Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard,
I am always going to have a soft spot for Big Big Train, as they were the first band ever to send me something to review that I hadn’t paid for. That was a cassette (those were the days) of early demos that they called ‘From The River To The Sea’, and these songs were later re-recorded and formed the basis of their debut CD in 1992. They have never been exactly a prolific gigging band, but I did manage to capture one of their gigs many moons ago and we used to see each other at concerts and stayed in contact for years. So, onto their sixth album which features a new line-up for the band. Founder members Gregory Spawton and Andy Poole are still there, although they have a new singer in David Longdon. The current line-up also features drummer Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and guitarist Dave Gregory (Ex-XTC).
In fact, BBT have changed quite a lot from the band they were in the early days in that Greg and Andy now very much take the role of arrangers, bringing in the correct musicians to do justice to Greg’s songs. So, here we have Francis Dunnery (It Bites) providing additional guitar while Jem Godfrey (Frost*) assist on keyboards as well as Jon Foyle on cello. Dorset prog stalwart Rob Aubrey (IQ, Transatlantic, Asia, Galahad) mixed the album, and he has managed to provide a great overall clarity of sound, although it is incredibly layered.
Many years ago Greg walked up to me in a pub, and asked me what I thought of the new album (I think ‘English Boy Wonders’) and he quickly realised that I wasn’t overly enamoured and he shouted out “You don’t like it!” I tried to explain that I felt that there was nothing wrong with the album, but that it wasn’t BBT to my ears. Twenty years on from the first time I heard BBT I can honestly say that yet again this sounds nothing like the BBT I knew then, but now I can say that I like it. Okay, I really like it. Okay, it is easily the best album they have ever released and has catapulted them past most of their contemporaries. This album is a delight from start to finish – and has to be in every prog lover’s collection. There is depth, there is clarity, a pastoral beauty and a restrained very English feel to proceedings. Progressive music really doesn’t get any better than this, and the harmonies and use of instrumentation is just brilliant. Another album that has taken me nearly two years to review, I challenge any proghead not to play any single minute of this album chosen at random and not fall in love with it immediately.