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BIG BIG TRAIN

Crossover Prog • United Kingdom


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Big Big Train biography
BIG BIG TRAIN have released five albums including the critically acclaimed "The Difference Machine"(2007) and "The Underfall Yard"(2009).

BIG BIG TRAIN was formed in 1990 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 with...
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Second Brightest StarSecond Brightest Star
Import
Imports 2017
Audio CD$9.35
$9.34 (used)
GrimspoundGrimspound
Import
Imports 2017
Audio CD$9.86
$7.84 (used)
FolkloreFolklore
Import
Imports 2016
Audio CD$9.06
$7.78 (used)
Stone's Throw From the LineStone's Throw From the Line
Import
Imports 2016
Audio CD$12.09
$12.08 (used)
Underfall YardUnderfall Yard
Import
Ais 2009
Audio CD$9.91
$7.00 (used)
English Electric: Expanded EditionEnglish Electric: Expanded Edition
Import
Imports 2016
Audio CD$14.77
$14.76 (used)
English Electric Part 2English Electric Part 2
Import
Ais 2013
Audio CD$5.35
$3.96 (used)
English Electric: Full PowerEnglish Electric: Full Power
CD Baby 2013
Audio CD$129.60 (used)
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BIG BIG TRAIN discography


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

3.41 | 148 ratings
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam
1994
3.29 | 152 ratings
English Boy Wonders
1997
3.22 | 127 ratings
Bard
2002
3.68 | 210 ratings
Gathering Speed
2004
3.64 | 272 ratings
The Difference Machine
2007
4.18 | 659 ratings
The Underfall Yard
2009
4.20 | 923 ratings
English Electric (Part One)
2012
4.13 | 729 ratings
English Electric (Part Two)
2013
4.02 | 423 ratings
Folklore
2016
4.25 | 217 ratings
Grimspound
2017
3.93 | 63 ratings
The Second Brightest Star
2017

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

4.42 | 56 ratings
From Stone And Steel
2016
4.79 | 33 ratings
A Stone's Throw From the Line
2016

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

4.49 | 26 ratings
Stone & Steel
2016

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

4.31 | 42 ratings
English Boy Wonders (2008)
2008
4.88 | 155 ratings
English Electric: Full Power
2013

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

2.30 | 36 ratings
From The River to the Sea
1992
3.19 | 19 ratings
The Infant Hercules
1993
4.03 | 177 ratings
Far Skies Deep Time
2010
4.09 | 71 ratings
Make Some Noise
2013
3.63 | 81 ratings
Wassail
2015

BIG BIG TRAIN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 From The River to the Sea  by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1992
2.30 | 36 ratings

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From The River to the Sea
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by axeman

1 stars I can't even recommend this for completionists.

I started paying attention to this band with Gathering Speed. I even appreciate most of the songs on English Boy Wonders and a few off Bard. As a person who owns this release, let me warn you off it. There's nothing for you here. I like Spawton as a guitarist, but not here. His leads are leaden and clunky, clear. Read offers some of the worst vocals that he's ever done, even though by Wonders, he's fluid.

I really don't have much more to say: Big big fan. Listen at your own risk.

 The Second Brightest Star by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.93 | 63 ratings

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The Second Brightest Star
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by axeman

4 stars I actually like this more than Grimspound. I consider the versions of the songs London Plane and Brooklands what they *should* have released on Folklore. So the redone songs don't bother me near as much as hearing the tracks "in full" (as I consider them). And quite enjoyable. A lot of kudos were lobbed at Plane when Folklore came out, but I never saw much in it, Brooklands having always been my favorite prog epic on that album--but given the versions on this release I could easily ash can the Folklore versions and just play the ones here. It's a pleasure to hear more development in these songs.

But, the main reason I prefer this to Grimspound, as many times as I've listened to the latter, I can't remember much clear *division* in the album--other than Brave Captain. Meanwhile, with fewer listens to this release, I can crisply remember the differences between the title song, Leaden Stour, and The Passing Widow. Also, it doesn't wear out its welcome with the "Aren't we artists special" self-indulgence that Grimspound seems to suffer from. Although a huge BBT fan back with Gathering Steam, I could not write a review of that release is I still don't know what it exactly is. Interesting music? No doubt. A pleasure to listen to? Yeah, outside of the air of self-congratulation I mentioned before.

Anyway, I can unabashedly say that I consider this release to be the superior release this year, even with the sort of utility drawer and re-release feel of Star. The title song and Leaden Stour are standouts, and have stuck in my head much quicker than anything from Grimspound. The title song is a an orchestrated ballad, with a slight torch song feel to the bass (Manners?), with segments of soft piano accompaniment to flute and violin, cascading to a Gregory solo accompanied by bright brass. Just a subtle and muted, smoothly flowing arrangement.

