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Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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5 stars The Underfall Yard CD finally arrived. I've been in love with this album for over a year, (since I was first presented with the original demos - I was invited to submit artwork for the project) and the finished article lives up to all my expectations. I'm amazed how much it has changed from the initial recordings, and despite all the added layers and complexity the album still feels very fresh and organic.

Greg Spawton (the main songwriter) and the band have always produced music which is forceful, complex and profoundly moving. In their exploration of love, departure, redemption and suffering they have confronted some of the most compelling themes to challenge the human spirit. The depth of their expression, their submerged narrative, has never been more coherent than in the group of songs presented here on The Underfall Yard.

The playing is of the highest standard from Greg, Andy, and Nick D'Virgilio (who plays drums throughout this time). This is the first album to feature new vocalist David Longdon. David turns in a truly inspired performance, and creates some dazzling vocal arrangements. Guest musicians Francis Dunnery, Jem Godfrey and Dave Gregory add additional colour, and virtuosity as you would expect. It really is a wonderful album! I was particularly impressed by Dave Gregory (who features on all but one of the songs) - his playing really shines.

The CD opens with an instrumental track Evening Star. The song provides an excellent introduction to the album's musical themes and indeed to the band itself. David's vocals introduce the track, followed in turn by each contributor. As the instrumental closes we are first introduced to the "12 stones" brass band. The use of brass gives a real emotional kick to the album. It's presence in the introduction helps set the stage for the songs which follow, which have a rich historical feel. The 12 stones theme is reprised in the closing sections of the album in the epic title track The Underfall Yard.

Greg explores the relationship with his father in the second track Master James of St George (but you'd be hard pushed to establish this from the lyrics). Here the vocal arrangements of David Longdon take center stage, and his impassioned delivery set the scene for track three, the second song based on Greg's estranged relationship with his father. Victorian Brickwork is a song of profound beauty. Individual experience is reflected in the lyrics which review emotional loss and regret. The track features some extraordinary vocals and guitar work. In fact, this song has everything, I can't even begin to describe it - the whole piece is so special ? there are too many highlights to list and the closing section is simply awesome.

There are common themes which run through many of the songs. Greg's lyrics question our history and our past and how these events may effects our lives. As a historian Greg brings to life the spirit of man as we travel through the industrial heritage of Britain. His practice of crafting his lyrics around a familiar story is the anchor which connects his songs to history, but the approach is always from the human aspect, considering the extraordinary nature of ordinary people. There is a strong sense of time and place, the use of carefully crafted music help place us alongside the characters depicted in the songs, and David's voice brings it all to life.

Track 4, The Last Train tells of the devotion of a station master in the last days of Hurn station. Greg was inspired by a local newspaper story which said Mr Delia was "happy, if a little lonely at times". It's a woefully song, lamenting bygone days, and describing the effects of the closure on the station masters life. Through it we share his pain and feel the loss of something rather special.

This track is followed by Winchester Diver, which develops from an instrumental passage featuring some marvellous flute work, which fades to deep sea diver sounds and an eerie vocal where the song narrative relates the loneliness of William Walker working underwater in low visibility, toiling to save the foundations of Winchester Cathedral. The song beautifully contrasts his life in darkness with the rejoicing of the congregation in the Cathedral above.

The final title track is a real prog rock epic. In true prog rock fashion, The Underfall Yard is a treasure-trove of time and mood changes, blistering solos and recurring themes. Throughout this album there is a real sense of time and place. Here, the lyrics explore the building of Brunel's railway among other more personal themes. I remember Greg describing to me that as the miners tunnelled they were actually digging through increasingly older rock - as if digging back in time. Perhaps this concept set the tone for the whole album? It's not a concept album but it feels like one. This epic track is being provided as a free download from so you can make up your own mind.

I'm sure it's wrong to pigeon hole the album, but it will obviously be very special to fans of 70s progressive rock and all that was developed from this genre. I would highly recommend it to anyone who really loves classic rock. David longdon is a real find - the band's website tells that he was considered as a replacement for Phil Collins in Genesis and these songs are evidence to his tallent.

Again, it's been a real privilege to provide the artwork for this project. I've always approached my work with the band as a fan and I'm proud to be associated with this fine album.

