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.
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.
As I’ve mentioned before, Jim Trainer is one of my favorite painters. The man can capture the mythical essence of reality better than anyone I know. As much as James Marsh is connected with Talk Talk, Hugh Syme with Rush, and Roger Dean with Yes, Trainer is connected with Big Big Train. His work is some of the finest I’ve ever seen, and I’m quite proud that progarchy HQ is decorated with a framed, original Trainer painting.
Today, on Facebook, Trainer posted an unused painting for Big Big Train’s 2009 masterpiece, THE UNDERFALL YARD. Not surprisingly, it’s simply glorious. So, with Trainer’s permission (thank you, Jim!), I’m reposting the painting, three extracted crops, and his comments.
For what it’s worth, I strongly disagree with his own criticism. I think this painting perfectly captures the mood and themes of Spawton and Co.
Trainer’s description: “Promised Rob Aubrey an old sketch from the Underfall Yard illustration set but when I found it I was so disappointed with it. Spent last night and this afternoon trying to turn it around….not sure if I’m there yet but I think I’ve done enough to let it go. Clouds are still not right but might never be.”
Trainer: “Tearing apart the fabric of British society – describes the album themes well – I thought.”
Trainer: “I was never sure if I was illustrating a power station or a wheel house. Whatever it is at least it is spewing out psychedelic waste!”
Big Big Train, ENGLISH BOY WONDERS (Giant Electric Pea, 1997; 2008)
14 Tracks on the re-released version, 2008. Interior/booklet art by Jim Trainer.
ENGLISH BOY WONDERS is, by far, the most “English” of all of Big Big Train’s albums. Articulate, intelligent, penetrating, and romantic, the album should properly be listened to under grey skies with fog clinging to the land, an iron-gated cemetery to one side and a beautiful pale-skinned, red-headed woman just out of reach on the other, with a slight bit of drizzle in 55-degree weather. The listener, of course, should be wearing tweed and fiddling with his pipe. Perhaps, he should also have a battered, leather copy of Wordsworth or Tennyson as well.
I exaggerate, but only slightly.
As explained at the EBW promotional site:
English Boy Wonders was originally recorded on a limited budget & released by GEP in a semi-complete state in 1997. It has been unavailable for many years. For the 2008 re-release, Big Big Train have returned to the original master tapes & have re-recorded much of the album. Additional sections of music have also been written to complete the album as it was once intended. A bonus track featuring Martin Orford has been included & the album has been completely remixed & remastered by Rob Aubrey.
English Boy Wonders tells the heart breaking story of a doomed relationship across its 80 minutes of music & words. The album is a unique blend of progressive rock & English pop featuring many of Big Big Train’s finest songs.
Never shy about his melancholic, autumnal imagination, Greg Spawton actively and openly wrote a heart-wrenching story about loss on this second Big Big Train album. And, not just loss. . . but desire, hope, longing, and unrequited love.
For those of us—and we are becoming immense in our numbers—who have come to fall in love with David Longdon’s voice (a voice I consider to be the single finest in the current era of rock), it’s difficult to hear BBT without him. And, yet, on EBW, it was so. No Longdon. Not yet. He’s not the only one missing. A quick look reveals, of course, no Manners. No D’Virgilio. No Gregory.
Holy schnikees, what is this thing I hold so delicately in my hands? How can it be so great as it is without those four distinctive personalities?
Well, at least Poole and Spawton are here. And, thank the Northern pantheon of gods, very much so. One can hear them and their brilliance in every note. Not only is EBW so very English, it is so very BBT. The complexity of the arrangements, the searing guitar, the swirling keyboards, the anxious drums, and Spawton’s heart rending lyrics. Yes, this is Big Big Train. With all BBT releases, Spawton and Poole never shy away from reflecting those they admire. There’s some mid-period Genesis here, but there is also quite a bit of atmospheric jazz, with keyboards and drums far more daring than Collins and Banks ever tried.
And, for the newer release, the unofficial member of the band, that Anglos-audiophilic genius Rob Aubrey lends his extraordinary skills to EBW.
While the entire album is excellent and a must own, the tracks that lodge themselves firmly in the soul and mind are “Albion Perfide,” “Out of It,” “Reaching for John Dowland” and “The Shipping Forecast.”
If you’ve not noticed before, we progarchists kind of, sort of, really, really like Big Big Train. So. . . it’s with much excitement that we report this.
The Classic Rock Society of the U.K. has just awarded BBT with three well-deserved awards: 1) David Longdon for best vocals; 2) “East Coast Racer” as the best track of the year; and 3) Big Big Train as Great Britain’s best band.
The progarchists of progarchy hq in central Hillsdale County of Michigan are doing a little victory dance for our friends across the Atlantic.
Congratulations to Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Gregory, Danny Manners, Andy Poole, and Rob Aubrey. And, of course, to Jim Trainer as well. Amazing and brilliant and wonderful.