Big Big Train – Merchants of Light

24 07 2018

PrintMerchants of Light is the new live album from three times Progressive Music Award winning band Big Big Train. The album features the best performance of each song played at the band’s three sold out shows at Cadogan Hall, London, in the autumn of 2017.

The title track from their 2016 album Folklore ushers in the 16 track live album. The brass / strings and Shaft like rhythm guitar lines snuggle up together better than they should on this powerful opening track. Brave Captain from Folklore‘s companion album Grimspound works equally well in its live setting. As I mentioned in my original review, from the half way section of the song, there are shades of Dire Straits Private Investigations in the piano lines and the breakdown.

Last Train was originally on the 6th Big Big Train album The Underfall Yard from 2009. The song tells the story of a station masters last day at work. One of the more progressive songs on this live album, the harmonies are a pure joy to hear.

London Plane is built on a solid foundation of an intricate vocal arrangement, and serves up an adventurous mixture of jazz and prog flowing through the instrumental sections.

Meadowland is a gentle pastoral sounding track, with subtle brush drums, violin and restrained piano. A Mead Hall in Winter is one of this live album’s highlights. Synths and strings jostle with jaunty organ, throwing musical nods to 70s giants Genesis and Yes, with a sprinkle of early Steely Dan thrown in for good measure.

Swan Hunter from English Electric Part Two and its tale of a long-lost shipping industry has become one of the band’s standards. The use of brass always evokes a feeling of the early 1970s to me, and this fine version of Swan Hunter is no exceptionDavid Longdon’s vocals are in fine form here and throughout the album.

Big Big Train live by Simon Hogg

My favourite Big Big Train song is The Transit of Venus Across the Sun. It’s the brass again! The arrangement is so light and gentle, with no bombast used in getting the emotion across. There is real beauty in both the arrangement and performances from all the musicians.

East Coast Racer gets a fantastic reception from the crowd, and is the longest track on the album. The song charts the history of Mallard, the worlds fasted locomotive.  East Coast Racer is the band at their most progressive and highlights some of their finest melodies and harmonies.

A great version of  the mid 70s pop / rock influenced Telling The Bees is followed by one of the oldest songs on this album in Victorian Brickwork. This track is one that will appeal to fans of the first progressive era of the early 70s. The twists, turns and swells will lift the darkest of moods, and is modern progressive music at its finest.

Drums and Brass is an instrumental interlude that leads into the albums final track, Wassail.

It is easy to get lost in the music of Big Big Train – from the fascinating stories told through the lyrics, to the varied musical styles. If you have not heard the band before, Merchants of Light would be a great starting point, and it is highly likely that you will set off on a voyage of discovery to take in all of the bands recent albums.

Tracklist:

Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall in Winter
Experimental Gentlemen part two
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling the Bees
Victorian Brickwork
Drums and Brass
Wassail


Buy the Merchants of Light double CD from Amazon

 

Also available now is the Swan Hunter EP, that includes 3 versions of Swan Hunter (a radio edit, a 2018 remix of the album version and a live version), plus a new recording of English Electric: Full Power‘s Seen Better Days (an emotional duet with no-man’s Tim Bowness) and a 2017 live at Real World Studio version of Summer’s Lease (originally on 2007’s The Difference Machine album).





Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s By Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence

25 03 2017

OK, lets start with a confession. The 70s is my favourite decade. Its a decade that I lived through as a young ‘un (I was 10 in 1970) and saw me through to my first years as a young adult. It was the decade that provided some of the music that has seeped into my very soul, especially the mid 70s classic rock and the punk / post punk music from 77-79 that shook the establishment. So Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s was always going to scream out READ ME, READ ME NOW. Oh and prepare to open your wallet – as you will probably find yourselves heading over to Amazon to buy lots of the DVDs and blurays of programmes you loved when you were young, or to eBay to pick up comics (old copies of Look-in) or other 70s memorabilia.

Scarred for Life Volume one: The 1970s

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s is a printed publication (740 black and white pages printed, with a free colour eBook version) that covers the decades weird and wonderful television (including favourites of mine such as The Tomorrow People, Sky, Survivors and A Ghost Story For Christmas), as well as a look at the changing face of UK TV culture. And that’s not all – the publication looks at board games – such as Top Trumps and Escape From Colditz, plus films and comics (including the mighty Action from 1976) as well as 70s fads and food (I had forgotten all about Horror Bags Fangs Crisps!). Oh and the array of 70s ice-lollies – no wonder I’ve spent so much money at the dentists over the years.

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s opens with an excellent scene-setting introduction by horror writer / historian Johnny Mains. Scarred by Television is the books first section. If you lived through the 70s, the memories are instantly sparked by the description of TV in that decade – no remote controls, tiny screens and few channels, compared to todays HD and hundreds of channels beamed into our homes through satellite / cable and on demand net based programming. On demand was not an option in the 1970s – in fact recording of programmes to watch later didn’t feature in most households until the 1980s. So TV watching was a much more communal event – everyone watched the programmes at the same time and discussed last nights viewing at school or work the next day. And if you missed the programme, or if it clashed with something else your family was watching on the homes ONE TV, that was it – no pausing, rewinding or catch-up TV. You simply missed it.

Programmes discussed in depth in the first few chapters include The Owl ServiceThe Ghosts of Motley Hall and one of my favourites, The Tomorrow People (which has a Bowie reference, fact fiends). Name that tune! The Blue And The Green Tomorrow People story has stuck with me all these years.

SkyOne of the most enjoyable parts of Scarred for Life is the coverage of the HTV series Sky. I remember watching and enjoying early episodes of this programme, but for some long forgotten reason, I never got to watch the whole of the seven part series. But I never forgot those terrifying black eyes…..

