A Note From Gregory Spawton
Following the announcement last week about the HRH festival in Leeds being moved to Sheffield in April 2023 (when Big Big Train will not be appearing) and the necessity for us to re-schedule our German, Swiss and French shows until 2023, I would like to thank all listeners for their wonderful support. We entirely understand how disappointing and frustrating this news has been. I am pleased to say that I have some more positive news in this update.
Free Passengers Club Memberships/Extensions
If you hold tickets for any of the HRH, German, Swiss or French shows, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo of your ticket or the ticket attached to the email for a free three month trial of our digital fan club – The Passengers Club.
If you are already a Passengers Club member with a one or two year subscription and holding tickets for one of these shows, please contact email@example.com with a photo of your ticket or the ticket attached to the email for three month extension.
Please be patient as it will take a while to add everyone who applies.
All existing BBT Passengers Club Patrons (whether HRH or German/Swiss/French ticket holders or not) will receive an exclusive download of a live song from the September 2022 tour. This will be a different song to the ones being made available to Tour Patrons.
2022 Tour Patron Packages
Given our touring plans for 2023 (about which more news below), 2022 tour patron packages have been converted to 2022/23 tour patron packages. You do not need to take any action in this regard. T-shirts have been sent out, tour programmes and laminates can be collected from the September 2022 shows if you are attending; if you are not attending a show, programmes and laminates will be sent out after 7th September.
The September 2022 Tour
Over the last few months we have all spent many hours preparing individually before we convene for rehearsals next week for the shows in September. While we’re thrilled to be bringing Big Big Train back on stage after almost three years, of course we remain enormously saddened that David Longdon is no longer with us.
David’s explicit wish was that BBT should continue and we’re excited about moving forwards and what we can achieve with Alberto Bravin fronting the band. Our shows will celebrate the band’s past and look ahead to the future. Our live set will include one new song. More on this below.
While we’re obviously disappointed that the tour next month will only be brief, we are very much looking forward to these shows. A last few seats remain available for our “family and friends” warm up show near Southampton. Tickets are also available for our shows in Aylesbury and Zoetermeer. We will be filming the Zoetermeer show with a view to releasing it in the future. Details of the September 2022 dates plus ticket links are here: www.bigbigtrain.com/live
From Wednesday 7th September we will be making September 2022 tour merchandise (tour programmes and T-shirts) available online via Burning Shedand The Bandwagon USA.
Big Big Train on tour in 2023
Prior to the news last week about HRH and the rescheduling of the German, Swiss and French shows, we had already been working on organising some shows for 2023.
2023 looks set to be BBT’s busiest year ever, both recording in the studio (including in Italy) and playing live shows. Currently we are expecting to play up to 20 shows across the UK and continental Europe in autumn 2023, including countries that were not on the original September 2022 tour schedule. We are delighted that this will include the band playing in Italy for the first time. We hope to be able to announce full details of the autumn 2023 tour later this year.
In parallel with preparing for next month’s shows, we have been working on a number of new songs since appointing Alberto as our lead vocalist. Today we are delighted to share with you the first of these songs. Written by me, Last Eleven features the BBT September 2022 live band – Alberto Bravin, Rikard Sjöblom, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Foster, Clare Lindley, Oskar Holldorff and myself.
We’re really excited about this song – it’s very personal to me lyrically and the band have put in an amazing performance, including a beautiful vocal arrangement from Alberto and a stunning keyboard solo from Oskar.
The video was created by Steve Cadman.
Summer Shall Not Fade/Door One
In case you missed it, we have recently released a short trailer for the forthcoming Blu-ray/2CD Summer Shall Not Fade, which documents Big Big Train’s show in July 2018 at the Night Of The Prog festival in Loreley, Germany.
Here’s the trailer:
Both Summer Shall Not Fade and David Longdon’s solo album Door One will be released on 14th October. Full details of both releases and purchasing links can be found here: www.bigbigtrain.com
NDV with Steve Hackett
Congratulations to NDV who will be drumming for nine shows on Steve Hackett’s North America tour in November and December this year, deputising for Craig Blundell.
Gregory on Butterfly Mind by Tim Bowness
I appear on the new wonderful new Tim Bowness album Butterfly Mind on the track ‘After The Stranger’.
We look forward to seeing listeners at our shows next month.
