Sunday, 16 December 2007

Light Speed



Went to see Allan Holdsworth at The Brook in Southampton a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, hardly anyone else went; the Brook is a tiny venue but it was less than half full - maybe 80 people. Holdsworth is a legendary figure, a highly influential guitarist with astounding technique. He was, briefly, a member of UK and played in Bill Bruford's band before releasing a number of solo albums. He plays really really fast, which is why I made the photo of him look a bit blurry (it's not camera shake, honest.) Holdsworth's band featured two other gifted and high-profile musicians, Chad Wackerman (Zappa, Petrucci, Vai) on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Jimmy played on Roger Waters' Amused to Death which is a very good thing to have been involved with.

I can't imagine why so few people turned up for the gig. Ok, fusion isn't everyone's cup-of-tea, being short on hummable tunes and, to some extent, emotional impact, but these guys perform at the very highest level of technical ability on their respective instruments. Still, the lack of audience meant we got to stand right at the front, which was nice.

Incidentally, Alan Holdsworth is 61 years old. He looks great for his age, don'tcha think?








Monday, 12 November 2007

Back in the studio

Back in the studio yesterday for some more recording. Phil and Thomas from Thieves Kitchen popped in for a listen. Their shortly-to-be-released album sounds very interesting.

I asked Thomas who else he had played for as Phil had mentioned he had done some previous recording and he said, 'oh, I used to be in this band in Sweden called Anglagard .'

'What??!!' I replied whilst falling off the studio couch.

I've been hunting for the two Anglagard albums for several months as I've heard that they were essential listening.

According to the Anglagard website, Thomas is taking a PHD in theoretical fusion plasma physics at Oxford. If I had known that yesterday I would, of course, have entered into a detailed and informed discussion with Thomas about nuclear stuff which would certainly have moved his PHD forward by some years. As it was, I spent most of my time trying to blag one of those rare Anglagard CD's from him.

Unfortunately, he hadn't got any copies either.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Interview

Stuart Cameron's new Progressive Rock Review website features a recent interview with me.

Stuart's show features extended conversations with prog musicians and is being promoted through a number of radio stations and iTunes.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Colony of Slippermen

Do check out this cover version of Slippermen (free download) - it's very very clever.

The musicians who worked on this with Nick are session players for country and western songs. It's such a weird song, I would love to know what they made of it.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Chuffed as nuts

After a mad burst of creativity (the most productive I've ever had) the writing for the follow-up album to The Difference Machine, English Electric, is pretty much done. Still a lot of work to do on arrangements and recording, but we'll be looking for a 2008 release (although that may slip into 2009 if we finish towards the end of next year.)

Listeners can expect a similar line-up of musicians to The Difference Machine (with maybe one or two extra guests on the keyboards) a slightly more diverse selection of songs, our first 20 minute epic, and, I think, a cracking album.

Current tracklisting:

The Underfall Yard
Victorian Brickwork
Master James of St George
An as yet untitled song
At the Water's Edge
Oceania
Available Light

We'll also be trying to finish off the retrospective of previously unreleased or re-recorded material that we've been promising for ages. Problem is, new songs always take priority, but we will be aiming to get this released in 2010 for our 20th anniversary.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Terrorized








Terrorizer magazine has been doing a series of very interesting articles on prog rock in their last three issues. The cover CD for the new issue which is out today and which concludes their look at the state of prog, features Big Big Train. They've found space for the full length version of Perfect Cosmic Storm on the CD, alongside tracks from Dream Theatre, Porcupine Tree and others.


According to Terrorizer, our music is 'unashamed, unreconstructed PROG FUCKIN' ROCK' and we are 'bound to please fans of Yes, the Enid and early Genesis.' As I kind of expected, most of the other bands on the CD are from the heavier end of the prog spectrum rather than the symphonic side of things and I'm not so sure that we'll please the average Terrorizer reader, but it's nice to see our name on the news stands.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Excerpts from a new interview

I've just been interviewed by Kristian Selm of Progressive Newsletter. Looks like it'll be fully published in December, but some excerpts here: Interview

Greg

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Bloody hell, another cracker from Oceansize

The third brilliant album in a row from Oceansize.

