FOUR Major Awards for Big Big Train Last Night

cropped-a0770580005_10.jpgSo, from checking social media this morning, it seems that some big things happened in England last night for our great friends, the eight members of Big Big Train (nine if you count Rob!).

[First post listed only THREE awards–corrected.  FOUR.  Apologies for the error.]

This is from David Longdon:

Continue reading “FOUR Major Awards for Big Big Train Last Night”

Pre-Order GRIMSPOUND by Big Big Train

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Greg Spawton posted this minutes ago:

The new Big Big Train album, Grimspound, will be released on April 28th 2017. Pre-orders of the album are now available at our official stores at Burning Shed (for vinyl and CD’s)

https://www.burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain/

and the Merch Desk (for merchandise and CD’s)

http://www.themerchdesk.com.

Pre-orders of hi-resolution downloads are available at Bandcamp

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/

All LP versions feature double, 180g vinyl with a gatefold cover and 4 page booklet featuring lyrics and the stories behind the songs. A complimentary code for a high-resolution download version of the album is provided with each vinyl order. There is a limited edition clear vinyl version alongside the standard black vinyl version and orders of this limited edition version will include a postcard signed by all band members.

The CD version comes in a gloss laminated softpack and features a 24 page booklet with lyrics and the stories behind the songs.

The hi-res download version includes a PDF of the CD booklet.

A limited edition blue vinyl version of the Folklore is also available at Burning Shed (orders will be shipped with a complimentary hi-resolution download code).

Big Big Train are playing three shows at Cadogan Hall, London, in the autumn. The first two shows are sold out and only a few tickets remain for the third show (a Sunday matinee performance.) http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/big-big-train-2016/

Big Big Train’s FOLKLORE Arrives in Michigan

It’s not everyday that a Big Big Train album appears in my mailbox.  An immense thanks to Kathy Spawton and Greg Spawton for sending it, and to the band for signing it!

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Veronica Rose celebrates with SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR, BBT style.

Continue reading “Big Big Train’s FOLKLORE Arrives in Michigan”

What do Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado Have In Common with The Tangent and Big Big Train?

It's hard to tell, but I'm wearing my "Got Peart?" t-shirt.  And, there's a big, big train in the background.  Andy's motorcycle is missing, however.
It’s hard to tell, but I’m wearing my “Got Peart?” t-shirt. And, there’s a big, big train in the background. Andy’s motorcycle is missing, however.

 

Driving across the grass seas of western Nebraska and eastern Colorado this past week, I made sure my listening list was quite specific and quite orderly.  Across the western parts of Nebraska, traversing the mighty and winding Platte several times, I listened to Big Big Train, ENGLISH ELECTRIC PART ONE.  Not FULL POWER, but the original PART ONE.  Back to this in a moment.

Greg Marcus Aurelius Spawton
Greg Marcus Aurelius Spawton

Once the Platte split into north and south, I took the south fork, and I went for The Tangent’s THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE.  Andy always inspires me.  But, the combination of Andy and Roine Stolt as my car flew (legally, of course) through such nearly forgotten towns as Julesburg, Ovid, and Sedgwick proved perfect.  Andy never fails to find the beauty in lost hope.

Andy Tillison.  Master of Hope and Keytarism. (Picture - Martin Reijman)
Andy Tillison. Master of Hope and Keytarism.
(Picture – Martin Reijman)

A bit of patriotism hit me after The Tangent finished, so I went for Kansas’s THE POINT OF NO RETURN.  Amazingly enough, the entire album took me from the ending of THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE to our brand new house in Colorado.  Truly, as we driving up to the house in Longmont, the final notes of “Hopelessly Human” played.

As promised, back to BBT, ENGLISH ELECTRIC PART ONE (EEP1).  First, its pastoral tone fit the Nebraska countryside beautifully.  The skies, not surprisingly, were as broad as were deeply blue—the kind of blue one finds only in the Great Plains on a summer day.  But, the grasses were a treat as well—variations of greens and golds, generally quite tall and swaying under the pressure of the continental winds.

Second, I’ve not listened to EEP1 for at least a year.  Indeed, once ENGLISH ELECTRIC FULL POWER (EEFP) came out, I considered it the definitive edition, putting away PART ONE.

I won’t in any way, shape, or form suggest I had any thing at all to do with the final ordering of EEFP.  Such a claim would be nothing but hubris.  And, it would be completely false.  This was not, however, for want of trying.  I bugged Greg openly on the internet and privately through emails about this.  I interviewed him about it, and, as a friend, tried to put him in a corner.  Greg, the quintessential English Stoic gentleman, quietly (though not in quiet desperation, I pray) took the suggestions of this overly eager and earnest American (overly eager and earnestness are two of our defining traits as a people) with kindness.  Thank you, Greg.