Big Big Train
Some sad news for our European friends from Big Big Train. Due to the rescheduled HRH Leeds festival, Big Big Train have had to cancel that show plus shows in Switzerland, France, and Germany due to financial burdens. They will still be playing shows in Aylesbury and Zoetermeer as well as Southampton in September. More from the band:
Following HRH’s announcement on Wednesday about their postponement of the September 2022 festival, please note that Big Big Train will not be appearing at the re-scheduled HRH event in April 2023.
Please hold on to your tickets for now while we discuss the next steps with the festival.
Due to the loss of the HRH Leeds festival, combined with increased tour related expenses, the scheduled shows in Germany, Switzerland and France are now financially unviable this year.
To continue after the festival cancelation would have resulted in financial losses that would have seriously threatened the band’s existence.
We are extremely sorry for the significant disappointment and inconvenience that this news causes.
The German, Swiss and French dates will be rescheduled to 2023. We encourage ticket holders for these shows to retain their tickets and we will provide more news as soon as we can.
Our shows in Aylesbury and Zoetermeer will proceed as planned as well as a “family and friends” warm up show near Southampton. Tickets are still available for all three shows.
An updated list of September 2022 dates plus ticket links can be found here: www.bigbigtrain.com/live.
We look forward to seeing everyone at our remaining shows next month and are extremely grateful for your continuing support, particularly in the light of the difficult news this week.
We will be issuing a further update next week, including news of more exciting touring in 2023 as well as releasing a new song to give you a taste of things to come!
Big Big Train
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
A bit late to the news on this one, but in case you haven’t heard, Big Big Train recently announced they will be releasing a live Blu-ray/2CD set from their 2018 show at Night of the Prog in Loreley, Germany. The live album will be called Summer Shall Not Fade.
The band have also announced that David Longdon’s solo album, Door One, will be released. The record was 90 percent finished at the time of David’s tragic passing back in November. Both the live BBT album and Door One will be released on October 14, and they are available for pre-order individually and as a bundle from Burning Shed (UK/Europe/worldwide) and Bandwagon (USA) [embedded links are for the bundle].
Some additional info from the band (also available at their website: https://www.bigbigtrain.com/door-one/):
Door One was recorded with a core of four musicians: drummer Jeremy Stacey (King Crimson, Noel Gallagher, Sheryl Crow, The Finn Brothers), bassist Steve Vantsis (best known for his work with Fish), saxophonist Theo Travis (Steven Wilson, Soft Machine, Gong) and David’s longstanding friend and former 1990s Gifthorse band mate Gary Bromham (Bjork, Sheryl Crow, George Michael) who contributed guitar, backing vocals, keyboard parts and textures.
Door One, borrowing the nickname for a recreation ground in Nottingham near where David grew up, has a musical personality that is distinct from his work within Big Big Train even though Gregory Spawton plays acoustic guitar on two songs. Gregory Spawton: “David was aware of my passion for 12-string guitar and said he had a song called Love Is All which he wanted me to play on. I recorded my parts for the song a few days after David died. Although he was gone, it felt like it was one last precious moment of making music together.“
The album’s eight songs are highly personal and follow a lyrical journey from darkness to enlightenment, from the intense and raw first single ‘Watch It Burn’, channelling David’s love of The Who, to the folk inflected ‘There’s No Ghost Like An Old Ghost’, which recalls David’s Dyble Longdon album with the late Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, and ‘Love Is All’, the gorgeous ballad which closes the album.
Gary Bromham: “Having worked with David on and off for over 35 years, we talked extensively about the influences for the album. He was very interested in the sonic textures created by David Bowie and Brian Eno in his Berlin Trilogy of albums. The atmospheres and use of ambience were a huge source of inspiration and a big factor in the making of Door One. My brief was to add what David termed ‘aural dimensions’ to the album. He said, ‘You know the brief.’ I subsequently had to take on a wider role with David’s passing, but Patrick Phillips and I were definitely on the same wavelength when it came to manifesting some of this at the mixing stage, with these goals in mind.”
The album’s stunning artwork is by Sarah Louise Ewing with graphic design by Steve Vantsis. Sarah’s cover portrait of David is from a photograph by Sophocles Alexiou.
In The Times, Dominic Maxwell said of David “Having taken a long time to get where he wanted to be, Longdon tried not to waste his precious time.” Door One is a testament to a very special artist whose creativity was continuing to flourish.
Six months in, 2022 is already shaping up as a banner year for new music. My own positive bias prevents me from objectively reviewing The Bardic Depths’ brand new album (though modesty doesn’t seem to prevent me mentioning it; I’m still stoked that I got to participate) — but there are still plenty of fresh releases to cover this time around! As usual, purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; where available, album playlists or samples follow each review. But first, the latest installment in what’s becoming Progarchy’s Book of the Month Club . . .
Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band: when Greg Spawton and Andy Poole started a band, it didn’t stand out at first; one early concert promoter called the nascent Big Big Train “fairly mediocre” in retrospect. How BBT became a prog powerhouse — through sheer bloody-mindedness, growth in their craft and a keen ear for what world class musicians like Nick D’Virgilio, David Longdon and so many others could contribute — is the tale at the core of this passionately detailed band bio/coffee table book. Standout features include lavish design, with a overflow of revelatory photos; fully rounded portraits of major and minor participants, mostly unfolded through Grant Moon’s thorough interview work; and remarkable candor, especially in a self-published effort, about the human costs of BBT’s rise to genre prominence and mainstream media attention. (Moon’s portrayal of Spawton and Poole’s gradual estrangement, even as their joint project finally gathers speed, is both sensitive and haunting.) Between The Lines covers all of Big Big Train’s great leaps forward and forced backtracks through Longdon’s untimely death, leaving the reader with Spawton and his fellow survivors determined as ever to continue. Not shy about celebrating the beauty and ambition of the music the group has made, on record and in person, it also doesn’t flinch from portraying the price paid to scale those heights.
The Pineapple Thief, Give It Back: on which Gavin Harrison gives his new band’s vintage repertoire a kick up the backside with his stylish stick work, and Bruce Soord willingly “rewires” his own songs with new sections, verses and narrative closures. The results probe further into the moody motherlode that new-era TPT mines and refines: dramatic vignettes simmering with emotional turmoil; lean, mean guitar riffs arching over roiling keyboard textures; and always, those simultaneously airy and propulsive grooves. But while Soord and Harrison take the creative lead, this is a marvelously tight unit at work; Steve Kitch (keys) and Jon Sykes (bass and backing vocals) are indispensable contributors throughout. All of which makes Give It Back another enticing entry in the Thief’s discography — deceptively low-key on first impression, it blossoms into a compelling combination of tenderness and grit. (With plenty of headroom in the mastering to pump up the volume!)
Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation: The big news is that this is recognizably a Porcupine Tree album — that’s why, over repeated listens, it works so well. Steven Wilson is as happy and carefree as ever, cutting loose about fraught relationships (“Harridan”), nihilism in high places (“Rats Return”, “Walk the Plank”) and, of course, the inevitability of death (“Chimera Wreck”); plus there’s a spooky take on a Lovecraftian invasion (“Herd Culling”), a compassionate portrait of a man with nothing (“Dignity”) and a drop-dead gorgeous ballad that looks forward in hope and back in regret at the same time (“Of the New Day”). Still, it’s the reconstituted band, mostly writing the music in team formation, that gives the record its core integrity and guts. Wilson’s angular guitar and bass work, seemingly effortless songcraft and vocals that often climb to a wordless falsetto (a legacy of The Future Bites?) are perfectly swaddled in Richard Barbieri’s squelchy sound design and ineffably eerie synth solos, then hurtled forward by Gavin Harrison’s consummate percussive drive — whether he’s cruising the straightaways or leaning into jaw-dropping polyrhythmic curves. Of a piece if not conceptual, Closure/Continuation is never less than well-wrought and frequently awesome, worthy to stand alongside Porcupine Tree’s catalog as either a next or a final chapter in their saga. Now floating like a butterfly, now stinging like a bee, with commitment evident in every note, it may well knock you out.
Earlier today Big Big Train released a video promo for their upcoming September tour in the UK and parts of Europe. I believe this is the first listen we get of new singer Alberto Bravin singing Big Big Train tracks. Check it out:
News from Big Big Train:
BIG BIG TRAIN WELCOME NEW VOCALIST ALBERTO BRAVIN
Big Big Train have recruited Alberto Bravin as lead vocalist following the tragic death of David Longdon in November 2021.
Based in Trieste in Italy, Bravin’s career includes performing around 200 shows with progressive rock legends PFM between 2015 and January 2022, both in Italy and internationally, singing lead and backing vocals and playing keyboards.
Alberto Bravin says: “I am extremely honoured to have the opportunity to join Big Big Train. I was already a huge BBT fan and am looking forward to play my part in taking this great band forward while also honouring the memory of David Longdon.”
Big Big Train bassist and founder Gregory Spawton comments: “Before Covid-19 hit, Nick D’Virgilio and I had both seen Alberto perform with PFM. We were very impressed with his abilities as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist and therefore approached him earlier this year.