If you've not come across Oceansize before, and you'd like to try some prog coming from an alternative rock direction, please give them a listen. Their new album, like their others, is complicated, gothic, intense and heavy (but without any silly widdly widdly guitar wanking.)

You can hear some samples on their MySpace page.

They also have a new official website which tells you all about their current tour (warning: if you do go to see them, earplugs are strongly recommended if you want to avoid tinnitus.)

And this Wikipedia article gives some background on the band.

Greg

Saturday, 22 September 2007

New song - Available Light

We've just spent some time with Nick D'Virgilio working on material for the follow up album to The Difference Machine, English Electric.

Here is a brief clip of Nick in action on a couple of sections of a new song called Available Light.

If you prefer to watch at Youtube, it's also here.

**Quality-control warning - it's only hand-held camcorder footage and all the music is at guide-part stage, so apologies for the wobbly vocals, made-up words, crap bits etc.**


Friday, 21 September 2007

Painting the music

Our official artist, James Trainer, has his own My Space page with a huge amount of artwork for past (and future) Big Big Train releases. He has Summer's Lease playing in the background and, maybe it's the melancholy of autumn and having drunk the best part a bottle of wine, but the paintings and the music seem to blend into one another.

Do stop by if you get the chance. Jim started off as a BBT fan, but we're all now Jim Trainer fans.

Prognosis / Babyblaue reviews

We've picked up some nice reviews so far, let's hope they keep coming. Here is another one at ProgGnosis.

And one (in German) at Babyblaue Seiten. If I read this one correctly, they give the album as a whole 12/15, and then give an individual mark to Perfect Cosmic Storm of 15/15. Which is nice.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

A couple of new pics




We've been recording some new songs for the next album, English Electric. Here are a couple of new pics taken at Aubitt Studios.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Hurrah - the CD's have arrived!

The CD's have finally arrived here at English Electric. Three years' work, all distilled into a small plastic object. As I write, several members of BBT are frantically packaging up CD's for the pre-sale orders. We start shipping tomorrow and hope to have all of the pre-sales posted by Tuesday next week (apart from orders from those who asked for signed copies. We have a holiday issue with one band member, so there will be a short delay on signed CD's)

Greg

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Interview with Andy, Greg and Sean

There is a new interview with us online here: MySpace interview.
I think you probably need to have a MySpace account to read it.

It's a beautiful day today, blue skies and extremely hot in Bournemouth. I should be on the beach, but I'm catching up with BBT admin instead. I've got the DVD of Spaced on in the background, however, so I'm not too bothered about being inside.

The first batch of CD's are due with us next week and the official release date is the 17th September. We'll close the pre-order special offer on the 16th September.

Greg

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

First review

The first review of The Difference Machine is in, and it's a very positive one indeed.

It can be found here on Progressive Ears.

The Progressive Ears homepage is here. It is an extremely good prog rock forum.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Free downloads, cheap CD's, what does it all mean?

There have been a few raised eyebrows about two aspects of our promotional campaign for The Difference Machine - the low pre-release price of the CD and the availability of 30 minutes of music from the album for free download.

There has been quite a bit of debate in the band about this, and I don't think any of us are sure that it's the right thing to do. Should we give music away free of charge? Is it right to price our CD's at the lowest end of the range of prices for new releases?

Aside from the arguments about paying a proper price for creative work, it also costs money to run this band (gear, studio time, production costs etc.) Are we selling ourselves short? With Gathering Speed, we just about broke even; before that release, we'd lost money.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how the band operates as a minor player in what is (in sales terms) increasingly a minority genre. A number of different factors have led me to the conclusion that the free downloads / cut-price CD's idea has to be worth pursuing. I'll come to these factors in a minute.

