Big Big Train Release New Track: “The Connection Plan”

Hot off the release of their most recent album, Common Ground, Big Big Train released another new track today: “The Connection Plan.” Why? Greg Spawton comments,

In the lead-up to our tours in 2022, we wanted to share a series of single  streaming releases. The ‘Stay Tuned’ streaming series will feature newly recorded compositions, we hope listeners will enjoy them”.

It sounds like this track, and presumably future ones, will only be available on streaming sites for now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up as either a special download for the Passengers Club or on a future record or EP.

Big Big Train – The Connection Plan – YouTube

Check out Progarchy’s interview with David Longdon about Common Ground: https://progarchy.com/2021/06/29/big-big-trains-david-longdon-the-progarchy-interview/

Check out my review of Common Ground: https://progarchy.com/2021/07/18/big-big-train-common-ground-2/

And see this page for more Progarchy reviews of Big Big Train’s music: https://progarchy.com/album-reviews/review-index/b/big-big-train/

Big Big Train’s “Common Ground” – Album of the Year?

big big train common groundBig Big Train, Common Ground, July 30, 2021
Tracks: The Strangest Times (5:08), All The Love We Can Give (8:06), Black With Ink (7:23), Dandelion Clock (4:14), Headwaters (2:27), Apollo (7:50), Common Ground (4:54), Atlantic Cable (15:06), Endnotes (6:59)

I love writing about Big Big Train. In fact, they’re one of the reasons I was drawn into reviewing progressive rock on a more regular basis. They are also one of the reasons this website was founded back in 2012. Our founders understood that Big Big Train wasn’t your ordinary rock band, and the band deserved a more intellectual approach to reviews. I don’t know if I’ve been able to live up to the standard Dr. Brad Birzer set for us, but I try my best. Big Big Train makes it easier by providing such solid material to write about. Common Ground is no different. In fact it may be the best album they have released since I began writing for Progarchy. It is certainly the best record released thus far in 2021.

Common Ground gets off to a rousing start in the best way possible. I’ve never enjoyed the opening of a Big Big Train album this much. While I don’t dislike Big Big Train’s more mainstream pop-like tracks (“Make Some Noise,” “Folklore,” “Wassail”), they aren’t my favorite in the band’s catalog. While “The Strangest Times” might fall into that aspect of the band’s repertoire, I absolutely love this. The piano at the beginning is so bright and upbeat, reminding me a bit of some of the more popular artists the band site as influences on this record. However I think it reminds me more of the band’s work back in the days of English Electric. The guitar work is phenomenal, proving right away that even though brilliant guitarist Dave Gregory may have left the group, the group haven’t abandoned the unique sound he brought to the table. I imagine lots of credit should go to Rikard Sjöblom for maintaining that tone. 

https://youtu.be/i35_HcKjR18

Nick D’Virgilio absolutely hits a home run with his lead vocal sections on “All the Love We Can Give.” I was hoping we would get to hear more of his vocals on this record, and we do. Of course there is also his brilliant drumming throughout the album, which we probably take for granted at this point. This song has some blistering instrumental passages with heavy guitars and some face melting Hammond keyboards. We also get to hear a different side to David Longdon’s glorious voice, featuring the lower end of his register. The vocal harmonies at points in the song remind me of Gentle Giant and the Neal Morse Band, although this is nothing new for Big Big Train. They seem to have utilized it a bit more though throughout Common Ground than they have in the past.

As a matter of fact, the next track, “Black With Ink,” allows that to shine. We get a lead vocal from Rikard, Nick, and Carly Bryant, who joined the band for live shows, providing backing (and apparently lead) vocals, keyboards, and guitars. It’s a nice touch that the band included her on the recording, as well as Dave Foster (guitars on two tracks) and Aidan O’Rourke on violin throughout the record. 

