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Big Big Train - Stone & Steel CD (album) cover

STONE & STEEL

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.61 | 37 ratings

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fuxi
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I'm breaking my (self-imposed) silence for the first time in more than three years because this generously filled blu-ray really is something special.

Ever since the release of THE UNDERFALL YARD I've been convinced that Big Big Train are the best new prog band to come from England since the mid-1970s. When I heard they were playing a couple of concerts in London in the summer of 2015, I was keen to attend, but by that time the gigs had already sold out.

Well, here at last is our chance to enjoy four extended tracks from those London gigs, preceded by an even more extensive set of studio rehearsals featuring the strongest tunes from THE UNDERFALL YARD and ENGLISH ELECTRIC. Strangely enough, the line-up that originally recorded those albums never seem to have met until after the albums were released. Most of their performances were "phoned in", so to speak - which seems a marvel, as THE UNDERFALL YARD in particular sounds highly organic. So the question was if these musicians could make their compositions come alive when finally meeting face to face. And the good news is they tried to achieve this by using an 'extended edition' of the band, featuring multi-instrumentalist and singer Rikard Sj÷blom as well as violinist (and singer) Rachel Hall. (Both musicians have since become permanent BBT members and I look forward to future releases by this incarnation of the band.)

I'm glad to announce the band's effort has really paid off. Each of the Real World Studios performances must have gone through intensive rehearsals, only to be filmed when the band felt they had really nailed the tune. Time and time again you can read from their faces how thrilled they are actually to be performing pieces such as 'Master James of St George' and 'Victorian Brickwork'. At first sight, Big Big Train may not come across as the world's most magnetic live performers. Apart from lead vocalist David Longdon hardly anyone ever moves about on stage, and some viewers may be reminded of the earnestness of Steve Hackett or Tony Banks, back in the day when 'The Musical Box' got its first airing... But such things hardly matter, since all the playing is masterful, great warmth speaks from the music, and the performers also clearly enjoy singing in unison.

All in all, I don't see a great difference in mood between the Real World Studios performances and the London King's Place material. If I have one gripe, it's that after a few hours this blu-ray starts to sound a little too solemn, and you wish the band had incorporated more up-tempo tunes such as 'Judas Unrepentant' or 'Wassail'. Nevertheless I'll venture to declare that, for all lovers of British prog, this is a release of historic significance! When I bought my own copy, I simply longed to watch Dave Gregory play the magnificent solos that are his trademark, and I was curious to see Greg Spawton and David Longdon in action, as they are BBT's main composers. I have now got to know all these artists a little better, and furthermore I greatly enjoyed breathtaking performances by the likes of Rikard Sj÷blom, Nick D'Virgilio and Rachel Hall. So long live Big Big Train - whether they finally decide to embark on a proper World Tour or not!

fuxi | 4/5 |

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