Firstly, about the minority genre issue. Whilst prog is no longer the music that dare not speak its name, there is no doubt that the glory days of progressive rock are long since gone. Bands with a prog influence may become very successful (Radiohead are a good example), but no out-and-out prog band is going to have the influence and success that Genesis and Yes did in the 1970's.

There used to be a well trodden path for progressive bands which started with them making music within the prog genre and ended with a more commercial approach. Most of the 70's bands did it (probably because of the influence of punk and new wave and the resultant pressure from the record labels) and many of the 80's bands (eg Marillion, IQ) followed a similar route (I remember Twelfth Night becoming glam-rockers almost overnight. They became shit almost overnight as well.)

Now, there is a kind of reverse trend. For the most part, the 90's and Noughties bands are falling over their Mellotrons to show how prog they are. This can lead to retro-style music (IQ's Dark Matter, bits of our own Gathering Speed) or music with a more contemporary approach (eg Frost). But either way, the trend is towards longer songs, concept albums and tricky time signatures (these recent comments from The Flower Kings' Roine Stolt are an example of the current mind-set: Flower Kings Forum)

I think this is all happening because the bands know the game is up. They're not going to make much money out of progressive music, they suck at writing commercial material and any attempt to satisfy the dedicated fan base whilst simultaneously attracting a newer audience with poppier material is doomed. Therefore, they may as well go back to the music they are most comfortable with and preach to the converted.

Actually, Jem Godfrey from Frost, currently the best music blogger around, put all this much better here: The New Cube (scroll down to the Cake or Death post.)

In the same post, Jem also talked about the impact of downloading on musicians. And this is where I come back to the issue of the Big Big Train offer of free downloads and cut-price CD's which is where I started (nifty link, huh?)

I happened to be in Barbados when I read Jem's blog post on downloading and prog rock. Nice place, Barbados. There are a some very rich people there and many more relatively poor ones. Despite these extremes, people get along together pretty well. There are great schools which instill in the children a work ethic and a pride in the island.

I know about the schools because I got to know a very amiable taxi-driver called Adrian who was passionate about Barbados, who had heard of Phil Collins but not Genesis, and who was into science fiction and fantasy (some proghead tendencies then.) Anyway, Adrian had invested a huge amount of money in buying his taxi and had, I guess, very little disposable income. He can't afford to travel much or to buy many DVD's or CD's, but he does have access to a computer and torrenting software. And he had amassed quite a collection of pirated tv shows.

I've done a bit of torrenting myself, just for bootlegs of Genesis stuff, but the extent of downloading that Adrian and his friends were doing was an eye-opener.

I read another post whilst I was in Barbados, this one from Nick Barrett on the Pendragon forum which took the opposite viewpoint from Jem Godfrey's. Nick feels that downloading is really hurting the band and may put them out of business. And this from Martin Orford: scroll down to find the post. Martin would rather have one fan who purchased a CD than two million who download the album.

If there is a weakness in Nick and Martin's argument it is that the majority of those downloaders probably wouldn't buy an album in the first place. The direct cause and effect is difficult to judge. Some people download and don't expect to pay a bean, others download and then go on to buy because they like what they hear and I guess there is a whole spectrum of people in between.

A few years back I did go through a stage of buying a lot of CD's from other new prog bands to check them out, often guided by some ecstatic reviews. The CD's were expensive (a tenner or more) and often extremely disappointing, and that made me far less likely to try music without hearing it first. And there is a lot of music out there. There are many more prog bands releasing albums into a much smaller marketplace than there were in the 70's when the prog bands were kings. And as well as music, there is so much more for people to spend their money on than in the 70's, and the internet has brought wider choice into everyone's homes.

So, why should I expect anybody to spend their money on Big Big Train? And how can I stop illegal downloading of our albums? (a full version of Gathering Speed was online for illegal download within two days of release.)

