Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band, Great Britain: Kingmaker Publishing, 2022, 271 Pages.
It seems fitting that a band that has taken such an unusual path to success as Big Big Train should have a book detailing the route they took. Few other artists in progressive rock, apart from perhaps Kate Bush, have reached the successes Big Big Train have accomplished without a heavy grind of international touring.
Grant Moon’s Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band tells in detail how their story unfolded, but it is clear this story is not a roadmap for other bands to follow in their steps. Rather Big Big Train has been a labor of love from the outset, and if it weren’t for the longtime commitment of founders Greg Spawton and Andy Poole, the band never would have arrived where they are now. With that said, to reach beyond the obscure world Big Big Train inhabited pre-2009, a little (or a lot) of luck had to roll their way. David Longdon joining the band for The Underfall Yard, along with Nick D’Virgilio joining as a permanent member after playing on the previous record and Dave Gregory guesting on TUY, poured the requisite coal into the firebox. Members have come and gone throughout the band’s long history, as Moon covers in intense detail, but these three helped provide the signature sound that helped break Greg Spawton’s musical and lyrical ideas to wider audiences.
Since the purpose of the book is to provide you with the juicy details, I’ll spare you any further plot summary and rather speak to the qualities of the book itself. For starters, it’s a beautiful product. Rather than being a simple paperback or even traditional hardback book with maybe an insert of color or black and white photos somewhere in the center, Between The Lines is a large coffee-table style hardcover book. The cover features a lovely dusk photograph of the band playing at Night of the Prog in Loreley, Germany, in 2018. Each page is printed in two columns, and the book is filled with both color and black and white photos from the band’s history and digging even deeper into certain member’s pasts. There are also some great photos of Sarah Ewing’s album artwork in process. Put simply, the book makes an attractive addition to a progressive music fan’s collection. Certainly any diehard Big Big Train fan will have already purchased it.
As a relatively longtime fan of the band (since 2013), I have followed Big Big Train very closely for close to a decade. I’m not on Facebook, so I’m not a part of the band’s public facebook group, although I’ve perused it before. I’ve also never attended any of their live concerts, but with the exception of Bard and the band’s first two demo CDs, I have all of the band’s albums on CD, including the rare English Electric: Full Power, my first Big Big Train purchase. I also have all of their Blu Rays and even the digital video download of the Kings Place shows. I have all of the band’s recordings (including Bard and the early demos) in my iTunes, and I’m a proud charter member of the Passengers Club. I signed up as soon as it was announced. All of that to say, even though I’ve followed the band more closely than any other band of which I am a fan, there was a lot for me to learn within the pages of Moon’s book. For instance, the band experienced growing tensions both internally and externally during their intense period of growth. While seemingly at the top of the world, Longdon underwent a difficult collapse of his marriage as the band continued to expand. As the group sought to push into live performances, tension mounted between founders Spawton and Poole, which eventually ended in the latter being pushed out of the band. The band kept many of these tensions away from the public eye, yet they still managed to create some of the finest music the genre has ever known. Moon shines a light on both aspects of the band’s career.
Moon seemingly hides nothing in this book, which is comprised heavily of edited interviews with the band’s members, both past and present. The nice thing about that is we get both sides of the stories, with Moon doing his best to present the truth somewhere in the middle. Additionally we get detailed explanations about how each member came to board the Train, and we even get a look at David Longdon and Nick D’Virgilio’s involvement with Genesis during the Calling All Stations sessions, including input from Tony Banks himself. The book also gives hints at some of the band’s future plans, even teasing a reissue of Bard. Between The Lines ends on the sad note of Longdon’s passing and Sarah Ewing encouraging the band to keep going.
Since Moon is a journalist, the book, his first, is written in a very journalistic style. The prose is often very informal and sometimes grammatically incorrect, which is common in journalistic writing. It is also very British, which is to be expected. Some of it can be a bit jarring. It’s one thing to repeat expletives or phrases like “cock-up” in a quotation, but it’s another thing to use them in narrative prose. Even if that is more common in UK English, to my American eyes I found it unnecessary. Such language works fine in a quotation – I always keep it in place when I transcribe my own interviews with artists. For a book, especially one covering such serious and top tier music, it would have been better to have more formality in the non-quotation parts.
With that said, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. I read most of it this weekend on the couch as I’ve been sick with a cold. The narrative drew me onwards as it filled in the gaps in my already pretty expansive knowledge of Big Big Train’s history. I particularly enjoyed reliving the energy of band’s triumphant rise following English Electric. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. I remember so many of the events as they happened, even if I experienced them from afar. I remember closely following social media the weekend of the King’s Place shows in 2015, and it was exciting to read a well-crafted narrative of the preparation for and execution of those shows, as well as the other live shows the band have performed since.
The insights the band members, past and present, give to their roles in the band is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book. Big Big Train’s music is densely layered, and it is all too easy to get lost in the complexity and appreciate the sound as a whole. Having the members explain how and what they contributed helps break things down, giving us fans a peak into the band’s writing process. The book also gives loud voices to members of the band who may have been quieter around the press, particularly Andy Poole, Rachel Hall, Dave Gregory, and Danny Manners. I found the well-rounded approach Moon took in representing the members to be very refreshing.
Between The Lines proved to be an enjoyable and engaging read about one of my favorite bands. It is clearly oriented towards the already-engaged fanbase, but anyone with a strong interest in the current wave of progressive music will find this book an interesting read. Beyond that, the book tells the story of a band’s non-traditional rise to success quite separate from the record label establishment. As such anyone interested in that aspect of the music industry should certainly give the book a read. There’s more than one way to set a course for the stars.
Purchase the book here: https://burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain/grant-moon_big-big-train–between-the-lines_book