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Big Big Train

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Big Big Train Common Ground album cover
3.85 | 194 ratings | 10 reviews | 21% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 2021

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Strangest Times (5:08)
2. All the Love We Can Give (8:06)
3. Black with Ink (7:24)
4. Dandelion Clock (4:14)
5. Headwaters (2:27)
6. Apollo (7:50)
7. Common Ground (4:54)
8. Atlantic Cable (15:06)
9. Endnotes (6:59)

Total Time 62:08

Line-up / Musicians

- David Longdon / lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar (1,7), mellophone (1), synth (1,7), vibes & tambourine (4), piano (4,7), flute (6,8)
- Carly Bryant / vocals (1-4,7,8)
- Rikard Sj÷blom / 6- & 12-string electric guitars (2-8), acoustic guitar (4), Hammond (2-4,6,8), ARP synth (2,3,5,8), Mellotron (3,6,9), Fender Rhodes (2,6), Farfisa (4,9), piano (5,8,9), clavinet (6,8), Wurlitzer & church organ (6), vocals (2-4,7-9)
- Gregory Spawton / bass, bass pedals, 6- & 12-string acoustic guitars (4,8,9), Mellotron (8), vocals (7,8)
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, Mellotron (2), guitar w/ EBow (2), Fender Rhodes & CP-70 electric pianos (6), synth & arpeggiator (6), percussion (2,8,9), soundscapes (6), vocals (1-4,7-9)
- Dave Foster / guitar (1,8), violin (2)

- Nick Stones / French horn (6,9)
- John Storey / euphonium (6,9)
- Dave Desmond / trombone (6,9), brass arrangements
- Ben Godfrey / trumpet (6,9)
- Jon Truscott / tuba (6,9)
- Aidan O'Rourke / violin (1,4,6-9), soundscapes (1,8,9)

Releases information

Artwork: Sarah Louise Ewing
Label: English Electric (EERCD0028) (CD), Plane Groovy (PLG096) (Vinyl)
Format: Vinyl, CD, Digital
July 30, 2021

Thanks to mbzr48 for the addition
and to Dark Ness & NotAProghead for the last updates
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BIG BIG TRAIN Common Ground ratings distribution

(194 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(21%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (27%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

BIG BIG TRAIN Common Ground reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Second Life Syndrome
4 stars Originally written for

Here comes another Big Big Train album. I honestly was a bit wary of reviewing it. The record is called Common Ground, and it releases today, July 30th.

You may remember my review for their last record, Grand Tour. I felt like it was a balanced take, but many people took it as primarily negative, and I ended up feeling bad about it. But my opinion remains unchanged on that record. Thankfully, however, Common Ground doesn't fall into all the same traps as its predecessor.

Big Big Train comes to us from the UK, and they have been seeing some changes of late. One of the things that plagued Grand Tour was the bloated sound, possibly due to the long genealogy of musicians who were involved. Common Ground is definitely scaled back considerably. The musicians present are David Longdon on lead vocals, Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sj÷blom on guitars, keyboards, and vocals, and Nick D'Virgilio on drums and vocals. Guests include: a five piece brass ensemble, Carly Bryant on keys and vocals, Dave Foster on guitars, Clare Lindley on violin and vocals, and Aidan O'Rourke on violin. That's basically half the number of people on the last album.

The band's sound has changed somewhat, too. This album isn't as pastoral or retro prog in nature. In fact, though those elements are still present, a more modern, fresh, and even quirky progressive rock has appeared in their place. The music relies on David Longdon's fantastic vocals more than ever, and you'll even hear some heavier rock sections that took me off guard.

The album feels awkward and strange at times, but I've learned to like that about it upon multiple listens. A good example of this is "All the Love We Can Give". This is such a weird song. David (I think) sings in a strange baritone, which doesn't sound natural at all, but the song takes it in stride, and there are some wonderful instrumental portions and also vocal spots from other band members. It shouldn't work, and there are moments that certainly don't, but it overall does feel like a fresh take from this band.

And that is what strikes me as most important here. Common Ground isn't BBT's best album, not by a long shot. If I had to compare it to another BBT release, I would say it reminds me of 2007's The Difference Machine, although I can't vocalize why that is. In my Grand Tour review, I mentioned that the band seemed stuck in a rut creatively, making the same album over and over. Well, I can say with aplomb that this has changed, and that this album represents a renewed creative focus for the band. Does everything hit just right? Not at all, but the band at least brings new ideas and eras into their sound.

