Progressive Rock’s Novel: The Deep Pastoral Englishness of Big Big Train

By a curve of the river/at the end of the road/black waters rise again.–final lines of THE SECOND BRIGHTEST STAR

Tasteful.  Elegant.  These two words enter into my mind and soul, over and over again, at the beginning of every song on the new “companion” album by Big Big Train, THE SECOND BRIGHTEST STAR.  And, not just at the beginning, but in the middle of each, and at the end of each.

Tasteful.  Elegant.

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Artwork by the extraordinary Sarah Ewing.

As I look back over the history of Big Big Train (despite the rather mechanical image of the band’s title), the band seems to have a radically organic life to it.  It’s not changed as much as it’s become.

It began as an oak sapling that struggled in intense competition for light and nourishment.  After a burst of growth, it faltered a bit, and its Entherds, Gregory Aurelius Spawton and Andrew Epictetus Poole, decided to prune it considerably.  In doing so, they allowed it to grow in ways known only to the creator of nature herself.  As with all great things in this world, the band was not invented.  It was discovered.

Tasteful.  Elegant.

Spawton and Poole discovered the necessary talents of D’Virgilio, Gregory, and Longdon, then Manners, and then Hall and Sjöblom, realizing they could not become until they became one.  These Endherds chose not to mix oaks, but rather to graft new chestnuts onto the oak.  Somewhere in the mind of nature, the band had always existed—this profound mix of oak and chestnut—but it’s only come into its own over the past eight years.

Continue reading “Progressive Rock’s Novel: The Deep Pastoral Englishness of Big Big Train”

Straight from BBT: The Update

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Art by the amazing Sarah Ewing

Hi all

Following the April release of “Grimspound”, Big Big Train are releasing a companion album, “The Second Brightest Star”, on Friday (June 23rd).

The album features 40 minutes of new songs and instrumentals which explore landscapes, rivers and meeting places and take the listener on voyages of discovery across the world and to the stars.

Alongside the new tracks, there is a bonus selection of 30 minutes of music where songs from the “Folklore” and “Grimspound” albums are presented in extended format.

You can hear the title track at: https://soundcloud.com/big-big-train/the-second-brightest-star/s-q7qZY

“The Second Brightest Star” is available to order now for delivery commencing on 23rd June from our official stores:

* Burning Shed – https://burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain
CD and limited edition double gatefold 180g seafoam green vinyl. (All vinyl copies will include a code for a complimentary hi-res download.)

* The Merch Desk – http://themerchdesk.com/merchdesk/index.php?route=product/category&path=87_115
CD

* Bandcamp – https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/album/the-second-brightest-star
Hi-res download

The album will be released on Spotify and other download and streaming services in July.

Best wishes,
Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg, Nick, Rachel & Rikard

Big Big Train–What’s Next? I Have No Idea.

bbt_railway_logoI would assume that almost every reader of progarchy was surprised today by the announcement that Big Big Train would be releasing a new album in less than 48 hours. The band rightly offered PROG magazine an exclusive announcement as well as a link to one of the songs.

I’ve only criticized PROG once and that was when the magazine featured Steven Wilson on the cover rather than BBT. I think. In fact, I might have a few details mixed up in my head. This would’ve been back in 2013 when ENGLISH ELECTRIC FULL POWER came out. I was convinced then–and remain so–that EEFP was NOT just a “game changer” in the music world, but a defining point for all of rock. I thought that Ewing and PROG had lost a great opportunity to make history by placing BBT on the cover.

Well. . . I guess I was being a bit goofy at the time. After all, it’s Jerry’s magazine, not mine! After that criticism, I decided never to criticize the magazine publicly. After all, I’m writing for fun, not to keep afloat a magazine and a business. Hail, Jerry!

Continue reading “Big Big Train–What’s Next? I Have No Idea.”

New Big Big Train Album–in 2 Days!

Big Big Train will release a brand new album on June 23 – only two months after our latest release ‘Grimspound’! The Second Brightest Star is a companion album to Folklore and Grimspoundand features seven new songs (about 40 minutes) which “explore landscapes, rivers and meeting places and take the listener on voyages of discovery across the world and to the stars.”

In addition, the record will come with a bonus selection of 30 minutes of music (named ‘Grimlore’) where songs from Folklore and Grimspound are presented in extended format.

Tracklist:

  1. The Second Brightest Star
  2. Haymaking
  3. Skylon
  4. London Stone
  5. The Passing Widow
  6. The Leaden Stour
  7. Terra Australis Incognita

Grimlore

  1. Brooklands Sequence
    (i) On The Racing Line
    (ii) Brooklands
  2. London Plane Sequence
    (i) Turner On The Thames
    (ii) London Plane
  3. The Gentlemen’s Reprise

The Second Brightest Star is the last album in a cycle of releases which started back in 2009 with The Underfall Yard album. Our writing over this period has focused on the English landscape, the people that work on the land and their folklore stories. The band will be moving on to different landscapes and subjects in future years as we play more shows outside of England. But we had a few more stories left to tell and wanted to bring them together on The Second Brightest Star.

You can listen to a stream of the new album’s title track on Soundcloud.

The album is available to order from Burning Shed and The Merch Desk. It’s available in limited edition double gatefold 180g seafoam green vinyl, CD and on hi-resolution 24/96 download. All vinyl copies will include a code for a complimentary hi-res download.

