Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly launches video for ‘Ghost of Vanity’

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly recently announced the release of ‘Friendship’, their brand new studio album, due out on November 9th, 2018. Following the release of 2017’s ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’, as well as 2018’s retrospective 5CD collection ‘Rumbling Box’, the band masterminded by former Beardfish frontman & current Big Big Train member Rikard Sjöblom.

Today a video for the track ‘Ghost of Vanity’ has been launched and you can watch that here:

Rikard comments: ”A song that really just came to me all at once while I was strumming away on my guitar one day, lyrics and all. I kept singing ‘I don’t want no part in this’ over and over at first and then started partake in. Well, vanity is something I’ve never been a big fan of but one way or another we’re all slaves to it. I think most people, especially teenagers and young adults strive to live up to unrealistic expectations from TV-commercials or the superficial parts of showbiz. I remember when I was a kid and thought everything they said on TV was true, or at least didn’t reflect too much about whether thinking about what it was I didn’t want to it was real or not. No matter how much we try to not care about how cool or pretty or rich we are, I think it gets to us. The ghost of vanity is always present and I guess it takes a lot of reflecting over your own identity and a lot of courage to try to be yourself. I admire those who truly are.”

The album will be available as a limited CD Digipak & gatefold 2LP + CD (both including 3 bonus tracks) as well as digital download. Pre-order now here: https://Gungfly.lnk.to/Friendship

The full track-listing is as follows:

1.Ghost of Vanity
2.Friendship
3.They Fade
4.A Treehouse in a Glade
5.Stone Cold
6.If You Fall, Pt. 2
7.Crown of Leaves
8.Slow Dancer (Bonus Track)
9.Past Generation (Bonus Track)
10.Friendship (Utopian Radio Edit) (Bonus Track)

Rikard comments of the musical direction: “Musically, what can I say? This is prog rock, but I want to be free to move in whatever direction the music wants to go and I happily go exploring where it wants to take me. Even though there are a few softer songs and sections, most of the album turned out to be a rocker; a collection of hard rock songs with lots of tricky parts, some heavier moments and some downright jazzy elements too!”

Rikard Sjöblom is perhaps best known as the multi-instrumentalist frontman of Beardfish, who established themselves as one of the most consistently brilliant modern-day progressive rock bands over the course of eight studio albums. In recent years, he has also become known for his work with English progressive collective Big Big Train, playing live with them as well as performing on their most recent studio album ‘The Second Brightest Star’ as well as the new live album ‘Merchants of Light’.

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http://www.rikardsjoblom.com/

INSIDEOUT MUSIC online:
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Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly announce new album ‘Friendship’

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly are pleased to announce ‘Friendship’, their brand new studio album, due out on November 9th, 2018. Following the release of 2017’s ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’, as well as 2018’s retrospective 5CD collection ‘Rumbling Box’, the band masterminded by former Beardfish frontman & current Big Big Train member Rikard Sjöblom, are happy to reveal their fourth full-length release.

Rikard comments: “The idea for ‘Friendship’ came to me because of an old photo of me as a child. I found this old photo at my parents’ house, depicting me standing on top of this really tall treehouse in a glade near our house. Although I of course remembered it as being really high up in the tree tops as a child, this picture proved that it really was! As I reminisced about the treehouse I started thinking about my childhood friends with whom I built it. We were the best of friends and we spent so much time together in this little village where I used to live. This of course made me think about all the friends I used to have, these relationships where you hung out all the time, went through childhood together, grew up and knew everything about each other and then all of a sudden, for some reason, disappeared from each other’s lives.

This phenomenon of falling out with someone is still a mystery to me, but I’ve learned to accept it, much like the separation of death it’s just a part of life and the nature of our course of life, I guess. So this is a collection of songs about and for all of my friends, dead or alive, past and present. I chose to base the stories around the treehouse in the glade, not because all of my memories are from there, but rather that it’s the place that made me think back on all of this.”