I had a chat with Malcolm Parker of GFT / Cyclops the other day. GFT are the major UK independent prog rock store and Malcolm has kept his operation going for many years, so he know his market well. Malcolm believes that CD price is the main driver of sales these days. It pisses him off, because he thinks that many very good albums are being ignored for cheaper and weaker products. But it's something he's having to deal with and, where possible, his prices have fallen dramatically in recent years (there are some wide variations in price on his site - between £7 and £12 for new CD's and these variations are, I assume, all dictated by the price he can buy the CD's in for.)

It is easy to be critical of those that are buying cheaper rather than best, but we all make decisions about purchasing items every day and price is always a factor. I like wine and I prefer good wine (and mostly I think I can tell the difference) but I still find myself drawn to the half-price offers in the supermarkets, even though I know some of the prices were artificially inflated in the first place to make the wine seem like a bargain.

To conclude, we are in a highly competitive market competing against other products and, to some extent, other bands. Pirating via downloading has added another element. Some downloaders may go on to buy CD's, most won't. I can't change that.

Our goal is to try to bring those downloaders of our music who don't normally pay, into the market place, and to try to get people who don't know much about our music to at least give it a listen. So, we offer up about half of the album for free and take the price of the CD down as low as we can get it.

First results are promising. I'll let you know how we get on in the longer term.

Greg

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

About the new album

We've had a few questions e-mailed to us about the new album so I thought I'd post some information here.

As with Gathering Speed, The Difference Machine is a concept album. There is an overarching concept which links the songs. Within the concept we explore a number of different themes including communication, loss and the connectedness of things. The overall idea is influenced by the butterfly effect which is used to illustrate chaos theory. All the songs take place in a moment of time where seemingly small events can have monumental effects. However, all of the songs are rooted in personal experiences and we hope that they connect with the audience on a personal level.

With regard to the additional players on the album, we’ve always wanted to work with other musicians. The profile of the band is now high enough to attract players of a high calibre such as Nick D’Virgilio, Pete Trewavas and Dave Meros. We know that Nick, Pete and Dave enjoy our music and we’re really excited to get such fantastic performances from them. We hope to work with them, and other musicians, on future releases.

Concerning the sound of the album, we were influenced by the classic progressive rock of Genesis, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator and also the post rock and alternative sounds of Sigur Ros, Oceansize and Mew. I think we have a sound that is all our own, however.

Lyrics and credits for the album are available on the main site at: www.bigbigtrain.com

Greg

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Free download of 30 minutes of new music

The album is finally completed and is off to the manufacturers.

We have uploaded lengthy excerpts from three of the songs (about thirty minutes of new music) on our main website at: www.bigbigtrain.com These are available for FREE download.

We hope you enjoy the downloads and wish to order the full CD. We are offering a pre-order price of £6.50 (which is just over 13 US dollars or 9 Euros) which includes worldwide postage and packing. We now have a full secure shopping cart system on the website so you can pay by credit card, Paypal account, or by cheque through the normal postal route if you prefer.

Enjoy the music and let me know what you think.

Cheers

Greg

Monday, 18 June 2007

The buzzing in the brain of new songs

Just having a couple of days off in Prague to see Genesis on their Turn it on Again tour. I'm hoping the band will do something to wipe the Invisible Touch era forever from my mind with a set which re-unifies the different eras. Hoping but not hopeful. If I get the chance I'll post a review of the gig on the English Electric Review site.

In the meantime, Sean has been checking out the mixes before we complete the album next week and Andy is working on some last minute additions to the songs (mainly some extra sound effects.)

As for me, I had a nice new song on the boil at home. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring a guitar or keyboard with me so I'm left with to trying to finish it off in my head. I do a lot of songwriting in my head, but it can become a bit irritating (like being locked in a room with an angry bee.) It can also make me seem very pre-occupied, and I do tend to drift off in the middle of sentences. Not a very sociable activity, songwriting.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Studio tan

A couple of 12 hour days in the studio and different parts of our personalities start to come to the fore. For example, Andy, who can be a bit of a worrier when preparing for the mixing , becomes horizontally laid back during the later phases of the studio sessions. He just ends up sitting there with a beatific grin on his face as if he hasn't a care in the world.