Pretty much every song builds on this renewed vision, except for possibly the instrumental "Apollo", which is a good track but definitely could have fit on Grand Tour. Of course, the track preceding it is also instrumental; "Headwaters" is a piano ballad and absolutely gorgeous. "The Strangest Times" opens the record, and while I don't think the chorus is all that memorable, I do like the energy and enthusiasm. "Black with Ink" is another interesting track, feeling more 80s to my ears, and the female vocals (Carly or Clare, I'm not sure) really add an element that BBT has been missing. I'd like to hear more of that. In fact, I remember David doing a duet with Christina Booth from Magenta for the cover of Hackett's "Spectral Mornings", so I think this is a strong suit for David.

My favorite songs all come in the second half. In fact, they are the last three: "Common Ground", "Atlantic Cable", and "Endnotes". The title track feels like it could have been on English Electric, Part 1 (my favorite), save for the lyrical focus on current social issues. It has a great chorus, and David sounds amazing. "Atlantic Cable" is a quirky, vibrant song that lasts for fifteen minutes. In between the various keyboard solos, there is a subtle and even cinematic quality that attracts me. Finally, "Endnotes" closes the album with an illustrious, horn-laden finale. It feels regal and confident.

I also want to mention here that BBT recently released a remix of 2009's The Underfall Yard, an album I have struggled to like ever since it was launched. This remix, however, makes the album much better, and it also adds a bonus track called "Brew and Burgh", and let me tell you?this is one of my favorite songs of 2021. I absolutely love it. It has all the emotion, friendship, and love that I want from BBT, and that sometimes they forget. The music video is absolutely stunning, as well. My kids and I have watched it many times.

I think Big Big Train are making their own way again. Common Ground isn't a perfect album, but it has its moments, and it feels like the first new sound from the band since English Electric, Part 1. I applaud them for recreating themselves and for their obvious class and artistry. For the first time in years, I feel hope and even excitement for the future of this band.


Review by lazland
4 stars So, here we are in Summer 2021 with a pared-down 'Train. There has been a wee bit of a mass exodus from the band, for reasons which I admit are not wholly clear, and for this album we have a core fourpiece of David Longden on vocals, founder Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sj'blom guitars, keys, and backing vocals, and last, but by no means least, the wonderful Nick D'Virgilio on drums and vocals.

Thankfully, for me, they have replaced Rachel Hall, the departing exceptionally talented violinist & vocalist, albeit on what appears to be a session basis, with Clare Lindley and Aidan O'Rourke, and other guests appear, together with the wonderful brass band ensemble.

So, most definitely the start of a new era. Is it any good? A question I asked myself with a little bit of trepidation when the cd plonked itself through the letter box on 30 July, and which I have been pondering since. The great record-buying public of Great Britain certainly seem to think so, because it debuted at an impressive number 30 in the charts upon release.

To begin, let us say that this is definitely (by the band's own separation on the cd booklet) a disc of two halves, and many comments I have seen around the weird and wonderful interweb suggest to me that opinion is sharply divided.

For a band who have made a (glorious) career out of writing epic songs about the past and England's role in that history, it comes as a wee bit of a shock to have an opening track, The Strangest Times, dedicated to the 18-month Covid-19 lurgy period of varying lockdowns and restrictions. Given the rather depressing subject matter, it is actually a bright and breezy piece of music which moves along at a fair old rate assisted by some understated piano work and frenetic fretwork, and it is a piece which has grown on me somewhat with repeated listening.

The second track, All the Love we can Give, is easily the most difficult to get one's head around. Written by D'Virgilio (and I might mention here that I have found listening to his latest solo work, Invisible, difficult to say the least), it features Longden singing in a tone several octaves below his usual floating range. However patience does bring its usual reward, and especially pleasing are the ensemble vocal harmonies, with Carly Bryant especially sounding very nice above Longden. Musically this is a stripped down 'Train, with the extended mid-track instrumental pretty noodly, and NDV treats us to a couple of sung verses, and whilst I now enjoy the track as a whole, it is not going to be a regular on any BBT playlist I create.

