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BIG BIG TRAIN

Crossover Prog • United Kingdom


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Big Big Train biography
Formed in 1990 in Bournemouth, Dorset, England

BIG BIG TRAIN was formed by Andy POOLE and Greg SPAWTON. They were joined by Ian COOPER (keyboards), Steve HUGHES (drums) and Canadian vocalist Martin READ. Initial influences on the band's music included Steve HACKETT, Anthony PHILLIPS, IT BITES and PREFAB SPROUT. A demo cassette tape of the band's first songs, recorded on 8-track, was released in October 1991 and was followed by live performances. The demo tape "From the River to the Sea" was re-recorded and released as a self-financed demo CD in May 1992, following which BBT played some higher profile gigs in England.

In January 1993, a second demo tape, "The Infant Hercules" was released and the band then spent the next six months writing the music for its first proper album, "Goodbye to the Age of Steam". This was recorded in a hectic two week period in July 1993. Soon afterwards, BBT signed to the progressive rock label GEP, where they found themselves as label mates of IQ.

"Goodbye to the Age of Steam" was a big leap forward for the band, both in terms of songwriting and recording quality. The response to the album was very positive, culminating in a licensing deal in Japan where the CD was re-released in 1995, with a bonus track.

In the meantime, Ian COOPER had left the band (for family rather than musical reasons) and live performances were put on hold while a replacement was sought and a new album was written.

Recording of BBT's second album commenced in July of 1995 (with Greg filling in on keyboards) and continued, sporadically, until completion 18 months later. During the sessions, a new keyboard player, Tony MÜLLER was recruited. Some of the songs from the new album were debuted at the band's only show from this period at the Astoria, London. "English Boy Wonders" was finally released in autumn 1997, although in an incomplete state as the band had run out of money to finish the album. "English Boy Wonders" combined progressive rock (GENESIS, VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR) with indie-pop influences (XTC, THE CURE.)

Steve HUGHES left BIG BIG TRAIN in September 1998 and went on to join THE ENID. He was replaced by Pete HIBBIT. They were subsequently dropped by their record label, GEP. After a few more live performances, the band's momentum seemed all but spent.

Greg and Andy began work on some new songs without the rest of the band, more out of habit than with any intention to continue recording as BIG BI...
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Merchants Of LightMerchants Of Light
English Electric Recordings 2018
$12.23
$19.12 (used)
GrimspoundGrimspound
Justforkicks 2017
$10.56
$13.37 (used)
FolkloreFolklore
British Electric Rec 2016
$9.64
$11.33 (used)
English Electric: Expanded EditionEnglish Electric: Expanded Edition
Justforkicks 2016
$10.85
$16.64 (used)
Second Brightest StarSecond Brightest Star
Justforkicks 2017
$10.44
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Stone's Throw From The LineStone's Throw From The Line
Justforkicks 2016
$15.71
$15.70 (used)
Underfall YardUnderfall Yard
Ais 2009
$11.22
$11.21 (used)
Swan HunterSwan Hunter
English Electric Recordings 2018
$5.89
$10.24 (used)
Difference MachineDifference Machine
Remastered
Ais 2011
$10.37
$10.36 (used)
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BIG BIG TRAIN discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

BIG BIG TRAIN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.36 | 166 ratings
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam
1994
3.18 | 165 ratings
English Boy Wonders
1997
3.13 | 138 ratings
Bard
2002
3.64 | 228 ratings
Gathering Speed
2004
3.63 | 294 ratings
The Difference Machine
2007
4.17 | 710 ratings
The Underfall Yard
2009
4.17 | 986 ratings
English Electric (Part One)
2012
4.08 | 782 ratings
English Electric (Part Two)
2013
3.97 | 513 ratings
Folklore
2016
3.98 | 419 ratings
Grimspound
2017
3.77 | 221 ratings
The Second Brightest Star
2017

BIG BIG TRAIN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.38 | 67 ratings
From Stone And Steel
2016
4.56 | 53 ratings
A Stone's Throw From the Line
2016
4.20 | 27 ratings
Merchants of Light
2018

BIG BIG TRAIN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.60 | 34 ratings
Stone & Steel
2016

