Big Big Train – Live at Cadogan Hall, London 2017

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One year after booking the tickets the unmissable weekend of Big Big Train live at Cadogan Hall, London was finally here – and it proved to be well worth the flights from Toronto. Words and pictures by Tim Darbyshire.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation as people arrived at the 950 capacity Cadogan Hall last Friday evening, knowing they were about to witness something very special.  Big Big Train returned to the live stage in 2015 with three shows at Kings Place (also in London), and since then the hope of more live dates has been creating world wide excitement. Accordingly, these three gigs attracted fans from Australia, the US and of course Canada as well as many European countries.

It’s not long before the foyer is packed out, and the (very reasonably priced) merch desk is doing very brisk trade with men (and women) of a certain age helping themselves to t-shirts, signed posters, programmes and even umbrellas.  Inside the auditorium, it’s great to see all 13 musicians sharing the same stage – in 2015 the 5 piece brass section were tucked away up on a balcony.  Violinist Rachel Hall is first on stage playing a haunting prelude to ‘Folklore’ and it’s standing ovations all round as the rest of the band join her and launch into the title track of 2016’s highly acclaimed album of the same title.

The setlist is a well thought out nicely balanced mix of songs from 2009’s ‘The Underfall Yard’, ‘English Electric’ (2013) , ‘Folklore’ (2016) and ‘Grimspound’ (2017).  The long epics being interspersed with lighter numbers.  Big Big Train of course is all about story telling – ‘Brave Captain’ tells the story of World War I  pilot Albert Ball  with vocalist David Longdon enthusiastically acting out the part complete with flying goggles and old fashioned microphone. ‘Last Train’ poignantly documents the tale of the last station master at Hurn station in Dorset – the song tells the story of the final day as the last train departs in 1935.  ‘London Plane’ sends shivers down the spine, and is very apt considering where we are. The song is accompanied by a film projection on a large screen (as are all the songs).

Just three songs in and it’s evident just how talented the musicians on stage actually are.  Nick D’Virgilio relentlessly drives the band forward, aided in the rhythm section by Greg Spawton’s elegant bass lines and bone-shaking bass pedals. Big Big Train encompasses a wide sound palette with keyboards (including plenty of mellotron) provided by Danny Manners, Andy Poole and Rikard Sjoblom.  Sjoblom also turns his talents to searing lead guitar lines and gentle acoustic 12-string and if that isn’t enough, provides backing vocal harmonies. The guitar duties are also shared by legend Dave Gregory, and the line up is completed by Rachel Hall whose violin beautifully cuts above the mix and of course front man David Longdon. It is Longdon who is often the focus of attention, delivering every line as if his life depended on it.

The first set takes a change of pace with ‘Meadowland’ –  a delicate acoustic number dedicated to the late John Wetton.  It was John’s vocal support of the band that helped to propel Big Big Train to where they are today.  The first set is brought to a close with the lengthy  ‘A Mead Hall In Winter’ from the ‘Grimspound’ album with plenty of opportunity for audience sing alongs…….

‘Experimental Gentlemen – Part 2’  kicks off the second half of the show after a 20 minute interval. Next up is a song I’d been hoping they would play – ‘Swan Hunter’ from ‘English Electric’. Documenting the decline of the ship building industry in the North East, and backed up by a stunning image of a ship towering over terraced houses as children play in the deserted streets, this heavily emotional piece is elevated to new heights by the brass section.

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The mood is lightened as the band romp through another crowd favourite from ‘English Electric’, ‘Judas Unrepentant’. ‘Judas’ recounts the interesting story of art restorer turned forger Tom Keating who is eventually arrested for his crimes.

Greg Spawton’s ‘The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun’ is probably my favourite track from ‘Folklore’ and this follows ‘Judas’. The brass section once again are with us, adding the textures that only they can. Not even David Longdon’s forgetting to use the ‘expensive telescope prop’ twice in three attempts can stop the enjoyment of this song. At the Sunday matinee, an audience member pointed out he’d forgotten to use the telescope, leading to an impromptu replaying of the last couple of minutes of the song with the aforementioned telescope!

By now every song is greeted with a standing ovation – a trend that continues as the band play ‘East Coast Racer’, considered by many to be BBT’s finest moment it was voted #45 in a recent poll of Prog magazine’s Top 100 anthems. ‘East Coast Racer’ tells the story of the streamlined steam train Mallard and its record breaking 126mph run on the east coast mainline in 1938.  The mellotron and bass pedals towards the end of the song has the whole place flying.

