I couldn’t believe my eyes when I stumbled across Prog magazine’s tweet announcing David Longdon’s death yesterday. I still can’t believe it. 56 years old and at the height of his music career with so much to look forward to. Life is so precious and so brutally short. To be taken so quickly and so unexpectedly… We’ve lost a lot of prog legends in recent years, but very few at the height of their careers. Piotr Grudziński from Riverside is the last I can remember who died so unexpectedly at a young age.
David and the band have been such kind supporters of Progarchy since our inception in 2012. Our site has had the fortune of interviewing him a couple times including this past summer when he gave a lovely interview to Rick Krueger. In that interview David shared his excitement for the band’s future plans. His thoughts on the song, “Common Ground,” really sting now that he’s gone:
This time in my life – I’m now 56. It’s time to get on it, because we don’t have forever! This was written slightly before the pandemic actually, the title track. But it’s just about that, really; it’s about claiming it! It’s not about “will we find it?” It’s “you’d better find it and get on with it, because you’re not — it won’t be forever. We don’t get forever.” That’s the beauty of being human, we don’t get forever.
I can still remember the first time I heard Big Big Train back in 2013. I was sitting in my dorm room in college. I think it was “The First Rebreather,” and I remember being captivated by David’s voice. So pure. So effortless. The tone of a fine pipe organ. Over the next few years I fell in love with Big Big Train, and by 2015 they were my favorite band of the “new” wave of prog. Now they rank next to Rush as my favorite band of all time. There was nothing David couldn’t sing, as he proved on Common Ground by mixing it up on “All The Love We Can Give.”
My journey as a Passenger reflects my journey with progressive rock over the last nine years. What started as an appreciation for bands like Rush, Kansas, and Styx grew into an obsession with progressive rock new and old. Thanks to friends here at Progarchy, I’ve been exposed to so much music, much of which has quite literally changed my life. I know Big Big Train has. I’ll never forget listening to English Electric on a bus in England while I spent a month there doing archival research. It was one of those key moments that sticks in my memory, and David is the voice for that memory.
David’s addition to Big Big Train in 2009 marked a major turning point for the already 20-year-old band. His voice, in my opinion, is unmatched in the music world. I can’t think of a better vocalist. Beyond that, he was an excellent lyricist and musician. The combination of Longdon and Greg Spawton as writers is certainly unmatched in music. Others might have more acclaim, but none are better.
David wrote two kinds of songs: stories and anthems. Being an historian, a curmudgeon, and a prog snob, I generally prefer the stories. But his anthems are far too good to be ignored or dismissed. He had such a bright and positive outlook on life, as evidenced in his song, “Alive.”
A new day
Bright blue sky
Open the door and step outside
Feel the wind at my heels
It’s good to be alive
These lyrics are a good reminder for a grump like me not to take anything for granted. Perhaps David’s legacy can be summed up in his own words:
I’m a travelling man
Each day I walk the byways of this life
Till I’m dead in the grave at the end of my days
I’ve known what it means to be alive
He ended the liner notes for “Alive” with the admonition to “seize the day.” Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for any of us.
There aren’t many vocalists out there who can bring such power and emotion to the seemingly mundane. He brings adults to tears in songs about steam trains, pigeons, and shipyards through his powerful delivery.
I re-watched Empire last night, and I was reminded yet again what a brilliant showman David was. For whatever reason, the song “Winkie” has always hit me right in the feels. Maybe the story of doomed men being saved beyond hope because of the humblest of creatures does it for me. Watching the band perform that song now with the knowledge that David will never sing it for us again was really moving. I’m glad the band filmed their concerts so that we could all enjoy their live performances. I don’t think they could have imagined that we would so soon be using those Blu-rays to remember David. I’m incredibly sad that I’ll never be able to see him perform live. I was looking forward to them playing in America.
Another song of David’s that comes to mind in remembering him is “The Florentine” off 2019’s Grand Tour. The track is about Leonardo da Vinci, but these lyrics could easily be said of David:
You showed us
New ways to know our world
Of what we see and all we could be – ah
Inspire us to reach and spur us on
Daring us to dream – see further
I suspect I speak for thousands of fans who can say that David encouraged us to investigate our world and to dream – to see further.
My words could never do justice to David Longdon’s memory. Looking back over this tribute, I see that it is a bit of a mess and all over the place. That reflects my thoughts as I try to process his unexpected death that still doesn’t seem real. His loss hurts as much as Neil Peart’s did. His voice and his words have made him a close friend to me, even though I never had the honor of meeting him. His art has inspired me to be a better man. It has inspired me to be creative, whether that be in my writing or in my painting. In fact Big Big Train is my favorite music to listen to when I paint. His music has become so ingrained in my life that I can’t imagine life without it. I’m grateful that I can still listen to his music, but now it will always be bittersweet.
I offer my sincerest condolences to the band, to Sarah Ewing, to David’s daughters, and to his mother. Thank you for sharing David with us, and I hope the outpouring of love from his many fans is a tiny sliver of comfort in these dark times.
Rest in peace, David. Thank you for everything.
Now, who’s going to tell the bees?