There is also a lengthy and informative section on Play For Today – including the haunting Blue Remembered Hills, which can be found on the Essential Dennis Potter boxset.

The sci-fi section of Scarred for Life includes the BBC post-plague drama Survivors. Much grittier than the (sadly cut-short after two series) more recent version starring Max Beesley, the original series lasted three seasons and went straight into my Amazon basket after reading about it in this book.

My favourite TV related section of Scarred for Life is the Gothic TV section – especially  the section on A Ghost Story For Christmas. I occasionally saw episodes during the 70s but bought the BFI DVD collection a couple of years ago due to the 2010 remake of the M. R. James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and dipping into this collection has become a Christmas tradition. The Scarred for Life piece goes into great detail, even mentioning the 1860s M. R. James origin of the Christmas Ghost stories that led to this wonderful BBC festive regular. I know its not Christmas as I write this review, but I think I’ll dip into the collection again this weekend. Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, after all.

The How we used to live section discusses the way that some mainstream 70s TV dealt with race (the impact of ‘light entertainment’ shows such as The Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour) and particularly the awful, lazy stereotyping in Mind Your Language. The section also discusses the “something for the Dads” casual sexism that was prevalent in Seaside Special / Top of the Pops and various sitcoms such as Doctor In The House and On The Buses. To their credit, the Scarred for Life writers don’t choose the easy “weren’t the 70s wacky” route in their discussions about these issues.

Scarred for Life takes an interesting approach to its lengthy Doctor Who section. Instead of focusing on the show and the stories, they take a fresh approach discussing what it was like being a fan of the show – writing about the Doctor Who Exhibitions and the eras Doctor Who annuals and magazines.

If, like me, you are of a certain age – the phrase “clunk click every trip” will mean you watched the multitude of public information films that ran through the decade, and they are discussed in loving detail in Scarred for Life. To this day, I’m still petrified of dumped fridges and ponds.

charleysays

The section covers with Charley Says, The Green Cross Code and the downright terrifying Joe & Petunia (the coastguard animation still haunts me). Coo-ee!

I spent many happy hours playing Escape From Colditz as a kid in the early 70s. The board game was inspired by the popular TV series, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, that ran for two series between 1972 and 1974. It made a change from the endless magic sets and compendium of games that I received each Christmas. So I really enjoyed the children’s games section in this publication, that also covers Top Trumps, a card based game (I recall having lots of military and vehicle based sets – mainly tanks, jets and motorbikes).

The savage cinema section is well researched. Covering films such as Soldier Blue, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series, the writers put these films in the context of the post-Vietnam, permissive society fighting Mary Whitehouse era. Classic films such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Deliverance are also covered.

The writers also delve briefly into the “When Animals Attack” late 70s film genre, mentioning Grizzly, but sadly no mention of one of my  (corny) favourites from the era – Day of the Animals. I saw Day of the Animals as a double-bill (what a great concept, bring it back!) at the cinema in 1977 with a great film called The Car, with James Brolin being pursued through the desert by a seemingly driverless Lincoln Continental (The Car is mentioned further on in Scarred for Life).

Another well-written section of the book are chapters given over to covering some of the satanic / possession films of the 70s. Covering less obvious choices, such as Dennis Potters Brimstone and Treacle (not to be confused with the later film version starring Sting) as well as the sort of films you would expect, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, the writing is often focused on the public’s perception of the films rather than plot synopses, which is a fresh take on these much-discussed classic horror films.

I also found the folk-horror section interesting – as its a sub-genre I know little about, so feel inclined to explore further.

The Pop Movie Turns Dark covers the trio of pop films That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Slade in Flame. I’ve never seen the Slade film but love the two David Essex films. I didn’t realise that That’ll Be The Day is based on Harry Nilsson’s song 1941, so thanks for that pop-quiz nugget, Scarred for Life.

thatll-be-the-day

The sections on 70s books and comics is the section I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. I bought several pre-ban issues of Action – I wish I’d kept them, as it was a ground-breaking comic that is covered in depth in this publication. And I had forgotten all about the Pan Book of Horror Stories – that turned me onto the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker among others. I was also a big fan of the early James Herbert books – The Rats is discussed in Scarred for Life, but my favourite was The Fog. I’ve still got my original copy and it still scares me to death. Its a shame there is not more coverage of James Herbert – he may not be regarded as being a writer in the same class as Stephen King in horror writing circles, but his books were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s for the very good reason that they were terrifying.

Scarred by… food. Horror themed ice-lollies (Lyons Maid Red Devils & Haunted House), Smiths Horror Bags crisps (I can taste them now!) and Golden Wonder Kung Fueys (bacon and mushroom corn balls mnnnn) are all on the menu in Scarred for Life. Oh how I miss the 70s.

There is an interesting chapter on UFO imagery used in 70s music, including Boston, ELO, The Stranglers and a fair bit about David Bowie‘s apparent fascination with aliens. The sections ends with the top 10 UFO songs of the 70s. I won’t give it away – buy Scarred for Life and see for yourself.

Scarred for Life is a great read for anyone who lived through the decade, or for anyone in love with the music, TV and films that poured out of this amazing period. The TV series Life on Mars gave a great flavour of the 70s, so if you loved that show, Scarred for Life will paint an even fuller picture of the decade. I am really looking forward to the next volume, that will cover the 80s. I can’t wait to read about the nuclear paranoia of that decade, especially the mighty Threads.

You can buy Scarred for Life Volume one – the 70s now as a 740 page perfect-bound paperback (the printed version comes with details of how to obtain the colour e-book version as part of your purchase).








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