Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Robert Smith's miserabilists are back with a beautiful album; the right balance of intense, brooding epics and jangly pop. The Cure have been a big influence on Big Big Train, especially on English Boy Wonders.
I know this one was originally released in 2007, but the special edition was released in May 2008, so I'm not cheating in including it this year. And besides, it took me a long time to fully appreciate the album, which is a huge thing; complex, involving, beautiful music with superb melodies and a mighty sound. The special edition features a filmed performance of the album.
Sigur Ros, With a Buzz in Our Ears...
Not my favourite of their albums (too bouncy for my taste) but enough moments of glacial majesty to make it one of the best of the year. Their DVD, also released this year, has been acclaimed by MOJO as the best DVD of 2008. It is a film of astonishing beauty and a great introduction to Sigur Ros.
Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White's side-project takes centre-stage. Wonderful mix of traditional and alternative rock with awesome guitar playing from White. Great album title, great cover, great CD.
Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid
The fourth brilliant album from the melancholy Northerners. Contains the best musical moment of 2008 in the Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, as the chords shift underneath the 'send up a prayer in my name' line.
Never thought I'd get into a band with death-metal vocals but Opeth are a group to be treasured, with genuine crossover appeal and heroic drumming. Another band in a similar genre which is worth a mention is one of my daughter's favourites - Draconian, from Sweden. On their album Turning Season Within, they make death-metal vocals sound very moving, and they write great songs. And while I'm talking about the heavier side of things, I can't wait to hear the new Mastodon album, due next year. Another frenzied metal band with a great drummer (who is heavily influenced by Phil Collins), Mastodon are going prog in 2009.
Frost*, Experiments in Mass Appeal
Frost* experiment with the prog format on EIMA, packing a lot of twists and changes into shorter tunes. It's a cracking album, with punchy songs interspersed with melancholy piano-led interludes. The standout track for me is Secret Song which closes the album in stunning fashion.
Genesis - Selling England By the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
These re-issues were the most eagerly-awaited releases of the year for me (in fact, of the last five years - it's been a long wait since the remix of The Lamb was first announced.) The box set as a whole is an important release with superb extras including lengthy interviews and the legendary Jackson Tapes. But the main draw is the 5.1 remixes of the classic Genesis albums showing the evolution of the definitive prog band. In truth, some of the songs on Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot are now sounding a little like period pieces, but when they fully hit their stride on Selling England and The Lamb, they were a band of unbelievable creativity and power. These two albums contain material of jaw-dropping quality and they sound as contemporary today as they did in the 70's. We were lucky enough to spend an evening with Nick Davis recently and he kindly spent a few hours answering my incessant questions about his work with Genesis and XTC. Nick's favourite Genesis album from his days as a fan was Selling England and to get the chance to open up this box of jewels and polish them until they gleam...wow, what a thing to have done. Nick starts work on remixing the live recordings in January.
Finally, whilst I'm on Genesis, I should also mention this year's splendid re-issues of Anthony Phillips' The Geese and the Ghost and Wise After the Event. These are essential purchases for Genesis fans and they include comprehensive sleeve notes and bonus tracks. We've worked up a cover version of one of the demos (a previously unreleased song called Master of Time) which we'll be releasing as a free download in 2009.
I'm sure I've forgotten a few other releases that I've enjoyed in 2008, but these are the ones that spring to mind. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
After a few minutes, however, it became clear that if you strip the music of some of its stylistic eccentricities, much of it would sit very comfortably in a Pink Floyd show. Indeed, the longer it went on, the more it felt like a prog gig.
And that's the great thing. While bands playing classic-style prog may be struggling to find a big audience, prog pops up in so many other places these days, from death metal bands like Opeth and Mastodon and heavy indie bands such as The Mars Volta and Oceansize, through to art-rock groups like Mew and Radiohead, and the post-rock of Sigur Ros.
Indeed, the very positive press reaction to the Gabriel-years Genesis box set, and the recent 'coming-out' of a number of celebrity Genesis fans suggests that even classic prog is no longer the music that dare not speak its name. Whatever it takes, prog, it seems, will find a way.
Friday, 10 October 2008
Back in the town, the festival was based at the village hall, which worked well as a venue. Like the town, the hall had a slightly run-down, 1950's feel about it, but the organisation seemed generally good and the festival was very informal and friendly.
I enjoyed Abel Ganz and thought Thieves Kitchen were very interesting; they make life hard for themselves with continual changes and twists in their music, so sometimes it's hard to keep up with where each tune is headed, but I really like them.
Frost* put on an extraordinarily impressive show; they are a dynamic and powerful band and it suddenly felt like rural Gloucestershire had been invaded by some hot-shot rock stars. But Frost* don't take themselves too seriously; the top-notch musicianship and complicated music is leavened by a Pythonesque sense of humour, and the band seemed to have a great time.
I tried to find somewhere for a meal in the break before The Tangent, but ended up in a pub with a pint of John Smith's and a bag of pork scratchings, which seemed to fit the generally sepia-toned feel of the day.