I know there was some debate among the progarchists whether or not Greg and Co. were messing with a work of art unnecessarily by re-arranging the order of things and filling in the corners with EEFP.  But, from the beginning, I was on Greg’s side.  It’s his creation, and he can do with it as he will (and the rest of the members of the band, of course).

Listening to EEP1 this week only confirmed my thoughts.  It is a stunningly beautiful, calming, and mesmerizing work.  Like all great works of art, it demands full immersion by the participant.  Pastoral, it is also equally humane and cinematic.  It is a part of the English bardic tradition at its very best.  A community of minds and talents produced this album, and we are blessed indeed to exist in a world that allows such works of art to emerge and flourish.

But, for me, especially as a historian, EEP1 is now an incomplete yet intriguing part of a puzzle.  It belongs in the archives now, a glorious blueprint, but not quite the complete thing.

This discussion, I think, is not mere mental wrestling.  BBT is not just another band, and EEP1, EEP2, and EEFP are not just mere new releases.  BBT is a definitive band of prog’s third wave, and EEFP is possibly the finest statement of music over the last two and a half decades.  It is the legitimate successor to Talk Talk’s SPIRIT OF EDEN.

How the album came together, how it evolved, and how it is received is not merely academic.  It’s now a critical part of our history as lovers of music, art, and human genius.  It is now an integral part of the western tradition.  Long may it continue.

***

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Perfecting Perfection: Big Big Train’s English Electric Full Power

English Electric Full Power, September 2013
English Electric Full Power, September 2013

Set in stone.  Chiseled, carved, done.  Or, at the very least, set in digital stone.

For the ever-growing number of Big Big Train devotees (now, called “Passengers” at the official Facebook BBT page, administered by everyone’s most huggable rugged handsome non-axe wielding, non-berserker Viking, Tobbe Janson), questions have been raised and discussed as to how BBT might successfully combine and meld English Electric 1 with 2 plus add 4 new songs.

How would they do it with what they’re calling English Electric Full Power?  Would they make it all more of a story?  Would the album become a full-blown concept with this final version?  Where might Uncle Jack, his dog, or the curator stand at the end of the album?  Actually, where do they stand in eternity?

The members of BBT have already stated that EE as a whole calls to mind–at least with a minimum of interpretation–the dignity of labor.  Would the new ordering and the four new songs augment or detract from this noble theme?

Somewhat presumptuously, many of us Passengers proposed what we believed should be the track order, and I even took it upon myself to email Greg last spring with a list.  Well, I am from Kansas, and we’re not known for being timid–look at that freak, Carrie Nation, who dedicated her life to hacking kegs and stills to bits, or to that well-intentioned but dehumanizing terrorist, John Brown, who cut the heads off of unsuspecting German immigrants.

And, then, there’s the fact, for those who know me, that I can produce track lists like I can produce kids.  No planning and lots and lots of results.

Or, that other pesky fact, that I’m so far into BBT that I could never even pretend objectivity.  [Or, as one angry young man wrote to me after I praised The Tangent, “your head is so far up Andy’s @ss, you can’t even see sunlight.”  Cool!; who wants to spend tons of time writing and thinking about things one doesn’t like?  Not me!  As Plato said, love what you love and hate what you hate, and be willing to state both.  Guess what?  I love BBT and The Tangent!  And, just for the record, I’ve never even met Andy in person, so what was suggested is simply physically impossible.]

Admittedly, maybe I’m such such a fanboy that I’ve gone past subjective and into some kind of bizarre objectivity.  You know, in the way Coleridge was so heretical that he approached orthodoxy.   Or, maybe I’m just hoping that Greg and Co. will ask me to write the retrospective liner notes for the 20th anniversary release of EE Full Power.  I’ll only be 66 then.  Who knows?  Even if I’m in the happy hunting grounds (I’m REALLY presuming now), I could ask the leader for some earth time. . . .

If you’ve read my bloviations this far, and you’re still interested in my thoughts on English Electric Full Volume, well, God bless you.  A real editor would have removed the above rather quickly.

The members of Big Big Train with Dutch photographer, Willem Klopper.
The members of Big Big Train with Dutch photographer, Willem Klopper.

Back from the Blessed Isles of soulful prog realms. . . .