BIG BIG TRAIN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.24 | 45 ratings
English Boy Wonders (2008)
2008
4.86 | 170 ratings
English Electric: Full Power
2013

BIG BIG TRAIN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.26 | 40 ratings
From The River to the Sea
1992
3.14 | 21 ratings
The Infant Hercules
1993
4.03 | 188 ratings
Far Skies Deep Time
2010
4.06 | 80 ratings
Make Some Noise
2013
3.62 | 91 ratings
Wassail
2015
4.17 | 24 ratings
London Song
2017
2.42 | 17 ratings
Merry Christmas
2017
4.40 | 5 ratings
Swan Hunter
2018

BIG BIG TRAIN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Stone & Steel by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover DVD/Video, 2016
4.60 | 34 ratings

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Stone & Steel
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Gerinski
Prog Reviewer

5 stars I consider the 2009+ incarnation of Big Big Train to be one of the best and most classy prog bands to have come up from Britain in the recent years, but the fact that they did not have any live video was a bit of a let down, I wanted to see these guys playing their great music. Actually Big Big Train was a studio-only project, they had never played live since 1998. Not only that, this incarnation (with Dave Gregory on guitars, David Longdon on vocals and flute and Nick D'Virgilio on drums) had never played together, the different members exchanged music files and recorded their parts separately in the studio, but the whole band had never played physically together. But possibly the huge success of their 2009 album The Underfall Yard made them consider playing live again.

So in mid 2014 they hired the Real World studios of Peter Gabriel for a week to rehearse and try real live playing, with the intention that if it all went alright they would offer a few live concerts. They engaged the now-full-time- members Danny Manners for additional keyboards and double bass, Rachel Hall for violin and backing vocals, and Rikard Sjöblom of Beardfish for guitars, keyboards and backing vocals. Plus a brass quintet for some of the songs. They recorded the experience on video and after the positive result, one year later in August 2015 they offered 3 concerts at Kings Place in London which quickly sold out.

This Blu-Ray release (also available as streaming or download in Vimeo) documents both scenarios, with 9 songs filmed when playing live in the studio plus 4 songs from the Kings Place concerts. The studio takes are great and give us 2 hours of delight, we get to see the band setting up and a few chats among the members in between songs. The setlist is impressive, with my favourite highlights being "Master James of St George", "Judas Unrepentant", the 23 minute suite "The Underfall Yard" and "Victorian Brickwork". Although the rest of tracks are also strong, we get "The First Rebreather", "Kingmaker", "Uncle Jack", "Summoned by Bells", and perhaps the surprise track is an acoustic version of "Wind Distorted Pioneers" from their 1994 debut album, here with just Danny Manners on the grand piano and Rachel Hall on violin and the rest of the band members doing backing vocals.

The 4 live tracks from the Kings Place concerts deliver almost another 1 hour of pleasure, "Wassail", "Curator of Butterflies", we get a repeat of "Victorian Brickwork" and finally "East Coast Racer". The filming quality is very good and although the band may not be one the most lively on stage the music is so good that it makes for a very enjoyable watching.

But for those wanting to watch the entire Kings Place concerts, they are also available for streaming or downloading on Vimeo in 2 parts, "Act One" and "Act Two", in total around 2 hours with the complete setlist being: Act One: "Make Some Noise", "The First Rebreather", "The Underfall Yard", "Uncle Jack", "Victorian Brickwork" and Act Two: "Wassail", "Summoned by Bells", "Drum Solo / Judas Unrepentant", "Curator of Butterflies" and "East Coast Racer".

A must for any Big Big Train fan and one of the releases I have enjoyed the most in the last couple of years.

 From The River to the Sea  by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1992
2.26 | 40 ratings

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From The River to the Sea
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by The Crow
Prog Reviewer

2 stars From The River to the Sea is the first full-length demo album by the now famous Big Big Train!

And here their music was fairly influenced by neo-prog band like IQ with strong cheesy pop roots, making the hearing of the album a bit annoying now because this music is very dated now and it just sounds boring and repetitive.

The production is bad, but I'm fine with that because it's a demo! The drums sound is especially poor, and some keyboards are also not very well integrated in the music. But Read's voice is fine, as always. He sang beautifully and with passion before he clearly lost his vocal abilities as we can hear later in Bard.