The Second Brightest Star will be released on Spotify and other download and streaming services at a later date in July.

What shall be left of us?

Don’t miss the fine interview with Greg Spawton (GS) and David Longdon (DL) over at Stereo Embers.

Here’s a snippet, wherein they muse on the themes of the “Grimspound” title track:

DL: So much of today’s world is based in the digital realm that it is intriguing to think about what will be left of our times as hard archaeology. If that connection to the digital realm is somehow lost due to whatever will befall our species in the future, I don’t think that much physical matter will remain to tell our story. Impermanence is a concern. That is what this song is about.

GS: My background is in archaeology and history and it is interesting that many of our activities these days are ephemeral. Information is so easily shared and yet deeper knowledge and understanding doesn’t necessarily follow. One of the core themes on the album is a call for a return to the Enlightenment tradition. We seem to be getting slightly adrift from the humanist values which gave birth to modern society.

Well, as you may know, enlightened people do leave behind vinyl…

BBT’s Greg Spawton on the shared history that binds us together @bigbigtrain

There’s a really great interview with Big Big Train’s Greg Spawton over at Echoes and Dust. Don’t miss it!

Here’s a tasty sample, which tells the band’s wondrous story from The Underfall Yard to Grimspound:

Greg: The Underfall Yard was certainly the album where we went headlong into the history and landscape story-telling. I don’t think it was thought through, particularly, it was more a reaction to what I was reading about at the time. I remember reading some of the stories around Brunel and the Victorian engineers and I read a book by Richard Fortey who was then a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum. His book started with a description of a railway journey to the west and he mentioned that the rocks further west are much older than those that could be found in London, so it was like a journey into deep geological time. On the title track which was becoming quite a sprawling, epic piece, I connected the engineers with the landscape they worked on (and under) and I also introduced some themes about the Enlightenment as those engineers were very much men who lived by Enlightenment and scientific values. I really enjoyed writing the song and that led me to other stories which I thought would be nice to write about such as the Winchester Diver. When I was writing all of these songs, I didn’t realise that I was about to meet and connect with David, who is very much my musical soul-mate. Some singers might shy away from that sort of subject matter, but he met the challenge of those songs head-on. And as he is a writer himself, he was able to ensure the vocal arrangements and performances suited the material.

(((o))): Was there a point where the other band members thought “why on earth are we writing songs about Victorian engineers!”

Greg: It wasn’t really like that back then. We didn’t really have a full band identity at that stage. We had started as a band, and then, like a reverse butterfly, had undergone this gradual metamorphosis into a studio project. At the time of The Underfall Yard, we were just beginning the process of becoming a proper band again. So, at the point of writing those songs, there wasn’t really anybody to tell me what to do and I just did what I wanted to. It is different now, we discuss and agree things, so I have had to let go a bit, but the benefits of being in a full-band with all that extra creative input far outweigh the fact that I am less able to exhibit any control-freak tendencies. I think we all feel we have carved out a bit of territory for ourselves in the last few years which has worked well in defining the band and giving us a strong identity.

(((o))): Moving forward a bit and the idea of the “story” is explored even further on Folklore. The themes and ideas or a lot less immediate here though. It almost feels more insular than English Electric, as if the songs are hushed secrets?

Greg: We think of the work we have done in the last few years as a sort of cycle of albums which has moved from songs about the individuals who worked on and under the land, to songs on the English Electric albums about the communities that those people formed and finally through to songs on Folklore about the stories that have bound those communities together over time. Again, it wasn’t planned, it evolved, and it isn’t as neat as all that, but that is, broadly speaking, the arc of it. Grimspound ties some of the threads together, it is the last full new studio album that we will be doing in this cycle of releases.

(((o))): The stories that are told through history become a kind of fabric that binds us. Do you see the music you make as a natural extension of this?

Greg: That is exactly what we hope to achieve. We would like to be a small part of the process of remembering the stories and the characters that define us as communities. There is a lot of identity politics around at the moment which seems to break people up into ever small groups of individuals, enabling people to be played off against each other in a sort of competition of who is or isn’t the least privileged. In reality, there are far more things that bind us together than separate us, and much of that is down to shared history.

(((o))): Big Big Train’s story continues with Grimspound. Can you elaborate on this enigmatic figure and what we can expect from the new album?

Greg: The title of the album came from a Bronze-Age settlement on Dartmoor. It is an incredibly evocative place with a mysterious name which was given to it by the Anglo-Saxons who connected it and other such places to one of their gods, Grimr. Our friend, Sarah Louise Ewing who paints our cover and booklet art had provided us with a beautiful painting of a crow for the cover of Folklore and during a conversation she asked David what the crow’s name was. His instinct was to call it Grimspound. So the name of the album came about by quite a circuitous route.

As for the album itself, I think it is in the grand tradition of progressive rock. It was an album made without any pressure. We had just released Folklore, had a couple of songs that we hadn’t had time to finish and so thought we would write one or two more songs and release an EP to fill in the gap before our gigs later this year. The amount of material we had available to us grew very quickly, with David and myself both writing some big pieces and with major writing contributions from Rikard, Rachel and Danny. So, we suddenly found ourselves with almost a double album of songs and we selected the hour or so of music that fits best together to make a cohesive album.

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