In my reviews of English Electric 1 and 2, I stated that these albums were the height of prog music perfection, the Selling England By the Pound of our day.  I wouldn’t hesitate to proclaim this again and, perhaps, even more vocally and with more descriptives.

At the risk of turning off some of my friends, I would say that EEFP is even superior to its 1973 counterpart.  How could it not be, really?  Selling England is now an intimate and vital part of the prog and the rock music traditions, and it has been for forty years.  Add that album and hundreds of others to the integrity, dedication,and purposeful intelligence, imagination, and talents of Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Andy Poole, Dave Gregory, Nick d’Virgilio, Danny Manners, and Rob Aubrey.   Putting all of this together, well, of course, you’d demand genius.

You’d expect genius.

And, you’d be correct.

It’s the height of justice that Jerry Ewing of PROG awarded Big Big Train with the Prog Magazine Breakthrough Award.

That breakthrough started with that meaningful paean to British and western patriotism in Gathering Speed, reached toward sublime spheres in The Difference Machine, found a form of edenic Edenic perfection in The Underfall Yard and Far Skies (it’s hard for me to separate these two albums for some reason), and then embraced transcendent perfection in English Electric 1 and 2.  Each member who has joined the original Greg and Andy has only added to the latest albums.  Nick, the perfectionist drummer; Dave, the perfectionist guitarist; Danny, the perfectionist keyboardist; Rob, the audiophile.  And by perfectionist, I don’t mean it in its modern usage, as without flaw, but rather as each having reached his purpose.

I don’t think this point can be stressed enough: these guys are perfectionist NOT against each other but with, around, near, above, and below each other.  They are a unit of playful perfectionist individuals who become MORE individual, not less, in their community.

Looking at the history of art from even a quasi-detached and objective viewpoint, I think we all have to admit, this is more than a bit unusual.

Breakthrough, indeed, Mr. Ewing.  Breakthrough, indeed.

Greg and Andy don’t become less Greg and Andy as the band grows beyond what they have founded, they become more Greg and more Andy.  In the first and second wave of prog, how many bands are known for only getting better and better with each album?  Those that did are certainly the exceptions.  One of the most important differences of this third wave of prog is that the best only get better, even after twenty years of playing.  Exhaustion and writers-block seem to be of another era.

BBT exemplifies this trend of improvement in this movement we now call the third wave of prog.  And, not surprisingly, when BBT asks artists to guest with them, they invite those with similar trajectories–Andy Tillison and Robin Armstrong to name the most obvious.

David Longdon.  Photo by the Willem Klopper.
David Longdon. Photo by the Willem Klopper.

Longdon

Again, if you’ve made it this far in this review, you should be asking–hey, Birzer left out David Longdon above, what the schnikees?

Yes, I did.  So, let me now praise famous Davids (with apologies to Sirach). I’ve not been shy in past writings (well, over the last four years) to note that I believe David is the finest singer in the rock world at the moment.  He has some rather stiff competition, of course, and I reject the notion that he sounds just like “Phil Collins.”

No, David is his own man and his own singer. I do love and appreciate the quality of David’s tone and voice.  He possesses a beautiful and talented natural one, to be sure.  Nature or God (pick your theology) gave this to David in abundance, and he’s used his own drive and tenacity to bring his voice to the height of his profession.

But, what I love most about David is that he means every single thing he sings.  These aren’t “Yeah, baby, let’s do it” lyrics.  These are the lyrics of a bard (Greg’s lyrics are just as excellent, of course, as I’ve noted in a number of other articles; these are two of my favorite lyricists of the rock era–rivaling even Mark Hollis).

Longdon can make me as happy as one of my kids running to the playground on the first day the snow thaws (“Let’s Make Some Noise”); he can make me want to beat the living snot out of a child abuser (“ABoy in Darkness”); and he can make me want to start a novena for a butterfly curator.

In no small part, Longdon has a voice that makes me want to trust and follow him.

Put David and Greg together, and their lyrical abilities really knows no known bounds.  They are the best writing team, to me, in the last fifty years.  I know most would pick Lennon/McCartney, but I’m a firm believer that “electrical storms moving out to sea” trump “I am the walrus.”

Master of many things, Greg Mark Aurelius Spawton.  Photo by Willem Klopper.
Master of many things, Greg Mark Aurelius Spawton. Photo by Willem Klopper.

EEFP

So, what about this third manifestation of English Electric, English Electric Full Power?  Well, all I can state with some paradoxical certainty, Spawton, Longdon, and five others, have now shown it is possible to perfect perfection. I’ll use perfect here in its proper sense: not as without flaw (though that would apply as well) but as having reached its ultimate purpose, as I noted above.