Lyrically “Black With Ink” is somewhat close to my heart, since Greg Spawton was influenced by a trip to a museum (I work in the collections department of a history museum). After a BBT show in Birmingham, England, in 2019, Greg visited the local art museum and saw a label about the history of the collection, which suffered from a bombing raid during World War II. Spawton talks more about that song at the official Big Big Train blog for the album, but in summary it grew out of a frustration with the destruction of knowledge (book burning, destroying art, etc.). The song specifically looks at the destruction (many centuries and millennia ago) of texts at libraries in Alexandria and Baghdad. 

On the other side of the lyrical spectrum, Longdon keeps the band grounded in the present. “The Strangest Times” and “Common Ground” are influenced by the insanity the world has been going through over the last year and a half. In a recent interview, Longdon admitted to Progarchy’s Rick Krueger recently that he cannot wait for these lyrics to no longer be relevant, since we are all sick of quarantines, lockdowns, and other assorted nonsense. 

“Apollo” is an almost eight-minute-long instrumental track, and it is glorious. The song was contributed by Nick, and it grew out of material he had created at his day job at Sweetwater, a music gear retailer and production studio in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He describes this track as Big Big Train’s “Los Endos,” which I believe they achieved. It’s a beautiful song, and I can see them either closing a first set or closing a live show with it before an encore. The inclusion of Longdon’s flute was a really nice touch, which will most definitely be a hit live. It’s pure BBT, brass band and all. 

https://youtu.be/88HHhbD1vFE

“Atlantic Cable” has all the grandiosity of “East Coast Racer.” I don’t think I have enjoyed a Big Big Train song this much since ECR. Spawton’s booming bass is at Squire-esque levels of brilliance. The interplay of the guitars, violin when it is used, the myriad voices, the long instrumental passages – this is Big Big Train’s “sound” at its absolute finest. I hope when they play it live, they extend that guitar solo as it peaks toward the end.

Lyrically the track tells the story of laying the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic, formally linking the old world with the new. This song is much grander than that story, though. The story serves as a metaphor representing the commonality we all share, which supports the overall theme of the album. The track has calmer passages, but it still has the hard rocking sections that feature on the rest of the record and also hearken back to The Underfall Yard and English Electric

A song about laying a steel cable across the ocean floor was never going to be a pastoral piece of music. It needed some stormy moments, some grandeur. And it needed to be long enough to tell an epic tale. 
Greg Spawton

The video the band shared for this song in the blog for the album is hilarious. It’s a video of Nick trying to figure out how to play the complicated time signatures. It was only a matter of time before the expletives were directed at Greg (all in good humor, of course), but it’s quite entertaining. It also goes to show how technically complicated this music is and how good these musicians are that they can (eventually) play it.

The Dave Desmond brass band shines bright as ever on “Endnotes,” the final track. The hint of violin reminds us of where the band has been, but in a more subdued light.

The pastoral elements and folk elements in the band’s arsenal are pulled back throughout Common Ground in favor of a heavier rock sound, but it’s undeniably Big Big Train. It’s exactly what I wanted from the band moving forward. I never complained about the pastoral direction the band moved into because I enjoyed it, but I’ll admit that I was beginning to miss certain elements that were more prevalent on The Underfall Yard and English Electric. I don’t think any of us wanted them to start copying themselves, though. Instead they have progressed into slightly different waters, pulling together all of those elements into a truly astounding whole. The hard rock, the atmosphere added by the violin and Longdon’s flute, and those stunning vocal harmonies create a pure sound. 

Existing fans will almost assuredly love Common Ground. If you are new to Big Big Train, then this is as good a place to start as any. The album displays everything the band does so well.

Thanks Big Big Train. You’ve made a crappy year a little brighter. 

https://www.bigbigtrain.com
https://www.bigbigtrain.com/common-ground/
Album out July 30, 2021.

https://youtu.be/wIQnhCcI4gA

 

Big Big Train’s David Longdon: The Progarchy Interview

2020 was going to be Big Big Train’s breakout year in North America. Building on ten years of increasing momentum, the road first paved on 2009’s The Underfall Yard (singer David Longdon’s debut with the band) had led to five more thrilling albums, brought to life in concert by a fearsomely talented septet (and the BBT Brass Ensemble). It was official — that spring, Big Big Train would tour the United States for the first time!

