My 2016 prog exposure has been quite limited because I’ve been spending so much of it with these chaps. They’re a recent find for me, and while I am hugely sad that I’ll never see them live, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to hear them now. Much money has been spent on their back catalogue!
Yes, a Marmite band, but the genius of Mr Tim Smith and the creative chops of his band is absolutely undeniable. Something we should celebrate!
Big Big Train release their first (double!) live album “A Stone’s Throw From The Line” on December 2nd and it’s now available for pre-order here and here. It showcases some of the finest moments from last August’s sold-out-in-the-blink-of-an-eye concerts at King’s Place in London.
Scott and I were fortunate enough to secure tickets so we travelled to the UK for a bit of a holiday and attended the Saturday gig before we flew back the following day. And I can honestly say it was one of the most remarkable days of my life.
This wasn’t just a chance to see our favourite proggers in concert for the first time in…well, forever – it was also a chance to catch up with friends we had made at 2013’s Big Big Weekend, which (if you missed it) involved much merriment in the beautiful English city of Winchester, a rag-tag group of Passengers (as BBT fans are known) being led around the landmarks (including pubs and a curry house) by Alison Reijman and Greg Spawton, with special guest appearances from Andy, Rachel, Danny, Rob, Robin Armstrong and Steve Thorne, to name but a few. It was a truly extraordinary weekend, and something that will stay with me for a very long time. The opportunity to catch up again for a ‘family reunion’ of sorts and witness some amazing music and extraordinary camaraderie was therefore a pretty significant moment in my life.
As a result this review’s not very objective, as it’s impossible to completely separate the sounds from the experiences we had back then, but I’ll try my best. Caveat lector, as the Roman music reviewers used to say to Internet people back then.
King’s Place is an arts centre just down the road from King’s Cross Station in London. BBT played to a seated audience of just over 400 – it’s quite an intimate venue, the sound is warm and that’s captured well on this album. On rare occasions it feels like there’s a lot of audio happening at once but in general it doesn’t get too claustrophobic or chaotic. To my tin ears the second act sounds a bit more lively and expansive than the first – certainly on my initial listen I thought David’s vocals and some of the harmonies were lost on the early tracks of the first act, but this does quickly improve. I should also note here that the review files we received were lossy so I’ll have to give it the lossless test before I can fully appreciate the sound. Hopefully my own copy arrives on my doormat soon so I can perform this critical benchmark!
Here’s the track listing…
Make Some Noise
The First Rebreather
The Underfall Yard
Summoned By Bells
Curator Of Butterflies
East Coast Racer
Many of you will be familiar with these tunes already so I won’t go into detail, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of music – it’s great to see so many long-form delights, and fantastic to see most of my favourites are included – the sublime TUY (get that brass section!), Victorian Brickwork (not a dry eye in the house), the rip-roaringly powerful East Coast Racer (she flies!) and the marvellously fun Judas Unrepentant (with a gloriously ostentatious NDV drum intro.) Curator of Butterflies isn’t one of my favourites from the English Electric albums, but the version on this release really does bring it to life. I’ll have to give the studio version another spin…
Early-BBT fans may be disappointed that there’s nothing on the track list from before 2009’s excellent The Underfall Yard. Personally I’m not unhappy about this because the majority of pre-TUY work doesn’t float my metaphorical boat, although I am sure I share a certain agog-ness with others at the prospect of hearing re-recorded pre-2009 material in the near future.
Anyway, what else do you get on this double album? Virtuoso performances, some very cool alternative arrangements allowing the guys to stretch their musical legs (Rachel’s violin and Danny’s keys on TUY, and Rikard’s guitar work on Victorian Brickwork being just a few examples), and of course that ‘live’ atmosphere that transports some people to strange places… Some (but not overly much) audience interaction from David, a few in-jokes, and the Passengers are also in excellent form – respectful, enthusiastic, with (joy of joys) minimal whooping at inappropriate moments.
- If you were at the concerts last year you’ll appreciate the memories of a great evening this album rekindles.
- If you are a completist you have already ordered it. Why are you reading this?
- If you are neither of the above, this is a solid exploration of BBT’s relatively recent catalogue, with the added joy of hearing them out of the studio – something that happens rarely enough that it’s definitely worth experiencing.
Sleep well, chaps.
The Unthanks aren’t always prog, but they’re always superb! They’re celebrating their tenth year with some gigging and a new release. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the area, make sure you get to see them.
