Sunday 29 March 2009

New album: progress report

There is a point reached in the making of an album when the creative process almost becomes of secondary importance to project management. We’ve reached that point now. This is the most complex album we’ve worked on, with a number of different threads that we need to draw together. The convergence point is getting ever closer as the album is due to be released later this year, and it is time to get organised (our main organisational tool being a notebook called ‘The Underfall Yard Bible’ which is rapidly filling up with aide-mémoires .)

A lot of work is happening at the moment. I’ve just finished off the lyrics for the album and David is developing the vocal and flute parts in his studio, preparing for recording at Rob’s place in the next few weeks. Andy and myself are going back over the album demos (which are evolving into the finished tracks) and re-recording bass, guitar and keyboard parts as necessary (some parts will make it all the way from the demo onto the album if they fit the bill.)

Meanwhile, a number of CDR’s of work-in-progress have been (or will shortly be) despatched to various guest artists so that they can prepare their contributions.

Early next month, we have a session booked at Rob’s to record the brass parts with the chaps from Kate Rusby's band (the elegiac sound of an English brass band is what we’re trying to capture) and then we need to crack on and get the session for the string quartet booked up.

In view of Big Big Train's new line-up, we'll also be launching a new YouTube channel in the next few weeks. We'll use the new channel to document progress with the album recording.

So, it’s all beginning to happen, the pages of the 'Bible' are filling up and it looks like we'll be spending another summer indoors, topping up our studio tan.

Saturday 28 March 2009

Tuesday 17 March 2009


A new web-based music service called Spotify has been getting a lot of press coverage recently.

Thanks to our good friends at CDBaby who handle our digital distribution, Big Big Train will shortly be available on Spotify, so I thought I'd check it out to see what it offered.

After a quick software download and a few minutes of testing, I am able to report that Spotify is completely brilliant. And utterly addictive.

As I'm writing this, my Spotify connection is temporarily unavailable and the lack of streamed music from the site is making my experience of working on this computer much less pleasurable. Sure, I could put a CD on, or fire up iTunes, but I want the diversity offered by Spotify and I want it now.

So, what is it? (as Cat once said in Red Dwarf.) Well, as Cat went on to say in the same sketch, it's a sort of magic door. The door leads into an endless music library where you can instantly play (almost) anything that's ever been released. Songs are streamed on request to your computer. Audio quality is good. You can pause, rewind and fast-forward. You can create playlists and save your favourite songs. You can find links to other similar artists. However, you never own the music as it isn't downloaded or saved, only streamed.

Spotify are hoping, in the future, to make available all of the music which has ever been released. At the moment, they are a long way short of this (there are some major gaps - eg Pink Floyd), but vast numbers of songs are being added every day and they are not just focusing on the major artists.

I tested the depth of music on offer by looking for music by one of my favourite bands, Mew. As far as I could see, everything they've ever released is on there, including some obscure 'b' sides I'd never heard before. I then went prog-surfing and found music by the big boys (Genesis) down to more esoteric bands like Gentle Giant. They even had every PFM song.

I went looking for more modern prog. There is nothing yet by Frost or Spock's Beard, but The Tangent are there, as is The Old Road CD by the internet's arch-enemy, Martin Orford (but, strangely, no IQ.) I then checked out some of the heavier bands I like - Oceansize and Mastodon, Draconian and The Mars Volta, all present and correct.

I also looked for some new music. The brand new Bell X-1 album got great reviews in the papers at the weekend. That was there, although the new Doves album isn't yet available.

I haven't even started to get my head around what Spotify will mean for the music industry and for independent bands like BBT. It certainly gives a lot more opportunity to legally sample the range of music on offer by bands. However, whether that will translate into sales is harder to assess. Some people may find that Spotify offers all the music and convenience they need. Others will use it to sample new music and better inform their purchases. So, from the industry perspective, I'm not too sure about Spotify.

Speaking as a fan and consumer of music, however, I'm all for it. I've already heard some music I'm going to go on and buy and other stuff that I've always wanted to hear but would never fork out for.

Do check it out.

Friday 6 March 2009

We should get behind this...

The inestimable Classic Rock has announced that it will be publishing a quarterly journal of prog rock called, rather catchily, 'Prog'.

I'm not sure if Classic Rock are just taking a punt at a new launch to see how it goes, or if this is based on strong sales of the one or two prog special issues they've published in recent years (and therefore a genuine sign of rising fortunes for progressive rock) but, either way, prog fans should get behind this magazine.