Review – Big Big Train – Common Ground

‘Common Ground’ is the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.

‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots.
 
Following the departure of long time members of the band, the core of Big Big Train is now Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals). Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) will join the band for the upcoming tour and there will also be the welcome return of a five piece brass ensemble. 

After finishing my first listen through of the new album, my first impressions were that, while it is familiar (especially with David Longdon’s distinctive vocals), there is something new and dynamic about it. Like all the best albums, it needs more investigation and listening to, but, to my ears, a subtle reinventing of Big Big Train is afoot!

So, a few days and many, many listens later, how do I feel about ‘Common Ground’ now? Read on and all shall be revealed…

It’s bloody marvellous, basically! I am a long time fan of the band and this is the first album that has really grabbed me and not let me go since the ‘English Electric’ series.

The wondrously upbeat Strangest Times with its brilliant Elton John inspired piano lines (take a bow Rikard Sjöblom) opens the album in fine style. David Longdon is in fine voice, especially on the ever so catchy chorus, and the guitar playing throughout is sublime, I’m left with a huge grin on my face as the track comes to a satisfying close. The track sees David writing about the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band  “After the death of a collaborator Judy Dyble in July 2020, I time spent shielding with an ill relative. With everything that was happening around me and for the world with the relentless doomwatch tone of the news broadcasts, I spoke with Greg. I said I couldn’t just be writing songs about historical figures and scenarios. I felt that I needed to write about the here and now. In ‘The Strangest Times’.”

All The Love That We Can Give is a more laid back affair with a wistful feel to the keyboards and David’s vocal with a deeper tone. There are swathes of contemplative Hammond Organ and the guitar just sits in the background, like a conductor leading the band. Vocal harmonies abound and Greg and Nick prove what a fantastic rhythm session they are and then the track goes off into proper progressive rock territory, full of energy and intricate musicianship, another rather fine song indeed!

When the intro to Black With Ink starts I’m immediately drawn to a comparison with Kim Wilde’s Kids In America (wait until you hear it, then it won’t sound so daft!). The edgy keyboards and vocals sound like a call to action and the song just picks up and goes from there, it’s certainly up there with the best upbeat songs that the band have ever recorded. The vocal interplay is excellent and gives a real urgency to the track. If this is part of a new direction for the band then please count me in on the journey. To my ears, things get even better in the second half as a distinctive musical refrain starts to be heard (it’s one that continues to surface throughout the rest of the album too…) and becomes an earworm that you can’t get rid of, and don’t want to actually! Dandelion Clock is a nostalgic and thoughtful song that is dear to Greg’s heart a beautifully written piece of music with David’s vocal at its most plaintive and heartfelt. The chorus is a work of art and the whole track just works its way into your affections. A quite exquisite song that leaves you in a totally reflective and introspective state of mind.

Headwaters is the first of two instrumentals and is Big Big Train at their best when it comes to telling stories without words, a dreamlike, meditative piece that is painstakingly and perfectly created, just beautiful. Then we go to the opposite end of the musical spectrum with the vibrant notes of the energetic and dynamic Apollo. Nick D’Virgilio wanted “…to write the band’s version of Genesis’s Los Endos and to make a track that really showed off the talent of all the amazing musicians in the band.” And, boy, he certainly did that and has created one of the best progressive instrumentals of recent times.

The title track of the album sees the band in anthemic mood, Common Ground is a powerful piece of music, a statement of the state of humanity but delivered in a way that only Big Big Train can. Soaring vocal harmonies, powerful melodies and excellent musicianship create a an energetic and passionate song that grabs your attention and makes you listen and absorb the message within. The guitar and violin interplay is absolutely superb, this is a song that will have the audience at the live shows singing their hearts out, just outstanding!

It wouldn’t be a Big Big Train album if there wasn’t an epic song with a dramatic historical narrative that shows British pastoral progressive rock at its very, very best would it? Well, the band don’t let us down and deliver a transcendent fifteen minutes of heart and soul in the majestic Atlantic Cable. There’ll always be a place for tracks like this in the musical universe, soaring crescendos mix with intricate musical passages to create musical works of art that will always pass the test of time. Take songwriters of consummate skill and musicians at the top of their game and you will end up with superb songs of substance and heart and soul that have meaning and that tell the grandest of stories in the perfect manner.