Then, as with so many other events, the coronavirus pandemic brought those big big plans to a screeching halt. Shows for 2020, then 2021 were inexorably cancelled; as the enforced period of inactivity lengthened, guitarist Dave Gregory, violinist Rachel Hall and keyboardist Danny Manners left the band. While the double album career survey Summer’s Lease and the live Empire served as worthy capstones to their era, BBT’s faithful Passengers couldn’t help but wonder: what was next for founder Greg Spawton, Longdon (both pictured above) and remaining compatriots Nick D’Virgilio and Rikard Sjöblom? Had the Train reached its final destination?

Fortunately, the answer was a resounding “Nope!” With Big Big Train’s brand new release Common Ground set for release at the end of July, followed by North American and UK tours in 2022, David Longdon was kind enough to join me for a Zoom chat last week. Obviously excited by both the new album and the prospect of returning to the stage, Longdon was generous with his time and his answers, open about the toll the pandemic took on him and his beloved country, and willing to “thrash through” the intricate lyrical and musical ideas on the record. A delightful mix of familiar and innovative elements, Common Ground is yet another BBT album of exceptional artistic ambition, power, beauty and grace, and David Longdon couldn’t be happier about it! A transcript of our conversation follows the video. Enjoy!!

So I wanted to start back last year, because the pandemic threw all of us into uncharted territory.  One of the first impacts from our end, as a music fan, was that you cancelled your North American tour, Big Big Train’s first American tour.  We had tickets for the Fort Wayne show, and we were disappointed, but we certainly understood. 

But obviously, that enforced pause in playing live went on a lot longer.  How did that feed into making your new album, Common Ground?

Well, everything ground to a halt, didn’t it?   The world as we knew it just ground to a halt; the unthinkable happened!  It’s such an extraordinary time.  And it was very much like – I said so at the time — like living in like a Ray Bradbury book, or something like that. Or certainly a J.G. Ballard book, this apocalyptic times kind of thing.  “It’s awful!  Were we gonna make it through?  Is this gonna be our equivalent of whatever saw off the dinosaurs?”  That kind of stuff.

The news bulletins were horrendous.  The death rates were going up, the R-rates in the UK, they’re looking at that.  Each day the wave of fresh cases, and more worryingly, the rising death toll.  It was going up and up and up and up.  And of course, in the UK, we’d seen it coming over from Europe in the months leading to up to our first lockdown.  And we knew what was coming, because we’d had correspondences from our European friends.  Yeah, it’s the stuff of nightmares!  Very uncertain times.

One of the things that I found as a comfort would be walking in nature, being in the natural world; I always take great comfort from that.  I’d rather be outside than inside, particularly when things were starting to get a bit hairy, back in March last year for us.  Yeah, it was horrendous!

So music, writing music and going for walks in nature were the thing that kind of kept me on the straight and narrow, really.  It kept me sane.  So that’s how I dealt with it.  And through the first lockdown I was finishing off the record that I made with Judy Dyble [Between a Breath and a Breath]

I don’t see how what happened to the world in that time could have not had an impact on the record, really.  And with losing three members of a long-standing lineup: again, some of that quite possibly came to a head as a result of being a real crossroads for the band and for the world at that time.

So yeah, the pandemic was a huge impact on the album. And the band.  And the world.  And everything!

OK.  So you mentioned there were some changes thrust on you by circumstance – the band members leaving, for example.  As you and Greg and the others started writing and recording. what changes were intentional choices?