Report this review (#251554)
Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars As a big fan of BBT I was looking forward to this release as a step up even from "The Difference Machine" (which I rated a five star masterpiece). But, alas, despite amazing sound and engineering, David Langdon's astounding vocal arrangements and performances, the wonderful presence of XTC's Dave Gregory on guitar and sitar, Langdon's impressive and beautiful flute playing, the exciting and valuable contributions of cello, low brass (coronet, trombone, French horn, and tuba!) and mandolin, awesome solo appearances by Francis Dunnery and Jem Godfrey, and frequent GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS- and YES-like moments, there is just something missing. I'm going to say it's the story line(s) and the way the lyrics cryptically or vaguely convey them. The lyricist (BBT founder/core member Greg Spawton) is apparently trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of some important but nearly forgotten or obscured heroes from Britain's Industrial Age: engineers, architects, laborers, and the like. The problem is that the lyrics do not tell the story very clearly. Were it not for the artwork (wonderful paintings by Jim Trainer!), I would drown in the murky lyrics. What makes this worse is that the lyrical ambiguity transfers into the listener's inability to comprehend and fully feel the choice of musical delivery: tempos, volumes, codas, bridges, and solos are all lost as to their significance in relation to the message trying to be delivered. Also, the music--as wonderfully performed, recorded, and constructed as it is (all deserving only superlatives)--is missing those emotional passages, key changes, and catchy melodies that hook the listener--as they did so well on "The Difference Machine." The closest they come is with David Langdon's wonderful harmony vocal arrangements, his remarkable flute contributions, the ANT PHILLIPS/GENESIS-like acoustic guitar work throughout, and an absolutely stunning final two-and-a-half minutes to "Last Train" followed by the beautiful two-and-a-half minute intro to "Winchester Diver."

All the songs are very good, worthy of repeated listenings and many hours of enjoyment, but I continue to find myself asking "Why? Why use these musical constructs, these vocal harmonies, these dynamic solos, for the expression of these stories?"

Not a prog masterpiece, IMO, but very highly recommended. 21st century prog has few albums as accomplished and consistent as this. Four stars.

Report this review (#255601)
Posted Friday, December 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
PSIKE Team & Band Submissions
5 stars Surprise - surprise. I can't figure it out - every time I listen to this album at least a little sounds new to me in some way. Respect! This occurs not often I have to confess. Stylistically BIG BIG TRAIN don't have turned away from what they have offered before really - however, I'm nailed on here - even when listening for more than ten times now. Wow ... it's hard to find the right words for the compositional attempt.

Well - of course some things are new. First - Sean Filkins is substituted by David Longdon, so they've changed the singer once more. Not that I have any problem with that - on top of it a multi-instrumentalist (offering several flute contributions) he's comfortably embedded in this context and has a rather important role for the album's success. Summarized he's very present - expressive - often polyphonic, also speaking of the mix - concerning the voice nearly acting like an additional instrument as one may say.

On the opener Evening Star his vocals even appear choir arranged - designated to initiate the band's warm up for the complete course. What may surprise one or two is the lush brass instrumentation which appears on some songs. Well, they play so light-hearted as never before whilst picking up the best times of Genesis and Yes here. And so the album includes some nice references to wellknown prog paragons - the Hackett reminiscent guitar here and there as one example - or the mellotron layers all over - sometimes it's even the complete symphonic mood.

'He used to build castles of stone' - a catchy phrase dominates Master James Of St. George - wonderful melodic using a intriguing combination of vocals, keyboards and guitars. After some rounds this is my favourite - yes indeed! (may change anytime soon though) Victorian Brickwork more or less points to Steve Howe's Yes - seemingly taking a bow - often copied but this is more subtle, really well made and having something of an epic.

Last Train now follows and this Foxtrot/Selling England adapted vibe immediately wraps me up ... wait - I don't want to be misunderstood - they are offering hints here incorporated in a unique BIG BIG TRAIN entity - excellent! Winchester Diver continues slightly Marillion reminiscent as for the vocals predominantly and then - to be honest, how else could it be - the ultimate epic title song crowns the whole album. Well - It makes you really accessible after several rounds finally - gripping - a fascinating tour de force with 23 minutes summarizing all the band's qualities at once - the point of culmination.

If I will be faced with a decision to recommend a typical progressive rock album to someone in the near future I would take this one. Some days ago I was on the road with my wife and took a chance to enter into 'The Underfall Yard' (unfortunately interrupted by several traffic jam announcements) ... she's not a prog fan as such but was really impressed ... especially because we could immediately compare with stuff offered by commercial radio stations. What a salient contrast! Yes - this directly makes you aware of how substantial this music genre is.

Full-value instrumentation, not overproduced though - playful songs with hijacking guitar work and a rich vintage keyboard substance - you will often find supportive backing mellotron layers when it comes to a melancholic turn. So my conclusion is, and it probably may take some years until this is confirmed for good: after several attemps the band just now have reached for the masterpiece - everyone involved here, including drummer Nick D'Virgilio, does a great job - completely rounded this time - congrats.

Report this review (#257088)
Posted Sunday, December 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars In what has been a marvellous year for progressive music, The Underfall Yard, can justifiably claim the crown of progressive album of 2009. From the bold vocal harmonies that introduce the opening track Evening Star to the fading sitar and piano that close the album, Big Big Train take the listener on a hugely enjoyable journey. They maintain an astonishingly high standard of composition throughout the album and I find it difficult to place one track above the others. Many will focus on the epic title track but it would be impossible to remove one track and not feel the whole album would be the weaker for its loss. Particular mention must be made of the addition of David Longdon on vocals. His wonderful vocal arrangements have taken the band to another level. Greg Spawton's interweaving and layering of musical and lyrical themes add subtlety and beauty to an album that, although impressive on the first few spins, rewards the listener time and again on subsequent visits. Quite honestly, Big Big Train have made a five star progressive masterpiece.
Report this review (#258202)
Posted Monday, December 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Have we really wait too much for such a masterpiece. ¿How can a band be so inspired?¿How can all the pieces fit so well? Are Big Big Train the new genius of prog rock.?