Black with Ink is the first Spawton written piece on the album, and Longden is mercifully reinstated to his wonderful full self, and Bryant contributes some lovely vocals, which should make watching her live next year something to look forward to. This is a very pleasant track, and three minutes in we have the first recognisably progressive segment of the album, with some very pleasing guitar and mellotron/Hammond keyboard work by Sj'blom. Deliberately retro in its feel and execution, the closing guitar led section is the first which takes you to that higher plane the band execute so well.

Dandelion Clock closes Part One, and is another Spawton effort, and is a short four-minute pastoral piece of music which quite honestly would not have sounded altogether out of place on Nursery Cryme. This is a very nice, calming, track which will hopefully convince those English Electric bastion of fans who might have been thinking that BBT had lost their collective marbles.

So, onwards to Part The Second, and what a treat it is. If what preceded it was good (and it is), we are now into full- blown BBT prog excellence with two instrumental pieces, namely Headwaters and Apollo. The first of the two is only a couple of minutes long and is a rather lovely Sj'blom piano solo, delicate and beautiful, the sort of track you will put on your headphones whilst lying under the sun in some meadow surrounded by nothing but nature.

Apollo clocks in at just shy of eight minutes. It is a fine ensemble piece, and it is great to hear Longden on the flute here, with Aidan O'Rourke providing a flowing violin line. Once again, we have those old-fashioned keyboards, and these are then three minutes in augmented by that all together fine brass ensemble. This track is BBT at their very best. Yes, it does have a retro feel to it, and this is quite deliberate, but you can only really sit back and let this wondrous noise, with its time signature changes and wall of sound, wash over you. A mighty fine mini-symphony, and easily a highlight of the decade, let alone the year. Play it loud, with the sunshine above you.

The title track follows, and this is Longdon's second of the album. This is another relatively short track, and is again a relaxing pastoral piece, which proclaims our shared humanity and revels in it. Upbeat and very welcome, especially the closing segment featuring more lovely flowing violin work supporting a gentle riff by Sj'blom.

Atlantic Cable is split into five movements over fifteen minutes of music, so this is the true epic of the album. The first part is a lovely flute and piano segment, strongly pastoral and thoughtful before moving into a more traditional folk-rock track. The subject matter is that of bringing together people separated over vast land masses with the building and use of phone line technology, and the final part of the track reprises the Common Ground theme from the title track through a beautiful gentle close following the crescendo which introduces it. Once again, Longden really does shine with some wonderful vocals (track two now being completely forgotten), and he is backed once again by some perfect harmonies. The whole musical experience tells a story, with the tempest of Lightning Through Deep Waters especially riveting leading to that gentle close. A wonderful piece of music which most certainly will figure on that BBT playlist.

The album closes with Endnotes. Another Spawton track, it is again a gentle start with lilting Longden vocals over violin and piano-led soundscapes which puts one in mind of smoky barrooms. The final three minutes once again bring in those smooth brass instruments, and this segment puts me in mind of (to me) the band's finest hour, namely Victorian Brickwork. Certainly, Longden reproduces the dripping emotion of that fine work, ably supported by the dreamy music. What a fine way to close a fine album.

This is an album which delights, and rewards persistence. It is an album which reaches out and fills the listener with that joy of life, moreover of that shared experience of living on Planet Earth. It proves that it is possible to make such proclamations without being overly preachy or pointing fingers at one's listeners. The album, in my opinion, cements BBT as the natural English Progressive Rock standard bearers (and, yes, I know that this is an international ensemble, but the music most certainly is not) and successors to the crown once worn with distinction by Messrs Gabriel & co.

Not quite the perfect five, although Part Two easily qualifies for this rating, but four stars nonetheless for an excellent work which should deservedly figure on most respectable prog writers top ten list for 2021.

Time to stop worrying. The future is bright, and that future is the Eastern Line Train.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Train are back after cleaning house (or, perhaps more accurately, after a bunch of retirements)--working on a lower budget with half the staff. Gone is founding member Andy Poole and recent mainstays Dave Gregory and Rachel Hall. Looking back on "the good ole days," there are plenty of draws on some old musical themes, sounds, and styles--more than I think I've ever heard on a BBT album.