Endnotes closes the album on an emotive note. Another one of Greg’s favourites (and mine), it is a perfectly composed song with heartfelt vocals from David that just bleed compassion and sentiment. The musical accompaniment is exquisitely elegant and the harmonies just make your heart sing and then, the brass! Oh my god, the hairs just stand up on the back of your neck as the notes sound out, there’s just something about that sound that makes my soul soar and Big Bg Train do it so well. What an incredible end to the album, I don’t mind admitting it has made me quite emotional.

So, there you have it, ‘Common Ground’ is recognisably Big Big Train but a Big Big Train that have moved the game on a little and given us an album of its time. Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!

Released 30th July, 2021.

Order the album here:

Big Big Train (burningshed.com)

Big Big Train announce new album ‘Common Ground’ out on July 30th, 2021

First single and video for title track out today!

UK tour dates revealed for March 2022

July 30th, 2021 sees the release of ‘Common Ground’, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.

Watch the new video for the title track, created by Christian Rios, here:

“This is unashamedly a love song. It is about finding things that we share and have in common with other people. When my partner and I first came together as a couple, we lived not far from Avebury in Wiltshire, a very Big Big Train kind of place. The chalk hills and standing stones were part of the imagery of our ‘Folklore’ album, and once again I was writing what was literally happening in the location in which we found ourselves. I remember seeing my white chalk dust footprints upon the black of the car mats after we’d been walking around Avebury.  I’m pleased that we both get to have this time with each other and ‘Common Ground’ is about finding out the things that we have in common with each other and deciding what we want to do in life together.” – David Longdon

Tracklisting:

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’ is available for pre-order now as Double Vinyl, CD, and Bandcamp Download at these sites:
https://burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain
https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com

‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the UK 5pm pandemic press conferences (’The Strangest Times’) to the library of Alexandria (‘Black With Ink’) to the bottom of the ocean (‘Atlantic Cable’).
 
For the ‘Common Ground’ tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate in the UK with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble. The band expect to announce North American tour dates shortly.
 
Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with ‘Common Ground’, they are making such a surge themselves.
BIG BIG TRAIN UK TOUR 2022
 
TUE, MARCH 15TH – YORK, BARBICAN
WED, MARCH 16TH – CAMBRIDGE, CORN EXCHANGE
FRI, MARCH 18TH – BIRMINGHAM, SYMPHONY HALL
SAT, MARCH 19TH – BATH, FORUM
MON, MARCH 21ST – GLASGOW, ROYAL CONCERT HALL
TUE, MARCH 22ND – MANCHESTER, BRIDGEWATER HALL
WED, MARCH 23RD – LONDON, PALLADIUM
 
TICKETS ON SALE FROM MAY 14th, 2021
https://myticket.co.uk/artists/big-big-train

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Alone Together – by John Wenlock-Smith

Rikard Sjöblom is certainly an interesting and excellent musician, as his career thus far clearly demonstrates, coming to prominence first with Beardfish whose albums ‘Sleeping In Traffic Pt1’ (and Pt2) made big waves in progressive rock circles. The mix of often hard hitting jazz fusion and rock brought a smile to many faces but that all came to a natural finish.

Rikard then concentrated on his other project Gungfly who have a similarly eclectic approach to prog. This the eighth Gungfly album all told and, on this release, he works within a trio format playing both keyboards and guitar (both brilliantly I might add).

The opening song Traveler is simply magnificent with brilliant instrumentation along with several fine and fiery guitar solos and some strong keyboard textures. The track is fairly long but never outstays its welcome, going through several changes during its duration. Rikard reminds me of someone, I can’t put my finger on who exactly, but what a statement of intent it is as an opening song, highly impressive and a good portent for things to come.

Clean as a Whistle, the third track, is also a fine song with a strong acoustic guitar to open before a powerful bass line begins playing in harmony with Rikard’s acoustic skills. The vocals actually remind me of modern day Wishbone Ash in places, no bad thing in my view. This is a gentler song in the main with a delicate piano before synths start at the 3 minute mark, the pace then picks up a bit with some great electric guitar playing in the background before a gentle piano returns us to the acoustic guitar and bass section again, simply sublime and gorgeous.