The album will be available as a limited CD Digipak & gatefold 2LP + CD (both including 3 bonus tracks) as well as digital download. Pre-order now here: https://Gungfly.lnk.to/Friendship

The full track-listing is as follows:

1.Ghost of Vanity
2.Friendship
3.They Fade
4.A Treehouse in a Glade
5.Stone Cold
6.If You Fall, Pt. 2
7.Crown of Leaves
8.Slow Dancer (Bonus Track)
9.Past Generation (Bonus Track)
10.Friendship (Utopian Radio Edit) (Bonus Track)

Rikard comments of the musical direction: “Musically, what can I say? This is prog rock, but I want to be free to move in whatever direction the music wants to go and I happily go exploring where it wants to take me. Even though there are a few softer songs and sections, most of the album turned out to be a rocker; a collection of hard rock songs with lots of tricky parts, some heavier moments and some downright jazzy elements too!”

Rikard Sjöblom is perhaps best known as the multi-instrumentalist frontman of Beardfish, who established themselves as one of the most consistently brilliant modern-day progressive rock bands over the course of eight studio albums. In recent years, he has also become known for his work with English progressive collective Big Big Train, playing live with them as well as performing on their most recent studio album ‘The Second Brightest Star’ as well as the new live album ‘Merchants of Light’.

 

Review – Big Big Train – Grimspound – by Progradar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be a brave captain of the sky.”

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

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

“Brave Captain of the skies..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All here is good,
still and quiet.”

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

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

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

Band photos by Simon Hogg.

Released 28th April 2017

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on CD from The Merch Desk

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on Vinyl from Burning Shed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview With Rikard Sjöblom – by Progradar

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

Listen to the full audiofile here:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track 3 is entitled He Held An Axe….

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

Number 4 is, I believe, My Hero….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 19th May 2017

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

 

 

 

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly Sign To InsideOut For New Album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’

Following last years disbanding of Sweden’s much-loved progressive rockers Beardfish, vocalist and driving force Rikard Sjöblom has turned his attention to his solo project Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, and signed with InsideOutMusic for the release of their next album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’ on 19th May 2017.

Rikard had this to say: Gungfly was born out of necessity, songs came to life whenever there was downtime with Beardfish or if a song didn’t quite fit within Beardfish’s (otherwise quite broad and eclectic) frame of styles. I basically started recording songs, mainly pop-oriented material, but being the type of songwriter and musician I am, some prog slipped through the radar as well. With the break-up of Beardfish all of the prog-related material I write needed to go somewhere and Gungfly was ready and able for this step!”

Band photo by Peder Andersson.

Review – Big Big Train – Folklore – by Progradar

Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

orpheus

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

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

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

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

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

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

(adapted from Caitlin Nicholl’s Storytelling Through Music)

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

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

band

 

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

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

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

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

David

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

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

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

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

strings

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

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

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

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

brass

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

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

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

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

Kings place

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

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

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

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

Signed album

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

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

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

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

Tobbe & Greg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telling the Bees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folklore Banner

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

Released 27th May 2016.

Buy ‘Folklore’ on CD direct from Big Big Train

Buy ‘Folklore’ on vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the ‘Folklore’ download from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar Big Big Train Feature Part 1 – Review – Stone & Steel – by Progradar

stone_and_steel_web

There’s a place inside us where we can still be that small child who was in awe of every new experience, every sight and every sound. You know that unfettered feeling of sheer joy when you happen upon a picture book scene that is near perfect. Living in Yorkshire, I get to see and appreciate these virtually every day and they still fill me with a sense of wonder, life’s shackles thrown off momentarily by the sheer beauty of nature.

To be honest, we need these moments of purity and astoundment to counter the wear and tear of everyday life, to stop us being ground down by what can become a normality of drudgery and boredom, a very grey day indeed!

For me, music can often release that inner child and leave me enjoying the purity of something that is intended for you to enjoy and make your very life a better place to be. I have found that, as I get older, music touches me with more and more intensity and really has become my raison d’être and why I will happily get out of bed in the morning to face every new day as a fresh challenge to be enjoyed and overcome.

My copy 1

I’ve been a big fan of Big Big Train for a while now and a self-acknowledged ‘passenger’ along with many other fans of this great English progressive rock band.

After the undoubted success of ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums (Parts 1& 2 and then ‘Full Power’) the band decided that the time was right to take to the stage for live performances again.

Unsure how easy it would be to do justice to the band’s recordings on stage, Big Big Train’s now established line up of David Longdon, Greg Spawton, Andy Poole, Danny Manners, Dave Gregory, Nick D’Virgilio, Rachel Hall and Rikard Sjöblom decided to try out live renditions of their songs in a controlled environment.

