Big Big Train - English Electric Part One,
Approximately 20 years ago a postman made a delivery to my house. In itself there is nothing unusual in that concept, but the difference here was that inside the envelope was a demo tape from a Dorset band. They had been given my details by Stu Nicholson who I had recently been in contact with, so they decided to send me the tape to see what I thought of it. Needless to say that band were Big Big Train, and the tape was ‘From The River To The Sea’, and it was the first piece of music ever sent to me to review. Since then I have listened to countless thousands of CDs, but Big Big Train were the very first so I have always had something of a soft spot for them. Although it must be said that not only was I not a huge fan of one of their releases back in the day, but I also had the misfortune to run into Greg Spawton in a pub in Winchester not long after I had formed that opinion.
The reason for that was I felt that they no longer sounded like BBT and that they had allowed outside guests and influences to take over the album, but looking back now it is obvious that it was an important step in allowing the band to grow musically. And boy have they changed now. There have been one or two line-up changes over the years but Greg (now on bass/keys) and Andy Poole (keys/production) have been there from the beginning, and singer David Longdon (plus mandolin, keys, flute etc) who joined in 2009 has been a real find. It is these three that have written all of the songs, but since 2010 they have been joined by guitarist Dave Gregory and some drummer called Nick D’Virgilio. Yes, the ex-Spock’s Beard and current Mystery sticksman is also a key member of this band.
One word screams out all of the time that this is playing, and that is “Maturity”. The band have changed immensely since those early days and have produced an album that is huge and the reason for that is the control that pervades everything that is happening. I was playing this while out in one of the paddocks and I was trying to think who it reminded me of, and the closest I can come to is Marillion combined with Chris Rea but that has much more to do with the way they have approached the construction and composition as opposed to the musical direction.
Many people will say that this isn’t a prog album, but so what? That really depends on your personal definition of prog, but given the use of additional guests and instruments where else doe sit really fit? On a personal level, when I heard the flute I immediately asked myself if Martin Orford (IQ/Jadis) had become involved in the music scene again as I know that he had contributed to past BBT albums. Well, I was wrong about the flute as that is by David but Widge does provide some backing vocals – it was a huge loss to not only UK prog but to music as a whole when he decided not to continue so hopefully there will be more to come.
This is a part one album, with the second to follow in March, and to be honest I can hardly wait. To my old jaded ears this is stunning – and when I received that cassette all those years ago I could never have imagined that one day I would be listening to anything as powerful as this. This is essential for any lover of good music.