EEFP is still very much about the dignity of labor, and, as such, it has to deal with the dignity of the laborer, that is, the fundamental character of the human person in all of his or her stages.

The song order of EEFP, consequently, follows this natural logic.

The opening track, a new one penned by Longdon, celebrates the joys of innocence. David has said it was his goal to invoke the glam rock of his childhood.  For me, it invokes the rock of my mother’s college days.  A shimmering, pre-Rolling Stones rock.

The video that the band released just makes me smile every time I watch it.  The video also confirms my belief that these six (and Rob, the seventh member) really, really like each other.

Rather gloriously, “Make Some Noise” fades into one of the heroic of BBT tracks, “The First Rebreather.”  This makes “The First Rebreather” even better, especially when contrasted with the innocence of track one.  After all, in The First Rebreather, the hero encounters beings from Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell (wrath).

The second new song, “Seen Better Days,” begins with a strong post-rock (read: Colour of Spring) feel, before breaking into a gorgeous jazz (more Brubeck than Davis) rock song.  All of the instruments blend together rather intimately, and David sings about the founders and maintainers of early to mid 20th century British laboring towns, while lamenting the lost “power and the glory” as that old world as faded almost beyond memory.  The interplay of the piano and flute is especially effective.

The third track, “Edgelands,” begins immediately upon the end of “Seen Better Days,” but it’s short.  Only 86 seconds long and purely a Manner’s piano tune, it connects “Seen Better Days” with “Summoned by the Bells.”  If at the end of those 86 seconds the listener doesn’t realize the creative talents of Mr. Manners, he’s not thinking correctly.

The fourth new track, “The Lovers,” appears on disk two, after “Winchester” and before “Leopards.” The most traditionally romantic and folkish song of the four new ones, Longdon’s voice has a very “Canterbury” feel on this tune, and the tune provides a number of surprises in the various directions it takes.

English Electric

What’s next for BBT?

Thanks to the delights of social networking, we know that Danny’s kids are concerned that he doesn’t look “rock” enough (he needs to show them some Peter Gabriel videos from Gabriel’s last studio album), and we know that Greg’s middle name is Mark.

Ok, yes, I’m being silly (though all of the above is true).

We do know that Big Big Train is working on a retrospective of their history, but with the current lineup.  I don’t think any of us need worry that this (Station Masters) will be some kind of EMI Picasso-esque  deconstruction of Talk Talk with a “History Revisited: The Remixes.”  Station Masters will be as tasteful, elegant, and becoming as we would expect from Greg and Co.

After that, we know that BBT is writing a full-fledged concept album, their first since The Difference Machine.  We know that the boys are in the studio at the very moment that I’m typing this (NDV included).

Perhaps most importantly, though, we trust and have faith that Greg and Co. are leading progressive rock in every way, shape, or form.  EEFP is the final version of EE.  At least for now.  But, BBT is not just breaking through, it’s bringing a vast audience, sensibility, and leadership to the entire third movement of prog.  And, for this, I give thanks.  Immense thanks.

When it comes to BBT, perfection only gets more interesting.

***

To order English Electric Full Power, click here.

English Electric Full Power News

Aubrey and D'Virgilio, courtesy of the uber-great Willem Klopper.
Aubrey and D’Virgilio, courtesy of the uber-great Willem Klopper.

Posted at Facebook today:

English Electric Full Power will be released in the early autumn and brings together the two English Electric CD’s as a double album with four new tracks and with a 96 page booklet which tells the stories behind the songs and behind English Electric.

The four new tracks will also be released as a separate EP at a low-price to enable those who already own English Electric Parts One and Two to purchase the four new songs on CD without having to buy the double album. A free download of the Full Power booklet will be available for purchasers of the EP.

Both the double album and EP will also be available as downloads (with downloadable booklets.)

Alongside the CD releases, English Electric Part Two will be released on 180g heavyweight vinyl by Plane Groovy. The LP is a double album and includes all the songs from Part Two plus the four new tracks from English Electric Full Power.

Live News
Big Big Train is gearing up for some live performances. In 2014 the band is spending a week at Real World studios for a full dress rehearsal with the brass quartet and string players. The rehearsal will be filmed for DVD and Blu-Ray release.

Beer News
We know that many BBT listeners enjoy fine quality ales and the band has been working with Box Steam craft brewery to create the first Big Big Train beer which will be available in August.