1. "The Strangest Times" (5:08) feels like a pop song from the innocent side of the 1970s--like ANDREW GOLD-- though the lyrics are about the weirdness of the COVID era--as if these times bear any comparison to the Seventies! Nice guitar work. (7.75/10)

2. "All the Love We Can Give" (8:06) here's a vocal range we've never heard from David Longdon! So low! (In truth, it must be Rikard or Nick, right?) Nice keyboard work. The chorus once again brings me back to the music of the 1970s--arrangements by the likes of classic rock bands like Ambrosia, Foreigner, or Styx. The instrumental passage that we move into with the fifth minute is more like classic BBTrain--though Nick's lead vocal again brings us back into the 1970s (Styx). Way more Hammond than I'm used to. At 6:10 we even go jazzy-pop as we move back into the languid motif of the opening section--with Dave's deep voice--though the background vocals are more interesting and prominent. (12.25/15)

3. "Black with Ink" (7:24) Hammond opens this URIAH HEEP or JOURNEY-like song with multiple voices taking turns with the lead. Sounds like some anthemic collaboration between 70s superstars--or GLASS HAMMER. The instrumental passage in the fourth minute is nice. Kind of BLUE ÍYSTER CULT-like. This is followed by a protracted Rick Wakeman-YES section. When vocals return we go back to the happy-go-lucky 70s feel. The next, Mellotron-led, instrumental passage sounds more like ─NGLAG┼RD. (12.5/15)

4. "Dandelion Clock" (4:14) opens with picked 12-string acoustic guitar before Dave's vocal introduces a kind of Skylark-era XTC-like song pastiche. I like the feel here. Even the vocal and lyrics seem to match the musical mood better than previous songs. I like this folk-pop style for this band better than their post 2010 Symphonic/Neo Prog attempts. Plus, short and sweet sometimes works best. A top three song for me. (9/10)

5. "Headwaters" (2:27) solo piano (reverbed) opens this. It's plaintive, almost lullaby-ish, though nuanced with some minor and off-setting chords. Nice ambiguity. (4.5/5)

6. "Apollo" (7:50) Wow! I absolutely love the beginning of this one! And listen to the return of the Longdon flute! And violins! All while keyboard players use quirky synth sounds more associated with Stereolab. In the third minute we shift more into straightforward prog for blistering guitar solo, horns, and a dirty Wurlitzer solo. Except for the lack of vocals, this one could've come from The Underfall Yard sessions. Great lead main melody in the main verse to dig an earworm into your brain. At the five minute mark we crescendo into another stratosphere in which spacey synths and flutes reign supreme. Nice! The antiphonal horns are also cool. And I'm so glad they choose to stay here and fade out instead of shift into some new and less majestic realm. Excellent. My favorite song on the album. (14.5/15)

7. "Common Ground" (4:54) a strong song built around more of the rock-steady BBTrain strengths. (8.75/10)

8. "Atlantic Cable" (15:06) wave sounds, contemplative piano, and pastoral flute open this one. 90 seconds in we have a Hammond organ open up the door for an entirely different palette to carry forward the key and melody in a full-band, very proggy, classic BBT fashion. Drummer Nick D'Virgilio and bassist Greg Spawton are, by now, so comfortable with one another as to be almost one an extension of the the other. In the fifth minute we move into a new section that sounds very MOSTLY AUTUMN over which Dave sings about the globally unifying event of laying of the trans-Atlantic telecommunication cable. At the end of the eighth minute we then move into a delicate piano and acoustic guitar-based section over which choral voices, Dave, and female lead vocalist trade telling the story. The upper-octave tinkling of the piano is what shines here--and the fact that the electronic elements don't take over and dominate the folk-vocal feel to the section. At 10:58, then, we burst into a full-on BBT prog instrumental run--with all instruments trading time in the limelight. If the patterns of the rhythm section didn't feel so familiar (worn out) (even during the Genesis "Supper's Ready"-like section), this might be a stupendous epic. The final 70 seconds sees the music returning to the most delicate, piano (electric)-based music with multi-voiced choral vocals worked into the mix with Dave's lead. Nice finish. Not bad! (26.25/30)

9. "Endnotes" (6:59) opens with dulcimer-sounding instrument playing solo before being joined by piano, bass, and slow, steady snare-rim hit and hi-hat notes as Dave sings in a very committed voice. I can really feel his investment into this vocal--a feeling I've rarely felt since his amazing debut with The Underfall Yard. Gorgeous music, gorgeous vocal, gorgeous incidentals contributed by numerous instruments--very provocative lyrics (reminiscent of my favorite BBT lyric of all-time: the hand-holding reference from "Winchester from St. Giles Hill"). Great use of muted (and, later, unmuted) horn section. My other top three song. (14/15)

Total Time 62:08

A brave album. A wildly inconsistent album. An album of heart-wrenchingly beautiful highs and, unfortunately, sad and disappointing lows.

