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Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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Big Big Train English Boy Wonders album cover
3.22 | 204 ratings | 11 reviews | 10% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1997

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Big Empty Skies (4:22)
2. Brushed Aside (5:38)
3. A Giddy Thing (5:16)
4. 28 Years (2:25)
5. Pretty Mom (3:26)
6. Out Of It (5:58)
7. Cloudless And Starry And Still (3:33)
8. Albion Perfide (10:24)
9. Right To The End Of The World Tra-la (1:56)
10. The Shipping Forecast (10:46)
11. Mr. Boxgroveman (6:12)
12. Reaching For John Dowland (8:14)
13. Fell Asleep (3:36)

Total Time: 71:56

Track List of 2008 Re-recording CD edition:
1. Big Empty Skies (4:23)
2. Brushed Aside (5:40)
- For Autumn (Parts 1-5) :
3. Albion Perfide (10:27)
4. Pretty Mom (3:43)
5. A Giddy Thing (5:17)
6. Out Of It (6:02)
7. Cloudless And Starry And Still (3:36)
8. Two Poets Meet (4:26) *
9. 28 Years (2:28)
10. Reaching For John Dowland (8:46)
11. Boxgrove Man (7:23)
- For Autumn (Parts 6-8) :
12. The Shipping Forecast (10:14)
13. Right To The End Of The World Tra-La (2:03)
14. Fell Asleep (3:59)

* Bonus track

Line-up / Musicians

- Martin Read / lead & backing vocals
- Gregory Spawton / lead guitars, keyboards, vocals, arranger & co-producer
- Tony Müller / piano, keyboards
- Andy Poole / bass, bass pedals, keyboards, backing vocals, arranger & co-producer
- Steve Hughes / drums, percussion

- Martin Orford / flute, keyboards (8)
- Ken Bundy / backing vocals, arranger

Releases information

Artwork: Michael Griffiths with Jim Trainer (2008)

CD Giant Electric Pea - GEPCD 1020 (1997)
CD English Electric Recordings ‎- EERCD004 (2008, UK) "Director's Cut" - Remix w/ partial re-recording and reordered track list including a bonus track

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy BIG BIG TRAIN English Boy Wonders Music

BIG BIG TRAIN English Boy Wonders ratings distribution

(204 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(32%)
Good, but non-essential (46%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

BIG BIG TRAIN English Boy Wonders reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars To be fully honest (as I have always been), my brother once referred to this band and asked me what I was thinking about their music. He likes the neo-prog genre more than I do which is probably due to the age difference we both figure.

Still, when I listen to the music available on their first album, I couldn't find any glittering prizes. Some fine guitar breaks submerged into an ocean of below average music.

It is a real pain to listen to this album from start to finish. Is this prog? Is this neo-prog? I don' t know. To my standards, what I can listen here is just average music, borderline.

This debut album is hard to define. Well, actually: the more I listen to it; the least difficulties I have while thinking about it. The global feeling being just an average and a longish album. Even if some nice melodies as " Cloudless And Starry And Still" are available.

Things are definitely improving with one of the best track: the long and gorgeous " Albion Perfide". Wild guitar breaks are combined with some peaceful imposing keyboard breaks and provides a fantastic feel.

As far as I'm concerned the epic "The Shipping Forecast" is the best track available: it holds some great mellotron parts and overall fine breaks. Most of these parts are pure magical moments. This song is the best available, it is a great and fabulous moment of music. Superb, really.

Just a little behing is the great " Reaching For John Dowland". A complex song which varies from from folk acoustic matter to eclectic sublime matter.