Other News
Big Big Train has received two nominations (for ‘best album’ and for ‘breakthrough act’) in the Progressive Music Awards which will be held at Kew Gardens in September. If you wish to vote for BBT or for any of the other nominees you can find details of the awards here:
http://www.progrockmag.com/news/progressive-music-awards-2013-nominees-listed-in-full/

Nick is returning to England in September to do some more recording for the next Big Big Train studio album which will be released in 2015. Work on the 3 CD Station Masters retrospective is ongoing and we hope that Station Masters will be released in 2014.

Finally, a new tee-shirt to celebrate the release of the first BBT beer will also be available from The Merch Desk in August.

BBT on Facebook and Twitter
For the most up-to-date news and to communicate with the band and with other BBT listeners please find us on Facebook at:
www.facebook.com/groups/bigbigtrain

and on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/bigbigtrain

Best wishes
Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg and Nick

The Moral Law of Big Big Train

by Craig Farham

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. (Plato)

The members of Big Big Train with Dutch photographer, Willem Klopper.
The members of Big Big Train with Dutch photographer, Willem Klopper.

Is it possible that Plato was writing about Big Big Train’s latest masterclass of musical wonder, English Electric, Part 2 (EE2)? Probably not, but two millennia before locomotives, social networking, digital recording, the global network, or austerity measures in his beloved city state, Plato certainly knew a thing or two about the power of oscillating waveforms to connect people.

Did the members of Big Big Train read Plato before embarking on their epic journey to morph their observations of contemporary and historical people and events into oscillating waveforms of power and beauty? Again, probably not. But EE2 certainly fits Plato’s moral law to a tee.

Beautifully crafted from the opening piano chords to the final fade out of a single piano note, EE2 continues the journey begun on EE1, my album of the year in 2012, into the heart and soul of industrial England, its people, and the surrounding countryside. The album weaves tales of steam trains, ship-building, coal miners, a second chance at love, the custodian of a historical monument, the British landscape, and butterfly collections as a metaphor for life and death, with musical arrangements that range from sparse to massive, light-hearted to intense, but are always melodious and warm. The album has the same lush production and attention to detail as EE1, with exquisite use of brass band and strings beautifully complementing the electric instruments. The songs range in length from just under 4 minutes to nearly 16 minutes, and every song is exactly as long as it needs to be – no filler, bloat, or needless noodling.

The addition of Danny Manners as a full-time band member on piano, keyboards and double bass has lifted an already impressive ensemble another notch, and I’m delighted that the compositions on EE2 have given David Gregory more scope to develop his exceptional guitar solos. The rest of the band are also in fine fettle – Greg Spawton’s basslines are on a par with those of Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman (and his compositional skills are equally impressive), Nick D’Virgilio’s drumming is peerless (he recorded the drum parts for both EE1 and EE2 in three days…!), Andy Poole has stepped forward from the producer’s chair to contribute backing vocal, guitar and keyboard parts, and Dave Longdon, who I think has the best voice in modern prog, contributes massively with his flute work and a wide array of sundry instruments, including banjo, keyboards, guitar, cutlery and glassware(!), in addition to his great songwriting. There is also a large cast of supporting musicians, including Dave Desmond, whose marvelous brass band arrangements are an integral part of the unique BBT sound, Rachel Hall on violin, and The Tangent’s Andy Tillison on keyboards.

The newest member of Big Big Train, the extraordinary Danny Manners.  Photo used by kind permission from Willem Klopper.
The newest member of Big Big Train, the extraordinary Danny Manners. Photo used by kind permission of Willem Klopper.

Although EE2 is the second half of a double album released in two separate parts, it stands on its own as a superb example of the vibrance of the new wave of progressive music, which is finally lifting itself out of the shadow of the so-called “golden age of prog” in the 1970s. To listen to EE2 on its own, however, is to miss out on half the fun. EE1 and EE2 should be seen as a single body of work, a superb collection of songs and an important milestone in the history of modern music.

English Electric by Big Big Train is a moral law that demands to be upheld. To paraphrase a comment I made on the BBT Facebook site, these are albums to cherish – I’ll be listening to this music as long as my cochlear apparatus is capable of responding to their oscillating waveforms and connecting my soul to the universe…

***

[Dear Progarchists, thank you so much for letting us enjoy this four-day love fest of all things Big Big Train.  It’s been quite an honor.  Craig’s post–his inaugural post as an official citizen of the Republic of Progarchy, by the way–concludes our roundtable reviews of the latest BBT masterpiece, English Electric V. 2.  To order it directly from the band, go to www.bigbigtrain.com/shop.–Yours, Brad (ed.)]