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

 

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”

Big Big Train’s True Founder: Tom Bombadil

Since his first appearance in English literature, in 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil has intrigued readers to no end.  Could he be an angelic vala gone native, an Adam without sin, or merely an enigma?

With the Bodleian’s new exhibit on J.R.R. Tolkien, some vital and compelling evidence has surfaced.  Vala gone native, Adam without sin, and enigma, Bombadil is also the founder of the greatest British progressive rock band of all time, Big Big Train.

Look closely at the Hildebrant Brothers’ depiction of Tom.  You, too, will be amazed.

39077920_1815178288518354_1047249031199195136_o
Photoshop by Brad Birzer (but, really, by Martin Teraud).

The evidence, of course, had always been there, but most refused to see it.  Here’s the most telling passage from The Fellowship of the Ring.

He then told them many remarkable stories, sometimes half as if speaking to himself, sometimes looking at them suddenly with a bright blue eye under his deep brows. Often his voice would turn to song, and he would get out of his chair and dance about. He told them tales of bees and flowers, the ways of trees, and the strange creatures of the Forest, about the evil things and good things, things friendly and things unfriendly, cruel things and kind things, and secrets hidden under brambles.

If this isn’t proof, nothing is.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Spawton?

How do you solve a problem like Spawton?

Yes, that Spawton.

Gregory Marcus Aurelius Spawton.

The guy just doesn’t give an inch.  He doesn’t compromise.  He doesn’t meet anyone half way.  He wants nothing but excellence in a world defined by shoddiness.  So, again, how do you solve a problem like Spawton?

What would Harrison Bergeron do?

Big Big Train live by Simon Hogg
Photo by Simon Hogg.

Continue reading “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Spawton?”

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.

 

 

 

A BBT-Inspired Post: The Enchanted Childhood of Christopher Dawson (TIC)

I’m breaking several rules by re-posting this at progarchy–including our rules that stress we should never write about 1) religion or 2) politics.

Apologies!

However, I wrote this piece about the incredible Anglo-Welsh Man of Letters, Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), while not only listening to Big Big Train but while also consciously trying to imitate Greg Spawton’s and David Longdon’s lyric-writing styles into straight prose.  I might have failed miserable, but I had a great time trying.

 

Stories of glass and stone—which told of the holy and sainted—convinced young Christopher Dawson that a saint was a saint not because of his or her individual talents, but as a continuation of the deepest longings and desires of the Church… 1,275 more words

via Etched in Glass and Stone: The Childhood of Christopher Dawson — The Imaginative Conservative

 

 

FAR SKIES DEEP TIME by Big Big Train (2018)

Far Skies, Deep Time.  Even the very title evokes mystery.  Indeed, were there still loads and loads of CD stores, and if I could spend my time browsing them, I would buy this album simply for the title alone.  Even if I knew absolutely nothing about Big Big Train.  I do, however.  That is, I do know about Big Big Train.  In fact, I know a lot about Big Big Train.  I’ve written more about Big Big Train over the last nine years of life than any other single topic, except for my professional work on humanism and the humanists of the 20th century.  And, to be clear, 9 years is just a little less than 1/5 of my life.

FSDT cover-300x300
Once blessed, now glorious.  Cover art by the extraordinarily talented Jim Trainer.

Truly, my life is immensely better for knowing the music and stories of Big Big Train.

I’m coming up on a full decade of Big Big Train being a vital part of my personal and professional life.  My kids and wife all know and love the band’s music, and no other band has served as the soundtrack of my last almost-decade more than has Big Big Train.

Continue reading “FAR SKIES DEEP TIME by Big Big Train (2018)”

Big Big Train’s FAR SKIES DEEP TIME Reissued

FSDT cover-300x300
To be re-released, March 16, 2018.

According to an email from Burning Shed this afternoon, Big Big Train has redesigned and remastered its 2010 maxi-ep release, FAR SKIES DEEP TIME.  Coming after 2009’s THE UNDERFALL YARD, FAR SKIES DEEP TIME was never seen by the band as a proper studio release, but rather as a compilation of disparate tracks.

Over the last eight years, two versions of the maxi-ep have appeared, one with a remake of Anthony Phillip’s “Master of Time,” and the other with a remake of a very early Big Big Train track, “Kingmaker.”

This 2018 version will be the first to incorporate both tracks onto one release.

Big Big Train is the premier European band of third-wave prog, and this latest release will only add to the group’s massively growing but already sterling reputation.

To preorder from Burning Shed, please click here.

To see our review of “Kingmaker,” please click here.