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Big Big Train - Far Skies Deep Time CD (album) cover

FAR SKIES DEEP TIME

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.03 | 191 ratings

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amazingwilf
5 stars It's a little unfair to describe this recording as an EP, really - clocking in at over forty minutes it's as long as most albums were back in the day of vinyl, and there's a consistency to the sound that makes it more than just a collection of songs.

This is the first collection of new material that Big Big Train have released since the critically accliamed The Underfall Yard last year. Far Skies Deep Time also represents the first fruits of the writing collaboration between Gregory Spawton and the bands' singer, David Longdon, who came into the band at a relatively late stage in the development of the songs on the last album and therefore didn't contribute to the compositions. This new partnership has borne some quite superb work on this EP, and bodes well for future Big Big Train releases.

The first track is a cover version - in fact, the first time BBT have ever covered someone else's work - a re-working of the Anthony Phillips song, 'Master of Time'. The composition appeared in a demo form on the re-release of The Geese And The Ghost last year, and the BBT version is a fully 'rocked up' re-working, and sets the scene for the rest of the EP very nicely.

'Fat Billy Shouts Mine' was originally intended for The Underfall Yard, but didn't make the cut - however, it's clear this wasn't for reasons of quality control. The only solo Spawton composition, the song tells the tale of a goalkeeper, William "Fatty" Foulke, who played for Sheffield United and England football teams (that's soccer for US readers) around the turn of the twentieth century, but as is so often the case ended his days in poverty. The legend - purely apocryphal - is that he died keeping goal in a sideshow on a beach, and the song tells the story of how heaven turns out to be something of a disappointment for Billy when he gets there. There's a superb guest guitar part from Jon Barry on this track, and equally excellent synth solos from ex-IQ keyboard man, Martin Orford, possibly his last performances before retirement.

Two shorter songs follow, both based around the theme of ending relationships. British Racing Green is an exquisite slice of English pop-rock, as reminscent of Prefab Sprout or 10CC as much as of Genesis or Yes. Brambling is a sprightlier number, though thematically no less emotional - the idea that the dissolution of first love makes one stronger, and that the process is important if the protagonist is to love again.

A word here about the players on the album. In addition to the core of Spawton, Longdon and bassist/producer Andy Poole, Nick D'Virgilio once again drums on this album, and his trademark feel has become a big part of the band's sound. In addition Dave Gregory - ex-XTC - now plays most of the lead guitar on Big Big Train's music, and his contribution is stunning throughout Far Skies Deep Time, as indeed it was on The Underfall Yard. David Longdon, an accomplshed multi-instrumentalist, also adds masses of colour to the music on the EP, numbering flute, banjo, accordian and vibraphone among the instruments he plays here.

The final track, The Wide Open Sea, is the real masterpies on Far Skies....a sprawling epic track based around the later life of Jacques Brel, but also incorporating a ghost story. It's a piece of music which works from the first listen, but repeats just bring greater and greater depth to the whole thing, and if possible I think that BBT have outdone even the masterpiece that is the title track from The Underfall Yard. This band can write the epics as well as superb shorter songs. The performances here are all incredible - Spawton builds the piece with his exemplary background guitar, Gregory gives us some electric 12-string work which will make Steve Howe weep, and again we have Longdon's additional colour from those 'odd' instruments as well as a vocal performance which blows everything else away.

If this is a stop-gap, then the next album, English Electric, promises to be something very special indeed. An absolutely dyed-in-the-wool five-star collection.

amazingwilf | 5/5 |

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