The wonderful surroundings of Peter Gabriel’s converted water mill, Real World Studios is where the recording took place and, to add even more lustre and brilliance to the event, the five piece brass ensemble that featured on both ‘The Underfall Yard’ and ‘English Electric’ albums was included.

Real World website

Recorded in August 2014 ‘Stone & Steel’ (the title referencing both the band’s lyrical themes of English landscape and history, and the very fabric of Real World Studios itself) documents the weeks rehearsals and the band’s transition from studio to stage.

Set up

‘Stone and Steel’ features performances of nine songs recorded live at the Real World sessions and four songs recorded live at the band’s London gigs in August 2015 alongside interview and documentary footage. All live performances are presented in 5.1 and stereo.

I’m not one known for staying power when it comes to watching music DVDs, I tend to dip in and out again but I sat through the whole three hours (including bonus material) in one sitting and loved every single minute of it, that inner child was transfixed by the moment and the spectacle.

In fact, the day I got home and saw that ‘Stone & Steel’ had been delivered, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the quality and design of the Blu-Ray packaging along with the glossy 64 page booklet with some fantastic pictures of the Real World sessions and the live concerts at King’s Place (although my head is obscured by the much more interesting features of the lovely Rachel Hall).

Honestly, like a kid with a new toy, I couldn’t wait to get in in the player and press ‘play’ for the first time……

Band at real world

As with all things BBT, ‘Stone & Steel’ was never going to be a mere performance blu-ray, you always get more than you expect from these guys and the excellent documentary style pieces that intersperse the music are a proper insight into the band and the whole Real World recording experience.

The opening introductory video of the band members arriving and setting up is really interesting as is Greg’s reluctance to be in front of the camera, not that he has much choice in the end!

Having been lucky enough to have been invited to the ‘Folklore’ album launch (more about that and a review of the new album in the next installment…) I get even more of a shiver up my spine as they set up for recording in the ‘Big Room’ and we see David Longdon arriving at reception, I’ve been there!!

We see the unveiling of a work of art, David’s B4 joke (it’s funny, honest!) and you begin to feel part of the whole process, received into the welcoming bosom of the band as a participant in something special.

These interludes, despite being an enjoyable and  definitive part of the whole experience, are mere introductory pieces to the main event, the actual musical performances.

playing live

The ‘live’ renditions of songs that are extremely familiar to all fans, like members of our own family, are something quite special. From the true story of a man called Alexander Lambert who dived heroically into the flooded Severn Tunnel in 1880, the wonderful The First Rebreather, through the spine tingling version of Master James of St. George with its delightfully intricate vocal melodies, to the rollicking toe-tapping tale of forger Tom Keating that is Judas Unrepentant, I was kept rapt in attention to this masters of their musical art.

Normally I like to absorb music while I am doing something else, almost a process of aural osmosis if you like but, this time, I just sat on the settee and turned up the volume to feel like I was actually there in the studio. This feeling of integration is only enhanced by the rather whimsical delivery of perennial fan favourite Uncle Jack. Performed acoustically in the ‘Wood Room’ at Real World it has a folk meets hillbilly feel and I love its childlike and carefree feel. Dipping out of material garnered from ‘The Underfall Yard’ and ‘English Electric’, we are treated to a rather enchanting & pared-back rendering of Wind Distorted Pioneers from ‘Goodbye To The Age of Steam’, one that takes you away to another place of calm serenity.

Then the lump in the throat nostalgia of Summoned By Bells takes you on a meandering and emotive journey of yesteryear. A song inspired by Greg’s memories of his mother and “the golden thread of continuity running down from the past.”  There then follows a haunting version of Kingmaker, a track that originally appeared on their 1992 demo album, ‘The Infant Hercules’. I’d heard this before, a reworked version appeared on the import and iTunes version of the ‘Far Skies Deep Time’ EP released in August 2011, but this interpretation is utterly spellbinding.

There’s no doubting that Big Big Train’s studio albums are works of art in themselves but, to see and hear these singular musicians actually performing them in a live situation, controlled or not, makes you feel quite privileged.

To close out the Real World recordings we are treated to two of the band’s seminal works, both from, possibly, their most venerated piece of work ‘The Underfall Yard’. Here the brass band really come to the fore on this recording, on both the title track and the electrifying brilliance of Victorian Brickwork, these musicians add to the band to give something just, well, utterly astounding. The hairs on the back of my neck rise as soon as I hear the first strains of the brass, something that has become definitely synonymous with Big Big Train now.