We are just finishing a second (and hopefully final) mix of Perfect Cosmic Storm and I'd recorded a new guitar section in our own studio after doing the first mix (we're still recording right up to the wire on this album.) This new part needed to be transferred onto the computer in Rob's studio so it could be included in the mix.

Just as the mix is nearing completion, Andy's voice pipes up from the sofa:

'I'm just wondering where that new guitar part is.'

I turn round. 'Where is it?'

'It's around somewhere.'

'Well, where? Have you left it in the other studio?' My voice suggests the suppression of a rising tide of panic.

Andy beckons towards a portable computer drive 'It's probably on that big hard drive.'

And he smiles the unflappable smile.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Last few days of mixing

Back in the studio and almost there now - just getting the first mixes of Summer's Lease and Salt Water together and doing the snagging list for Pick Up If You're There and Perfect Cosmic Storm.

It's all sounding rather good and we can't wait to get the album released. Some long extracts from two of the songs (about 20 minutes' worth) will be available for free download from the website from early July.

Rob is also busy with the new IQ album at the moment and Martin Orford popped in this morning. IQ are due to finish their album in September and I hear that there will be at least one epic song on there.

Better get back to the music now, my favourite bit in Salt Water is coming up.

Greg

ps - before I go, should leave you with a couple of Rob's quotes from today:

"I'd like to scoop some shit out of the way." Meaning my guitar parts.

And, after I enquired whether I needed to adjust my technique on one of the parts:

"I think you need to stop playing."

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Spock's Beard at the Mean Fiddler












Four members of the BBT team converged on London last Sunday for the Spock's Beard gig. It was a splendid show and Nick, Dave, Alan and Ryo are very fine fellows indeed. It was also a pleasure to meet Chris Squire, who was in attendance as Ryo's guest, and a number of Big Big Train supporters.

Rob Aubrey was the sound engineer for the gig and kindly played Perfect Cosmic Storm and Pick Up if You're There as the pre-gig music. Greg's photographs above show Nick D'Virgilio silhouetted under spotlight at the afternoon sound check, Rob Aubrey (also in silhouette) in his cage during the show, Rob and Andy deep in conversation about the size of the knobs on Rob's mixing desk, Ryo Okumoto and Nick sharing a serious moment during the gig, and Alan Morse and Dave Meros in full flight.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Cover artwork for the Difference Machine




We're just sorting out the cover design at the moment. Here are the two main images which will be on the booklet, the lower image is Perfect Cosmic Storm by Jim Trainer and the other one is The Difference Machine by Andy Poole.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

My Space pages

For those of a My Space persuasion, there are some new photos on the Big Big Train My Space page:

Big Big Train My Space page

Jim Trainer, our official artist, now has a My Space page dedicated to his artwork for Big Big Train. Jim's page has artwork for past and future releases and is well worth a visit:

Jim Trainer's Big Big Train Artwork page

Our gregarious singer, Sean Filkins, now has his own page at:

Sean Filkins My Space page

And our eccentric drummer, Steve Hughes, has his space at:

Steve Hughes My Space page







Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Still mixing...


We should finish the first mix of Perfect Cosmic Storm - the longest and most difficult song on the album - tomorrow.


We hoped to finish yesterday, but ran out of time. We were still hopeful at 9pm (an hour before the studio closes) when Rob leant back in his chair and said:


'We've got a long fucking way to to go with this track, I can tell you.'


So, tomorrow it is then.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Mixing the pudding



We're currently in the studio, mixing the fruits of our labours into what will hopefully be a very enjoyable and interesting album.


