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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 ban...
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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)

3.37 | 184 ratings
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam
1994
3.17 | 184 ratings
English Boy Wonders
1997
3.13 | 153 ratings
Bard
2002
3.66 | 253 ratings
Gathering Speed
2004
3.65 | 322 ratings
The Difference Machine
2007
4.17 | 786 ratings
The Underfall Yard
2009
4.19 | 1077 ratings
English Electric (Part One)
2012
4.10 | 857 ratings
English Electric (Part Two)
2013
4.01 | 597 ratings
Folklore
2016
3.98 | 508 ratings
Grimspound
2017
3.75 | 267 ratings
The Second Brightest Star
2017
4.04 | 391 ratings
Grand Tour
2019
0.00 | 0 ratings
Common Ground
2021

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

4.41 | 79 ratings
From Stone And Steel
2016
4.43 | 72 ratings
A Stone's Throw From the Line
2016
4.31 | 50 ratings
Merchants of Light
2018
4.31 | 10 ratings
Empire
2020

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

4.62 | 39 ratings
Stone & Steel
2016
4.43 | 14 ratings
Reflectors of Light
2019

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

4.14 | 50 ratings
English Boy Wonders (2008)
2008
4.85 | 192 ratings
English Electric: Full Power
2013
4.17 | 14 ratings
Summer's Lease
2020

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

2.23 | 46 ratings
From the River to the Sea
1992
2.96 | 26 ratings
The Infant Hercules
1993
4.04 | 205 ratings
Far Skies Deep Time
2010
4.01 | 93 ratings
Make Some Noise
2013
3.77 | 106 ratings
Wassail
2015
4.16 | 37 ratings
London Song
2017
3.32 | 31 ratings
Merry Christmas
2017
3.52 | 16 ratings
Swan Hunter
2018

BIG BIG TRAIN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 English Electric: Full Power by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2013
4.85 | 192 ratings

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English Electric: Full Power
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Isaac Peretz

5 stars Absolutely incredible! This is how you make a box set. English Electric I & II were both amazing from the very beginning, and since they were both connected, it makes sense that BBT released a box set including both of them.

But this is NOT a cash-grab from the band. First of all, there's four new tracks. Second, the four tracks weren't effortlessly thrown to the end of the album, but instead, they were nicely placed between tracks from the two main English Electric parts. Third, the tracks were rearranged in a different order that further helped the main concept of the story unravel better. Fourth, the music itself is incredible: not a single minute feels wasted. Both parts were already 5-Star albums for me so of course this was going to be an amazing journey. Fifth, the box set comes with a 96- Page booklet filled with beautiful imagery and Big Big Train's comments on the album itself.

An incredibly complete box set, this is definitely essential. Five Stars.

 Empire by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Live, 2020
4.31 | 10 ratings

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Empire
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by lazland
Prog Reviewer

4 stars And so to my annual birthday live DVD present, this time the Big Big Train Empire set recorded at London's Hackney Empire in November 2019, a tour I sadly missed, and it is even more of a regret now that violinist and vocalist Rachel Hall, guitarist Dave Gregory, and keyboardist Danny Manners have left the band, and it will be intriguing to see how well the remainder of the band replace those three, because they really have all been essential contributors to the sound and vision since joining. Gregory, especially, plays some delicious riffs and licks throughout.

This live set, which I purchased on Blu Ray and double cd, will, therefore, go down in history as the definitive record of this particular lineup as a live ensemble. Here I should also mention the mighty fine brass musicians who provide so much texture and emotion to the music being played.

The set mainly concentrates on later BBT, as might be expected from a tour promoting Grand Tour, and what it really highlights for me is just how well they fuse the more pastoral, folk music with the full on symphonic stuff altogether seamlessly, and live this is an especially impressive feat given that until fairly recently they were a studio only outfit.

There are many highlights. Following a delightful intro, two of my favourite shorter Train tracks are performed with gusto. Alive really does make you feel alive, and is a track guaranteed to cheer one up, much needed in these extraordinary times.

Hall's solo vocals at the denouement naming the animals of the Hedgerow are utterly delightful, and this is a fine rendition of one of my favourite modern folk prog tracks.