Title track Alone Together supplies a great guitar line that just keeps on going, such a fluid guitar line really warrants your attention! A flourish of organ then comes in, heralding a more discordant harder edged guitar that plays in sync before Rikard’s vocals join the throng. This song goes all over the place but is certainly of interest (although I haven’t got a clue what he is on about and I don’t have the words to decipher the meaning behind the song). It is great music though, constantly changing throughout its running time with all sorts of things going on and with a return to that fabulous guitar line towards the end. It is a Magnificent piece of writing and music that really shows the talent and imagination that Rikard possesses in spades.

Penultimate track, From Afar, is a folksy, jaunty little number that talks about being viewed by persons unknown from afar. It may be short but it is certainly a great song.

The final track, On the Shoulder of Giants, begins with a clanging and strident riff with some funky sounding chords underneath before opening into a more expansive soundscape where the bass tracks the guitar riff superbly and Rikard unleashes a fiery brief break at the start of the main song. This is a very fine opening section detailing Rikard’s love of Frank Zappa’s music and how hearing it made him feel as a youth and his subsequent battle to work outside of the normal expectations, which is something that he has strived for and succeeded in doing. His love of classic progressive rock is evident and he is not ashamed or afraid to pay homage to his heroes. The piano part of this song is stately and sets a good tone for the middle part of the track which is a bit more subdued and is about how he determined to be free to follow his own route in music.

The next section picks up the pace with the piano taking a more urgent tempo and tone before a synth part sounding a bit discordant is played, sounding strange and unsettling but it leaves the way clear for some fluid guitar that resembles the playing of a certain Steve Howe in a very Yes sounding segment. Again, this is a great section of the piece, Rikard and the others are not averse to mixing their styles to really make the tracks stand out. This is terrific stuff really pushing boundaries as he unleashes another epic solo towards the end of the song with a subtle but delightful wah wah tone to it, double tracked to good effect, as he draws the song to a fine climax.

I’m not that au fait with Gungfly’s recorded history but ,certainly after enjoying this one, I will definitely be looking out for other albums of theirs to listen to and also be watching to see what they do next as this power trio really cook the music nicely with good syncopation, really letting their influences come to the fore. An album to revisit often and to embrace and enjoy again and again.

Released 4th September 2020

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/rikard-sjobloms-gungfly_alone-together_cd

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly launch video for ‘Happy Somewhere In Between’ / first single from ‘Alone Together’

Swedish multi-instrumentalist Rikard Sjöblom recently announced his new album under the Gungfly moniker, ‘Alone Together’. Set for release on the 4th September 2020, it followsan  extremely productive past few years, whether it be working with English progressive rockers Big Big Train, or taking the lead with Gungfly. 

Today sees the launch of the first single ‘Happy Somewhere In Between’ and you can watch the video here:

Rikard comments: “I wanted to write an upbeat prog-rocker about a subject I was reading about, and got intrigued by: the dynamics in a relationship – how one person can be needy and the other one avoidant. These personality traits sometimes attract each other but then things get problematic when one needs a lot of attention and the other one tends to feel trapped by it. It’s also about mixing things up in general and pretty much a fun song about serious stuff.”

‘Alone Together’ will be available as a Limited CD Digipak (with 2 bonus tracks), Gatefold LP + CD & as Digital Album. Pre-order now here: https://RikardSjoeblomsGungfly.lnk.to/AloneTogether

Rikard comments: “I started writing these songs about a year ago but then it took some time to get started with the production because I had two tours lined up, one with Big Big Train in November and then opening solo for The Flower Kings on their European tour in December. After that my focus shifted back to Gungfly and it felt really nice so it all came together pretty fast!”

‘Alone Together’ saw Gungfly recording as a trio, with brothers and previous collaborators Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively. “It was a lot of fun playing both keyboards and guitar because I had come up with a lot of nice parts but I knew early on that I wanted to make the album with the brothers on drums and bass – luckily they were very up for it!” This ‘power-trio’ have focussed on the rock this time, and you can hear that loud and clear: “I didn’t want to smother the production with layers upon layers of keyboards and bells and whistles but instead tried to keep it prog rock with the focus on ROCK. I wanted every instrument to mean something in the mix.” This is evident on tracks like ‘Happy Somewhere In Between’ and the 13-minute epic ‘Traveler’, where Gungfly have never hit harder.

The album cover features a painting by American artist Kevin Sloan (The Flower Kings). Rikard comments of the piece: “I had just written lyrics for the song ‘From Afar’ and was looking at Kevin’s paintings when I came across this one and I couldn’t believe the connection, particularly the lyric “A million eyes watching glimpses of each other’s lives””.