Remaining songs aren't so thrilling and I have to admit that as a whole, I can only rate this work with three starts.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars Originally released in 1997, this album came to my attention when Andy and Greg began repackaging, reprinting, and offering self-distribution by mail all of their back catalogue of music. I had become a devoted fan based upon my previous purchases of "Gathering Speed" and "The Difference Machine," so I thought I'd try this one and "Bard." Overall, I found the music of "English Boy Wonders" likable and the lyrics and stories (and new artwork) quite well-done, but the over-arching effect was one of forgettability--except for one absolutely brilliant song which immediately gained a place in my revolving playlist--where it remains to this day: "Reaching for John Dowland"--a beacon of things to come. Early BBT mainstay Steve Hughes occupied the drum kit while Tony Müller and Martin Read filled in the keyboard and vocalist spots, respectively while founders and principle songwriters Andy Poole and Greg Spawton performed most of the other duties.
Review by b_olariu
3 stars Big Big Train was one of the bands that I enjoy in last years being a moderate fan, I mean I like'em oveall but not got crazy about it. Untill they released The underfall yard 3 years ago and become a well known name in prog world, they had aswell some more then decent albums prior not quite known worl wide. English boy wonders from 1997 is among their most acomplished works, at least for me combining parts who remind me of Genesis but less symphonic with some memorable neo/pop and indie arrangements the result is pritty much ok, even great in places. What I like to this band with a quite long career being formed in late '80 and havinbg almost 10 albums in their sleeves, is that almost every album has something to offer, alternating good to excellent moments, and overall catalogue is quite consistent. Here on this album are some excellent pieces like the uplifting and full of joy Big empty skies, Albion perfide is another highlight clocking around 11 min with nice breaks , keyboards and melodic lines a thing that define all Big Big Train albums, very nice. A giddy thing is aswell catchy and damn fine tune, the rest are ok but the problem is that in some parts is to much singing and mellow parts to my ears, and is little to long album almost 80 min, if there were at least shorter with 10-15 min were better for sure. Still fine neo crossover prog where both fans of prog and those more into indie stuff might get something wel played and performed.3.5 stars among my fav Bi Big Trains albums.
Review by The Crow
2 stars This second effort of the British prog-rock project Big Big Train is a worthy follow up of the good debut Goodbye to the Age of Steam but sadly it does not reach the overall quality of this album.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think they used lot of previous unreleased material and unused tunes from their past and the result is not so cohesive. They managed to avoid some mistakes like the use of dated keyboards, but not all the compositions are catchy enough to resist successive listening.

Bit Empty Skies starts the album in the right way with a funny riff and a dynamic guitar playing, which leads to the typical Big Big Train stanzas and refrain, beautiful and melancholic at the same time. Brushed Aside is more intimist and piano oriented, with very beautiful guitar solos and strings.

Albion Perfide has a rather strange beginning, but after that we can hear very good vocal melodies and a fine instrumental section which is sadly too long and repetitive. Pretty Mom is a rhythmic tune which acoustics and good vocals, nothing special.

A Giddy Thing has a frantic beginning with tons of keyboards and a good guitar riff, but it lacks some king of magic. Is not bad, but in tracks like these is where this album falls short in comparison of the previous one. Not like Out of It, one of the best tracks of the albums witch marvelous stanzas. One of the hits of English Boy Wonders in my opinion.

Cloudless and Starry and Still has a great bass line and good guitars for a tune which is more animated than the rest of the album. Just like Two Poets Meet , the most Neo-Prog track of the album and a fantastic guitar work which brings Steve Rothery to mind.

28 Years is another little acoustic song with precious lyrics and Reaching for John Rowland is just the opposite. A long and mellotron oriented song, with tons of melancholy and fine progressions. The bass gains protagonism in the instrumental section again, but at this point the albums starts to feel too long. And that's not so good.

Luckily The Shipping Forecast is also one of the best song of the album with a very good vocal interpretation from Martin Read, giving way to Right to the End of the World Tra-La, a forgettable pop song and and Fell Asleep, which has the proper mood to end this album, but not enough quality ending English Boy Wonder in a rather boring and sterile way.

Conclusion: Big Big Train failed to achieve the quality of their debut in this second album, which is too irregular and boring to be considered an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. And that's funny because although the album sounds more like the modern Big Big Train than the previous one, is not comparable in terms of quality.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of the band you will surely be delighted with the best parts and some truly enchanting moments that this album hides.

Best Tracks: Big Empty Skies, Out of It, Cloudless and Starry and Still and The Shipping Forecast.

My rating: **

Review by Warthur
4 stars In its original incarnation, English Boy Wonders represented a bit of a stumbling block for Big Big Train - the first of many instances where it seemed like the Train would derail altogether. In this case, it was a combination of the infamous "difficult second album" syndrome combined with some rather adverse circumstances.

Their debut, Goodbye To the Age of Steam, was a highly accomplished release which might not have set the world on fire at the time, but did at least get something of a decent reception. However, as the band tell it the critical positivity (and the Japanese release) somehow didn't translate to financial rewards for themselves; in the mid-1990s they were in a rather precarious place on the money front, and as a small label Giant Electric Pea were limited in the support they could offer (though label co-founder, Martin Orford of IQ fame, does appear as a guest on this album).

English Boy Wonders was originally recorded over 1995 and 1996, a process prolonged by the fact that the band couldn't afford to give it their full attention. It would release in 1997 in a form that the band insist was incomplete - the budget just wasn't there to let them finish the thing. Lacklustre sales would see the band dropped by GEP at this point, and the patchy nature of the original release would result in lacklustre reviews.