Well after a lot of albums, experience do its work .

They took quite long years to work in this piece and it worse the time.. They really took the best of all progressive rock styles and made a fabulous mix.

All songs are so inspired,the members are so inspired playing ..the right instrument in the right part ....the right arrangement in the right song .

Songs are beautiful and put your skin like chicken skin.

Only emotions here ...such good listen to it once ,twice....

So i can only be so grateful .

5 stars

Report this review (#258251)
Posted Monday, December 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album came as a complete surprise to me. I actually chose this album having never heard anything by this artist before solely because of the album art. Silly I know, but sometimes taking random chances turn out to be well worth the risk. As it turns out, it would seem that I picked up this year's masterpiece by complete chance.

Now, I've listened to a ton of releases this year, but none have struck me quite as hard as this one has. It makes me wonder what I'd have been missing out on had I decided not to pick this album up. Everything about this album just oozes amazingness. The instrumentation and vocals are absolutely astounding; not a single note feels out of place. The selection of brass instruments used throughout the album also adds another layer of depth, and it works wonderfully throughout. I think you'll find that there's a lot to be heard on this album, but it never manages to venture into the territory of bombastic noodling that so many progressive rock bands lose themselves in.

From the minute I put this album on I knew it had to be something special, and it did not disappoint. I do not hesitate in saying that this is by far the best album I have heard all year.

Report this review (#258358)
Posted Tuesday, December 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
5 stars Beware of this big (big) train robbery (more like proggery), because this album is quite a trickster, you know ? (actually you don't know yet, because you'll be mostly people who'll read this review without knowing the album, that this review should help you decide. Uh oh, responsibility, you

Let's state few things that annoys me. Very first seconds of first track, this "vocal intro". Then most parts of second track, these multiple vocals doesn't work for me here. And finally, artwork. It looks like some communist propaganda picture. And another thing, first two tracks, so roughly first 1/6 (but it weights) seems like worse (I would say side, but it's just one sixth). Then third track is better, but still, not so good. And then it gets only better.

There are also positives. Last three tracks, mostly very last one (which is truly masterpiece). Is it possible that it clouded mind of some into giving 5-star rating, just because they were so much influenced by this track ? I've been listening this last few days, but now, I had to play it again. But OK, the bigger part I'm talking about has a lot of things. Melody, multi-layered structure.

Any many more things that you'll find in other reviews. But I'm here today to talk about magic. The last part has it and I'm sure that a lot of these people sensed it too. On some maybe, it works more, but for sure it works. Magic and beauty, this music is far from being wild and aggressive (there isn't a spot being ugly, just melody and harmony).

5(+) and I feel tempted a lot to give more. EDIT Let's stop being silly. This is a good album. Even I would find myself in situation where I will hate it, still, it would be nonsense (against my beliefs) to give it 1-star. And I like it, so it should be better. It's strange situation. After words by Brian (Slartibartfast) I gave it a chance. And I was pleased. Very weird, because I do not usually change my opinions so quickly and so often. Something is wrong here. Perhaps my presumption that I don't like the vocals. So I told myself to try to enjoy them. And so I did and was happy. This is easy guide how to be happy guys and girls, just say it and do it. And be.

Solid very special album, as it basically has everything I need, want, desire, embrace, worship, or simply love/like. And it even works, I'm enjoying it. Let it give a chance to blossom and shine with all colors and maybe, who knows, maybe masterpiece rating.

EDIT 2 (March 2010) - the best mark, because this album always pleases, treat and raises me, my mood and my thoughts. It's true gem.

EDIT 3 (April 2010) - one of the best albums of recent months.

Report this review (#258559)
Posted Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I'll begin by saying that my main dilemma with this album was whether to award it a coveted 5 star 'classic of progressive music' rating. After some, but not much, deliberation I have, so you know from the outset that I regard this work extremely highly. 'Classic' is a difficult label to carry. To my mind it means, apart from anything else, that it has withstood the test of time. Given that this album was only officially released three weeks ago it seems a bit rich of me to be bandying such claims around for 'The Underfall Yard'. However, I will boldly state that, given the exposure that it surely warrants and deserves this will be regarded as a classic of 21st Century Neo-Prog by future generations of noodle-headed prog-discovers long after I am no more than dust - assuming of course that the aliens haven't destroyed us all by then, or that we find a sustainable way of generating electricity before we're all engulfed in tidal waves.

