I came across this wonderful review of what attending a Marillion Weekend is like, when the band plays 3 nights in a row, each with a different setlist and theme. It perfectly captures what it means to be a fan, and what a privilege it is to be at a Marillion live show (or three, if you’re lucky). I wish I had written it myself.
“Live From The Byre” New John Bassett EP is released today!
You can hear it/get it now at
Its a 4 track EP, recorded in a derelict byre (cowshed) in County Sligo Ireland. It was recorded in one take using 3 microphones, 1 for vocals, 1 for guitar and 1 for ambient sounds such as the birds nesting in the roof, the wind outside and the door continually creaking. The songs featured on this are
1. Unearth (from John Bassett “Unearth”)
2. Nothing Sacred (from John Bassett “Unearth”)
3. Murder in a Small Town (from KingBathmat “Blue Sea, Black Heart”)
4. Brand New Crucifix (this song is about 20 years old and I don’t think its ever been available anywhere?)
Retro-re-review of Big Big Train, STONE AND STEEL (EERBR001; English Electric, 2016).
Way back on the first day of April, 2016, I posted this:
For the most part, the live studio versions performed on STONE AND STEEL are similar, but not identical to the original album versions. It’s clear that the band encourages spontaneity in each musician. Watching the band, I was happily surprised to see how many duties Manners and Poole (even Longdon plays keys briefly) share when it comes to the keyboards and just how much Gregory (my all-time favorite guitarist, along with Alex Lifeson) shares with Sjöblom. Such sharing, of course, is nothing if not a sign of wisdom and charity, yet another example of why so many of us love this band. Individual ego diminishes in proportion to the excellence manifested by the entire band.
Spawton, it must be noted, is clearly the sturdy pillar around which all revolves. Though he’s off to the side and not in the limelight, his bass is strong, innovative, and warm.
My review was glowing, and there’s nothing in it I would change, even 9 months later. When it comes to live releases in 2016, there have been a fair number of simply excellent ones. Steve Hackett’s TOTAL EXPERIENCE, Aryeon’s THE THEATER EQUATION, Morse’s ALIVE AGAIN, and even BBT’s second live release of the year, A STONE’S THROW FROM THE LINE, each captured something unique about the musicians and the time period.
Ian Oakley posted this fascinating backstory on Facebook and very kindly gave me permission to repost here. Thank you, Ian!
Ok I may be totally biased as I tour managed the week and financed the CD – but this really is a remarkable live album – There was just something magic that night, it just seemed that for one reason or another that night everything came together at once and the band were firing on all cylinders. Then we had the enormous good fortune to have a venue sound engineer who was sympathetic to the music; because what you are hearing on that CD is basically a direct feed from the desk into a portable 4 track machine – which only really worked once on the whole tour – this night. No overdubs – just a raw live band doing only the 5th date of their entire career! Atmosphere wise there is only one other live ‘Prog’ album that I think captures a time and a place so well – Twelfth Night’s ‘Live and let Live’. So I totally agree with you Bradley, this is a real 3rd wave classic and I would go as so far to say it contains a far better performance of the material from ‘The World That We Drive Through’ than the studio album itself. . . . I would add that this was also recorded just a week after some members of the band had actually physically met for the very first time – let alone played together! (I remember having to introduce Andy to Jonas at a TFK gig after TMTDA was recorded: “Hi Jonas” – “Hi you are?” – “Ahh I’m Andy we just recorded an album together”…
[Earlier this year, Professor Geoff Parks very kindly asked me to contribute to the BBT Concert Book, introducing and celebrating the band live for three dates this past weekend. As any progressive rock lover knows, this happened and, surprising to no one except the members of the band, BBT performed with absolute and utter brilliance. From my perspective, praise of BBT is praise of integrity itself. Below is what appeared in the concert program. I am deeply honored to have been a part of this event, even if armed only with a keyboard and separated by 3,500 miles–Brad]
Over time, most bands fade, while some others merely linger. A few, however, grow, evolve, develop, broaden, deepen, and reach. Toward what? Toward excellence, toward true community, toward art, toward creativity, and toward beauty.
Big Big Train is such a band. More importantly, it is an artistic community, in and of itself.
Founded in the early 1990s when progressive rock had become not just “weird” but almost anathema for most folks, Big Big Train stood for something solid and good even when the footing was unsure. Writing dramatic and cinematic pieces—complete with false starts and re-dos and some clumsy grasps (one album from 2002 is even a four-letter word)—Greg Spawton and Andy Poole pursued their dreams of making their own music. Though they correctly offered pieties to the past of Genesis and Yes, they wanted to be their own touchstone.
Then, something happened. Gathering Speed. At once an homage to the brave who defended the motherland against the rapacious fascists of central Europe, Gathering Speed proved to offer a distinctive sound, a “Big Big Train” sound. Drama, time shifts, jarring passages becoming melodic and melodic becoming ethereal, and truly fine lyric writing made this album a gem.
Then, something happened. Again. The Difference Machine. Astonishingly, even better than Gathering Speed, The Difference Machine told the haunting story of the stars and the souls, and the souls and the stars. At what point do the two become one? Chaos, order, sacrifice, dreams, death, loss. Everything that matters in life (and death) is here, in every lyric and every note.