“We know that David is irreplaceable and we miss him deeply both musically and personally,” Spawton continues. “We were very clear that we didn’t want to bring someone into the band who would seek to mimic David; that just felt fundamentally wrong. Instead we wanted someone who could do justice with their own musical skills and personality to the songs that David sang for Big Big Train as well as being able to help to drive the band forwards. From his first audition singing some BBT classic songs and subsequently his work on some new material that we’re working on, we’re confident that we’ve found the right person in Alberto.”
“Aside from Alberto’s great voice and all round musical skills, it was also vital for us to find the right personal fit, particularly after being struck with David’s sudden death,” drummer Nick D’Virgilio comments. “We flew Alberto to London several weeks ago so we could hang together for a few days and the chemistry immediately felt right.”
‘THE JOURNEY CONTINUES’ EUROPEAN TOUR 2022
Big Big Train are also pleased to confirm that their two previously announced UK shows in September 2022 will take place. In addition the band have scheduled six further shows for September in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.
Keyboardist/vocalist Carly Bryant is unable to tour with the band in September 2022 for family reasons. “After over two years of being part of Big Big Train and involved in two studio albums, I was extremely keen to go on the road with the band. However a recent change in my family situation means that sadly I cannot be away from home in the autumn,” Bryant explains. “I love being part of BBT and will be on stage with the band at the earliest opportunity when my family commitments permit.”
Alongside Bravin, D’Virgilio, Spawton and longstanding guitarist Rikard Sjöblom, the Big Big Train line-up for the September 2022 shows will consist of guitarist Dave Foster, violinist/vocalist Clare Lindley, keyboardist Oskar Holldorff and the Big Big Train brass section led by Dave Desmond. Holldorff leads Norwegian band Dim Gray, whose debut album Flown was much acclaimed last year and who are preparing to release their second album later this year.
“Oskar came to our attention from his work with Dim Gray and is another tremendous talent to involve in Big Big Train,” Sjöblom says. “We’re very grateful to him for stepping in while Carly is unavailable. It’s also exciting that Big Big Train is becoming an increasingly international band – in September we will have an American, a Swede, an Italian and a Norwegian on stage with the Brits.”
During the September tour Big Big Train will be playing material from various stages of their career and also one new song.
“We were originally scheduled to play live shows in spring 2020 but then Covid-19 derailed our live plans repeatedly and since then we’ve prepared numerous different set lists,” Sjöblom continues. “We’ve released two full albums since we last played live and are spoilt for choice with the set list for September.”
“In addition to our UK shows, I’m really looking forward to getting back into continental Europe,” D’Virgilio adds. “As well as visiting the prog strongholds of the Boerderij and Z7, we thought it would be cool to play some smaller venues in France and Germany as we re-establish BBT as a live band. We can’t wait to get out and play again and show what this band can do!”
Big Big Train September 2022 tour dates
Friday 2 September – Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK
Saturday 3 September – HRH Prog festival, Leeds, UK
Monday 5 September – Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
Tuesday 6 September – Harmonie, Bonn, Germany
Wednesday 7 September – Kuz, Mainz, Germany
Thursday 8 September – Frannz Club, Berlin, Germany
Saturday 10 September – Z7, Pratteln (Basel), Switzerland
Sunday 11 September – Café de la Danse, Paris, France
Support bands for all shows (except HRH Prog) will be announced shortly.
Tickets for the UK shows are on sale now. Tickets for the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France shows go on sale at 10am UK time on Friday 29 April. See www.bigbigtrain.com/live for ticket links.
Thank you for your support
Carly, Clare, Alberto, Dave, Gregory, Nick and Rikard
Big Big Train
Some great news from Big Big Train today about an upcoming biography of the band by Grant Moon. More from the band:
Kingmaker Publishing is delighted to announce the publication of the biography of Big Big Train. Written by music journalist Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Bandwill be published on 16th June 2022.
Big Big Train – Between The Lines documents the entire career of Big Big Train to date. From the band’s humble beginnings in Bournemouth on the UK’s south coast and its slow progress through the 1990s, Classic Rock and Prog magazine writer Grant Moon then covers Big Big Train’s endurance through the 2000s before charting the arrival into the band of drummer Nick D’Virgilio in 2007 and their breakthrough with 2009 album The Underfall Yard, their first with vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Longdon.
The book goes on to explore the band’s steady rise to greater commercial and critical success during the 2010s, including their return to live performance in 2015 and triumphant headline show at the Night Of The Prog festival at Loreley, Germany in July 2018.