Winkie, a track dedicated to and about a hen which saved the lives of a WWII bomber crew, was not one of my favourites from Folklore. I found it bitty and forced together in parts, but live it really comes into its own.

David Longdon, a vocalist I have admired ever since I heard him perform on Martin Orford's seminal The Old Road, is fine throughout, and demonstrates his Gabrielesque tendencies by wearing the pagan mask in a barnstorming rendition of Wassail. Talking of vocals, though, you really cannot be anything but impressed by the pipes demonstrated by probably the finest drummer in modern prog, Nick D'Virgilio, when he performs a duet with Longdon on The Florentine, a wonderful piece of thoughtful music about Da Vinci.

As fine as the set is, all else, though, leads up to a magnificent performance of a seminal BBT track, namely East Coast Racer. It fair takes your breath away, especially as the brass section adds to a massive wall of sound in the closing passage. This track is worth the entrance money alone.

All in all, this is a fine live recording from a band who are rightly revered in the world of modern progressive rock. Four stars, and highly recommended.

 Folklore by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.01 | 597 ratings

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Folklore
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by fuxi
Prog Reviewer

5 stars [I originally wrote the following review back in 2017:]

This is it, with this album Big Big Train truly establish themselves as prog gods, I mean, after THE UNDERFALL YARD and the live triumph of STONE AND STEEL there couldn't really be any doubt, but FOLKLORE makes it plain that the band reach heights few can aspire to. In my opinion FOLKLORE is even stronger than its immediate successor, GRIMSPOUND, mainly because it rocks harder. To my surprise, some reviewers have complained the album features tunes which are easy on the ear - a form of reasoning I really don't understand! Just think about it: 'Firth of Fifth', 'Mother Goose' and 'Karn Evil 9' all sound supremely catchy (at least in part) and they're from albums many of us recognise as masterpieces... Besides, anyone who listens without prejudice will notice David Longdon's vocals now sound more confident and mature than ever. Furthermore, the album as a whole clearly benefits from the prominent violin playing of Rachel Hall. Finally, while FOLKLORE boasts fewer soaring guitar solos than THE UNDERFALL YARD, I was delighted by the large number of imaginative keyboard solos. All in all, I simply have to agree with those Prog Archives colleagues who have stated that FOLKLORE shows BBT at the top of their game.

All of which makes me wonder: how is it possible BBT aren't even mentioned in ROCK PROGRESSIF, Aymeric Leroy's authoritative French study of the genre (2014) or in THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS by David Weigl (2017), an informal chronicle which caused quite a stir in the U.S. media? Both Weigl and Leroy are sympathetic towards progressive rock and devote entire chapters to the "rebirth" of the genre after its 1980s nadir. Does BBT music (in all its Englishness) have difficulty travelling across the pond? Surely everyone must notice that (especially since 2009) BBT have mastered the classic 1970s British prog sound AND are taking it in exciting new directions?

In the past, bands such as Yes were habitually accused of sounding "over-technical". I finally realised how wrong this was when I heard Rick Wakeman say that for him Yes's music was all about emotion - and that emotion lay mainly in Jon Anderson's voice. Well, folks, even apart from the virtuosity BBT so abundantly display, I can think of no other current prog band that conveys subtle feelings in a more sophisticated manner. Long may BBT thrive!

 Summer's Lease by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2020
4.17 | 14 ratings

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Summer's Lease
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Heart of the Matter

4 stars This compilatory double CD set from the english prog wonders, released via the Belle Antique label in Japan, traces band's history back to some of their earlier work, reaching also to these days.

Big Big Train's long-time collaborator Sarah Louise Ewing prepared some nice cover art, reflecting the collection's title, and just for this occasion the band commited to tape a new instrumental track written by Nick D'Virgilio, the fantastic "Don't Forget the Telescope", which, trust me, you don't want to miss. Also included here, we find "London Song", a nearly thirty-four minutes long unified song cycle, previously unreleased on CD. This version has been enriched with extensive (and truly superb) new instrumental embroidery, which perfectly fits with the notable upgrade in overall sound quality. There's also a new studio recording of "Wind Distorted Pioneers", and the keyboard original parts in "Expecting Snow" has been replaced with brand new ones.