This apocalyptic vision is in some ways appropriate to my review because 'The Underfall Yard' is, to a large extent, concerned with lost technologies, dead industries and, by implication, the communities that die with them. This from the band's website:

"The Underfall Yard is a collection of songs which tell stories, some old and some new. You will travel through tunnels made by the great Victorian engineers in England's chalkhills, hear the mournful laments of coastal villages lost to the sea on storm-filled nights; you will meet the grand architect of castles. And have you heard the tale of the man who saved a great cathedral from collapse by diving under its flooded foundations? It's all here on The Underfall Yard."

Big Big Train cast a dewy, nostalgic eye into this disappeared world and bring it beautifully and evocatively to life through music that is by turns lyrical, poetic, pastoral, symphonic and quintessentially progressive. Yet, as we turn through the dials of the first decade of this century it feels incredibly relevant to me. It manages to be a seminal work in that it somehow takes everything that has been before it in the prog-rock genre and rework it into an absorbing, eloquent and magnificent distillation of everything we have ever loved about progressive music: virtuoso musicianship, extended-form compositions; complex musical landscapes; traditional and non-traditional forms of melody, harmony, and instrumentation. Trust me, this album is the last 40 years of progressive music concentrated into six, gorgeous, inspired, astonishing, breathtaking compositions.

A glance at the creative team behind this work should be enough to whet the appetite of anyone who has stumbled onto or regularly uses this site. Let me talk about the production first. It is pant-wettingly good. Modern recording techniques spoil us, and the ability of producers to orchestrate the intricacies of contemporary progressive music has become something of a valid expectation. This expectation is met with elan on 'The Underfall Yard'. Andy Poole (co-founder of Big Big Train) is credited as the producer with Rob Aubrey as having recorded and mixed the work. Rob Aubrey has also worked with such luminaries as Transatlantic, IQ, It Bites and Pendragon. What they achieve together is iridescent: remarkable clarity, separation, and dynamic breadth. As detailed, rich and textured a recording as you can conceive but beyond anything you can imagine. The sonic palette is something I am sort of familiar with, it quite distinctly echoes Genesis and Yes and has shades of Van Der Graaf Generator, wearing its influences quite openly on its sleeve - but this is also completely unique. Something I have never heard before. One of the luscious highlights of this album are the stunning brass arrangements (by Dave Desmond) using French Horn, Cornet, Trombone and Tuba to lend a definite 'heritage' feel to the overall sound: evoking the mills of Lancashire and the pits of Yorkshire; cobbled streets and blackened stone; hobnail boots and Lowry paintings. This is music with a particular 'Englishness' about it. More Blake's 'Jerusalem' than 'Greensleeves', this is not the music of the landed gentry, it is the music of those who worked that land and helped to create Brittania who so 'ruled the waves' during the industrial age.

The core trio of the band are Andy Poole (Bass and Keys), Greg Spawton (Guitars, bass and Keys) and newcomer to the band, David Longdon (Vocals, Flute, Mandolin, Dulcimer, Organ, Glockenspiel and Psaltry!). Now, Longdon has a very interesting pedigree in that he worked with Genesis in the post Phil Collins era (1996) and was for a few brief months their vocalist before Ray Wilson assumed the mantle on a more permanent basis. His Peter Gabrielesque inflections are entirely appropriate to Big Big Train's sound and he adds an extraordinarily sensitive dimension to this recording that colours every moment vocals are used. His moments as flautist are wonderful too. To say that the lineup of guest artists is stellar is to understate the case. Nick D'Virgillo (Spock's Beard, Genesis, Tears For Fears) drums, Dave Gregory (XTC - one of my favourite bands of all time) plays guitars, Jem Godfrey (Frost*) contributes synth solos, and Francis Dunnery (It Bites) lays down some stunning guitar solos on the title track.

I shan't go into this album on a track by track basis as this has been covered elsewhere and I think I've made my feelings plain about this work. One of my hopes would be that by submitting this review more people are introduced to the band and their work. Big Big Train do what they do as independent artists without the backing of a label and I wholeheartedly applaud and support this endeavour, I urge you, dear reader, to do the same.

I am genuinely smitten with 'The Underfall Yard', it is the shimmering darklight of a J.W.Turner painting combined with the classical, mythic beauty of a John William Waterhouse transposed into music. Art as music, music as Art. Emotional and involving; as inspiring as sunrise, as still as sunset, this is without doubt my album of 2009 and very, very probably my Album of the Decade.

