Two years ago I was privileged to attend the first two nights of Big Big Train’s live shows at King’s Place, London, and a delight they were, as anyone can witness by watching their Blu-ray release of the shows, Stone & Steel. So when they announced last year that they were planning some more shows in the capital, in a larger venue, I snapped up tickets as soon as possible for the opening night (well, actually my son snapped up the tickets, as I was in the US when they went on sale!).
Since the announcement of the concerts the band have not been idle, releasing ‘Folklore‘, ‘Grimspound‘ and (much to the delight of their growing band of supporters – the ‘Passengers’) the surprise Summer Solstice-released album ‘The Second Brightest Star‘, and the epic conglomeration of ‘London Song‘. This gave them much new material to bring to the live arena, as well as their extensive back catalogue.
I wrote my reflections on the 2015 concerts at the time, and one thing that struck me about that occasion, as well as this year’s events, is that these were so much more than just a series of concerts by a rock band. These were a gathering of family, from the four corners of the world, united by a common love of each other and of exceptional music, played with skill and passion.
My son and I travelled from the Midlands to London by train on the morning of Friday 29th September, and made our way, via Marylebone Road, Baker Street, Oxford Street and Hyde Park, to Kensington, where we met with around 50 other Passengers for curry. The camaraderie was amazing, as old friends were reacquainted, virtual friends became real, and new relationships were sparked. From there, suitably replete, we then proceeded to overwhelm The Antelope, a hostelry local to the gig venue, before leaving for Cadogan Hall and the principal reason for our gathering. Merch was purchased from the ever-obliging Nellie Pitts and her Merch Desk crew, and then we took our seats, ready for the show.
The anticipation was tangible as the lights faded, and Rachel Hall took the stage alone to begin the overture to the opening number, ‘Folklore‘, being gradually joined by the brass section and the other members of the band: Andy, Danny, Nick, Rikard, Dave, Greg and finally David. The set continued with mostly material from the recent albums, but with the delightful inclusion of a track from 2009’s ‘The Underfall Yard‘, ‘Last Train‘. Accompanying the songs were images on the screen behind the band which enhanced the total experience wonderfully. The first half set was: Folklore, Brave Captain, Last Train, London Plane, Meadowlands & A Mead Hall in Winter.
Sadly, for those of us at the Friday concert, there were a number of issues with the sound, particularly for those of us in the gallery, which did mar the experience a little, but these were addressed during the break, and things were better in the second half. The interval was further enlivened by the sighting of none other than Tony Banks in the gallery!
The second half drew more on the band’s older material as well as the newer stuff, with four songs that had been played at King’s Place making the set list again. The full second half set was: Experimental Gentlemen, Swan Hunter, Judas Unrepentant, Transit of Venus…, East Coast Racer, Telling the Bees and Victorian Brickwork, with an encore of a drum solo from Nick d’Virgilio later enhanced by the brass section, and a final show-stopping rendition of Wassail. A truly moving, ecstatic experience for all who were there, I think.
For many the night was not over, as the band then mingled with Passengers to chat, sign programmes, and pose for selfies. Sadly I had to leave to catch the Last Train (!) home. For many, too, the weekend was not over, and reports of the two further concerts, on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, testify to the sound issues having been resolved and to the band relaxing into their task a little more, to astounding effect. I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to be there for the further shows, but a DVD/ Blu-ray is, I believe, on the cards, for which I rejoice!
The members of this band have managed to create not just heart-wrenching, soul-stirring and joy-bringing music of the highest quality, in both the studio and live settings, but also, around that music, a global community of like-minded people that I have rarely seen anywhere else. It was a pleasure to meet up with some of them last Friday in person, and to continue that relationship virtually. This is music, and community, that needs to travel the world: here’s hoping that it will continue to do so!
(There are no photos, as we were requested not to take them)