Then, something happened. Again. The Underfall Yard. Oh, the majesty of that new voice, that voice that so perfectly captures Spawton’s and Poole’s music. That voice doesn’t just define the sound that the two remaining founders of the band had so long pursued, it gives it harmony in a perfect, Platonic sense. The listener begins the album, lulled by that voice. Toward the middle, we don’t know if we’re in Hell, Purgatory, or Holy Mass. By the end of the album, we care desperately that an electrical storm has moved out to sea.
Then, something happened. Again and again and again. English Electric One, English Electric Two, English Electric Full Power. A two cd set with a glorious booklet. And, now, we see what Spawton and Poole had seen for twenty-three years: an idyllic English landscape, marred by human error and the will to destroy. But, also leavened with the will to love, to discover, and to create. English Electric, despite the power implied, is the delicate holding of a soul, a soul that can choose the good or the ill, the true or the terrifying, and the beautiful or the horrific.
And, now, a toast of Wassail to three live dates in London, 2015. There, in the heart of English liberty, the heart of English commerce, and the heart of English dignity. For there, behind wind-swept pioneers, Spitfires, divers and architects, station masters, fallen kings, intriguing uncles, decrepit athletes, shipping manifests, curators, and loyal dogs, lies . . . something.
There, just behind the hedgerow. If you look and listen with attention and care, you’ll find the keepers of all things good, true, and beautiful. They call themselves Big Big Train.
To echo John, “Wow” is a pretty good way of summing it up. “Stunning” and “special” would also do. There are countless superlatives that could be substituted here.
I was thinking a lot about last night’s gig as I travelled north on the train this morning and I’ll share a few of those thoughts here. There’ll be no spoilers, and I’ll not be writing an actual review myself – I’m sure John and other Progarchists will be doing that more thoroughly and eloquently than I could.
The first thing that strikes me is how unusual it is for a well-established band, with such a body of work behind them, to have never before performed as a live act. That’s part of what made yesterday evening so magical to me, aside from the obvious special qualities of the music itself.
Second observation: debutantes could be forgiven some hesitancy or nervousness, and we might not expect them to sound as tight as a more seasoned unit. Yet there was none of that here. The thrill of seeing this music performed in a concert venue for the very first time was greatly amplified by the confidence and assurance of the performers. It simply felt like they’d been doing this as a band for years. (If only they had been…)
Third (slightly shamefaced) observation: I’ll confess to some doubts before last night. I worried about how well that amazing album sound, rich, multilayered and impeccably recorded, would translate to the live setting. Surely some of its depth and subtlety would be lost in the process? Well on that score I’m happy to have been conclusively proven a complete idiot!
These players have taken that advice to “run hard as you like” to heart. Moments that were powerful and energetic on record seemed to take on new power, greater energy. Yet none of the delicacy was lost – a testament to their skill as musicians.
Big Big Train have emerged from the chrysalis, and the splendour of their new form is dazzling.
Regular readers will know that The Tangent’s Andy Tillison is a firm favourite with many of the contributors to this site, myself included. You’ll not be surprised, therefore, to see some words from me about his most recent live outing – a special “Evening with…” show last Saturday at Wesley Hall in Crookes, just on the outskirts of Sheffield.
Wesley Hall is part of a Methodist church and not the most obvious location for a prog gig – until you learn that the minister there is none other than music-loving Progarchy contributor John Simms! Anyway, it’s a charming place and in many respects a good venue for an intimate show like this one – although I’ll admit the hill-top setting made me feel somewhat foolish for deciding to walk up from the city centre.
When I arrived, just a little bit sweaty and out of breath from the climb, a handful of people were standing outside, chatting amiably with Andy himself and his partner Sally. This relaxed and friendly atmosphere pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening. There was no particular hurry to start and an understandable willingness to wait until fellow Progarchist Alison Henderson and partner Martin had managed to find something to eat, given the very lengthy drive they had undertaken to be there. Eventually, we made our way into the hall and found seats, and soon enough, when all had been fed and watered, the show began.
Andy had admitted beforehand to a certain degree of nervousness about this, his first proper solo gig, but it really didn’t show as he ran through an almost bewilderingly diverse repertoire, mixing classics from The Tangent and Po90 with an unexpected rendition of Rory Gallagher’s Bullfrog Blues and a hilarious Berlin School-inspired homage to classic UK kids TV show The Clangers – incorporating the theme from Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire, no less! As if that weren’t already enough, we also enjoyed the incongruity of seeing a drum solo played on a keyboard and heard a raw, powerful performance of In Earnest preceding a jazzed-up version of The Commodores’ Three Times a Lady. Threaded through this intoxicating mixture were the anecdotes and dry self-deprecating wit of the man himself. A case in point would be the delightful tale of how GPS Culture‘s leitmotif was constructed by splicing the theme tune of soap opera East Enders onto the jingle from a PC World TV advert!
Thank you, Andy and Sally, for a joyous evening that will live long in the memory. And thank you, John, for hosting it!