As for the rest, I particularly enjoy the combination of good melody with tasty electric guitar chopping in "Victorian Brickwork", and the spark of irony on "Judas Unrepentant", chronicling the story of an infamous yet lovable paint forger. But it's all too good, and I gave this set only four (instead of five) stars only because it's not an original album, but a compilation.

 Reflectors of Light by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover DVD/Video, 2019
4.43 | 14 ratings

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Reflectors of Light
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by Glaessel

5 stars Sometimes we just need to accept the high level quality of a musical work, high level quality of images, high level quality of sound, high level quality of the instruments used and obviously instrumentists, but mainly a high level experience, "Reflections of Light" is a sublime production/musical/show experience. All the arrangments are perfectly distributed for the keyboards, guitars, violin, rithmic section and horn section, with equality, but not without virtuosity . For me was a delighted travel stuffed with good taste, creativity and too much beauty. The music have many progressive classic references but the with a real fresh flavour, and this live work is the result of so many good recent albuns. So, let's wait for the next chapters, but certainly the band have a great fan here.
 Reflectors of Light by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover DVD/Video, 2019
4.43 | 14 ratings

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Reflectors of Light
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by rdtprog
Special Collaborator Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team

4 stars This recording was made at Cadogan Hall. London on two nights. They were some technical difficulties with the sound system. The band didn't check every part of the venue which result in poor sound quality for those who were in the balcony. The band wasn't aware of this until a man from upstairs got angry and started shouting at the band. If the experience of a live show is better than watching the same concert on TV, this is not the case here at least for those who were on the balcony for the first night! The concert shows some basic visuals with projections on a big screen but we can enjoy the amazing surround audio and a style of music that offer some soaring epics, some smooth twists with some classical and folk colors. The music is filling up your room with the vocals, the drums, and the brass section. I was impressed with the drum playing of Nick D'Virgilio. The lead singer is a lot similar to Peter Gabriel's voice and played a big role in the whole music. The setlist is made mostly with the last 3 albums and you won't find a lot of boring moments in this 2 hours and a half concert. Some have criticized the picture quality while this could be true on some shots, the overall picture is nice to me. Recommended!
 Grimspound by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.98 | 508 ratings

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Grimspound
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by emisan

5 stars The first Big Big Train albums that I've heard were Grand Tour and Folklore and it was love at first sight. I was so impressed with the mature sound of this band that I was so eager to try the rest of their discography as soon as possible. One by one, Folklore, English Electric and The Underfall Yard were my favourite BBT albums, but now I think I most appreciate the sound of Grimspound. Brave Captain and A Mead Hall In Winter are one of the most beautiful songs I've heard this year, but the rest of the album sounds so relaxing and in the same time, dynamic and mature. An instant 5-star rating and highly recommended!!
 Grand Tour by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.04 | 391 ratings

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Grand Tour
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

5 stars These days when I listen to Big Big Train I have to pinch myself, as if there has ever been a band to go through huge progression then it has to be the guys (originally) from Dorset. Okay, so Greg Spawton (these days providing bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar, brass arrangements as well as co-producing the album) is the only person still there from very nearly 30 years ago, and they have been through a lot, but he never gave up faith and although at one time it was just him and Andy Poole, here is Big Big Train in 2019 producing yet another incredible album. There is no doubt that the line-up changes in 2009 heralded an incredible shift in the band, both in what they were producing and, in the eyes, and ears of both fans and critics. Not only is David Longdon an incredible singer (and multi-instrumentalist), but Nick D'Virgilio brings in many facets (as well as huge cred) while somehow, they also landed guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC)! Since then the band has gone from strength to strength, and while the full line-up is completed by Rikard Sj'blom (keyboards, electric and 12-string guitars, accordion, backing vocals), Danny Manners (keyboards, double bass) and Rachel Hall (violin, viola, cello, backing vocals, string arrangements) they have also brought in an orchestra to help out with proceedings!