Report this review (#258760)
Posted Friday, January 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I heard the track 'Last train' on a demo, and felt that the way that that song ended deserved my further investigation. Based on that premise I am slightly disappointed, though I'm glad I bought it (at reasonable cost too!). The first song 'Evening star' seems to be used as an opportunity to introduce the instruments and sound that we'll be listening to throughout. Rather shockingly, the sound of a brass instrument destroys any hope that we are entering Prog 'Nirvana'. Being English, the brass sound aesthetically conjures up the sound of northern English brass band music. Not my idea of Prog heaven. Infact, it surely has to compromise the aspect of 'rock' itself. Overall it's not a sound or style that I've heard before. Yes, there are influences of early Genesis (but without the intensity), Phil Collin's mid-seventies Genesis, and touches of early Yes, but they are not to the fore. It's not a style that I dislike (There's plenty of mellotron), but maybe it's too 'peaceable' overall, and I struggle to really warm to it. That said, there is a redeeming factor. Track 3, 'Victorian Brickyard' (you see, more emphasis on Britain's past and historic industrial greatness, which means Northern England). It's probably three songs in one. Regardless, it's one of those songs that goes on and on at the end, and is great because of it. It's over 12 minutes long, and alone makes the album worth buying. And yes, the 'brass' section works too! Track 4, 'Last train', is good, though I am over-familiar with it because it was the song on the demo. At over 22 minutes long, the 'Underfall Yard' should have been the 'special' one. Sadly, it's not. Nothing really happens. Yes, there's a brief reprise of earlier glories at the end, but it's not enough. The experience overall is generally positive.There's nothing really to offend (well okay, other than a bit of brass). The musicianship and production are faultless throughout, and that track 'Victorian Brickyard' , for me at least, is a definite winner.
Report this review (#258898)
Posted Saturday, January 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I don't know the previous Big Big Train albums. I met the band with this album, and I must say, I was surprised with the quality of the band. The first impression was very good, and the more I listen to the album, more it gets interesting. The first song is instrumental and gave me a good impression. It is easy to see that great musicians are present on it, but until then I hadn't heard the great contribution of singer David Longdon. The first point that I like in this album is that it has good vocal lines and harmonies, and David Longdon also added a good dose of drama in some of the musics. The other point is the instrumentation in the songs, which are very impressive too. Apparently all the musicians were very inspired in this album. Sometimes brass instruments are used, and I can only say that it sounded wonderful. Other times it is the flute that appears to contribute to the music. And of course mellotron layers are much present in the music. The closing song is an epic with more than twenty minutes. The development of this music is quite interesting, and there are many beauty instrumental passages and great vocal lines. I didn't see many flaws in this album, but I'm not sure that it is a masterpiece. So I give it 4 stars.
Report this review (#260058)
Posted Saturday, January 9, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars When I first got this over the holidays, I was awestruck -- it was as if the original Genesis had come out from the distant past and brought in some brass to make a masterpiece. David Longdon is the best vocalist ive heard in ages, Dave Gregory from XTC is one damn good guitar player, and all six of the compositions here are absolutely mindblowing from start to stop.

I'll need more time to digest the full scope and power of this work, but it's 5 stars definitely, and possibly this generation's 'Close to the Edge'. After the lackluster Transatlantic and Tomas Bodin albums, this is simply perfection.