Big Big Train – Between The Lines concludes by bringing the band’s story fully up to date, detailing last year’s Common Ground and this year’s Welcome To The Planet albums and how the band have persisted despite numerous challenges including the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The book was written primarily in 2020 and 2021 and completed early in 2022 to take account of David Longdon’s tragic death in November last year. Moon interviewed over 30 musicians and other individuals connected with Big Big Train and their story. These included Tony Banks of Genesis, who provides significant insight into David Longdon’s audition to replace Phil Collins in Genesis.
Big Big Train – Between The Lines will be published as a ca. 270-page, coffee table-style hardback book, with over 180 photographs and illustrations documenting the band’s career and the early lives of band members, many of which have never been previously published.
The book is available for pre-order now from Burning Shed via https://burningshed.com/store/kingmaker. All pre-orders will be signed and individually numbered by Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton and author Grant Moon.
Thank you for your support
Carly, Clare, Dave, Gregory, Nick and Rikard
Big Big Train
“As the promotional campaign for the Welcome To The Planet album approaches an end, we feel that the time is right to address the question of the future of Big Big Train following David Longdon’s death.
“Several years ago David expressed the clear wish that if ever he were not around, he would want Big Big Train to continue. Of course none of us foresaw the tragic situation that happened in November last year.
“After careful consideration, and with the active encouragement of David’s partner Sarah, we have decided to honour David’s wishes.
“Big Big Train will therefore seek to continue as a band and will perform live and release new music in due course. More specific details of the band’s line-up and planned activities will follow in further announcements, including an opportunity for fans to celebrate David’s life and musical legacy.”
Big Big Train
Big Big Train – Welcome to the Planet, January 28, 2022
Tracks: Made From Sunshine (4:05), The Connection Plan (3:55), Lanterna (6:29), Capitoline Venus (2:27), A Room With No Ceiling (4:52), Proper Jack Froster (6:38), Bats in the Belfry (4:54), Oak and Stone (7:12), Welcome to the Planet (6:41)
Perhaps it’s a strange quirk of fate that the album Big Big Train releases after the tragic death of David Longdon is one of their most upbeat albums to date. It’s a very positive album, much like 2021’s Common Ground. Welcome to the Planet sounds even more hopeful, more full of life, and more accessible than ever. It’s a more than welcome antidote to the insanity of the world today – insanity amplified by David’s death.
“Made From Sunshine” is a beautiful opening to the album, giving us a jolt of energy to start us off. It isn’t a Big Big Train anthem like past album openers, but it has a similar upbeat feel. Come to think of it, none of the tracks on this album fall into the anthem category. “Made From Sunshine” is about the joy of parents as they look at their newborn child and enjoy that child’s early years. The name of the song and the accompanying lyric was inspired by guitarist Dave Foster. In a track-by-track overview of the album made in October, David Longdon commented that when he first met Foster in studio in November 2020, he commented to him that he was a ball of energy. Foster told him that his parents told him when he was a child that he was “made from sunshine.” The song features a vocal duet with Longdon and new member Carly Bryant, pointing to new developments in the band as they grow with new musicians in the fold.
Fans of Nick D’Virgilio’s vocals will love “The Connection Plan,” which features him singing both backing vocals and lead on the bridge. I think I can hear Rikard singing on the bridge too, as well as what I assume is Rikard’s Hammond organ swirling around.
“Lanterna” sounds like it could have been on any of the band’s albums with Longdon, or at least any after The Underfall Yard. This song was originally supposed to be part of “Atlantic Cable” on Common Ground, but Greg Spawton decided to split it into a separate track. The song is about an historic lighthouse, with the lyrics about the idea of lighthouses shining light into the dark. It brings in the history element Big Big Train is known for, but it’s more subtle this time around. Rikard has some stellar guitar licks, which really pump the song up starting about two minutes in. Greg’s bass brings a booming deep end over Nick’s drums, with piano and violin periodically popping up. Carly’s piano matches the theme of the song really well.
By now you’ve probably heard “Proper Jack Froster,” which the band released several months ago in advance of Christmas. It has everything Big Big Train is known for. It’s pastoral and nostalgic with a warm feel throughout. Longdon’s vocals are emotional, with his delivery really stealing the spotlight. The vocal harmonies add to the overall mood, but David is the star here. We also get a solo vocal from new band member Carly Bryant, whose warm and bluesy voice fits the song rather well. The guitar work and of course Greg’s bass also get their opportunity to shine. While this might be considered a Christmas song, it isn’t overtly connected to the holiday, meaning it can be listened to all year.
