This, fresh off this morning’s pony. . . .
Here’s a quick round-up of news ahead of the BBT London shows next month:
* Wassail (the song) has been nominated in the Anthem category of the 2015 Progressive Music Awards. Listeners can vote for their favourites here: http://awards.prog.teamrock.com/
* Wassail (the EP) has been flying high in Amazon’s folk(!) charts for over a month. The CD version of the EP is available at Burning Shed: http://www.burningshed.com/store/progressive/collection/506/ and the download and streaming versions are available from the usual sources.
* Wassail t-shirts are available from The Merch Desk: http://themerchdesk.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&path=87_115&product_id=504
* An interview with David and Greg appears in the July issue of Prog magazine which is on sale now.
* David performed Spectral Mornings with Magenta at two gigs in June.
* For those coming to the BBT gigs at Kings Place, London, next month, please be aware of the gig timings:
Fri 14th & Sat 15th Aug:
Band on stage: 7.30pm
Sun 16th Aug:
Band on stage: 2.00pm
* The “Stone & Steel” DVD, featuring “live in the the studio” performances recorded last year at Real World Studios, is due for release in time for Christmas this year.
* After the gigs in August, we will be returning to the studio to finish work on the next album which will be called “Folklore” and is due for release early in 2016.
Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg, Nick, Rachel and Rikard
Music is powerful. C.S. Lewis wrote: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” [The Weight of Glory]
Music is transcendent and truly exists only among man (whales, wolves, and birds notwithstanding.) who use music to imitate and re-create the ontological, above and beyond the emotions of pain, loss, or even temporary contentment.
As much as I/we may like and enjoy rock and pop music (I do love the Ramones, Beach Boys, and Abba. to name but a few) the true worth of progressive rock music, “prog,” is that it not only frustrates the mere commercial designs of FM station managers and music directors (3-minute bites and bottom line revenues $) but that its subject matter soars above cars, girls, booze, and rebellion.
The greatest prog bands and performers have always opened the listener to challenging vistas of speculative fiction, socio-economic dynamics, and the very heart of man itself—sin and redemption; self-sacrifice and self-reflection; and grace. Whether it’s RUSH with 2112, DREAM THEATRE with Scenes from a Memory, or MARILLION’s Brave, the best of progressive lyrics and engaging musical composition, always enrich, and makes one more human than just about any other genre of current musical fare.
And as much as I love science fiction concept albums or cosmic themed instrumental tone-pieces, there is one theme that touches something very deep inside all of us—the stories of our homes, families, neighborhoods, towns and shires. The idea of place is both nominal and real. We all come from some place and we all want to go back to those special places of the heart—our past and our future—that bring reunion and safe haven.
There are some seminal bands that have addressed these topics of land and earth, i.e. PLACE, and its inextricable connection, at least hitherto, with the wandering and prodigal pilgrims of the age of impermanence. JETHRO TULL gave us the criminally underrated Heavy Horses (and other classics on most of their discography) and Ray Davies & The KINKS produced the greatest of the 1960s musical manifestos to agrarian worth and the encroachments of modernity for modernity’s sake with The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society. Some of early GENESIS also taps into the vanishing pastoral Britain (parts of Selling England & Wind and Wuthering might be examples). BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST also explored these themes in their 1970s and 80s recordings. John Lees specifically addresses his own background of growing up in Manchester in his 2013 album North.
It doesn’t matter whether one grew up in East London, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Glasgow (Al Stewart’s 45 year career is sprinkled with nods to not just his love for “general” history but to his own roots), Dublin (Horslips) or Topeka, Kansas (Kerry Livgren’s career with and without KANSAS bespeaks a loving and nostalgic nod to his home town and state).
All of the above is my way of saying that progressive music has found its penultimate, if not ultimate, purveyor of music of “place” with BIG BIG TRAIN.
I just listened to my copy of Wassail (which finally arrived from amazon.com) and in a heightened state of “enthused” tranquility wanted to pen a review that wasn’t a review. Nobody can say it any better than Brad Birzer did in his own superb review a few days ago right here ( http://progarchy.com/2015/06/05/a-good-little-truth-bbts-wassail/ ) but I wanted to share just WHY BBT touches so many of us.