There’s over thirty minutes of music spread over these two masterpieces and not a note is wasted. Almost hypnotic in their delivery in this unique setting, it really is a musical experience like no other, you sit rapt, your attention focused on the performers in front of you on the TV set. There is no disappointment just a phenomenal performance of two of the band’s finest songs and, as the final notes of Victorian Brickwork play out, I am reminded of why I love music and why this band attract such devotion from their fans.

back cover

But it doesn’t end there, oh not by a long shot! I was also a lucky blighter who was able to attend one of the Kings Place concerts in August 2015 and, as a very welcome addition to the blu-ray package, we are treated to four tracks from those remarkable performances.

Kings Place

(That’s me, right behind Rachel’s right shoulder, I know, you can’t see me!)

From the edgy, sing-a-long high energy of Wassail, through the tear inducing wistful beauty of Curator of Butterflies and the achingly poignant brass enhanced sentimentality of Victorian Brickwork right to the grand finale of East Coast Racer, it was an unforgettable experience and one that I will never forget as I was present at one of those eagerly anticipated shows.

The stunning memories that come flooding back can almost threaten to overwhelm you, such is their severity. I said at the time that it was a life affirming weekend and I stand by that now, even as I cringe at the lone voice (mine) shouting out “apart from the encore!” as a reply to David Longdon’s statement that East Coast Racer would be the last song……

For fans of Big Big Train there is never a feel of ‘Stone & Steel’ being a completist release, one that you buy just so you have an artist’s full collection of works. It stands alone as being brilliant retrospective of the recent endeavours of this most English of Progressive Rock bands. If you are new to this wonderful world, it is also a great introduction to them and one from where you can branch out and further your education (for further it you most definitely should!).

For this inner child it is a musical release that, once again, takes me back to that moment of wonder and delight, that feeling of pure joy that, in this weary modern age, we rarely feel nowadays.

Released 21st March 2016.

Buy ‘Stone & Steel’ directly from the band.

 

An interview with Greg Spawton (and a little Kings Place reminisce) – by Progradar

BBT Kings Place

It is almost three months since the three seminal gigs of the year. When that fantastic community of friends and music fans, now known as The Passengers, got together for a brilliant social event and a series of concerts like none of us had known for quite a while.

It wasn’t just about the music, it was about meeting people I had just conversed with online for the best part of three years and friends I have met recently through a shared love of the band Big Big Train’s music.

Greg Spawton, Danny Manners, David Longdon, Andy Poole, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Gregory, Rachel Hall and Rikard Sjöblom  took a huge risk when they decided to perform live at three dates at London’s Kings Place in August. Yes, they were playing to an adoring audience but it had been many a year since any of the material had been heard in a live setting. Add in the fact that they were going to play with a brass band and it was no mean feat that they were attempting.

To cut a long story short, and as better and briefer wordsmiths than I have already spoken about, it went down a storm. I came down on the Friday and stayed with some friends.

Saturday saw me meet up with Mike Morton of The Gift and assorted other friends and Passengers at the Old Parcel yard pub in Kings Cross where we spent the afternoon reminiscing and wondering what the evening’s entertainment was going to bring.

BBT Kings Place 2

The anticipation was building to a crescendo as we walked to Kings Place, just round the corner. Many of the great and good were in the bar before the gig and it was great to meet up with Jerry Ewing and his sister Sarah, Joe PayneChristina BoothDavid and Yvette Elliott and many other friends I have made in the music industry over the last few years.

I am not going to waffle on about the concert itself, only to say that it was a real life affirming event for me. The depth of emotion and sheer brilliance on show will stay with me forever.

If I had to pick a couple of  tracks to epitomise the whole evening for me, it would have to be Victorian Brickwork from the first set where the addition of the superb Brass and the way the track finished just left me an emotional wreck and, from the second set, the utterly sublime and beautiful Curator of Butterflies, I cried…. a lot……..

BBT Live 2

Showing just how much they are in touch with their fans, the band did a ‘meet and greet’ with everyone after the concert. Many ales were quaffed with great friends and a fantastic night finished with aplomb.

BBT live 3

So, after the dust had settled, Greg luckily enough agreed to answer some questions for me about the band, the gigs and the future…..