Thankfully for the slightly progged-out, thinking-about-work-the-next-morning audience, The Tangent came on very promptly and, with Rob Aubrey in charge of mixing (as he was with Frost* and Thieves Kitchen) sounded very strong, despite the number of musicians competing for musical space. Again, there was plenty of spontaneous humour which the crowd enjoyed.
I didn't stay for the whole set but was impressed with what I heard.
I had a nice quick dash home to Bournemouth via the Old Severn Bridge - just a couple of hours on empty roads.
All in all, an excellent festival in an interesting, off-the-beaten-track location. It was good to see some old friends and to hear the diversity on the prog scene. Aside from a few young female Frosties, the audience was predominantly male and middle-aged which makes me wonder, as I always do, about how prog bands can reach a younger audience (difficult unless the band is coming from a heavy rock background such as Opeth, Oceansize, The Mars Volta.)There was also a worrying tendency for many of the middle-aged men in the audience to wear three-quarter-length trousers. I don't think that's a good idea at all.
Next gig: Sigur Ros in November.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Thursday, 11 September 2008
One of the perks of being in a band is the occasional preview of other bands' music before it gets released. Last night, we got to hear four songs from the forthcoming IQ album.
I've been a fan of IQ since the release of the Seven Stories Into Eight demo tape (my copy had its own hand-made cover, with pieces of felt stuck on brown card) and saw the band at their first Marquee performance (a support slot to Twelfth Night). Andy's interest in IQ goes back even further; he used to roadie for the proto-IQ band, The Lens. So a chance for us to hear some of the new album was very interesting.
I don't want to say too much as it's not my place to do so, but I would just make two observations:
- to my ears, Mike and company have produced an album which harks back to the roots of the IQ sound. It's not that it's backward-looking, there are plenty of new ingredients in the formula, but it reminded me more of their earlier music than recent releases.
- it sounded absolutely brilliant. The songs were very strong, packed full of those all-important spine-tingling moments.
On the basis of the four tracks I heard, this could be IQ's best album so far.
Sunday, 31 August 2008
The release date for English Boy Wonders is 1st December. It'll be a digipack with a 12 page booklet.
We'll be taking pre-orders from the 1st October until the 30th November for a discounted price. CD's will be sent to arrive by the release date.
The video is a promotional slide show for the album, featuring the new version of Reaching For John Dowland. You can watch it here, or, if you scroll down a bit and click on the link to Big Big Train at YouTube on the right of this page and then select the 'watch in high quality' option, you'll get better quality audio.
Saturday, 23 August 2008
The final free download from the re-mixed English Boy Wonders is now on line on our home page. The download is the first mix of Albion Perfide and it's available in high quality audio. The English Boy Wonders sessions are now finished and the album will be available very soon.
The short video shows us working on the Albion mix.
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Boxgrove Man has been extensively reworked, including a reinstated instrumental section which was lost from the original version.
Monday, 21 July 2008
Friday, 4 July 2008
Films 3a and 3b contain some snippets of live footage, a rare thing for Big Big Train.
Monday, 30 June 2008
(click on 'monthly download' when you get to the page.)
It can also be listened to (or downloaded) at our MySpace page.
The download will be replaced by the final mix of the song when it's finished and it may be slightly edited to tighten it up, so get this version while you can.
Saturday, 7 June 2008
We've been putting together a short video blog on the re-making of English Boy Wonders which we'll upload as soon as possible. In the meantime, Andy found some old camcorder footage from 1993 of the recording of our first album, Goodbye to the Age of Steam which we'll be uploading onto the blog over the next few weeks.
Here is part one (divided into two short films, part 1a posted above and 1b below) which shows the early stages of the Age of Steam recording sessions ( guide backing tracks and drums.)
Looking at the footage, we come over as a bunch of complete tits but, in our defence, we were young then, and acting as young men do. The worrying thing is, looking at the film I've just recorded of the mixing sessions for the English Boy Wonders re-release, we're still acting the same now.
So, older yes, and fatter certainly, but not necessarily wiser.
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
May's download will be online soon and, in June, we'll have something from the re-worked, re-mixed and re-mastered English Boy Wonders. Also coming soon, a video diary of the (re) making of EBW.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
It's been a happy time for us, dusting off the old material. I don't play many guitar solos these days but used to play quite a few back then. I've chosen to re-record some of them and add a couple more, inspired by a recent purchase of an Epiphone Les Paul (Epiphone make tremendous guitars these days, at a fraction of the price of the American versions.)
Anyway, it'll soon be time for us to set aside our childish things and release the revised English Boy Wonders. After that we'll need to get back to the new album which is looming up as a rather formidable challenge. We want to sustain the progress we've made since Gathering Speed by making further improvements and refinements to our sound.
We're also wondering about improving our band name.
When I were a young lad, my toy cupboard contained the splendid No 1 Big Big Train set. It had red track and a blue locomotive. Andy has pointed out that my set also possessed the definite article - it was 'The Big Big Train' rather than 'Big Big Train.'