The best music, like the best literature, art, and food is not abstract, ethereal, and free-floating in the aether. BIG BIG TRAIN grounds their brilliant songs in their own mother Muse of England; not England of the silver-screen or modern television, but England of the docks, quarries, factories, row houses, back alleys, family tables, and gravesides. BIG BIG TRAIN is the soundtrack to contemplating the “higher things.” Though Wassail is only a four song ep it continues their passage through the seas of brilliance to the Grey Havens of musical Proghalla.
And as much as I love hearing Joey singing “Beat on the Brat,” BIG BIG TRAIN elevates us all in ways that Southern Agrarians, British dock workers, West Virginia coal miners, and families of faith not only understand, but believe in their souls. While BBT writes the truth that the hymnist penned in the words “change and decay in all around I see…” they also place us at the family table of peace and community.
Big Big Train, Wassail (English Electric, 2015)
Tracks: Wassail; Lost Rivers of London; Mudlarks; and Master James of St. George.
As far as I know, I’ve never tasted Wassail.
Of course, I come from Bavarian peasant stock and possess, sadly, not a drop of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic blood in my veins. My wife, however, is blessed with Celtic as well as Swedish ancestry, and I’m more than happy to have played a role in passing those genes on to our rather large gaggle of children.
As far back as I remember, though, my very German-American family drank something that sounds quite similar, at least in essence if not in accidents, to Wassail, Gluhwein. Even the very word Gluhwein conjures not just the scents of warm cinnamon, cloves, and anise, but also the idea of heavenly comfort and satiation.
Much the same could be said of all of Big Big Train’s music. Not that it doesn’t have its share of tensions and darker moments within the music, but, it’s hard to imagine a band in the world today that better understands the goods and beauties of this world than does Big Big Train. They find glory in even the most ordinary of things. And, rightly so.
Wassail is a triumph, frankly. Not a huge triumph in the way The Underfall Yard or English Electric were each immense, almost overwhelming, triumphs, but a triumph, nonetheless.
A good, little truth.
In Greek, one would employ a word that has become utterly perverted over the last hundred years to describe Wassail best: a “dogma.” Literally, translating it from Greek to Latin, a dogma means a “good little thing,” a thing good in and of itself whether we understand its relation to larger truths or not.
Such is Wassail. A good little truth, whether we understand its relation to anything else or not. Only four songs at 25 minutes and 39 seconds, Wassail ends all too quickly. And, yet, for those nearly 26 mintues it plays, it fills our souls to the brim.
The opening song, “Wassail,” is a sing-songy English folk tune, completely with poetic and thoughtful lyrics. Here is the apple—the symbol of the devil, the instrument that caused the Fall, and the fruit that, to this day, brings so much love and joy. How can one thing be so loaded down by so many meanings—from the very existence of the universe and our relation in it, to the very thing that serves at the heart of what our grandmothers make best? This is a Longdon song, pure and simple. It is, for all intents and purposes, the sequel to Hedgerow, but without the rock edge.
The second song, “Lost Rivers of London,” is as much a Greg Spawton-song as the first was a Longdon song. What remains of the ancient world under the very streets of the city that represents so much good and truth in this world? What has nature wrought, our ancestors cultivated, and our current generation forgotten? These are quintessential Spawton questions, and, of course, true to Gregorian form, he serves as our modern natural historian, our urban archeologist, and our prog bard.
The third song, “Mudlarks,” is also a Spawton song, but its fullness comes across as a Big Big Train song more than the song of any one person. On “Mudlarks,” every member of the band, contributes and plays his or her heart out. Of the four songs, this is the most pop-rock oriented, despite the use of a whole set of rather folksy strings.
The final song of the EP, “Master James of St. George,” reveals just how much the band has evolved since the song first appeared—rather gloriously—on The Underfall Yard. Recorded live at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, this version of “Master James” is much more layered than the original. Whereas the original offered a folksy minimalism, this version is layered almost beyond reason. The new strings add much but what really comes to the fore in this version is Danny Manner’s keyboards.
The Wassail version of “Master James” in no way makes the original obsolete. Quite the opposite. This new version just makes those of us who love BBT justifiably a little prouder of them. For, really, this version shows just how truly alive their music is, how much depth it possesses, and long it will be remembered. . . long after any of us have vanished from this world.
Let us just hope when we get there (wherever “there” is), we know which apple to choose. It’s pretty clear that BBT wishes us well, and they’ve even kindly provided the soundtrack for that journey.