The most easily available version of the album these days, however, is not the original 1997 release: in 2008, the band would revisit the master tapes, remix them, switch up the running order, and rerecord some parts in order to yield a version of the release that better reflected their intentions. That's the version I've heard, and to my ears it really isn't that much of a step down from Goodbye To the Age of Steam, reflecting a similar mix of modern melodic indie rock and classic prog influences into a new fusion.

Think of it as a neo-prog of the 1990s - just as Marillion and others presented prog palatable to a pastel 1980s playground, here Big Big Train present a style that balances the sounds of the 1990s and the prog of yesteryear, along with perhaps a pinch of 1960s influence - there's some absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies here, and a touch of organ at the start of A Giddy Thing which feels rather reminiscent of early proto-prog and psychedelia. I'm not in a position to closely compare the reworked version of the album with the original, but I could certainly imagine this making a splash in 1997 had it only enjoyed better promotion and had it only been completed in its final form then.

Whilst I don't think it's on the level of their debut album, English Boy Wonders certainly doesn't deserve to be an overlooked release in the band's discography, at least not when the 2008 tidy-up of the album has revealed such depths.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "English Boy Wonders" is the fourth full-length studio album by US progressive rock act Big Big Train. The album was released through Giant Electric Pea in 1997. It´s the successor to "Goodbye to the Age of Steam" from 1994. As the band endured some financial hardships during the recording process of "English Boy Wonders" the original 1997 version of the album was released in an incomplete state, which the band were never satisfied with. The original version was only released in a very limited number of copies and Giant Electric Pea soon withdrew the album. Big Big Train however opted to reissue the album in 2008 through English Electric Recordings (the band´s own label) in a compeletely remixed version featuring a lot of re-recorded guitar, bass and keyboard parts and also with some additional recorded parts. The tracklist on the 2008 reissue version has also been altered and according to the band´s website the 2008 reissue version is closer to the band´s original vision of the album than the incomplete 1997 version, which today is almost impossible to find (probably to the great joy of Big Big Train).

Stylistically the material on "English Boy Wonders" is a continuation of the melodic and melancholic progressive rock sound of "Goodbye to the Age of Steam". The band have moved forward in terms of more memorable songwriting, stronger musicianship, and (at least on the 2008 version) relatively well sounding production values. There´s been one lineup change since "Goodbye to the Age of Steam" as original keyboard player Tony Müller has returned, replacing Ian Cooper. Overall "English Boy Wonders" is a good quality progressive rock release and fans of late 70s/early 80s progressive rock/neo-progressive rock should be able to find a lot of intriguing material here. It´s not the most innovative or the most original sounding release, but as mentioned above it´s another Big Big Train album showing progression from the last and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Enough already! I can't let the previous reviews go by withot adding my own humble opinion. I make no apology for awarding this album the full 5 stars. Oddly, the band don't seem over-keen on this work, referring to the original recording as unfinished and disjointed (I hope I am not mis-quo ... (read more)

Report this review (#551517) | Posted by gingernut | Sunday, October 16, 2011 | Review Permanlink

2 stars 3/10 As much as I try to understand this album, the less he does for me. It is clear that the Big Big Train in his early career does not reach the feet of him who has been seen in recent years. English Boy Wonders is just a mediocre album that went through my life, and I hear him say that s ... (read more)

Report this review (#550841) | Posted by voliveira | Saturday, October 15, 2011 | Review Permanlink

1 stars Well, it only gets worse prog-pickers, this is a dire uninspiring dirge from beginning to end. Far too much singing (thats because it all sounds the same, the tempo settles just as the singer begins his soul-less narration, or so it seems to me....) English Boy wonders !!! Not the song writers ... (read more)

Report this review (#244654) | Posted by M27Barney | Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I discovered this album recently in a charity shop in oxford, you never can tell what you might pick up!Anyway in this case it was ENGLISH BOY WONDERS FROM the U.K's BIG BIG TRAIN And what a great album it is, but such a shame it was lying there in oxfam! these guys should have there records sell ... (read more)

Report this review (#12001) | Posted by | Wednesday, April 13, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Well here is an interesting album. At first I wasn't impressed and felt a little dissapointed with the mostly slow pacing of EBW but my opinion changed after several (hundred) plays! it now has to be one of my favourites from big big train gang! after extensive listens, there are new and inte ... (read more)

Report this review (#12000) | Posted by | Thursday, June 10, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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