This isn't neo prog anymore, but is crossover in its very truest sense as there are times when it seems almost like modern classical with soaring musical sweeps and dips, at others it is almost pop, others melodic rock, yet always with the heart of a prog band who are simply refusing to stay within any preconceived boundaries. This isn't regressive like many 'prog' bands as instead they are going down a track that is firmly of their own making, producing music which is incredibly easy to listen to and enjoyable. Some may say they sometimes go into areas which are often sought out by modern Marillion, but whereas that music can sometimes feel incredibly self-indulgent and too grandiose, this instead feels far more grounded and almost pastoral in comparison. This is an album that can be placed on repeat and it never gets old, never gets tired, and there is always some little musical trick or nuance which keeps the listener wholly engaged and interested.

Rarely bombastic, and always considered, this is adult prog created by people who have all been around the scene long enough to no longer have anything to prove and have instead relaxed into creating music which is a delight from beginning to end. They are no longer those fresh-faced lads who sent me a demo tape and photo well over quarter of a century ago but have matured into one of the brightest stars within the progressive firmament. An album of songs, it is majestic, considered, and downright enjoyable. Sit back, pour a glass of your favourite tipple, turn down the lights, and dive into the world of Big Big Train. All you have to lose are your preconceived ideas of what defines the word 'progressive', and gain a great deal indeed. Wonderful.

 Grand Tour by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.04 | 391 ratings

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Grand Tour
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by tempest_77

5 stars Grand Tour is the most recent release from England's most English prog band, though they've gone full European on this record. This is to say, the lyrical focus of the record is no longer on England; the band goes on a 'Grand Tour', so to speak, of the rest of Europe. It's an excellent record, and some of their best work in years.

The album starts off with the brief but interesting "Novum Organum", before launching into the song "Alive". It's a great, upbeat track with a lot of excellent synthesizers and a excellent crossover prog sound. It's not very similar to most of the rest of their work, but it's a great opening statement for the album. "The Florentine" is a longer song, with the band's usual folk influence coming back to the forefront. The track has some great complexity, with some great synth work as well, and some awesome lead guitar towards the end of song. This track shows us that despite exploring some new sounds, they can still do what they're known for, and what they do best: great, complex folk-infused English prog.

"Roman Stone" is the first multi-part suite on the album. It starts off with a very typical Big Big Train section, led by acoustic guitar, but it gets interesting after this section, with a great brief piano and trumpet part. After another, longer, acoustic led section, the song really starts to pick up, with more brass, along with some excellent drumming in a great instrumental middle section. This song, along with "The Florentine", are two key tracks in demonstrating the lyrical focus of the album. "Pantheon" is an instrumental that starts out with strings and a brass section. Another track with great synthesizers, it really gives the band a chance to show off their chops, not that they aren't very well fleshed out on the rest of the album. "Theodora in Green and Gold" isn't the strongest track off of the album. It's a little formulaic, and sounds like it could easily be something from a previous album. Still, it's a good song, and I won't give it more flack than it deserves.

"Ariel" is our second multi-part suite, and starts off with some water sounds and an epic choral arrangement. The beginning is very dramatic and it works very well. After a piano-driven section, the song finally opens up with an organ swell about 3 and a half minutes in. The track is marked by great vocal harmonies and excellent piano and drum work. It's a constantly shifting piece, and it never gets boring. Especially following the weaker "Theodora", it's maybe the strongest track on the album. While I can't tell exactly what the song is about, there is a very strong sense of story throughout the song about a storm, and I enjoy the lyrical continuity throughout the continuous musical changes. "Voyager" directly follows "Ariel", and unlike the Alan Parsons Project song of the same name, this is another sprawling fourteen-minute multi-part suite. It starts off with a rather anthemic sound, and seems to have yet another aquatic themed story, though this time about the ocean rather than about a storm. There's a fair amount of brass throughout the beginning of the song, which is one of the things I noticed about this album in addition to the synthesizers; there's more brass, which I think works really well. Even at this point in the album, having been through nearly 70 minutes of material, I still didn't get tired of the sound, which just goes to show how interesting the band manages to keep their songs. There's a really lovely string-driven section in this song right before the song picks up again which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's the beginning of a fairly lengthy instrumental section in the song that works very well. The instrumental sections on this album are a bit sparse but when they're there, they really work. The song has a fairly epic ending with some outstanding drum work, before bringing it back down and segueing into the closing track "Homesong". A fairly straight-forward acoustic and piano driven track with some decent complexity, it's nothing special, and certainly isn't one of the band's stronger album closers (see "Hedgerow", "Curator of Butterflies", or of course "The Underfall Yard"). However, it's still a solid track, and brings the lyrical trajectory of the album to a close. After the very aptly title "Voyager", and its closing section "Homecoming", "Homesong" brings it back to England, with Longdon singing the refrain "we are home now, we are home now".