Greg Martin

Pic courtesy of Martin Reijman

Progradar: When did the idea of doing some live concerts first come up and was it just one band member’s idea which you extrapolated on?

Greg: We had talked about it from time-to-time over the last few years. However, our focus has been on writing and recording new music so it seemed, to me, to always be a distant prospect. As a firm idea, it started to come up in conversations in 2013.

However, our studio recordings are complex, layered things, with strings and brass in the brew alongside the normal rock instrumentation, so we were a little worried how difficult it would be to recreate our sound in a live setting.

Therefore, we decided to do a dress-rehearsal in 2014, with no audience present. This worked pretty well so we started the process of selecting a venue and a team to work with. 

Progradar: Did the addition of Rachel and Rikard to the ranks make this more of a reality?

Greg: Absolutely. The fundamental decision we had to make was whether we stripped things down and played a more basic version of our songs with a smaller line-up, or whether we should try to present our music as we want it to be heard, with all the layers and the bells and whistles.

Rachel and Rikard enabled us to take the latter approach. Rachel had performed on the ‘English Electric’ albums and was already a big part of our plans. We also needed to find a musician who could cover guitar and keyboards with equal dexterity. There are not many people like that around, but Rikard ticked all the boxes. Soon after the 2014 rehearsals, we invited them both into the band. 

Progradar: What made you decide on Kings Place in the end?

Greg: We like to do things our own way on our terms and we didn’t want to play something on the usual circuit. Kings Place came to our attention when Danny played a show there with Jonathan Coe. It was in the smaller Hall Two, but I was struck by the potential and thought it would be worth checking out Hall One.

Generally speaking, there were a few things we had to take into account: location was important as we wanted the venue to be an accessible place, close to public transport. The stage had to be big enough to accommodate a large band, but we had little concept of likely ticket demand so didn’t want to over-reach and book a venue with too high an audience capacity. We needed a place with good acoustics and with access to recording facilities as we wanted to record the gigs. We made contact with a few other places, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre and we looked at some places in Winchester.

Bristol was also an option at one stage. In the end, I went up to Kings Place with Rob Aubrey and we liked it the minute we walked in. The staff were great, very welcoming and it met all of our other requirements. Not all London venues offer welcoming staff and they were brilliant all the way through. They rarely do rock gigs there and so I think they looked on us as a way of expanding their enterprise. It brought quite a buzz to the place and they thought our fans were lovely.

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Progradar: When deciding on the set list, what factors did you take into account?

Greg: If we had decided to gig without the brass band, we would have looked at a very different set list. However, as we knew we would be playing with the brass band this enabled us to select some of the pieces where the brass plays a significant part. This brought East Coast Racer and Victorian Brickwork straight into the reckoning.  Above all, we wanted to create a set list which showed all aspects of what we do, from the epic progressive rock through to folk and pop music.

Sometimes we get to cover lots of different things in one song, such as Summoned By Bells or Hedgerow. Other times, it was the contrast between songs which we wanted to demonstrate. We were particularly keen to offset some of our melancholy moments with some which are more joyful and communal. Once we had decided on the set list we needed to make one or two musical changes to songs for live performance.

For example, East Coast Racer needed a new ending as the closing section on the album was simply a restatement of an album theme and wasn’t right for the live version which we wanted to play at the end of the gig to bring things to a close. One of the original options I thought about when writing East Coast Racer was to have a guitar solo at the end, so we decided to revisit that idea. Danny composed a new chord sequence to allow the solo to develop.

We also changed the opening section of Make Some Noise to give it a more folky, foot-stomping feel. And Dave Desmond added more brass to The Underfall Yard.

Progradar: Did you ever consider varying the setlist for each night?

Greg: We had a couple of other songs on the rehearsal back burner and, at one stage, thought about varying the set list. The crucial thing though, was to try to play things well. We only had limited rehearsal time together so we didn’t want to cram in too much at the risk of lowering the quality.

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Progradar: How involved was Rob Aubrey in the planning and sorting out sound when you’d finally agreed a venue?

Greg: Rob had huge involvement in every aspect of the sound. He liaised with Real World and Kings Place about all aspects of the sound and arranged for their monitoring engineer to visit our rehearsals which was a big help as sorting out monitoring for 13 musicians is a headache. One of the advantages we had with rehearsing at Real World was that we could record everything we did, allowing us to playback the songs and fully work out keyboard and other levels ahead of the gigs.