Best Tracks: To the Sea (I love the chorus!), Returning to the fold (another fine one), River (here the band shows a glimpse of the typical melancholic guitars that would make the band famous in the future) and Downhiling (an IQ influenced song with fine and strong guitars)

Conclusion: Big Big Train was very influenced by the neo-prog sound in the beginning. Therefore, I enjoy hearing this demo albums from time to time, along with their official debut Goodbye to the Age of Steam, which is an evolution of what we can hear in this From the River to the Sea and the posterior The Infant Hercules.

So, if you are a fan of Big Big Train check this one. Otherwise, don't bother with this demo because it's just neo-pop-prog with just a few glimpses of the true personality of this fine British group which was yet to be found.

My rating: **

 Bard by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.13 | 138 ratings

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Bard
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by The Crow
Prog Reviewer

2 stars In my opinion, Bard sadly marks the lowest point in Big Big Train's discography...

I do not really know what happened to Martin Read, but he lost almost all of his fine and charismatic vocals through the years. In Goodbye to the Age of Steam, he sang great. English Boy Wonders shows a little decline on his capabilities, but nothing to worry about... However, in Bard his voice became definitely a shadow of his original one. Hoarse and out of tone. That is really sad! No surprise that this album was his last with the band.

The music is the typical symphonic prog with folk elements, tons of acoustic passages, band's trademarks... Nevertheless, with lack of strength and true interest this time. The style of the album feels a bit disjointed, some songs are just too repetitive and the lack of new ideas in comparison with their two previous album is worrying.

The result is a record that is not catchy enough and easily forgettable. Maybe for background music...

Best tracks: some funny moments in Broken English (fine bass lines), Blacksmithing (the best vocal melodies of the album), A Short Visit to Earth (beautiful jazzy passage at 4:27...) and For Winter (the most accomplished song here. I find particularly lovely the female vocals on this one)

Conclusion: the deterioration of Martin Read's vocals along with the boring songwriting, makes Bard the least interesting Big Bit Train album in my opinion despite the fine production and beautiful Jo Michaels's vocals.

Just for true fans of the band.

My rating: **

 Make Some Noise by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2013
4.06 | 80 ratings

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Make Some Noise
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by cirrusbay

4 stars Interesting compilation, blending some of the English Electric songs, 2 of which are edited, with some new songs. Of the new songs, 'Seen Better Days' is my favorite, a real standout and among the best of the tracks from the EE sessions, with powerful emotional melodies, some good chord changes, and that wonderful sense of being outside, with the vast, almost-melancholy sense of open space that only Big Big Train can produce, and produces so very well. 'The Lovers' is also good, and the piano segue way leading into it is very nice. The title track is decent, more of a straightforward rocker, but fun and certainly good for what it is. Not a track however that properly represents Big BIg Train. The other tracks are all good ones, I love each of them, particularly Uncle Jack, Swan Hunter and Curator of Butterflies, but when all is said and done, the only thing from Make Some Noise that is not on EE Full Power, are the slightly shorter versions of 2 songs. Four stars for the quality of the material for any that want more of an intro to the band, but really English Electric Full Power is the one to get instead, their magnum opus.
 Merchants of Light by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Live, 2018
4.20 | 27 ratings

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Merchants of Light
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by fuxi
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Having admired Big Big Train for years, and having posted glowing reviews of some of their earlier albums, I wish I could shower this release with unreserved praise. It consists of two discs, and most of the second definitely contains top-level symphonic prog. Any contemporary band that treats its fans to a sequence which includes 'Judas Unrepentant', 'The Transit of Venus across the Sun', 'East Coast Racer', 'Telling the Bees' and 'Victorian Brickwork' (here performed in rapid succession) deserves our admiration. BBT's music may carry echoes of early-to-mid 1970s Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull, and the band clearly build on a foundation of classic prog, but they come up with a wide range of sensitive, intelligent, impassioned, expertly arranged compositions, and I can't think of anyone working in the same genre today who achieves even half as much. The number of musicians taking part in the venture takes the breath away: for your money you're getting a highly likable lead vocalist, TWO lead guitarists, TWO expert keyboard players, a delightful violinist, a superb rhythm section and a magnificent brass quintet - all of whom expertly collaborate on a quasi chamber symphony level.