All in all, Grand Tour is not the greatest Big Big Train album, nor is it the second greatest Big Big Train album, but it certainly a very strong album, with great synthesizer and brass usage, and some really excellent drum work across the whole album. 9/10.

 Grand Tour by BIG BIG TRAIN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.04 | 391 ratings

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Grand Tour
Big Big Train Crossover Prog

Review by TenYearsAfter

4 stars UPDATE INTERESTING NEW PROG

This highly acclaimed UK prog band is from the early Nineties, this is already its 12th studio-album, after the previous The Second Brightest Star from 2017, and the live album Merchants Of Light in 2018.

You can divide the nine compositions in five shorter tracks (between 2 and 7 minutes) and four epic compositions (between (8 and 15 minutes). First the shorter ones.

Like the very short opener Novum Organum, atmospheric with soaring keyboards, tender piano and wonderful, very emotional vocals, with strong hints from Peter Gabriel (the singer has also that hoarse timbre, adding an extra emotional dimension to the music).

The next song Alive is totally different, after a short Mellotron intro follows a catchy beat with a cheerful atmosphere, close to Neo-Prog, with delicate work on guitar and keyboards (like a Tony Banks inspired synthesizer solo), topped with dynamic drums and again wonderful Peter Gabriel-like vocals, now with a powerful voice.

The other short songs deliver a lot of fine musical ideas and lush instrumentation. A catchy beat, lots of brass, Eighties King Crimson guitar sound and a exciting bombastic finale in Panthenon, impressive and majestic, like the ancient Roman building the Pantheon. The ballad Theodora In Green And Gold starts also contains Neo-Prog and melodic rock elemens with a catchy beat, strong vocals, halfway an accellaration with sensitive electric guitar and finally dreamy with beautiful piano play. And the final track Homesong alternates between mellow and up-tempo with melancholical violin, fluent piano runs, powerful electric guitar, pleasant Hammond waves and strong vocals.

Now the four long compositions, these sound very melodic and harmonic, with cascades of flowing changing climates and a wide range of instruments, topped with excellent vocals, often with strong emotional undertones. And these epics also contain 76-77 Genesis inspired sumptuous eruptions and finales, featuring the distinctive Moog Taurus bass pedals, majestic Mellotron drops and moving guitar leads, goose bumps, this is top notch symphonic rock!

Like The Florentine that ranges from dreamy with piano to folky with acoustic guitar and mandolin and bombastic with bass pedals, flashy synthesizer runs and awesome Mellotron choirs, topped with often tender vocals.

The varied and dynamic Roman Stone is layered with a wide range of instruments: violin, piano, trombone, flute, Mellotron, acoustic - and electric guitar, and again we can enjoy ver pleasant Peter Gabriel-like vocals.

Ariel is based upon Shakespeare his work The Tempest and delivers lots of tension, due to the huge contrasts in the changing atmospheres, and a wonderful colouring with violin and guitar (like use of wah wah pedal). In the final part a very compelling build-up with intense Mellotron choirs, propulsive drum beats, bass pedals and powerful, ver emotional vocals, in the end a mellow part with tender violin, piano and vocals, wow!

Finally Voyager, often with strong 76-77 Genesis hints, but also lots of brass and woodwind (trumpet, French horn, cornet), this adds a special flavour to the music. In the bombastic eruptions we can enjoy flashy synthesizer flights, a harder-edged guitar solo, powerful Hammond, moving guitar, bass pedals and emotional vocals. Again Big Big Train succeeds to generate a lot of excitement, again Big Big Train delivers many interesting musical ideas, and again this is topped with David Longdon his excellent voice, what a strong bonus on this album!

This review was recently published on the Dutch prog website Background Magazine, in a slightly different version.

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

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