Report this review (#260713)
Posted Wednesday, January 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Just when I was closing 2009 making my own chart for best album of the year, Big Big Train came out with this gem! I guess their idea to let the title track available to be downloded entirely from their website has been suuccesful allowing many people to enjoy entirely this beautiful song which is not the only jewel in the album. hat to say? TUY is absolutely the best album for 2009. It reminds me a bit of Genesis Trick of the Tail style, but with original songs and a beautiful orchestration. Only negative comment is for the quality of the recording..I cannot consider it as a resonable level as for such a masterpiece should have deserved a better sound quality...(may be in a future remaster?). Anyway highly recommended...
Report this review (#260791)
Posted Thursday, January 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Big Big Train went from a little tram that could to a huge locomotive that would , the progressive sequence engendered by the naïve yet wonderful "Gathering Speed" , an album I enjoyed so profoundly I sent Greg Spawton a letter (to which I got a heartfelt answer!) and furthered by their last release "The Difference Machine" where they chose to really chug hard down the astral tracks and positively stunning a few PA colleagues along the way! This time around, the choo-choo train has pulled into Prog Central Station with a mystifying production, flush with a variety of subtle personnel changes. Gone are excellent singer Sean Filkins and drummer Steve Hughes, replaced by the unknown vocalist David Longdon and the genial Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard fame behind the kit. Both must be nevertheless considered upgrades, as they both sparkle in the rain, Longdon coming across like vintage Phil Collins but in a proggier landscape (er? like Fish????) . Nick is well documented as a superstar stickman. Add into the passenger list some members from groups like It Bites, Frost and even XTC and you got on hell of an "equipage". The shrill whistle blows, the kling marries the klang and a sudden jolt shoves this forward. The engine has obviously stoked Spawton's creative juices as he dares to stretch the outer envelope right from the get-go, promoting guest soloist for the most part , proposing vocalizations that usher in the expansive "Evening Star", Andy Poole's bass holding down the macabre atmosphere within walls of mellotron and somber waves of trembling flute and tons of brass (cornet, tuba, trombone, French horn), all played by members of military units. A fascinating instrumental opener. "Master James of St George" is the first evidence that the microphone is in good hands as Longdon shows considerable skill , a huskier version of Uncle Phil , ever bit as passionate (like it or not, I do!) and adventurous. A dab of acoustic guitar rubs a rustic historical veneer on this rather simple piece, waiting for the electricity to kick in, and when it does, Dave Gregory of XTC froths with wanton feel. A Bryan Ferry-like whistle escorts this one away. The epic "Victorian Brickwork" is a classic example of how to juxtapose various tried and true styles as Spawton proudly shows off his Steve Howe lessons, then humbly leaving the solo to Gregory again and blending it all deep within a Genesisian ocean, bass blooming, drums thudding and the theme gently lilting. A delicious orchestral mid section featuring the cornet once again, the trusty mellotrons blazing with devilish fire, slow, grand and majestic . I am huffing and puffing already! Good thing I don't need my passport once in Europe! "Last Train" humorously reminds one of Wind & Wuthering era Genesis with another extended Dave Gregory solo (he played with Peter Gabriel too once) that is inspiring and mournful at the same time. Longdon really cloning Phil makes me smile every time, chuckling at the thought of what others may think when they hear this. "Winchester Diver" is closer to classic Neo-prog , yet John Foyle's electric cello conducts the cabin , permitting a sweet flute manned by Longdon and a wisp of windswept mellotron to plunge us into the lower depths, a bronze-headed silence within the solitude of blue life, minimalist as can be so that the lyrics really rip scathingly. Absolutely brilliant composition. Marillion and IQ fans, its time to jump aboard, here and now before we get to the sprawling caboose, the nearly 23 minute title track finale which will only cement the deal. Undoubtedly BBT's apotheosis , a colossal epic slice of symphonic prog of the loftiest caliber , Frost's Jem Godfrey shoveling coal into his sizzling Moogs (what a solo, ouf!) while Gregory and Francis Dunnery do the Wishbone Ash marshalling guitar thing to great effect, drums slamming suggestively. By know you may have digested the fact that David's singing is primo stuff and that we are in the presence of a major prog force, three enjoyable albums in a row!!!! Not an easy tour de force, especially after the stellar previous album's impact. As for the Jim Trainer artwork, I see why our Czech colleague Marty McFly sees it as communist real socialism; it's the fuming polluted factories, spewing in the background. Other wise the inspiration seems closer to the French impressionists mixed in with some Breughel. Great track though that begs for attention, ( let me catch my locomotive breath) and should be received by fans grandly. 5 TGVs
Report this review (#262238)
Posted Sunday, January 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars BIG BIG TRAIN's drummer has left making them a trio. Nick D'Virgillo who guested on the last one takes care of all the drum duties this time (still a guest though). There's a new singer as well in David Longdon who was suggested by Martin Orford. David sang on Martin's solo record "The Old Road". Once again the words and music are by Greg Spawton (guitar, keys, & bass), while Andy Poole (bass & keys) produced and recorded this album. The lyrics focus on the unheralded people who had different roles in England's history. Greg is very interested in the history of his country and draws attention to these unsung heroes. Man there's been so much hype about this album. I think it's excellent but I still prefer the previous album "The Difference Machine". I just really like how different and spacious it is. This one's more pastoral but just so beautifully arranged and performed. Speaking of performances, Dave Gregory from XTC plays some real mellotron on "Victorian Brickwork" the rest of the mellotron as with their past albums is sampled. Dave also plays guitar throughout. Gem Godfrey from FROST and Francis Dunnery from IT BITES both guest on the title track. There are other guests as well.

"Evening Star" opens with multi-vocal melodies then it turns melancholic when they stop. It kicks in after 2 1/2 minutes with some flute from vocalist Dave Longdon (he also plays dulcimer, mandolin, organ, psaltry and glockenspiel !). Lots of mellotron here too. It settles with horns. "Master James Of St.George" opens with drums, bass, guitar then vocals. It becomes fuller a minute in. It settles right away though and contrasts continue. Nice guitar solo from Dave Gregory 4 1/2 minutes in. Whistling ends it as the waves roll in. "Victorian Brickwork" opens with reserved vocals and a pastoral soundscape. It kicks in around 2 minutes. Some nice bass follows. The tempo and mood continue to change. A calm 8 1/2 minutes in with cello and mellotron. French horn joins in. This is fairly uplifting. It ends with those reserved vocals. I must say that the last three songs are much better than the first three.

So we get cooking with "Last Train" which opens with vocals, guitar, drums and chunky bass. Mellotron joins in then organ. Guitar and a great sound 3 1/2 minutes in. I like the guitar / drum section after 4 minutes that goes on and on. I love the mellotron that rolls in around 6 minutes. "Winchester Diver" sounds heavenly to start out with those deep bass lines and dreamy soundscapes. Cello comes in followed by mellotron, flute and organ. A calm with reserved vocals after 2 1/2 minutes. He sounds like Hogarth after 3 minutes. A fuller sound follows. I am so into these last two tracks. The final song is the 23 minute title track. Lots of tempo and mood shifts along with more chunky bass, mellotron, flute and cello.The guitar and synths solos are great. We also get tuba, cornet, French horn and trombone. Lots of vocals too. A real trip back into history.