By the end of 'Victorian Brickwork' I felt like cheering, but I couldn't help thinking the jolly 'Wassail' (in spite of all its charm) is NOT a suitable album closer. Towards the end of this song, lead vocalist David Longdon repeatedly encourages the audience to sing along, but he never seems to succeed! In fact, there's little audience presence on the album (apart from some enthusiastic applause between the tracks) and it sounds as if all the music was taken straight from the band's monitors, or from whatever the players could hear through the earpieces they wore for the duration of the concerts. I must declare an interest: I was present at the first of these gigs, and I remember how dumbfounded I was when I saw some of the players were smiling blissfully throughout... You see, the things THEY heard were obviously wonderful, but a large part of the audience was subjected to a below par sound system. For most of the first half, all the guitars, keyboards and violin were drowned out by the pure noise of Nick D'Virgilio's drum kit, which needed no amplification. So if MERCHANTS OF LIGHT now comes across as a perfectly balanced recording (with D'Virgilio once again demonstrating he's one of the great prog drummers) this still raises the question if it's an accurate reflection of the music heard at Cadogan Hall.

I also find the first disc less convincing than the second. In spite of some first-rate soloing, neither 'London Plane' nor 'A Mead Hall in Winter' (the supposedly climactic mini-epic) are blessed with strong melodies, and in both cases David Longdon's over-earnest vocals soon irritate the listener. Nevertheless, when taken as a whole, MERCHANTS OF LIGHT must be called a remarkable achievement. I don't want to be a sourpuss and will grade it as 'an excellent addition to any prog music collection'.

 Merchants of Light by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Live, 2018
4.20 | 27 ratings

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Merchants of Light
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by The Jester

4 stars Review # 90. To those who are following the "modern" Progressive Rock scene, the name of Big Big Train should sound very familiar. It is one of those bands that have seen their reputation grow with each passing year. Despite that the band has been active since the early 90's, the truth is that they have become extremely popular among the Prog Rock followers during the last decade; mostly with the release of the albums English Electric Part 1 & Part 2 and Folklore.

Big Big Train is a band that gives live performances not so often. So, the 3 live gigs that they gave last year at Cadogan Hall, London, became sold-out immediately. And those gigs were followed by this live album, that has been recorded during these 3 concerts.

Merchants of Light is available as a double CD, including 16 tracks, and a very detailed and "rich" booklet. You also have the option of the 3-vinyl box set, or simply the digital version.

The 16 track set is pulled from the band's last 5 albums, Grimspound, Folklore, The Underfall Yard and English Electric I & II. (But 9 out of the 16 songs are from Folklore and Grimspound). (Also, I was surprised to see that they didn't include any song from The Second Brighter Star, which came out just a few months after Grimspound).

The album opens with a string overture, before kicking into a rocking version of Folklore. Right after that, it's time for the wonderful 12-minute-long epic Brave Captain, which happens to be one of my favorites. Song after song the band becomes better and better until we reach to Swan Hunter, which is one of the best songs this band ever recorded, and one of the album's highlights.

David Longdon's voice sounds great, and the whole band gives a flawless performance. And when I say "the whole band" I mean 10 people on stage, including a horn session. And despite the difficulties, the mix and the production are simply excellent, and the album sounds perfect! Merchants of Light is not just a live album, it is an experience. It captures one of the world's best modern Progressive Rock bands at their very best.

My Rating would be somewhere between 4 and 4.5 stars.

 The Underfall Yard by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2009
4.17 | 710 ratings

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The Underfall Yard
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by TenYearsAfter

4 stars A very strong element in their music on this CD is guest drummer Nick D'Virgilio, what a touch of class and he also contributes on vocals in a very pleasant way on the highlight the concluding title track (featuring guest Francis Dunnery on guitar). Here we can enjoy Big Big Train in its full splendour, more than 20 minutes it's 24-carat symphonic rock delivering lots of captivating shifting moods and a very tasteful colouring with a wide range of instruments, from slide guitar, cello and choir-Mellotron to fiery electric guitar, Hammond organ and a slow synthesizer solo, this is Prog Heaven!

