Stone The Crow(s)

Big Big Train release their first (double!) live album “A Stone’s Throw From The Line” on December 2nd and it’s now available for pre-order here and here. It showcases some of the finest moments from last August’s sold-out-in-the-blink-of-an-eye concerts at King’s Place in London.

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Scott and I were fortunate enough to secure tickets so we travelled to the UK for a bit of a holiday and attended the Saturday gig before we flew back the following day. And I can honestly say it was one of the most remarkable days of my life.

This wasn’t just a chance to see our favourite proggers in concert for the first time in…well, forever – it was also a chance to catch up with friends we had made at 2013’s Big Big Weekend, which (if you missed it) involved much merriment in the beautiful English city of Winchester, a rag-tag group of Passengers (as BBT fans are known) being led around the landmarks (including pubs and a curry house) by Alison Reijman and Greg Spawton, with special guest appearances from Andy, Rachel, Danny, Rob, Robin Armstrong and Steve Thorne, to name but a few. It was a truly extraordinary weekend, and something that will stay with me for a very long time. The opportunity to catch up again for a ‘family reunion’ of sorts and witness some amazing music and extraordinary camaraderie was therefore a pretty significant moment in my life.

As a result this review’s not very objective, as it’s impossible to completely separate the sounds from the experiences we had back then, but I’ll try my best. Caveat lector, as the Roman music reviewers used to say to Internet people back then.

King’s Place is an arts centre just down the road from King’s Cross Station in London. BBT played to a seated audience of just over 400 – it’s quite an intimate venue, the sound is warm and that’s captured well on this album. On rare occasions it feels like there’s a lot of audio happening at once but in general it doesn’t get too claustrophobic or chaotic. To my tin ears the second act sounds a bit more lively and expansive than the first – certainly on my initial listen I thought David’s vocals and some of the harmonies were lost on the early tracks of the first act, but this does quickly improve. I should also note here that the review files we received were lossy so I’ll have to give it the lossless test before I can fully appreciate the sound. Hopefully my own copy arrives on my doormat soon so I can perform this critical benchmark!

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Here’s the track listing…

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

Many of you will be familiar with these tunes already so I won’t go into detail, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of music – it’s great to see so many long-form delights, and fantastic to see most of my favourites are included – the sublime TUY (get that brass section!), Victorian Brickwork (not a dry eye in the house), the rip-roaringly powerful East Coast Racer (she flies!) and the marvellously fun Judas Unrepentant (with a gloriously ostentatious NDV drum intro.) Curator of Butterflies isn’t one of my favourites from the English Electric albums, but the version on this release really does bring it to life. I’ll have to give the studio version another spin…

Early-BBT fans may be disappointed that there’s nothing on the track list from before 2009’s excellent The Underfall Yard. Personally I’m not unhappy about this because the majority of pre-TUY work doesn’t float my metaphorical boat, although I am sure I share a certain agog-ness with others at the prospect of hearing re-recorded pre-2009 material in the near future.

Anyway, what else do you get on this double album? Virtuoso performances, some very cool alternative arrangements allowing the guys to stretch their musical legs (Rachel’s violin and Danny’s keys on TUY, and Rikard’s guitar work on Victorian Brickwork being just a few examples), and of course that ‘live’ atmosphere that transports some people to strange places… Some (but not overly much) audience interaction from David, a few in-jokes, and the Passengers are also in excellent form – respectful, enthusiastic, with (joy of joys) minimal whooping at inappropriate moments.

In summary:

  • If you were at the concerts last year you’ll appreciate the memories of a great evening this album rekindles.
  • If you are a completist you have already ordered it. Why are you reading this?
  • If you are neither of the above, this is a solid exploration of BBT’s relatively recent catalogue, with the added joy of hearing them out of the studio – something that happens rarely enough that it’s definitely worth experiencing.

2 thoughts on “Stone The Crow(s)

  1. Bryan Morey

    Great review, Russell. Kingmaker is pre-TUY. I believe it was on one of their demos. I’m not sure if it ever made it onto an early album.

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