‘Telling The Bees’ is delivered with a relaxed vibe and allows time for band introductions, before the set closer ‘Victorian Brickwork’.  I’m not sure what to write about this song, after all the preceding high points of the set I didn’t think it could get even better, but it did. Glancing around the audience as the song approached its climax there were many fighting back the tears as the brass lads do what only they can do.

Nick D’Virgilio is first out for the encore which begins with a short drum solo, he then introduces the brass section one by one and the funky jazzy groove develops into a rousing crowd pleasing ‘Wassail’ with singer Longdon donning his green man mask.  Three hours after the show started and it’s all over, with everyone wanting more.

Ten minutes later and the whole band are in the foyer taking the time to meet fans, sign stuff and chat – no cash grab expensive meet and greet packages here. Despite restricted sight lines for some of the gallery seats, and audio issues during the first half of the first show which were quickly resolved during the interval, the band have delivered on all levels. Loreley Night of the Prog festival is in for a real treat in Summer 2018.

Thanks to all involved in the Big Big Train extended family for an unforgettable weekend.

Setlist Friday/Saturday/Sunday:

First Set:
Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall In Winter

Second Set:
Experimental Gentlemen
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across The Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling The Bees
Victorian Brickwork

Encore:
Wassail Overture
Wassail

 

Big Big Train:

Andy Poole – keyboards, guitars, mandolin
Danny Manners – keyboards
Dave Gregory – guitars
David Longdon – vocals, flute
Greg Spawton – bass, bass pedals
Nick D’Virgilio – drums, backing vocals
Rachel Hall – violin, backing vocals
Rikard Sjoblom – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals

Brass Section:
Dave Desmond – trombone
John Storey – euphonium
Nick Stones – french horn
Jon Truscott – tuba
Ben Godfrey – trumpet

 

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Big Big Train – Grimspound album arriving 28th April

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Big Big Train have revealed the artwork and track listing for the 28th April release of their ‘Grimspound’ album.

Hot on the heels of 2016’s ‘Folklore’, ‘Grimspound’ contains 8 tracks and will be the first Big Big Train release to feature a guest vocalist with  Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention fame singing lead vocal on one track.

2017 also sees Big Big Train return to the live stage with three shows at Cadogan Hall in London on September 29, 30 and October 1.

The album will be available on CD, 180g double vinyl, hi-resolution 24/96 download, standard resolution download and via streaming services.

Pre-orders will begin 2nd March, from Burning Shed and The Merch Desk.

‘Grimspound’ Track Listing:

Brave Captain
On The Racing Line
Experimental Gentlemen
Meadowland
Grimspound
The Ivy Gate
A Mead Hall In Winter
As The Crow Flies

Big Big Train – Live Album ‘A Stone’s Throw From The Line’

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Recorded at the band’s sold out shows at London’s Kings Place in August 2015, ‘A Stone’s Throw From The Line’ documents Big Big Train’s return to the live stage after a 17 year absence. Review and photos by Tim Darbyshire.

Recorded over three nights (August 14th – 16th), each song performed over the three night residency is represented here, in the order they were played on this double cd. Such was the success of Big Big Train’s return to the live arena that they were awarded Prog Magazine’s prestigious ‘Live Event of the Year’ award.

Since the addition of vocalist David Longdon and drummer Nick D’Virgillo in 2009, Big Big Train have seen a welcome upturn in their fortunes. ‘The Underfall Yard’ (2009) and ‘English Electric Part One/Part Two’ (2012/13) have helped to expose the band to a wider audience. In 2014 it was decided they would plan for some live gigs, so the band assembled at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios – some of them meeting each other for the first time – to see how their complex studio arrangements translated to the live environment. (This was captured on the 2016 blu-ray ‘Stone And Steel’).

Live, the band comprises founding members Greg Spawton (bass, backing vocals) and Andy Poole (guitars, bass, keyboards) along with  Danny Manners (keyboards, double bass, backing vocals), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute, banjo, percussion), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, backing vocals),  Dave Gregory (guitars, piano, backing vocals) and Rachel Hall (violin, backing vocals).  An additional five piece brass ensemble brings the number of musicians on stage up to a healthy thirteen! (Dave Desmond – trombone, Ben Godfrey – trumpet and cornet, Nick Stones – french horn,  John Storey – euphonium and Mike Poyser – tuba).

