to the unique gentle talent of Judy Dyble and one that is brought to life by the great skills of David Longdon, the members of Big Big Train and a few others.
This is an album that you must listen to or you miss it at your peril. I cannot recommend this highly enough, I think it is one of my albums of the year. Indeed the beautiful music and the grace that the album offers make this worthy of a place in any albums of the year listing. Yes, it is that good, truly remarkable in fact!