The more you can sort in advance, the more things are in control on the night. We had a rather random meeting with Michael Giles at the pub on the first night of rehearsals and the first thing he said to us was: ‘record everything and listen back to it’. The other big help we had was finding Zab Reichhuber who controlled and prepared the lights and the videos and slides. She is a very talented and impressive young woman.

Progradar: How did rehearsals go and, honestly, did you really feel ready by the Friday of the gig?

Greg: Rehearsals were brilliant. They were hard work and a lot of fun. By the time we arrived at the venue we felt ready enough, but there were still a couple of areas where we tripped up during the first show.

That may be nerves, or just the different environment. In the 70’s, progressive bands would get extremely tight due to constant touring. Not many of us have that opportunity these days as the more limited audiences will enable most bands to play maybe 10 or 20 shows each year or just do one-off shows, so it is a different set of circumstances.

We had a really good couple of hours on the Saturday afternoon at Kings Place where we sorted out some of the monitoring niggles and then had time to work through the bits that were unsteady on the Friday show. We were pretty tight on Saturday and Sunday.

Progradar: The massed ranks of Passengers were going extremely giddy in anticipation of these concerts, does that put added pressure on you as a band to perform?

Greg: In the weeks running up to the gigs we became increasingly focused on gig preparation so we absented ourselves from social media for much of the time ahead of the shows. At rehearsals we were in a little world of our own. Nick and Rikard, who have both played a lot of gigs, were very confident about the audience response. That settled my nerves a bit.

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Progradar: How much extra does having the brass section there playing live add to the performance?

Greg: A huge amount. The brass band has become an integral part of our sound since ‘The Underfall Yard’. The sound of a brass band is not something you can easily replicate on keyboards, so without them, we couldn’t properly perform quite a few of our songs. The guys in the band are some of the best brass players in the country and they are all really great chaps to hang out with, so we are truly lucky to have them onboard. We are recording with them again for ‘Folklore’ and ‘Station Masters’ so they are part of our long-term plans.

Progradar: How did the reaction of the audience make you feel, was it what you were expecting or something on a different level?

Greg: It was at a completely different level. Personally, I had no idea what to expect from the audience. It was a seated venue so I wondered if that may make things a little subdued. That didn’t particularly worry me as it is nice to think that people are listening carefully, but I didn’t want it to be too restrained.

When we were standing stage-door before the gigs the atmosphere sounded quite lively and we became aware that the audience were likely to be quite enthusiastic. Then we walked on and had a great welcome and it went on from there.  It was amazing really.

Progradar: Did you enjoy meeting the fans after the concerts and sharing a drink with them?

Greg: For all of us it was one of the highlights. It was lovely to meet so many listeners and share a few words. There was such a friendly atmosphere, it was heart-warming. I really don’t like the whole paid meet and greet thing that seems to have caught on in some parts of the music business although I understand the commercial reasoning and I know that it is popular with some fans.

Progradar: What was the buzz like on Saturday morning after the first performance the night before?

Greg: We were pretty tired early doors, but very happy. We also wanted to spend some time running through some sections again and we had a good couple of hours playing in the afternoon. After that we felt pretty relaxed and were looking forward to the show.

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Progradar: Did the Sunday matinee feel any different to the two evening gigs?

Greg: Each of the gigs was different. The audiences reacted to different songs and passages of music. We all liked the matinee. Sunday evening exits from London can be a terrible thing so it didn’t feel that people had to rush off afterwards.

Progradar: At any point did you wonder what you had let yourselves in for?

Greg: It has been a major organisational challenge and a steep learning curve. In order to make the band a profitable concern we try to do as many things ourselves as we can which means cutting out middle-men like promoters. At times, in the weeks ahead of the gigs, so much energy was expended on planning itineraries and transport and food and accommodation that it seemed there was little time for music. It was also a big musical challenge but we got into our stride pretty quickly at rehearsals so worries about that began to subside.

Progradar: What do you get from performing live that is different from recording?

Greg: I am a songwriter rather than a performer and haven’t played a gig for many years so it has been an interesting experience. The obvious difference is the interaction with the audience. There is no part of the writing and recording process which is at all like that.