The songs have been through a number of phases: firstly, tiny unformed ideas, captured on a mini-disc player, then the construction stage, where I try to get a group of ideas into the foundations of a song which is recorded as a demo, which then evolves into a work in progress as drums, bass, voclas and other parts are developed and recorded. Finally, when nothing more of value can be changed or added, it is time to mix.


Mixing is a very skilled and painstaking job. At this stage all of our creative work, broken down into its various elements, is exposed to the scrutiny of a fresh and highly trained set of ears. Generally speaking, we'll sit in the background while Rob Aubrey works on Pro-Tools. This is detailed work: Rob may spend an hour sorting out, for example, the reverb setting on an individual floor tom.


Occasionally we'll get to a section where Rob expresses reservations about what we're trying to achieve. In Pick Up If You're There, for example, there is a short section with a bit of a Steely Dan / Van Der Graaf influence, where a number of different instruments seem to be doing there own things. Rob heard this bit, turned around and said:


'It's a fucking mess.'


'It needs some careful mixing' I ventured.


'It's a fucking mess' he said.


Our involvement becomes more crucial as the mix gets closer to the final version. After agreeing on a mix, the recordings are taken away and listened to in various environments before final changes are made.


The pictures show Rob and Andy at yesterday's mixing session.

Greg

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Jem Godfrey of Frost

Just wanted to say many thanks to Jem Godfrey for mentioning us on his weblog:

Jem Godfrey Weblog

Jem very kindly states that:

'I've been quietly keeping an eye, these last few years, on a band called Big Big Train Check out the Salt Water edit on their MyMurdoch page. I think they could be this year's dark horses prog wise. I really hope so.'

Jem's progressive rock band, Frost, released an excellent album, Milliontown, last year.

Milliontown

Jem is an Ivor Novello award winner and has written and produced several number one singles.

Greg
BBT

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Pete Trewavas


A photo of Pete Trewavas recording Pick Up If You're There, from the new BBT album, The Difference Machine.

Dave Meros


Dave Meros plays bass on Perfect Cosmic Storm on The Difference Machine

Friday, 2 February 2007

About The Difference Machine

We're just putting the finishing touches to the new album and all recording work will be completed by the end of this month.

At the present time, the track listing is:

Hope This Finds You
Perfect Cosmic Storm
Breathing Space
Pick Up If You're There
From the Wide Open Sea
Salt Water
Summer's Lease

This is, of course, subject to change, but is likely to be the final order of things.

We have edited together some parts of one of the songs, Salt Water, to give a little taster and this can be downloaded from our My Space page.

Don't worry if it sounds disjointed - it's a longer song edited down to five minutes.

We'll announce a release date and pre-order deals as soon as we have details.

Recording The Difference Machine


Rob Aubrey, Andy Poole and Nick D'Virgilio at Aubitt Studios.

Nick D'Virgilio - The Difference Machine


Nick D'Virgilio from Spocks Beard joins BBT for two songs on the new album. This is a picture of him at Aubitt Studios.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Steve Hughes - The Difference Machine


A photo of Steve at Aubitt studios, recording Salt Water for the new album.

Sean Filkins - recording The Difference Machine


A new photo of Sean adding the finishing touches to one of our new songs, Pick Up If You're There.

New website design, new weblog and new My Space site

Dear all,

Thank you for visiting our site. We hope you enjoy the new design which includes this weblog, making it easier for the band to provide more regular updates than previously.

As well as the improved website, we have also set up a My Space page which provides some additional features to our home site including free downloads of songs from the Gathering Speed release and a taster from the new album, The Difference machine. Our My Space site is at:
www.myspace.com/wwwmyspacecombigbigtrain

You won’t be able to access it if you’re not a My Space member, but it’s easy to sign up and it’s free (and My Space is also a lot of fun, in a dumb sort of way.)

Gregory Spawton

BBT
BBT My Space website (Link to BBT My Space website)
Oceansize My Space website (Link to Oceansize My Space website)
Mew My Space website (Link to Mew My Space website)