Big Big Train – Merry Christmas

2 12 2017

As my favourite time of the year approaches, I always add my Christmas playlist to my phone. Since the late 80s I’ve not had many new tracks to add to the playlist that includes Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, Jona Lewie’s timeless Stop The Cavalry, December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and my favourite festive song of them all, Greg Lakes I Believe In Father Christmas.

front cover by Sarah Louise Ewing

Finally, I have two new songs for my most wonderful time of the year playlist courtesy of Big Big Train. The lead song from the single is Merry Christmas and it follows in the tradition of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas and Stop The Cavalry by being a story with a social conscience.

“When did the ringing of tills drown the pealing of bells?
Who cares as long as the products sell?”

David Longdon’s lyrics are a call to arms – reminding us to forget for a short while our commercialism, our faces stuck staring at our phones and asking us to try to remember the innocence and beauty of our memories of Christmas from the past.

“What wouldn’t you give to believe again, like you believed back then?”

Naturally, the music of Merry Christmas has all that you would expect from a future Christmas classic – a choir, brass band and sleigh bells adorn this gem of a song. Watch the heart-warming video, starring Big Big Train fan Mark Benton, below.

Merry Christmas will become a permanent fixture in my seasonal playlist, right before Greg Lake’s Chrimbo classic. They sound great together, by the way.

The vinyl and CD versions contain another new song, the six minute plus Snowfalls. A hymn to winter, its a wonderful companion piece, and really captures the spirit of the season.

“Tread lightly while snow falls from the clouds carried on the cold winds, from far away.”

Its definitely worth buying the physical version to hear Snowfalls, which could easily have graced any of the bands recent albums.

Pic Simon Hogg

Whilst Merry Christmas is limited to a particular time of the year, the Greg Spawton penned Snowfalls has more longevity. Building slowly, the instrumental layers are added as the song builds. The keyboards give the effect of snow falling throughout the track.

Snowfalls is a recording that highlights the bands effective use of dynamics, from the lightest of touches to the powerful crescendo’s that drive many Big Big Train performances.

In the spirit of charity at Christmas, a donation to the Night Stop homelessness charity will be made for every copy of the vinyl, CD, and download sold. So what are you waiting for – the links are below.

The single tops off a very good year for Big Big Train – with the Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star albums, and a short run of successful live shows.

Let me raise a virtual glass to the band – and here’s to some more new music soon…..

Buy the single (CD / vinyl) from:

Burning Shed
The Merchdesk

CD single from Amazon

Vinyl single from Amazon

Buy the digital version of Merry Christma

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/





Big Big Train – Grimspound

22 04 2017

Grimspound-album-cover-art-blogThree times Progressive Music Awards winners Big Big Train return with Grimspound, the follow up to last years Folklore album.

Album opener Brave Captain is the story of First World War English fighter pilot Albert Ball, from the viewpoint of Big Big Train vocalist David Longdon who stumbled across a memorial to Captain Ball as a child in the early 70s. This mixture of history and personal reminiscence runs deep in many of the bands songs, and makes them stand out from the crowd.

Grimspound‘s detailed album notes, as well as giving background and context to the lyrics, also explain the inspiration behind the songs instrumental passages.

Brave Captain is a powerful song, and heralds a subtle change in direction for this album. The songs on Grimspound seem to have added a hint of the 70s classic rock sound to the progressive mix. An addictive guitar line with synth / organ swirls push the song to its end section, reminding me a little of the sublime Private Investigations by Dire Straits. The powerful ending also feels like a cross between the twin guitar lines of classic Thin Lizzy mixed with the end of Bat Out Of Hell. You took the words right out of my mouth, I told you I can feel a classic rock influence!

On The Racing Line is an adventurous instrumental track, and a continuation of the story behind the song Brooklands on the Folklore album.

Experimental Gentlemen is an album highlight, book-ended by a beautiful intro and lengthy outro, with some mesmerising performances by the whole band. Watch a video of part two of the song below.

Meadowland returns to one of the characters from the two English Electric albums, and in the sleeve-notes, the band dedicate the track to the late John Wetton.

“Here with science and art
and beauty and music
and friendship and love,
you will find us”

This short nod to the band’s more pastoral past works really well at this stage in the album.

The albums title track reflects on what we leave behind, the mark we make on our world, in this increasingly digital age. The lovely shuffling drums pick up the pace as the song progresses through a lengthy instrumental section.

And then we have The Ivy Gate, my favourite track on the album. With a banjo intro that reminds me of the theme to the wonderful Deadwood TV series, the song features former Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble alongside David Longdon.

A sad tale of war, loss and suicide, the evolving arrangement adds to the songs charm, and the track contains some wonderful bass work from Greg Spawton.