When things are going well on stage and the band is playing well and the audience is into things it is a pretty amazing thing to be part of. Having said that, I love writing and I am looking forward to finishing off our new album. All aspects of the music making process are very satisfying and all parts can have their moments of frustration.

Progradar: Now things have calmed down a bit, what were the highlights of the weekend for you?

Greg: It was very cool to perform with my friends and bandmates and watch them in their natural environment.  The atmosphere both backstage and onstage was such a positive thing. And the audiences were amazing. They seemed very engaged. I liked that there would be applause during the songs for solos.

I saw Elbow in February and came away thinking that they have an ability to make a gig both a communal event with lots of singalong moments and, at the same time, a very personal one, with people reacting individually to songs that moved them. That was what we were reaching for with these gigs, and that seemed to happen.

Finally, after everyone had gone on Sunday and the gear was on its way back to base I got to have dinner with my lovely wife at St Pancras. It had been a very busy few months ahead of the gigs and then there were rehearsals and the shows so it was nice to finally have some time to relax and reflect.

Progradar: Were there any negatives, what would you possibly do different next time?

Greg: We’ve already started thinking about this. The main thing is monitoring. We will probably hire or buy our own monitoring desk next time and get things fully set up at rehearsals. This will save time in setting up at the venue and keep us fresher. 

I still think we will aim to play two or more nights in one location rather than a conventional tour but, depending on how things go with record sales, we may well look at a bigger venue next time.  It would be great to play live with Rachel’s string quartet at some stage as well, but that would make things even more complicated so we may leave that idea for a while.

Progradar: Does the thought of doing it again fill you with dread or joy and, if it’s the latter, when can we do it all over once more?

Greg: Definitely joy and definitely in 2017!!

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Guest Review – Beardfish – +4626 – COMFORTZONE – by Shawn Dudley

Yet another hardy soul has taken the responsibility of writing a review for you goodly folk, this time we welcome Shawn Dudley with the pen (or should we say keyboard?).

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One recurring theme with my music purchases over the past 10 years has been a constant stream of bands from Sweden.  The country has provided a surfeit of riches and one of the most valuable is the wonderfully eclectic and enthralling Beardfish.

Their 8th studio album ‘+4626-Comfortzone’ is another meticulously arranged addition to an already impressive string of releases.

After a short thematic introduction Hold On wastes no time demonstrating the many traits that drew me to Beardfish in the first place.  The love of vintage instrumentation and production sounds, the knotty and complex arrangements that would make Gentle Giant proud, the occasional side trips into Zappa-esque absurdity, the uniquely personal songwriting of Rikard Sjöblom and, last but not least, their love of “the jam”. The joyous melding of progressive rock precision with the loose improvisational vibe of a late night jam session, they remind me of Nektar in this regard.

Thematically ‘Comfortzone’ is more dense and layered than the relatively straight-ahead approach of 2013’s ‘The Void’.  Thus it’s not quite as immediate an experience and takes a few spins to really process.  The narrative focuses on the apathy and complacency that can result from growing up in a small town, the feeling of being trapped yet not wanting to lose the comfort and security that familiarity provides.  As someone that grew up in a small rural community of under 500 residents the subject matter of this album holds special relevance.  A town populated by people watching the world pass by from their front porch…as if they were nailed there.

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While lyrically the album can be a little bleak, the music never is.  The playing is uniformly excellent and years of lineup stability has given them a rock solid cohesion.  The mix is well balanced and uses a wide stereo spread, it’s a little compressed but not overtly.

Individual track highlights include the aforementioned Hold On, the lovely title track (some great Robert Fripp inspired guitar work in the intro on that one), the viking-rock riffage of King and the album centerpiece If We Must Part (A Love Story Continued).  Special mention to the comic-relief provided by the hilarious Ode to A Rock ’N’ Roller, in a genre that primarily takes itself very seriously, the quirky humor of Beardfish is always a welcome change of pace.

While I’m thrilled that Rikard Sjöblom has been contributing to Big Big Train of late, I hope he still finds the time to continue the Beardfish journey.  The only thing more exciting than a new Beardfish album…is the prospect of what the next one will be like.

Released 12th January 2015

Buy direct from the band

About the author – Shawn Dudley

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Shawn Dudley, Los Angeles, CA.

Audio engineer, film buff, guitarist, lifelong music fanatic.