The full track-listing for the album is as follows:

1.     Traveler

2.     Happy Somewhere In Between

3.     Clean as a Whistle

4.     Alone Together

5.     From Afar

6.     On The Shoulders Of Giants

7.     Grove Thoughts (Bonus Track)

8.     Shoulder Variations (Bonus Track)

The bandwill come to the UK for 3 select live dates in October 2021. The band will play London & Manchester, co-headlining alongside the Robin Armstrong-led Cosmograf, before continuing on to Summer’s End Festival.

The dates are as follows and are on sale now:

Friday 1st October – Dingwalls, London

Saturday 2nd October – Academy 3, Manchester

Sunday 3rd October – Summer’s End Festival, Chepstow

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 recent studio albums.

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly announce new album ‘Alone Together’

Swedish multi-instrumentalist Rikard Sjöblom is pleased to announce his new album under the Gungfly moniker, ‘Alone Together’. Set for release on the 4th September 2020, it follows extremely productive past few years, whether it be working with English progressive rockers Big Big Train, or taking the lead with Gungfly. 

Rikard comments: “I started writing these songs about a year ago but then it took some time to get started with the production because I had two tours lined up, one with Big Big Train in November and then opening solo for The Flower Kings on their European tour in December. After that my focus shifted back to Gungfly and it felt really nice so it all came together pretty fast!”

‘Alone Together’ saw Gungfly recording as a trio, with brothers and previous collaborators Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively. “It was a lot of fun playing both keyboards and guitar because I had come up with a lot of nice parts but I knew early on that I wanted to make the album with the brothers on drums and bass – luckily they were very up for it!” This ‘power-trio’ have focussed on the rock this time, and you can hear that loud and clear: “I didn’t want to smother the production with layers upon layers of keyboards and bells and whistles but instead tried to keep it prog rock with the focus on ROCK. I wanted every instrument to mean something in the mix.” This is evident on tracks like ‘Happy Somewhere In Between’ and the 13-minute epic ‘Traveler’, where Gungfly have never hit harder.

‘Alone Together’ will be available as a Limited CD Digipak (with 2 bonus tracks), Gatefold 2LP + CD & as Digital Album. The album cover features a painting by American artist Kevin Sloan (The Flower Kings). Rikard comments of the piece: “I had just written lyrics for the song ‘From Afar’ and was looking at Kevin’s paintings when I came across this one and I couldn’t believe the connection, particularly the lyric “A million eyes watching glimpses of each other’s lives””.

The full track-listing for the album is as follows:

1.     Traveler

2.     Happy Somewhere In Between

3.     Clean as a Whistle

4.     Alone Together

5.     From Afar

6.     On The Shoulders Of Giants

7.     Grove Thoughts (Bonus Track)

8.     Shoulder Variations (Bonus Track)

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 recent studio albums. 

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly announce UK co-headline live dates with Cosmograf

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly are pleased to announce they will come to the UK for 3 select live dates in October 2020. The band will play London & Manchester, co-headlining alongside the Robin Armstrong-led Cosmograf, before continuing on to Summer’s End Festival.

Rikard comments: “When I think on how much I’ve played in England over the years, it’s really strange that Gungfly as a band haven’t been over yet! So to say that we’re ready and willin’ is kind of an understatement! We’ll probably even bring some new tunes for you. Robin Armstrong and I of course know each other from our time in Big Big Train together and we thought this would be a nice mix to do a few dates with – don’t miss it!”

The dates are as follows and are on sale now:

Friday 2nd October – Dingwalls, London

Saturday 3rd October – Academy 3, Manchester

Sunday 4th October – Summer’s End Festival, Chepstow

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly released their most recent album ‘Friendship’ in 2018, and was last seen supporting The Flower Kings on their December 2019 European tour.

Watch the video for the Prog Award-nominated ‘They Fade’ here:

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

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.”

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 recent studio albums. 

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’.

GUNGFLY online:
https://www.facebook.com/rikardsjoblom/
http://www.rikardsjoblom.com/

INSIDEOUT MUSIC online:
www.insideoutmusic.com
www.youtube.com/InsideOutMusicTV
www.facebook.com/InsideOutMusic
www.twitter.com/InsideOutUSA
www.insideoutmusicshop.com

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