The Unthanks cap both 10 years and a remarkable year with an intimate Autumn tour of small venues, followed by handful of December shows with their full 10 piece ensemble, including standing and seated London shows, and a homecoming show at Hexham Abbey.
Rather than embarking on some grand celebration, The Unthanks are quietly marking their 10th anniversary this year with a short tour of small intimate spaces, with a pared back line-up, their feeling being that if folk music is a lifelong pursuit, 10 years is just a drop in the ocean.
Small venues means tickets are likely to sell out quick. All show details are below. or on our website here.
And in the same respect, rather than putting out an exploitative ‘best of’, there will be a release of rarities, live recordings, memorabilia and unreleased material will accompany the tour.
The 5 piece intimate tour, featuring material from right across their time, will be following in December by handful of 10 piece anniversary shows to crown the year, including both standing and seated London shows at Scala and Union Chapel respectively, plus a homecoming show in the beautiful surroundings of Hexham Abbey.
The shows mark both 10 years and a remarkable year. In wall-to-wall four and five star reviews, this year’s Mount the Air has been described as “quite simply, a masterpiece”, “music that asks you to consider everything you know and un-think it”, “an epic that Sigur Rós or Elbow would be proud of”, “folk on a different level – airborne, perhaps”, “the first truly jaw-dropping album of 2015”, “both wildly experimental and comfortably familiar”, “gorgeously orchestrated”, “one of the best records I’ve ever reviewed”, “kind of beautiful, kind of blue”, and “beautiful yet stark, orchestral yet intimate, clever yet with simple purity, dark yet kissed with light, ascendant yet earthy and rooted.”
Summer Festival Dates
27.05.15 Hay Festival Hay on Wye
27.06.15 Glastonbury Festival
(Pyramid Stage, The Unthanks with Orchestra, conducted by Charles Hazlewood)
10.07.15 Earagail Arts Festival Ireland
11.07.15 Folk at the Hall Trelawnyd, N Wales (Headliners)
19.07.15 Folk by the Oak Hatfield, Herts.
24.07.15 Folkfest Killarney Kerry, Ireland
26.07.15 Deer Shed Festival Topcliffe, N Yorks (Headliners)
01.08.15 Cambridge Folk Festival
02.08.15 Port Eliot Festival (Headliners)
14.08.15 Stockholm Culture Festival
22.08.15 Home Gathering Newcastle (Headlined and curated by The Unthanks)
23.08.15 FolkEast Glemham, Suffolk (Headliners)
29.08.15 Solfest, Silloth, Lake District (Headliners)
30.08.15 Greenbelt, Kettering (Headliners)
05.09.15 End of the Road Dorset
25.09.15 Gaiety Theatre Douglas, Isle of Man (on sale v soon)
27.09.15 Queens Cross Church Aberdeen (on sale end of May)
17.10.15 Homegrown Bury, Castle Armoury Drill Hall (Headliners)
10th Anniversary Intimate 5-Piece Tour
22.10.15 The Customs House South Shields 0191 454 1234
23.10.15 The Witham Barnard Castle 01833 631 107
24.10.15 The Dukes Lancaster 01524 598500
25.10.15 Wem Town Hall 01939 238 279
26.10.15 The Atrix Bromsgrove 01527 577330
27.10.15 SJE Oxford 0845 413 4444
28.10.15 Holy Trinity Church Guildford 01483 566007
29.10.15 Theatre Royal Margate 01843 292795
30.10.15 St Mary’s in the Castle Hastings 01323 841414
31.10.15 The Stables Milton Keynes 01908 280800
01.11.15 Drill Hall Lincoln 01522 873894
06.11.15 Middlewich Town Hall 01606 833434
07.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Standing Saturday Night Show) 01422 845 265
08.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Seated Matinee Show) 01422 845 265
08.11.15 Trades Club Hebden Bridge (Seated Evening Show) 01422 845 265
13.11.15 Theatre by the Lake Keswick 017687 74411
14.11.15 Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough 01723 370541
15.11.15 All Saints Church Pocklington 01759 301547
10th Anniversary 10-Piece Shows
04.12.15 Hexham Abbey (10th Anniversary Homecoming Show) 01434 652477
05.12.15 The Great British Folk Festival Skegness 0300 1006648
09.12.15 Scala London (Standing 10th Anniversary 10 piece show) 0845 4134444
10.12.15 Union Chapel London (Seated 10th Anniversary 10 piece show) 0845 4134444