Easily 4 stars. I agree with Rivertree (Uwe) that this album does reveal new things with each listen. A real depth and class to this recording.

Report this review (#262498)
Posted Monday, January 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars What if Genesis had decided to go back to their progressive roots rather than a commercial direction in the 1980's? Of imagine if you will the notorious three reuniting to do likewise. The result might sound something like The Underfall Yard. You've got your mellotrons, twelve string guitars, a lead vocalist, David Longdon, who sounds just like Phil Collins (Phil called and he'd like his vocal style back), also the occasional flute.

After that Big Big Train starts to diverge from the old Genesis sound. David's flute playing is more reminiscent of Ian McDonald than Peter Gabriel. The bass work by Andy Poole is more complex than the basic bass of Mike Rutherford and reminds me more of Geddy Lee. The electric guitar work by Greg Spawton isn't too much like Hackett. Most of the keyboard work isn't particularly reminiscent of Tony Banks. Banks has been split into Poole and Spawton. Also of interest, at the drums we have Nick D'Virgilio, who actually did three tracks with Genesis on Calling All Stations, but more people would probably be familiar with his work with Spock's Beard.

To further diverge, the core band is fleshed out with several guest musicians, including XTC's Dave Gregory. Actually he's on enough songs that he may be a permanent member. The other guests include four brass players and a cellist.

If you're the type to turn up your nose at music that use elements from past progressive greats, you should move on along, there's probably nothing here for you. However, if you're open to an outfit that's keeping a style alive that Genesis abandoned many years ago now, you're going to want to get this.

Report this review (#264196)
Posted Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Some months ago a friend gave me a bunch of CDs to listen while he was traveling. One of them was by a band which had the strange name of Big Big Train. I listened to it just briefly, didn´t pay much atention and just put it away since it didn´t appeal to me soon (besides, I had plenty of others to hear). Only recently my curiosity on this band was aroused when lots of on line prog fans talked about their latest releases. I decided then to get their last album and, this time, to hear it with my full atention. Later I found out this was a very necessary move.

Big Big Train seems to be a band plagued by constant line up changes, but somehow core members Greg Spawton (guitars, keyboards, bass) and Andy Poole (bass, keyboards) manage to produce fantastic music together. Of course the presence of such seasoned guests like XTC´s Dave Gregory,. Frost´s Jem Godfrey and drummer extraordinaire Nick D'Virgilio helped a lot! Also new singer David Longdon proves to be a great find too. He has a fine, warm and versatile voice and also plays some tasteful flutes here and there.

The music on The Underfall Yard reminds me a lot of Guy Manning´s Anser´s Tree. Like that album, BBT´s last is a dense work, with several layers of complex music that sounds a little too bland at first, but reveals itself to be quite rich and very well craft after a while. They produce something quite rare: a music that is very original and interesting, while not too provocative and zany. In fact it is clear that those guys love classic prog, some references to Genesis and King Crimson are quite easy to spot. And still they did not copy any of them. There are no real highlights on this album, it is very well done and you can hear it from start to finish. However, unlike most prog works, I fancied the shorter tracks more, maybe because they were easier to get into it. Last Train and Winchester Dive are probably the most accessible tracks and they made me think of a cross between Marillion and Peter Gabriel era Genesis with a modern twist on it. Production is also very good.

Conclusion: after repeated spins, I found the music here to be as rewarding as it is demanding. This is no easy listening music, but it is also something most progheads will relate to. Great symphonic music that will be an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Four strong stars.

Report this review (#264917)
Posted Monday, February 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, I just can't tell you how much I'm impressed with this one.

I was a complete newcomer to Big Big Train, I'd never heard of them until THE UNDERFALL YARD. I suppose it was Jim Trainer's extraordinary cover art which drew my attention. As I started seeing more and more positive and intelligent reviews of this album, I decided I couldn't go wrong and gave the album a try. What I discovered surpassed my greatest expectations.

THE UNDERFALL YARD is quite possibly the most triumphant progressive rock album to come out of England in more than thirty years. As other reviewers have pointed out, it grew out of the classic tradition established by Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Since David Longdon's lead vocals bear a striking resemblance to Phil Collins's (in fact Longdon is the more powerful singer) you might even go as far as to say that THE UNDERFALL YARD is the most convincing Genesis album since A TRICK OF THE TAIL. Big Big Train's epic compositions fulfill all requirements of symphonic prog, but the band also have some tricks up their sleeve of their own. Just as Anekdoten sprang out of a style developed by early 1970s King Crimson, Big Big Train have made some highly creative use of tradition.

To start with, THE UNDERFALL YARD doesn't feature songs about pantomime burglars or cute little rodents dissolving themselves in tears. For once, this is a prog album which sounds terribly urgent (NOT in the overblown way we have come to expect from the likes of The Flower Kings) and which deals with the real world. Its main theme is the dissolution of the old industrial England which reached the height of its power in the Victorian age. The album's lyrics are subtle and elegiac, and to my relief they are kept within reasonable bounds; you never get the feeling the band are setting to music some middle-aged bloke's endless rants, as happens with The Tangent.