The other five compositions also contain a lot of variety and great atmospheres (often reminding me of 70-77 Genesis along some Yes and Pink Floyd). Remarkably is the varied use of brass - and woodwind instruments, from cornet and trombone to the French horn and tuba. But don't be afraid that these instruments dominate if you don't like cornet or tuba (like me) because due to Big Big Train their excellent compositional skills there is a fine balance with the other instruments like the guitar, keyboards and drums. This leads to very interesting combinations like the violin-Mellotron with a sitar or with a French horn and trombone (both in the opener Evening Star) or a choir-Mellotron as support of a cornet solo (in the long and alternating Victorian Brickwork). Finally I would like to mention that I am delighted about multi-instrumentalist David Longdon his vocals, often evoking Peter Gabriel to me. But that is also due to their use of the Mellotron, twanging guitars and flute, I have no problem that Big Big Train plays in the great tradition of 70-77 Genesis, not at all!

 English Boy Wonders by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.18 | 165 ratings

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English Boy Wonders
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by The Crow
Prog Reviewer

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: **

 Grimspound by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.98 | 419 ratings

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Grimspound
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by wiz_d_kidd

2 stars Shortly after Grimspound came out, Big Big Train seemed to be the talk of the town. I couldn't click on a prog website without stumbling across news or raving reviews. A friend of mine recommended them, so I took a listen. Sorry to say, I just don't get what all the hype is about.

Overall, this album is not bad. In fact, it is just fine. It just fails to provide (me) with anything that is especially interesting, captivating, or moving. Let's look at some different aspects:

Aside from one instrumental piece, all of the tracks seem to share the same basic construction... play some introductory music, stop playing music and start singing, stop singing and start playing music, repeat several times. Then in the middle of the track, shift gears into a completely different mood.

I'm not a big fan of the either/or trade-off between groovy music and vocals. I like both at the same time. I find it more enjoyable when the band plays and the vocalist sings together, as one entity, not two separate entities trading time in the spotlight.

I'm also not a big fan of abrupt changes in mood, as if a new track has started. It really ruins the mental and emotional picture I established earlier in the song. It's kind of like a novel changing from a murder mystery to sci-fi fantasy half way through. It almost never makes sense.

So what about the quality of the vocals? I find them adequately average. They are pleasant enough, with no unnecessary melismatic runs or annoying note-seeking glides, but they are also of limited dynamic and spectral range. No faults or annoying habits, but nothing to write glowing reviews about, either. However, my ears perked up with interest when the female vocals started, and again when several vocalists harmonized together, but those instances were too few and far between.

And what of the music? There were plenty of musical interludes, and every so often a synth, or mellotron, or Hammond organ would chime in, but not for very long. There was occasional guitar presence, and lots of violin (which I love in prog music), but it was all very restrained, anti-climactic, and non-captivating. And despite enjoying Nick D'Virgilio in other settings, his drumming was constrained to basic background time-keeping. It was almost as if the band were trying their best to purposely restrain themselves. I kept wishing they would unshackle themselves and just let loose. I think they have the chops to do so, and the fact that they didn't (for whatever reason) was disappointing.

Overall, I would say that the album reminded me of a painting of a bowl of fruit on a table. Adequately executed, but lacking anything intriguing, interesting, stimulating, thought provoking, emotional, or adventurous. Worth a look, but nothing to dwell on. And while the artist(s) seemed to have the talent to paint a much more interesting picture, they failed to do so on this one. Two and a half stars.

 Merry Christmas by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2017
2.42 | 17 ratings

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Merry Christmas
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by MaskedCow

1 stars The nadir of the arc of a band which hit the height of their powers with The Underfall Yard, looked they might be able to sustain their peak with English Electric One and Two, then proceeded to take a stomach churning nosedive into near caricature with the heinous Make Some Noise, nauseating Wassail, and ill advised attempt at Prog Folk alchemy which only served to fuse the worst aspects of both genres into an ungainly mess. This unfortunate effort takes the cod swagger of yuletide Slade and crossbreeds it with Greg Lake's outtakes, resulting in an abomination which would surely see the band miming with Dave Lee Travis in the background, should Top of the Pops still be on the box on Christmas Day.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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