OK.  Well as I said to you, personally, from my writing point of view, rather than writing songs where in the past, something like “Ariel” I’d be researching The Tempest, I’d be researching the life of William Shakespeare.  I’d be researching the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and collating lots of information to make the story and make it scan as a piece of music, I just felt like I needed to write in the real world, in the now of that time, if that makes sense.

I know that, inevitably songs like “The Strangest Times,” which is very directly about the pandemic, I know that will eventually be a time capsule of that period.  But I can’t wait when it is!  I’m looking forward to that being the case!  I would say that in particular.

Continue reading “Big Big Train’s David Longdon: The Progarchy Interview”

Some Thoughts on Recent Big Big Train News

From the very beginning, Progarchy has been a huge supporter of Big Big Train, and we’ll continue to support them come what may. I think the band is making by far the most interesting music in the music industry. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band or artist making such high quality music with such profound lyrics. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better vocalist than David Longdon. 

At the beginning of the year the band released The Passengers Club, a subscribers-only site that gives hardcore fans an inside look at the past, present, and future of the band. Content seems to be provided primarily by Greg Spawton and David Longdon, as well as the band’s manager, Nick Shelton. We get demo track downloads, exclusive video content (including live footage from the earliest days of the band), blog articles, and photo albums. As a fan I’ve absolutely loved The Passengers Club. It’s been worth every penny, and it has brought some much-needed joy to an absolutely awful year.

Big Big Train – Empire Film Trailer

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Recent Big Big Train News”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

“An Accidental Musician”: Judy Dyble, 1949-2020

Judy Dyble, whose crystalline vocals were key contributions to the early days of folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and progressive pioneers King Crimson, has died at the age of 71, following a late-life musical renaissance as a solo artist.

Dyble, who titled her 2016 memoir An Accidental Musician, grew up in North London. Drawn to the ferment of the Smoke’s music scene, she fell in with Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Martin Lamble, fellow singer Ian Matthews and Richard Thompson, who eventually became Fairport Convention.  Their kick-off single “If I Had a Ribbon Bow”, a oddball update of a 1940s big band shuffle, was a prime example of the early Fairport’s wildly eclectic style:

The band’s first self-titled album from 1968 featured a vivid mix of originals and covers (of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell among others), but Dyble was shuffled out of the band soon after, briefly joining an embryonic version of King Crimson (then trading as Giles, Giles and Fripp):

Following a final stint with cult duo Trader Horne, Dyble drifted away from singing, marrying music critic/record shop owner Simon Stable, then moving to the country and raising a family.  Invited to the occasional Fairport Convention reunion at the Cropredy Festival, she began singing in public again after her husband’s death.  A trilogy of electronica-based collaborations with Australasia’s Marc Swordfish eased Dyble back into songwriting — which led to 2009’s marvelous Talking with Strangers, co-produced by Tim Bowness of No-Man and Alistair Murphy (aka the Curator) and featuring contributions from Nicol, Fripp, and a starry host of other guests on the acoustic-prog epic “Harpsong.”

Further solo albums and guest appearances followed, including a vocal on Big Big Train’s “The Ivy Gate” from the Grimspound album.   Her latest effort Between a Breath and a Breath, a collaboration with David Longdon featuring contributions from the rest of BBT, has just been announced as a late September release.  While fighting her final illness, Dyble penned these reflections on the new album, showing both her unquenchable spirit and her wickedly impish sense of humor:  

The lyrics for these songs virtually wrote themselves, with minor tweaks, as music grew around them. All were written before I was diagnosed and before the dreadful virus stamped its footprint on our world.

“Quite a few of my lyrics have a touch of sadness about them but always with an optimism for the future and a desire to know what happens next. France, Whisper and Obedience tell stories suggested in conversations and Between A Breath And A Breath is sheer magic. Astrologers was a simple ‘Hmmpph! Stop it!, while Heartwashing and Tidying Away were just poems which wrote themselves.