The setlist is not surprisingly dominated by songs from ‘English Electric’ (2012/13) and ‘The Underfall Yard’ (2009).  ‘Wassail’ from the then unreleased ‘Folklore’ also gets an outing.  Big Big Train are quintessentially English and take us on a two hour plus story-telling journey pinned by the epic ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the spectacular ‘East Coast Racer’. The musicianship is exemplary, providing the perfect backdrop for David Longdon’s passionate vocal performance. The band thrill their audiences with an eclectic array of dazzling melodies (‘Hedgerow’), crazy rhythms and time signatures  (‘Judas Unrepentant’) and soaring emotional songs (‘Curator Of Butterflies’), fully utilising the wide sound palette available to them.

The sound quality of the live recording is very good of course – recorded and mixed by long time band collaborator Rob Aubrey – and it’s a given that any Big Big Train fan should buy this release. As an introduction to the band though, I’d recommend ‘English Electric’ (recently remastered and repackaged), for the full lush studio experience.

Since these concerts, the band have released ‘Folklore’ – which is many people’s album of 2016 – and have announced three shows for late September 2017 at London’s Cadogan Hall, and at the time of writing some tickets remain for the last show.

The album comes in a gloss, laminated soft pack with a 40-page booklet and maintains the standard of high quality presentation we’ve come to expect from Big Big Train.

‘A Stone’s Throw From The Line’ is available now from The Merch Desk  and Burning Shed

Full track listing:

CD1
Make Some Noise
The First Rebreather
The Underfall Yard
Uncle Jack
Victorian Brickwork
CD2
Kingmaker
Wassail
Summoned By Bells
Judas Unrepentant
Curator Of Butterflies
East Coast Racer
Hedgerow

 

 

 

Big Big Train to release live album – ‘A Stone’s Throw From The Line’

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Following on from the success of their 2016 album ‘Folklore’, Big Big Train’s momentum is set to continue with the December 2nd release of a double live cd entitled ‘A Stone’s Throw From The Line’.

Recorded at the band’s first live gigs in 17 years at Kings Place in London, August 2015, the shows earned the band Prog Magazine’s prestigious ‘Live Event of the Year’ award at the 2016 Progressive Music Awards.

The double cd is presented in a gloss laminated softpack with a 40-page booklet, and can be pre-ordered now from Burning Shed

Big Big Train return to the live stage in late September/early October 2017 with three eagerly anticipated gigs at Cadogan Hall in London. The first two are sold out, but tickets are still available for the last show from the Cadogan Hall website

Track List:
Act One
Make Some Noise
The First Rebreather
The Underfall Yard
Uncle Jack
Victorian Brickwork
Act Two
Kingmaker
Wassail
Summoned By Bells
Judas Unrepentant
Curator Of Butterflies
East Coast Racer
Hedgerow

Big Big Train – Folklore

Released May 27th on the band’s own English Electric label, ‘Folklore’ is Big Big Train’s much anticipated follow up to 2013’s impressive ‘English Electric (Full Power)’. Can they do it again?  First impressions by Tim Darbyshire

Big Big Train are purveyors of modern progressive soul music, making classic pastoral-style English progressive rock with each track telling a story – fitting for an album called ‘Folklore’.  According to vocalist David Longdon, ‘Folklore’ completes the ‘Albion trilogy’ of releases, the others being ‘The Underfall Yard’ (2009) and ‘English Electric (Full Power)’ (2013)

Big Big Train is made up 8 musicians; founder members bassist Greg Spawton and guitarist/keyboardist Andy Poole, vocalist David Longdon, drummer Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard), guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC, Tin Spirits), keyboard/double bass player Danny Manners, violinist Rachel Hall (Stackridge) and  guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom (Beardfish). A  brass quintet comprising Dave Desmond – trombone, Ben Godfrey – trumpet and cornet, Nick Stones – French horn, John Storey – euphonium and Jon Truscott – tuba and a string trio (Lucy Curnow – violin, Keith Hobday – viola,  and Evie Anderson – cello) further augment the impressive sound palette.

Ideally I would prefer to review this album in 6 months’ time, once it has had the chance to ingrain itself into my psyche. Big Big Train are an acquired taste – a band that demands repeated listens. For instance, I didn’t fall for ‘English Electric’ instantly, but now regard it as essential. ‘Folklore’, after 5 or 6 proper listens is already growing. Initially it didn’t appear to hit the consistent peaks, but each listen is revealing more to me. Either way, it’s already my favourite album of 2016.

