From the very beginning, Progarchy has been a huge supporter of Big Big Train, and we’ll continue to support them come what may. I think the band is making by far the most interesting music in the music industry. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band or artist making such high quality music with such profound lyrics. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better vocalist than David Longdon.
At the beginning of the year the band released The Passengers Club, a subscribers-only site that gives hardcore fans an inside look at the past, present, and future of the band. Content seems to be provided primarily by Greg Spawton and David Longdon, as well as the band’s manager, Nick Shelton. We get demo track downloads, exclusive video content (including live footage from the earliest days of the band), blog articles, and photo albums. As a fan I’ve absolutely loved The Passengers Club. It’s been worth every penny, and it has brought some much-needed joy to an absolutely awful year.
But it hasn’t all been roses for the band this year. Dave Gregory announced he was leaving the band in late March, primarily because he didn’t share the same touring aspirations that the band clearly has. Ironically, due to the pandemic, they had to cancel what would have been their first North American tour at the same time Gregory’s departure was announced. Their European tour was canceled shortly thereafter. Gregory’s sound has been a mainstay for the band ever since they re-invented themselves with the addition of David Longdon for 2009’s The Underfall Yard. His guitar work is simply stunning, and he will be missed. Obviously we wish him well. Thankfully Rikard Sjöblom is an excellent guitarist with an ocean of musical creativity from which to draw.
The more recent news from this past week that Rachel Hall and Danny Manners are also leaving the band came as a bit of a shock to me. They made it clear there were no hard feelings, which is good. This isn’t like Roger Waters leaving Pink Floyd, meaning there weren’t major creative and personality differences driving their departure. A big part of it appears to be just a change in personal priorities.
In a video on the band’s public facebook group, Rachel Hall told fans she started working in a nursing home this year, and she’s decided to spend more time working in the healthcare industry. I commend her for that. That’s incredibly important work, especially at this time. Danny wants to spread his musical wings a bit and pursue other types of musical work. After seven years with the band, it isn’t surprising he would want to do so. We thank both of them for their amazing musicianship and contributions to the band’s sound. Each has shaped the way the band has changed and developed over the last seven or eight years, and we’re grateful for what they’ve given us.
It’s important for us as fans to remember that many musicians in the progressive rock world make their music as a side-gig while they work regular full-time jobs. Nick D’Virgilio works full time for Sweetwater Studios in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for instance. I’m not sure if any of the other still do outside work, but I imagine they do. Rikard also has his own solo output via Gungfly. At the end of the day, life comes first and these musicians have to make the decisions that are best for their own well-being. We can’t begrudge them that, and from what I’ve seen online none of the Passengers have. We Big Big Train fans are a loving and lovable bunch.
Even with the sad news of Rachel and Danny leaving, we got the exciting news about a new concert film named Empire. What a fantastic send-off for the two this should be.
In a message to fans the band commented that they considered breaking up, but we should all know by now that Greg Spawton is a man of perseverance. Without his leadership this band would have folded up years ago. I’m so glad they decided to keep pressing forward after three members decided to leave this year. Thankfully over the last couple albums Rikard has stepped up in writing music for the band. A recent Passengers Club demo created by Rikard shows how much his musical ideas have shaped their recent output. That’s fantastic news for the band. Nick D’Virigilio is a musical mastermind, so I’m sure he’ll be contributing more writing as the years progress. I hope so at least.
We also get to welcome two new live members to the train: Carly Bryant on keyboards and Dave Foster on guitar. Knowing the high standards the band has, I’m sure they’ll be terrific, and we’re excited to welcome them to our merry throng… although with Covid I suppose we aren’t supposed to have throngs. Our merry socially-distanced throng. How does that sound?
So as with anything in life, there’s a silver lining to the bad news. Or in this case there are a few silver linings. A chapter in Big Big Train’s history has ended, but as we turn the page we find a new chapter is about to be written. They’ve promised a new album for next year, and I’m excited to see where that takes us.
Long live Big Big Train.