Over the past week Progzilla Radio has been broadcasting the choice of its listeners of the top 100 Modern Prog Classics – that is, songs released in the past 25 years (since 1990). The full list can be found at www.progzilla.com, but the top Ten, as voted by the listeners, were:
10: Pink Floyd – High Hopes
9: Porcupine Tree – Anaesthetize
8: Transatlantic – The Whirlwind
7: Big Big Train – Victorian Brickwork
6: Marillion – Neverland
5: The Flower Kings – The Truth Will Set You Free
4: Frost* – Black Light Machine
3: Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard
2: Frost* – Milliontown
1: Big Big Train – East Coast Racer
The title track from the forthcoming Big Big Train EP, due for release on June 1.
Also, it’s only 13 weeks today until the first live show!
This coming Tuesday evening, I will have the great pleasure of giving an academic lecture on the meaning of progressive music as best expressed in the work of Big Big Train. Unfortunately, this lecture will not be open to the public. I will, however, make an audio recording–should any progarchists be interested.
For the same event, I’ll also be giving two lectures on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and one on the same of G.K. Chesterton.
So excited about this!
Greg Spawton comments:
‘Prog is a prison': Mr Fripp in Classic Rock. I prefer to think of it as a broad church.
I’ve been thinking about this for much of the year. 2014 seems like a very different year for prog—especially when compared with 2011, 2012, and 2013.
The incredible music of 2014 in the prog world—from John Bassett, Newspaperflyhunting, Fire Garden, Tin Spirits, Arcade Messiah, Andy Tillison, Cailyn Lloyd, Galahad (Stu Nicholson), Salander, Fractal Mirror, and a host of others–further convinces me we’ve entered into a new wave of prog, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post.
Andy Tillison and Brian Watson have convincingly argued in favor of dividing the history of prog into three waves, the third wave beginning around 1994 or so.
If Tillison and Watson are correct, and I suspect they are, I believe we might have entered what we could call the fourth wave.
The turning point came in 2013 with grand and profound releases from Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer. These albums were so excellent, perhaps the best in prog history, that they might very well have represented the apex of third-wave prog.
Take a listen to any of the above mentioned artists in 2014. Their music, especially when compared to the releases of the previous several years, offers something much more experimental and reflective. The story telling is less narrative and more punctuated, the lyrics more imagistic.
Anyway, I’m thinking (and typing) out loud. I’ll give it more thought.
Danny Manners, uprightbassplayer and keyboardist extraordinaire, is stating this as of today:
TUE 30 SEP, 10:40 – The dust settles…
We are pretty much sold out for the August 14th & 15th gigs.
An additional matinée performance on Sunday 16th August is likely: we’re in the process of deciding. Assuming we go for it, it would still be a couple of weeks before tickets went on sale. They would be available to everyone, not just this group.
A Big Big thank you from the band for your enthusiasm, and for the willingness of many people to travel long distances to see us. We had better be good after this…
Once again, apologies for the slightly chaotic way tickets became available. (King’s Place are not a regular rock venue and hence not really set up to handle pre-sales/restricted sales.) Luckily, their policy of not making balcony seats available until the stalls are filled, which might be rather annoying in itself, ensured that there were still some tickets available for people who only checked FB at the appointed hour on Monday morning.
The important thing is that the vast majority of tickets went to members of this group.
Looking forward to meeting many of you next August….
Big Big Train
You may have heard the news already. . . in fact, I’m guessing almost no one in the prog world has NOT heard the news. . . . but tickets for Big Big Train live, King’s Place, August 14-15, 2015, have gone on sale. To purchase your tickets, go here: http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/big-big-train.
As most of you probably know, progarchy.com started, in very large part, as an unofficial fan site for BBT, so we’re especially proud of the band and their desire to explore their music in a live setting.
[My own desire was for them to come to the U.S., but I’m happy to have them play live anywhere. I worry a bit that I might have played a role in their deciding to play in the U.K. rather than the U.S. Several years ago, I made Greg Spawton promise that if they played live in the U.S., they would do so sporting ZZTop beards as well as offering a performance of a double-length BBT blow out version of 2112. It’s quite possible that my then-forced promises are coming back to haunt me.–ed.]
Seriously, what wonderful news. Passengers (that is, the name of BBT fans on Facebook) have flooded Greg Spawton’s announcement of the sale, which he posted 20 hours ago. Considering that BBT represents the highest and best not only of the prog tradition, but of the rock and bardic traditions, the outpouring of enthusiasm from the prog world is quite understandable.