Haymaking is a song that moves them into a definitely thicker folk vein, a violin dance of sorts, joined in parts with the flute, and all grounded with a nice melodic bass line. Only broken up toward the end with an interlude of discord from synths, before ending with the spritely violin. Skylon, the third track moves back to the sort of smooth, torch song feel, which seems to suit Longdon's voice. This track moves to a minor key much quicker than the title track-- but still in my opinion differentiable from it. London Stone is an interesting acoustic instrumental, totally takes place between the piano and classical guitar (Sjöblom?). Quite a nice contained piece. The Passing Widow goes back to the piano ballad, and is probably the most poppy song on the album. Well done and listenable, even if I can't say that I'm glad that it's on the release. (Who knows though. Telling the Bees was my least favorite on Folklore, but became a sing-along favorite). It also sounds like there's nary an electric instrument on it as well as the previous piece.

Leaden Stour carries much in the same vein, but it seems the guys knew that they couldn't do another pure piano ballad thing, so there some nice soft jazz guitar and a bass line behind this one. Plus it has a brass intro into their upbeat bridge, a sort of jazz ensemble feel to it. But what's really irresistible is the jazz outro 7 minutes into it.

And as I mentioned before Brooklands and London Plane redux will be the versions of these songs that I'll be playing hence forth.

If there's anything lacking in this release, to me it's what BBT has been increasingly lacking over time. Di Virgillio is from a band that was on Metal Blade records, one of Sjöblom's last albums with Beardfish was pretty heavily rock, Spawton could blaze away on guitar on Difference Machine's Perfect Cosmic Storm and Pick up. I really like the sophisticated variations on pop of the ages these guys are putting out, but would it kill them to just rock out some time?

But one thing that's nice to hear on either albums this year is that they seem to have corrected the mistake on Folklore of burying D'Virgilio down in the mix.

 The Second Brightest Star by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.93 | 63 ratings

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The Second Brightest Star
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

5 stars

Having been blown away by the sheer beauty of 'Grimspound' earlier this year, I certainly wasn't expecting another album just yet, so when I received an email telling me about this I was incredibly excited. The album features forty minutes of new songs and instrumentals which explore landscapes, rivers and meeting places and take the listener on voyages of discovery across the world and to the stars. Alongside the new tracks, there is a bonus selection of thirty minutes of music where songs from the last two albums are presented in extended format. I know I shouldn't be surprised at just how mature this music sounds, given that I have known the band for some twenty-five years now, but it continues to delight and entrance me to see how this band have grown and changed. Nick D'Virgilio is probably my favourite drummer in modern progressive music, and I have always loved watching him play, yet with BBT one doesn't notice the complexity of what he is doing unless one listens for it, as he is so much at one with the rest of the band.

The use of so many different instruments within an octet allows them to layer sounds that would be beyond many others, but the pastoral progressive sound they create never overpowers David Longdon's rich vocals. They are a very English band in so many ways, and not just when they are singing about London, as they evoke a feeling not of the current age, but of times gone past when the world was a simpler place. But, there is never anything simple about the music they are performing, but it never feels heavy handed or over the top. It is fresh and bright, never leaden or conspiring to show what everyone can do just because they're proggers, but rather the music always seems perfect and on point, with all the musicians doing exactly what is required. This can mean that they sometimes provide accompaniment to others as opposed to demanding a lead role, or may even sit out sections of songs if that is what is right for the music.

Big Big Train will feature at the top of many music critic's albums of the year, and that there may be a doubt only about whether it is this or 'Grimspound' shows just how important the band has become. Truly wonderful, in so many ways.

 Grimspound by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.25 | 217 ratings

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Grimspound
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

4 stars Excellent! Close to 5 Stars.