David Longdon has written a tribute to Dyble which appears on the front page of Big Big Train’s website.  Two songs from the Dyble/Longdon sessions not included on Between a Breath and a Breath will be released as Bandcamp downloads later this year, with proceeds benefiting Dyble’s favorite charity, The Barley Greyhound Sanctuary.  A selection of Dyble’s albums (including a freshly released live recording from 2016, Weavings of a Silver Magic) are most easily available from Burning Shed and Amazon UK.

Oddly enough, I’d been celebrating the upcoming release of Between a Breath and a Breath last night, listening to Talking with Strangers again and re-reading An Accidental Musician.  So Dyble’s final words in her memoir have an uncanny resonance today:

There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s poetry and starlight and mellow autumn colour in the woods and a dog at my side, I’ll face the music and slightly dance.  To be continued.  I expect …

For all those who sorrow at Judy Dyble’s passing, I wish them comfort as they remember her life with gratitude, as well as continued delight in the beautiful music she made.

 

— Rick Krueger

 

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for new No-Man music, and how all this feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).   We dig into the new album in depth below!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

Pulling it back to Flowers At The Scene, it’s interesting what you said about how really, there are some [pieces] that you’re producing, there’s some that you and Brian [Hulse] are working on, there’s some that you and Brian and Steven [Wilson] are working on.   It all feels like a unity when I listen to it.  Despite the variety of colors, it’s, as you say, it feeds on what you’ve done before, but it goes in really interesting, different directions.  Are there any particular songs that you feel are at the core of the album?

I would say you’re right, it does feel like an album.  One thing that’s important to me is, I know in this age of streaming and Spotify it’s not particularly fashionable, but I love the album.  I’ve always loved the album as a statement.  And in some ways, although this album is different from the other albums – I mean, the previous three albums had themes to a degree.  Lost In The Ghost Light was a narrative concept album. Stupid Things That Mean The World and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had linking lyrical themes in a way.  This is different in the sense that it’s eleven very separate moods, very separate lyrics, very separate songs.  And yet it fits together, I think, in a kind of classic 43-minute album format.  And in some ways, I think it’s the album that flows best of all four.  There’s something about it that it kind of moves from one mood to another.  And yet it holds together.

I suppose the key songs would have been when “Flowers At The Scene” and “Not Married Anymore” were written.  And I just felt that Brian and I had been coming up with material that had its own distinct identity.  And I also had a certain idea of how I wanted them to sound – and suddenly that was it!  And I guess that there’s this [Robert] Fripp line, he would always say that a new direction presented itself.  And I think that it’s true, because I’d continued writing material on my own, and I’d continued writing material with Stephen Bennett while I was recording the Plenty album.  And although the material was good, it felt like it was gonna be a continuation of Lost In The Ghost Light or Stupid Things That Mean The World.

And I think that it was when I’d written the fifth song with no purpose really – Brian and I just kept on writing together because we were excited by what we were doing.  And I think it would have been “Flowers At The Scene”, the title track itself, and I thought, “this is the new direction; it’s presented itself.” And from that moment on, it became a very exciting and immersive project and I said to Brian, “I think this is the basis of a new solo album. And it feels like a fresh direction after the other albums.”  And you’re right that, what’s kind of interesting for me is it’s fresh, it’s a reset, but perhaps because of the mood of some of the music and because of my voice, there’s also a sense of continuation.

And certainly one of the things that contributes to it being fresh is this cast of musicians that you gathered, which is really genuinely impressive.  So many great names with great work that have fed into this.  I was wondering if I could just toss out names and, in a few words, you could try to describe what each of these guys have brought to the music for the album.  Starting with Jim Matheos.

Well, Jim’s somebody I’ve known for a few years.  He asked me to guest on an OSI album [Blood], probably about nine years ago now.  And I really enjoyed it.  So the track, which is called “No Celebrations”, felt very different for me; it was very much in that OSI art-metal style, but it accommodated my singing as well.  And after that, we carried on communicating together.  So occasionally he’s asked me for advice about things, and also we had co-written a couple of tracks that had never been released.