B/four stars; a strong collection of songs from these transitioning veterans--an album that is definitely well worth checking out by any lover of progressive rock music--especially if you've been with Big Big Train through all of the years.

Review by kev rowland
4 stars I am always nervous when it comes to listening to a BBT album, and especially when writing about it, as I am probably the person who has been reviewing them longer than anyone else in the world. The band have reinvented themselves multiple times over the years, but the one constant has been Greg Spawton, and last year's 'Common Ground' saw them take another jump sideways as the band undertook a serious culling. Although they had some guests (including the wonderful Dave Foster who cut his teeth on the same circuit as the original BBT), the band was now David Longdon (lead vocals), Gregory Spawton (bass), Rikard Sj÷blom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, vocals). BBT's style has changed over the years, but somehow, they have always seemed very English, even though that has not been the nationality of all those involved. Here that pastoral sound has been combined with a freshness and openness as they used David's vocals to even better effect, although they also demonstrate that here is a group of musicians who can really play. There are times here when they come across as mid Eighties Gabriel with some fairly commercial elements, yet they also use dated keyboard sounds when the time is right, throw in weird time signatures and an angular quirkiness which brings a smile to the face. There is even a guitar-led section towards the end of "Black With Ink" which could have come straight from Spock's Beard.

However, that being said, one of the joys of Big Big Train is that they are themselves, and not trying to be anyone else. In their early days they had very much their own sound, and the same is true today in that the music supports the vocals, placing David strongly in focus, yet when studying the arrangements, one quickly realises there is a great deal going on underneath and they are doing far more than provide support and instead have the right mix of complexity and commerciality to really elevate.

It is a very different album indeed to 'The Grand Tour', as the band have gone back to their roots and into themselves and have then thrust their ideas outwards to create something which is very special indeed.

Latest members reviews

2 stars I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They've got the occasional decent song here or there, but I've never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock's Beard. Maybe I'm too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unasham ... (read more)

Report this review (#2904527) | Posted by TheEliteExtremophile | Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Following a string of great albums in recent years, 2020 saw personnel changes paring the size of the band down from 8 to 4, but this sensational album, Common Ground, saw the new stripped-down band respond impressively, boldly moving forward, trying out some new styles and directions, while maintai ... (read more)

Report this review (#2844922) | Posted by BBKron | Sunday, October 9, 2022 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I met this band with their album "Grand Tour" which seemed to me an interesting exercise in giving a bit of youth to the classic forms of progressive rock. With their album "Common Ground" these forms are maintained, with the difference that now they sound less symphonic, due to the fact that th ... (read more)

Report this review (#2691425) | Posted by JohnProg | Friday, February 11, 2022 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Common Ground, the 13th studio record of UK-based ensemble Big Big Train, is an album of change. The band's line-up has been substantially renovated, with the departure of Dave Gregory (guitars), Danny Manners (keyboards) and Rachel Hall (strings and backing vocals). The core of the band on the new ... (read more)

Report this review (#2655682) | Posted by lukretio | Sunday, December 26, 2021 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Big Big Train has been hanging out in the prog halls since 1991; I got to know them thanks to 'Bard' and this characteristic GÚnÚsisien sound, Roine Stolt, Spock's Beard, a voice Ó la Peter Gabriel, then various sounds making me switch to Xtc, to Sigur Ros for a time, especially from neo to the Mari ... (read more)

Report this review (#2592584) | Posted by alainPP | Monday, September 6, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Always big big excitement for me to hear a new Big Big Train collection of songs. My first contact was with the album 'The Second Brightest Star'. Quickly worked forward through their newer albums, and then back tracked through the older portion of their catalog. Kind of got accustomed to a cert ... (read more)

Report this review (#2590814) | Posted by SilverLight59 | Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | Review Permanlink

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