Going All the Way Back With @bigbigtrain

The title of this post is more dramatic than it should be, but I randomly decided to listen to Big Big Train’s first album, Goodbye to the Age of Steam, this afternoon. Early Big Big Train gets very little press these days, yet this album is quite good. There are obvious differences between the Big Big Train of the early 1990s and the Big Big Train of 2019, yet there are still similarities. Spawton’s writing style is instantly familiar, with his lyrics as good as they’ve ever been. The gentle piano moments certainly remain in today’s version of the band, and the guitar work has similarities, even with different musicians. Yes, this album is a bit more synth heavy in places, but that seems to be more of a Neo-prog influence from the 1980s than anything else. The vocal harmonies on “Blow the House Down” are exceptional, reminding me very much of Moon Safari. I’d love it if the band incorporated more of that.

This album is as old as I am, and while I can act like a grumpy old man at times, this album still sounds remarkably fresh. The current iteration of the band has toyed with live re-workings of pre-Longdon songs, such as “Wind Distorted Pioneers” on Stone and Steel and “Summer’s Lease” (off of The Difference Machine) on 2018’s Swan Hunter EP. It was interesting to hear the current version of the band put their own spin on the music, as opposed to creating a verbatim recreation. And so in 2019, the 25th year since the release of Goodbye to the Age of Steam, I would be interested in hearing the band re-visit some of these songs, perhaps in a live setting or a live-in-studio setting.

These are good songs, and they sound great on the original album. Since the band is firing on all cylinders these days, it would be a treat to hear them interpret this music, especially since only one member remains from the 1994 line-up. Imagine what Rachel Hall could add with her violin and her beautiful voice. Think of the brilliant guitar solos Dave Gregory could bring to the table. David Longdon could bring an entirely different sound to these pieces, allowing us to hear them in a whole new light.

Do I think the band will actually do this? Not really. They have so much material from the current version of the band, and they and the fans are much more familiar with those songs. It may not make financial sense for them to spend the time and money to re-visit these early songs, but maybe we will get a couple more re-recorded and re-interpreted over the next few years. Whether the band chooses to celebrate the anniversary of this release or not, it is definitely worth listening to again. Even if it isn’t quite as good as their output over the last decade, it is still a solid album by any prog standards.

2 thoughts on “Going All the Way Back With @bigbigtrain

  1. A very reasoned piece of journalism Bryan. I arrived relatively late to the Train, only picking up on the band after English Electric Part 2 was released but the sheer pleasure I experienced exploring their back catalogue will always remain with me. As you say the lineup was very different back in the early nineties with all guitar work on the album courtesy of founder member and current bass player Greg Spawton and guest appearances from future members David Longdon and Nick D’Virgilio. A long-held plan of the modern Big Big Train is to revisit the early albums under the banner ‘Station Masters’ but with so much new material being recorded and released combined with their increasingly busy gig schedule this looks more and more unlikely. Reason enough then to listen again to and fully appreciate the start of this beautiful friendship

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