Some might call this album pop, but calling something “pop” has the same problems with calling something “prog.” People never seem to define the word. For a progressive rock band or artist to “go pop,” they have to give up the soul of their sound. Becoming more accessible doesn’t necessarily mean a band is going pop. In that regard, I don’t think Welcome to the Planet is pop at all. It’s pure Big Big Train, with the only track that sounds drastically different being the title track.
By accessible, I mean the songs are all on the shorter side, and they take on a more traditional song format. For the most part, the lyrics depart from the band’s storytelling, but that isn’t new for the band. They’ve written these kinds of songs before, although they’ve never really made a whole album of them. The storytelling is still there, but as I mentioned about “Lanterna,” it is more subtle. I expect Welcome to the Planet will reach a wider audience because in many ways the record sounds more traditional. I don’t think that makes it pop, though.
Just listen to an instrumental like “Bats in the Belfry” and try to tell me that’s pop. D’Virgilio pulled out all the stops in writing this track. It may be short at under five minutes, but it has both slow and quick sections. Greg’s bass is front and center in the mix, as well it should be. Close listeners will pick up on elements that Nick used in his drum solo tracks in their last tour. The album actually features multiple instrumental tracks, so while there may not be any long epics, there’s still a healthy sprinkling of Big Big Train’s proggiest moments.
The album has its more sedate moments, such as “Capitoline Venus” and “A Room With No Ceiling.” The former is a love song Greg wrote for his wife. It originally appeared as a demo in the Passengers Club with Greg on vocals. I remember thinking when they first released it how good of a track it was, and I’m very happy to hear a completed version of it with David on vocals. It’s a smooth, touching track that David’s voice breathes brilliant light into. I actually rather like the raw honesty that Greg’s voice has in the demo, but David had the best voice in the business. Nothing can compare to that. The song features just David on vocals and Greg on acoustic guitar and synths. I can just imagine the rest of the band leaving the stage and the two of them playing this track front and center stage. It would have been beautiful.
“Oak and Stone” is another calmer track dripping with Big Big Train nostalgia. There’s a piano moment that takes me back to “East Coast Racer.” The opening bass to the instrumental “A Room With No Ceiling” is a great reminder that in addition to being the greatest lyricist in prog today, Greg Spawton is also one of the finest bassists out there.
The biggest deviation, or progression, in the Big Big Train sound comes from the title track, placed at the end of the album. “Welcome to the Planet” is Carly Bryant’s debut song for Big Big Train. She wrote both the music and the lyrics, and it’s unlike anything the band has ever made. It’s a great song, but if you’re a longtime fan of the band, it will stand out quite a bit. I don’t know if I would have liked an entire album from Big Big Train made in this style, but it’s a pleasant change that still features the BBT flair, including the brass band. David begins the vocals, but Carly quickly takes over and sings for the rest of the track. She even brings a bit of blues grit in at one point. The smooth section with vocal harmonies singing “welcome to the planet” is a beautiful moment on the album. I think the song would have been better served ending with a fadeout of this rather than the somewhat abrupt ending it has, especially since they chose it to close the album. It’s a bit of an odd ending, with the line “Aunty Carly’s singing lullabies to all the children that she never made,” and ending with Carly sighing. Clearly a personal note, and a bit sad all the same. The lyrics are somewhat dark, but they’re honest, something Big Big Train has always been. In hindsight, with David’s passing, this song might better be served elsewhere on the album, since David takes a back seat on this one. But aside from that, it’s a bold choice for the band to mix up their sound and to end the album with this song. Overall it does work, and I find it ends up being the most memorable song on the album.
The band released this live acoustic duet version with David and Carly yesterday, although the album track has a much fuller sound. If you’d rather go into the song hearing the original first, then watch this after you’ve had a chance to listen to the album.
While overall the album sounds more accessible than Big Big Train’s past records, I find when you break it down song-by-song the tracks could each fit on any of the band’s albums from the last decade, except perhaps the title track, which brings with it the influences and tastes of a new band member. Simply put, Welcome to the Planet is another excellent album by Big Big Train. It has a very different feel from Common Ground, which I think adds to my enjoyment of it. This isn’t just an album of b-sides that didn’t make it onto that record. I like every song on the album, and I know it will make my best-of list come the end of 2022. Whatever the future may hold for Big Big Train, they can be proud of this album.