There is a moment of pure beauty when The Ivy Gate drops back to just the lead vocal as the main event in the song occurs, and sparse guitar, piano and vocals hang heavy in the air. Its one of the most moving performances I’ve heard in a long while.

Photo by Simon Hogg

The penultimate track is the albums longest piece. A Mead Hall in Winter delivers all the twists and turns, evolving time signatures and beautiful harmonies that characterise the best in classic and modern progressive rock.

“Meet me at the mead hall in winter,
set the world to right
with songs, science and stories
hold back the fading light”

The middle section of A Mead Hall in Winter finds the band heading off into a jazzy, almost Steely Dan territory at times. The interplay and the solos are razor-sharp, with none of the riffs or phrases outstaying their welcome by a single second. The tight rhythm guitar and multiple synth lines are a joy to listen to as the layers drop off to reveal a Yes / ELP inspired end section.

As the Crow Flies is a touching end to the album, with lyrics about letting go – of your children as they grow old, of your loved ones as they age. The song starts as it ends – “All here is good, still and quiet”. Songs like this remind you that your final destination is not important, its what you do on your journey that matters.

“Hope not to fall
or drift away”

I was a big fan of last years Folklore, but Grimspound turns it up a notch, and is a much more complete album, with strong performances from all the band members. The songs reveal new moments of wonder at different points, and the music deserves to be heard in one piece, with your full attention and played loud through good speakers or headphones.

I hope you enjoy Grimspound.

Buy Grimspound on CD from Amazon

Buy Folklore on from Amazon


Buy English Electric (1 & 2) CD on Amazon





Big Big Train – Folklore

10 06 2016

Big Big Train - FolkloreFolklore is the ninth album from the English progressive band Big Big Train. I first heard the band quite late in their development, around the time of album number 6, The Underfall Yard, but I really started to take notice with the two English Electric albums from 2012 and 2013.

One of the most interesting aspects of Big Big Train for me is the lyrics. They are often incredibly nostalgic, and tell unique stories – of times long gone and landscapes no longer seen. Drawing on art, literature, landscapes and history,  Big Big Train deliver stories of master forgers, mining communities, shipbuilders and curators of butterflies, with music that matches the imagination and variety of the words.

So onto Folklore, the new Big Big Train album. I’ve been living with the album for nearly two weeks now, and its already one of my favourite albums of the year. Make no mistake, this is a classic album, from beginning to end.

Opening with the title track, strings and brass (real, not synthesizer) usher in one of the albums most powerful tracks. Driven by a mesmerising drum groove and shaft-like guitar line, its a real statement of intent. The breakdown towards the end of Folklore is so moving, real hairs on the back of the neck stuff.

“Sometimes truth hides behind the lines,
grist to the mill, fuel to our fire.”

London Plane is a gentler piece, with wonderful layered harmonies, and a long, very proggy instrumental section.  Reviews of Big Big Train often mention the band’s Englishness. I’m not going to get into a Brexit / stay or leave referendum argument in this review, don’t worry, but certain bands really evoke where they are from, or where they draw their influences. You can hear New Jersey in early Springsteen as much as Big Big Train have the English countryside and Northern cities dripping from every organ solo or acoustic flourish.

Along The Ridgeway has some great guitar from former XTC mainstay Dave Gregory, and a key feature on this album, some fine brass arrangements. The track seques into Salisbury Giant, an organ and violin driven piece that builds on the melodies from the previous track.

The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun is my favourite track on the album. Opening with a brass arrangement that owes as much to Peter Skellern as it does to Genesis or Peter Gabriel, the song takes many twists and turns on its journey. Vocalist David Longdon delivers his best performance on this track and the mid-section chanting that gives way to delicious harmonies has to be heard to be believed. Its a stunning track.

“Here be dragons taking flight..”

Wassail reminds me of mid-80s Peter Gabriel, and is the most immediate of the songs of the album, with a blazing hammond solo halfway through the song.

Songwriting duties on Folklore are split between vocalist David Longdon and founding member, bassist Greg Spawton, yet there is a real feel of consistency throughout the album.

The subject matter for Winkie is based on a true story – read more in this BBC news piece. This is the most progressive track on the album, with some Chris Squire like bass from Greg Spawton.

Brooklands is the album’s longest track, with lyrics from the point of view of a racing driver reminiscing about racing at the long closed Brooklands racing track in Surrey. As much a song about the passage of time as it is about a specific racing driver, the music compliments the lyrics well, giving a real feel of speed and movement.

“Just give me one more run…”

The album closes with the pastoral Telling The Bees. The song has a real early 70s vibe to it – on first listen I almost expected Rod Stewart to start singing! If you don’t find yourself swaying and nodding your head to this song, you need to check your pulse.

Telling The Bees is the perfect ending to a wonderful album that I can’t recommend enough.

Buy Folklore from Amazon

Buy Folklore vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy English Electric Full Power from Amazon








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