More lively and diverse an album than Folklore, Grimspound is a welcome addition to the BBT catalogue. It keeps with the now-established mature BBT sound (and thus also BBT formula), but with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, and to differentiate it from previous albums. Unlike the album Folklore, which I found drags a bit, Grimspound's 68 minutes go by in a flash. There are some of the pagan-folk influences introduced on Folklore (the main example here is "The Ivy Gate", with Judy Dyble guesting on vocals alongside David Longdon, and the violin of Rachel Hall is featured prominently), but I find the album harkens back more to feel of the English Electric (EE) volumes in terms of musical diversity and the ability to rock out in between softer passages. But there is still a clear theme/formula, with references to older English traditions and ways of life, and I find the lyrics to be quite similar to previous albums (for instance, "Brave Captain" here, like "Winkie" on Folklore, is about a world-war flying hero, "Meadowlands" harkens back to both "Edgelands" and "Hedgerow" on EE, etc). So, not much new in that sense. I indeed wish that they would find newer/different themes to sing about, not because I find the current formula in any way off-putting, but because they already did this so well on previous albums. Saying this, the music here is excellent, and I can totally see why people would give this album 5 stars. BBT have with each subsequent album honed their own voice, and this album doesn't lean quite as much on melancholic emotives - it is more direct. Standout tracks include the title track "Grimspound", and the last two tracks ("Mead Hall in Winter" and "As a Crow Flies") which I am sure are set to become among their most-highly requested live tunes. Those rank up there with the best of English Electric. But it is the instrumental "On the Racing Line" that I love the best - this track shakes up the album, and is exactly the kind of diversity that was missing from Folklore. Nick D'Virgilio's drumming is (once again) awesome - worth the price of the ticket alone - as is the guitar playing. Other tracks have mixed effects - mixed in the sense of diverse. "Brave Captain" is great, although I find the lyrics a tad trite, but it has a number of great musical moments, shifting between slow and fast etc. "Experimental Gentlemen" likewise shifts between time signatures, but the chorus is less musical than the 6/8 sections. "Ivy Gate" is wonderful - nice addition of Dyble's vocal, but "Meadowlands" sounds like an outtake from Folklore, with nostalgic and syrup-y lyrics (some which resurface in Mead Hall, although they fit in better there). On the whole, an enjoyable experience, up there among the best BBT albums, more memorable and diverse than Folklore, but not quite as good as their very best. I give this 8.7 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is near the top end of 4 PA stars.

 Folklore by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.02 | 423 ratings

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Folklore
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Decent Music, but BBT Formula.

Big Big Train (BBT) albums, and this album of theirs in particular, often come across very strongly on first listen, because the execution, playing and singing are so strong, but that feeling tapers off with multiple listens due to what I can only call the "mushiness" of some of the songs, in which a certain kind of sameness or lack of definition among the tunes make them less memorable. This album evokes this response in me more than other BBT albums. Perhaps related to this, I also find BBT have become a bit formulaic over time. While The Underfall Yard largely set the formula (although much of the formula actually started in previous BBT albums too), it did so in a novel musical way, and with not too much syrup. The lyrics and singing on that album don't try overly hard, and there is enough musical diversity to prevent one from getting stuck in the same emotional frame of mind (which the first volume of the original version of English Electric also accomplished very well, despite sticking to the same theme of decaying English ways of life). But each subsequent BBT album up to this one has leaned a bit more on the formula, and on steeping the tunes in much of this melancholic emotion. I find the second (original) volume of English Electric, and this album (Folklore) to be prime examples of this. While it is true that Folklore conjures up a bit more of the old pagan English folk, notably in the excellent title track, and in "Wassail", the rest of the tracks sound not dissimilar to those found on English Electric vol.II and Far Skies Deep Time, and many of them, to my mind (after multiple listens) are often not quite as good. Indeed, the album is on the whole slower, and while I have no problem with slow music, I don't find Folklore maintains interest as well as many other BBT albums. Some of the slower pieces are simply not as musical, and there seems to be less diversity (in tempo, style, etc). The best tracks are the opener/title track ("Folklore"), the closer ("Telling the Bees"), and the two that border them ("London Plane" and "Brooklands"), while "Wassail" is also very notable for sounding sufficiently different. Don't get me wrong, the musicianship and most of the music here is high quality, better than a lot of other albums on PA, including a number of classic ones. As other reviewers have noted, their sound has matured, and the music can be quite subtle. I particularly enjoy listening to Nick D'Virgilio's drumming. But this album drags more than other recent BBT albums, and other than the two folk-inspired tunes I find it a tad formulaic, long, and undifferentiated. I give this 7.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to (high) 3 PA stars.

 Make Some Noise by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2013
4.09 | 71 ratings

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Make Some Noise
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Obsolete now, with EE Full-Power.

The Make Some Noise EP came out after the first two EE volumes. It mixes together selected tracks from EE1 and EE2 with four new songs: "Make Some Noise", "Seen Better Days", "Edgelands", and "The Lovers". Of these, there is only one real gem, "Seen Better Days". The others are somewhat blah (while some really like the song "Make Some Nosie", it falls flat for me) and even on the new full-power version of EE, those other three are (for me) the weakest tunes. I guess at the time, they had these four new songs and wanted to present them as somehow part of the EE concept. Not sure why they didn't just make a third EE volume using these and other new songs. In the end, they created the double-CD 'full-power' version of EE, mixing these four new tunes with the two original volumes of EE, while moving around some of the tracks for balance. Because the full-power version is generally available, there is really no reason to pick up this EP, even really for completists (the version of "Keeper of Abbeys" here is a slightly different one, the "branch line edition" version, but I don't find it anything special or worth searching out) . In terms of song quality, this EP is a mix of a couple of greats, but mostly just OK tracks. On its musical merits, I give it 7.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars. But really, just get the full-power EE.