I quite like this and we're wondering whether we should release our next album under the band name of The Big Big Train. This would be a sort of reverse Pink Floyd situation as they started off as The Pink Floyd. After Pink Floyd removed the definite article, they went on to become wildly successful and famous and had real groupies and everything. Maybe the same would happen to us, but in reverse? Which means we'd be even less successful and famous and have even fewer groupies than the ones we haven't got now.
Wednesday, 2 April 2008
'I was playing a gig in Holland many years ago. As a sort of show-thing at the end of the last number I would sometimes get up from the drumkit and throw the sticks at it for the last beat. (well it was the seventies.) Anyway, this time I lost my balance and fell against the back of the stage. There happened to be a fire door which opened as I fell against it and the next moment I was OUTSIDE! How I didn't break my neck I don't know. It was about a four foot drop so I couldnt get back in so I went around to the front entrance. There, they wouldn't let me in. Kept saying "band finished, closed". In the end the other band members came looking for me and I got back in!'
Friday, 28 March 2008
All songs we upload will be the full-length versions in high quality audio. We'll add a song every month and they'll stay on the site, which means that over the years we will eventually make available the full catalogue of BBT material for free download.
We're not becoming a charitable concern with this approach, we're simply trying an experiment to expand the number of listeners we have. As every listener is a potential buyer, we think it's worth exploring. We know that we cannot control illegal downloading and our CD's are pretty easy to find if somebody wants to grab them online.
The download service allows us to get some additional publicity on a monthly basis and will expand the number of people who visit our site. We can control the quality of the audio and can encourage people to support the band by visiting our CD shop where we sell CD's as cheaply as we possibly can.
We'll also be uploading some new songs prior to album releases and some rarities from our back catalogue, so it should be of interest to existing listeners as well as the curious.
Anyway, that's the theory.
The first track is Pick Up If You're There, from last year's Difference Machine CD. It's a good example of the current BBT sound, featuring Tony Wright on Van Der Graaf Generator*-influenced saxaphone, Becca King on viola, Pete Trewavas on bass and Nick D'Virgilio on drums.
Next month will be Fighter Command from the Gathering Speed CD and in May or June we'll upload a song from the forthcoming re-mixed, re-mastered and partly re-constructed English Boy Wonders album.
*the new VDGG album is worth checking out, despite the lack of Jaxon sax.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
The short songs may, indeed, be leftovers. But, like cold turkey on Boxing day, they are quite tasty and will be making an appearance on our retrospective CD which is coming out after the English Boy Wonders re-release and the new album.
Rob and Nick have been working on the new Spock's Beard live DVD and we had a listen to a few of the surround mixes after the session. It's gonna be a great release; I couldn't get 'On a Perfect Day' out of my head and sang it all the way to the curry house (I think Nick really appreciated hearing my vocal performance over and over. He mentioned that he'd never realised some of the notes I was singing even existed; don't be surprised if some of the subtleties of my rendition influence the SB live performances in the summer.)
After a few beers, Nick told us an unusual and alarming story about Giraffes. Which prompted Steve Thorne to suggest we check out this YouTube video (warning: may offend; do not click on the link if you are squeamish or have young children looking over your shoulder.)
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Furthermore, the reviewers in 1997 didn't get the album at all; the combination of influences on EBW from the pastoral English pop of XTC, via the doom and gloom of The Cure to the dynamics and complexity of Genesis and King Crimson didn't impress. So, it sank without trace taking with it, into the undertow, our recording contract with GEP.
Now, more than ten years on, we think we can make EBW the album it should have been. We're currently going through the process of doing some extra work on each of the songs before we do a complete re-mix. Just transferring the keyboard parts onto the much better sounding samples of organ and Mellotron which we use now has made a huge difference, but we're doing a fair bit of additional recording as well.
Rob was getting rid of the machines a couple of years ago and he and Andy backed up the original multi-track session onto Pro-Tools. We had no idea whether there had been any deterioration in the tapes before we transferred them, but in fact they were in pristine condition. (when we did a similar exercise with the 2 inch tapes for Goodbye to the Age of Steam, the tapes had to be baked to restore them.)
Whilst the tapes didn't let us down, there were a couple of problems with some old midi files that had been saved on an ancient version of Cubase which ran from two floppy discs (which Andy had lost.) Dave Meros (thanks Dave) managed to retrieve the files for us and e-mailed them back over.
I'll finish with another couple of photos from the days of English Boy Wonders. Here we are rehearsing for the album sessions:
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
I know it's sensible not to get annoyed by bad reviews, but having a couple of years' work dismissed in a hundred words of badly written prose is a tad irritating. And, really, I'm not just being bitter; the reviewer can't write. Consider this sentence, for example:
'If your (sic) a Big Big Train fan, then I guess your (sic) probably used their sound (sic) and will get a huge amount out of this release.'
Call yourself a journalist? Journalism lite, that's what I call it.
ps - on the same page as our Classic Rock review, one of Ellie's other favourite bands, Bullet For My Valentine* had their new album reviewed. They got 5/10. Ha ha!
* Bullet For My Valentine are a Welsh emo band. They sound like Tom Jones, with heavy metal guitars.
Wednesday, 2 January 2008
Jem's keyboard playing is spectacularly good and the arrangement really shows off the quality of the composition.