And when I was doing this album, I thought I’d love to get him involved.  Because one of the tracks I’d been developing had him on anyway, and he’s an incredibly versatile guitarist.  Very, very nice guy, but what people I don’t think are aware of is how versatile his talent is.  So his own music can be anything from sort of ambient experimental to metal to classical acoustic guitar.  And I knew how good he was as a soloist, and so I got him – really, he was my stunt guitarist on the album on a few tracks.  And he did some fantastic work on it.

Peter Hammill.  What a legend!

Yeah!  Well, Peter’s somebody who when I was growing up, when I was in my teens, he was one of my favorite singers.  And as I’ve said to people, what’s interesting with this album is that, probably my five favorite singers when I was 13 would have been David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Kevin Godley.  And I’ve two of them on the album, and it’s an incredible thrill to have that!

Over the years, Peter’s become a friend.  We ended up playing on lots of the same albums in Italy, and we got to know one another.  And over the years, he’s guested on my work; and we even live in the same small town in England!  And so he’s probably my sort of coffee and chat companion, where we’ve put the political and the musical world to rights once a month.  And as I always say about Peter, he’s as nice, generous and decent as his music is frightening!

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great summary!

[Laughs] Absolutely!  Cause, you know, you wouldn’t want him to be as frightening as [Van der Graaf Generator’s] Pawn Hearts really, would you?

[Laughs] No, not in the slightest!

It is true; you’d be coughing your coffee up.  It’s not good!  [Both laugh] So yeah, lovely guy, and we’ve worked on a few things.  And the thing about Peter is he is very honest about his opinion.  So interestingly enough, I’d asked him to work on Lost in the Ghost Light, but he wasn’t as much a fan of that material.  So basically, he works on what he likes.  And he’d worked on the Stupid Things That Mean the World album, and I’d played him this album in progress.  He’d mixed an album for me as well.  There’s a Bowness/[Peter] Chilvers album that’s been unreleased that Peter’s mixed, which is quite an interesting project in itself.

And while I was making the new album I said, “ah, you know, a couple of Hammill-shaped holes here!”  And he heard it, and he heard exactly what I wanted, and he really liked the material.  One of the tracks he put a great deal into it, there’s a track on it called “It’s The World”.  I’d played it to him, and initially I wanted his bite – there’s a real sort of bite in his voice, I wanted this in the chorus.  And he said, “Yep, I know exactly what you want; I’ll get it to you.  But I tell you what else I’ll give you; I’ll give you guitars, because the guitars on this aren’t working!”  And so he completely re-recorded the chorus guitars, and almost went into sort of Rikki Nadir [from Hammill’s proto-punk solo album Nadir’s Big Chance] mode, and did a fantastic job.

So on the track “It’s The World” he’s on kind of backing and lead vocals, and also adds some really ferocious guitar parts.  And he made the piece work.  So that was an interesting case, where the piece I think was pretty good as it was, but he gave it an extra edge and an extra looseness.

Got it!  One of the newer singers on the album is David Longdon.  I know you collaborated with Big Big Train on a b-side [“Seen Better Days (the brass band’s last piece)”].  What did David bring?

Well, I suppose I asked him to be on the piece [“Borderline”] and I’d suggested a particular approach to backing vocal which he used.   I almost wanted this kind of rich, Michael McDonald/Steely Dan approach.  That’s something I wanted: a comfortable bed of David Longdon voice, really, and he gave that.  And then he added some flute as a means of contrasting with the trumpet.  And he did a beautiful job in both cases, really.  So I suppose what he gave was himself, so he kind of knew the places where I wanted him to play, and where I wanted him to be, and with the backing vocal he was effectively re-singing the melody that I’d already sung on the demo.