The title track kicks off proceedings with a folky celtic-flavoured scene setting fanfare. (See video below).  Things quieten down for the start of ‘London Plane’ (with plenty of flute and Hammond) and the gentle ‘Along The Ridgeway’ with beautiful acoustic and brass passages, leads into ‘Salisbury Giant’, a short piece led by Rachel Hall’s violin and David Longdon’s plaintive repetitive vocal. Equally evocative is ‘The Transit of Venus Across the Sun’, again with more colliery style brass, which contains a first for Big Big Train – a trancey chanted chorus sung in Latin.

‘Wassail’ brings us back into familiar territory, having been issued on the 2015 EP of the same name. ‘Wassail’ is probably the most upbeat song on the album and refers to the English pagan ritual of praying  in order to ward off evil spirits and bless the apple trees so that they would yield a bountiful crop.

Only Big Big Train could get away with a 7 part track about a pigeon (‘Winkie’) saving the lives of the crew of a downed World War II plane. Told in just over 8 minutes, ‘Winkie’ seems rushed, even though it’s an interesting story. ‘Brooklands’ – about the now disused racetrack in Southern England clocks in at just over 12 minutes and showcases the the whole range of the band’s sound.  The album’s closer ‘Telling The Bees’ is currently the stand-out track for me (along with ‘The Transit of Venus Across the Sun’) – possibly because it’s the simplest and most direct. It recounts the tradition of bee-keepers telling their bees what’s happening in their lives, and one case in particular where on the bee-keeper’s death, the bees left the hives and went to his funeral.

There are many standout performances contained in the 70 minutes of ‘Folklore’, with vocalist David Longdon – who was the other candidate when Genesis chose Ray Wilson to replace Phil Collins – shining throughout. Rikard Sjoblom provides fluid guitar lines to compliment Dave Gregory’s jazzier input, and Greg Spawton’s deep bass pedals really add warmth to a beautifully recorded album.

These are busy days for the band, with ‘Folklore’ closely following the release of the live in the studio blu-ray ‘Stone And Steel’.  An EP of  ‘Folklore’ leftovers (possibly to be titled ‘Skylon’) is in the works, and a re-recording of their early albums is planned for next year with the release of a 3 cd set ‘The Station Masters’.

Having successfully transitioned into a live band with a series of sold out dates in London in 2015,  Big Big Train are planning more live dates in 2017.

CD tracklist:
Folklore
London Plane
Along The Ridgeway
Salisbury Giant
The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun
Wassail
Winkie
Brooklands
Telling The Bees

The double vinyl version also includes ‘Mudlarks’ and ‘Lost Rivers Of London’ which were both previously available on the ‘Wassail’ cd EP.

A high resolution audio version of the album is available from the band’s Bandcamp site.

For more detailed information, read David Longdon’s Folklore blogs where he describes the background stories to ‘Telling The Bees’,  ‘Folklore’, ‘Winkie’, and ‘Wassail’. Similarly, Greg Spawton’s blog details the stories behind the other tracks on ‘Folklore’.

The ‘Folklore’ sleeve liner notes have been made available as a downloadable PDF file here.

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Big Big Train – ‘Stone And Steel’ Release Update

Originally planned for the end of 2015, Big Big Train’s ‘Stone And Steel’ is now scheduled to be released 7th March 2016.

‘Stone And Steel’ will feature nine cuts from the band’s 2014 Real World Studio rehearsals/performance and four live tracks from the recent gigs at Kings Place in London.  As the release contains nearly three hours of music (and documentary video), and all tracks will be mixed in 5.1 as well as stereo, it was decided to release ‘Stone And Steel’ on Blu-Ray only.

‘Stone And Steel’ will be the first release since June’s CD EP ‘Wassail’ and will fill the gap before the eagerly awaited follow up to the frankly stunning ‘English Electric – Full Power’.

In the meantime, the band have made a live version of Judas Unrepentant from the August 2015 Kings Place gigs available on their YouTube channel. For more information about ‘Stone And Steel’ and all BBT projects new and old, see Big Big Train’s website.

If Big Big Train are unfamiliar to you, I can recommend them wholeheartedly – buy their CDs, support the band, you won’t be disappointed.

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