 English Electric (Part Two) by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2013
4.13 | 729 ratings

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English Electric (Part Two)
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

4 stars A good follow-up to EE1.

Although not quite as good as the first volume of EE, this contains some great music and is up there among their best albums. This volume is slower than the original EE1, which is probably why they sought to shift around the tunes between the two when putting together the full-power version (with the extra/new tracks from Make Some Noise added in). "East Coast Racer" is the clear standout track here, but "Keeper of Abbeys" and "Curator of Butterflies" are also great tunes. Of course, just get the full-power version and you will have all of EE plus the Make Some Noise EP. But for posterity, I rate this 8.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to mid 4 PA stars.

 English Electric (Part One) by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.20 | 923 ratings

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English Electric (Part One)
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

5 stars Awesome!

First released as separate albums, and only later combined into the 'full power' double-CD set, the first volume of English Electric (EE) is by far the best. For the full-power version, they moved songs around, including putting some of these ones on CD2, so if you have the full-power version you might not be able to tell just how good this volume one is. Basically, it contains most of the best tunes from EE, including "Judas Unrepentant" and "Winchester from St. Giles Hill", which were moved over to EE CD2 on the full-power release, and "The First Rebreather" and "A Boy in Darkness" which remained on EE CD1. The original version was very efficient too, with fewer songs the original album zipped by in a bliss, and did not contain "Make Some Noise" (which I have to admit, is not my favourite BBT song). The songs on the original volume one seem less whiny than those on EE vol2, as well as those on Folklore. While I generally listen to the full-power version of EE now, I thought it important to rate this original volume for posterity. I give it 9.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which places alongside The Underfall Yard as one of the two best albums in the BBT discography.

 Far Skies Deep Time by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2010
4.03 | 177 ratings

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Far Skies Deep Time
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

4 stars A Few Great Tracks.

The best tracks here come at the end. Indeed, each track seems better than the one beforehand on this release, and at 41 minutes, I consider this to be a regular album, rather than the 'extended EP' it is formally labelled. The album begins with "Master of Time", a cover originally written by Genesis-founder Anthony Philips, which is very pleasant and fits the BBT sound very well. The next song, "Billy Shouts Mine", is like a few on the second (original) volume of English Electric (EE) a bit on the melancholy side, but the music is very good. British Racing Green is forgettable, but short and pleasant. The best tune are the last two. "Brambling" is an awesome track, and I am surprised it never surfaced on one of the live albums. It would have fit very well on EE. The closing track, though, is the one that makes this release a necessary addition to the BBT catalogue. "The Wide Open Sea" is excellent, beautiful 17-minute epic musical journey, up there with the best BBT epics, and better than anything on Folklore (for instance). It sounds like it should have been on The Underfall Yard, but perhaps they had too much material for that album, necessitating this release. It is so good. All taken together, this release contains both great and OK tracks, but the good ones more than compensate for the OK tracks. On balance, I give this 8.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which just squeeks it in to the 4 PA star range.

 The Underfall Yard by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2009
4.18 | 659 ratings

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The Underfall Yard
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Walkscore

5 stars Sets the pattern, then rises to the BBT top

Before reviewing Grimspound, I thought it best to start with this, the archetype for the current BBT sound. The first album with David Longdon, who would not only come to significantly characterize the BBT sound ever since, but also become a major song-writer for the band (although not on this album, which is 100 percent composed by Greg Spawton), this album really sets the pattern for what would follow, all the way to the present. While I think that subsequent BBT albums follow a bit too closely to the pattern set here on Underfall Yard (with its themes of industrial decline and decay, the rusting out of the UK and old ways of life), I have to admit it works brilliantly here. The lyrics have enough diversity, ambivalence and metaphor to keep them interesting (while still sticking to the main theme), and Longdon's singing is excellent all the way through (including more harmonies than found on later albums), even if (in my opinion) this album conjures up Genesis too much. But the key thing is the music. I have listened to all the BBT albums since this one many many times now, and while I first found The Underfall Yard to be too refractive of Genesis, it has risen slowly to the top of their catalogue for me, based on the quality of the music. There is not a bad song on the album ("Last Train" is the weakest, but I never skip it), and the album contains some of the strongest BBT compositions in their repertoire. "Victorian Brickwork" and the title track in particular are standouts, and have become essential to their live shows. The album is more refined, consistent, and efficient than the (excellent) English Electric album(s), and consistently maintains interest better than (say) Folklore. This is the album against which I now judge all subsequent BBT albums. While I agree that later albums have helped them refine even more their own sound, without as much obvious Genesis influence, I think the quality of composition on this one makes it their top studio album. I give it 9.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is just enough to garner it 5 PA stars.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to dean for the last updates

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