But with the flute, he performed a really beautiful solo, and it was great!  Because although the trumpet was recorded in the outback in Australia – I used a jazz musician, a guy called Ian Dixon, who’s worked with No-Man, he was on Returning Jesus, several tracks on that, and he’s a wonderful sort of jazz trumpet player.  And his studio is a tin shack in the outback in Australia!  And he said when he recorded it, it was in the middle of the rainy season.  So he’s recording that with crashing rain on the tin roof – which I thought was very romantic!  And David really beautifully worked with Ian’s trumpet.  And to me, it sounds as if the two could be in the room together playing!  So they worked very nicely together, and I suppose in that case, I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.  But it was still different, the playing, the expression that the two of them had given was entirely their own.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2”

2018: Selah?

2018 is now a month past its halfway mark, and the year is somewhere in its middle age, and it will only continue to age until that fateful day, December 31, inevitably comes.

From the perspective of progressive rock, it’s been a solid year, but not an outstanding year–at least in terms of studio releases.  Certainly, those released–from The Fierce and the Dead to Gazpacho to the Kalman Filter to Galahad to 3RDegree–have been excellent, to be sure.  But, they’ve been few, especially compared to the re-releases and re-mastered and re-packaged.

Perhaps, 2018, in the end, will prove to be a moment of all of us catching our collective breath.  Maybe what the Old Testament called “Selah,” pause.

Continue reading “2018: Selah?”

Mead Halls in Winter: Big Big Train as Community

Grimspound
Grimspound, 2017.  Art by Sarah Ewing.

One of the wildest and most disturbing aspects of modernity is how compartmentalized everything becomes.  One important thing (a person, an idea, an institution) becomes isolated and, in its isolation, takes on its own importance, its own language (jargon), and, naturally, its own abstraction.

During the past 100 years, a number of groups have tried to combat this.  In the U.K., most famously, there were a variety of literary groups: The Inklings; the Bloomsbury Group; and the Order Men.  In the States, there were the southern Agrarians, the Humanists, the Lovecraftians, and the women (no official name–but Isabel Patterson, Claire Boothe Luce, Dorothy Thompson, and Rose Wilder Lane) who met for tea once a week and shared stories.

The first such known group in the English-speaking group was the Commonwealth Men, meeting in London taverns from 1693 to 1722, attempting to combine British Common Law thinking with classical and ancient philosophy.

Continue reading “Mead Halls in Winter: Big Big Train as Community”

Second Spring #3: “The Permanent Way” by Big Big Train

The seventeenth track, “The Permanent Way,” on Big Big Train’s ENGLISH ELECTRIC: FULL POWER (2013), might very well be one of the most important songs written and produced during what many call Third-wave Prog.

Spawton and Betjeman
Two masters of the word.

The album itself, of course, is extraordinary, especially in its building of textures–all of which weave in and out, away and to, near and far, above and beyond.

Not only is the weave exceptional, but so is the actual existence of time during the album, which, depending on how BBT shape the music, slows up or speeds down.  As the title suggestions, “The Permanent Way” considers those things that remain, those that stood strong and remain standing.  Thus, the song represents a still point, around which time itself flows.

The still point of the song is the profound British poet, John Betjeman, rivaled in stance only by T.S. Eliot in twentieth-century poetic achievement.  With brass, guitars, keyboards, bass, and a variety of other instruments, the band slowly approaches the poet.  Longdon’s voice gently offers a prelude as homage.  The moment Betjeman speaks, Longdon defers, treating the master with all due deference and respect.  The result is a majestic whole that brings together past, present, and future.  This is what Big Big Train does best.  And, frankly, no one does it better.

 

 

 

Past Second Springs:

  1. Kevin McCormick’s “Storm Front.”
  2. The Fierce and the Dead’s “Part I”

 

Inspired by Craig Breaden’s brilliant 104-part Soundstream, I’ve decided to post music that reveals that rock and jazz (and some other forms of music) are not the end of western civilization, but the culmination of western civilization up to this point in time.  A second spring, if you will.