Furthermore, virtually all the tracks are enlivened with inspired, truly exciting guitar solos, mainly performed (as far as I know) by XTC's own Dave Gregory. These solos never sound vulgar or banal but truly take the music to a higher level. Coupled with Dave Desmond's delicate brass arrangements, David Longdon's superb vocal arrangements, and generally inspired writing and playing by the entire band, they make for an album that will be enjoyed for decades to come.

Progarchives discussion threads often pose the question if it's possible to do original things in a genre that reached its apex in the 1970s. Bands like Spock's Beard, Transatlantic and Beardfish have tried to swallow and digest 1970s styles, but they have failed, in my view, to come up with anything really new. For many listeners (myself NOT included) the most striking developments in recent years have been in progressive metal.

Until I discovered Big Big Train, I was convinced that all of the greatest progressive acts of the past 25 years had a foot (or at the least a few toes) in jazz-rock territory (e.g. Kenso, Robert Wyatt, Discus, the Pat Metheny Group, Bill Bruford's Earthworks). Now I see this is not the whole story. Big Big Train have shown there's abundant life outside "fusion". Long may they thrive!

Report this review (#267291)
Posted Sunday, February 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Progressive Rock emerged in the '70s as rock artists decided to go beyond the boundaries of what rock was doing at the time. It earned the name, "progressive", for it was "progressing" rock. It was expanding the boundaries of what had been done before.

But for each discovery along the way, what if someone liked it? Should that discovery never be revisited, simply because to revisit an already-existing idea would be ... NOT progressive? If you had asked the bands of the '70s about this, they might have just shaken their head and wondered what you were talking about, because back then "progressive rock" wasn't yet a term. They were just making music. If they happened to stumble upon something good, something that connected with their audience, they wouldn't complain about that idea being expanded upon.

One of the biggest and most imitated bands of the '70s went by the name of Genesis. Their influence can be heard everywhere in modern day prog, especially in the Neo-Prog and Symphonic Prog genres. IQ and The Watch aren't the only place where you will hear strong Genesis influences.

Big Big Train have, on this album, taken bits and pieces of the sound that Genesis discovered and incorporated them into their own sound. I have seen people say that this album is what Genesis might sound like if Hacket had never left , and I can understand why. But what this album represents to me is further exploration of the musical landscape that was unearthed in the '70s and made famous by Gabriel and the boys.

For sure, the short a capella intro in Evening Star would likely never have occurred in a Genesis album. And there is something about the energy that the band exudes that is different than the energy of Genesis. My feelings in this terms are that Genesis are more pastoral - it evokes ideas of calm hills with sheep bleating and green grass. Big Big Train make me imagine these same hills 100 years later, after the industrial revolution hit. This is the best way I can think to describe the difference in the feeling I get from each band.

The album really picks up for me with the second track, Master James of St. George. I would even go so far as to say that this track is my favorite off of the album. The vocal interplay, the repeated but catchy main chorus, and the energy of the instruments all build together to make "Master James, James, James of St. George" seem like he had quite an epic life with some late tragedy.

Victorian Brickwork recalls early Genesis more than the previous tracks have to this point. It makes me think that this is what it might have sounded like it Phil Collins and Anthony Philips had been in the band at the same time. It starts more subdued, with acoustic guitars and softer singing. It does grow more up beat musically once the electric guitar enters, and the singing grows more powerful, but the song maintains the same lyrical content, a song that seems to be about the end of an era (in fact, that's the feeling I get from the whole album, and it has a feel of melancholy about it as a result). The track continues to trade between the lower intensity and higher intensity quite nicely.

Last Train and Winchester Diver are both similar to Victorian Brickwork, songs that evoke the feeling of an ending with alternations between the harder rocking and softer parts, and each is quite nice in it's own way. Winchester Diver in particular, builds up quite nicely at the end and becomes quite intense.

That brings us to the epic closing title track, "The Underfall Yard", which one would presume takes it's name from the real underfall yard in Bristol (since Big Big Train are British). Going back to our Genesis comparison, I would say that this epic does not quite match Genesis' Supper's Ready in quality and epic-ness. But where Supper's Ready was full of quirky Gabriel-isms, the concept of The Underfall Yard is a bit more concrete. Like the rest of the album, the song continues the theme of time passing and leaving era's behind. And yet, I find that I don't have much else to say about the song - it pretty much sounds like a more epic version of the three before it, which is in no way a bad thing. It has some excellent moments and really impassioned vocals as well. I think my favorite guitar parts from the album are on this track as well.

So to summarise - Big Big Train are definitely further exploring the musical field made famous by Genesis in the '70s, but this is a style of music that will probably always be popular with the prog audience.

Report this review (#269204)
Posted Monday, March 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars What never fails to amaze me is how one of the most consistently stunning bands of 21st century can be called "Crossover Prog". I'm listening to The Underfall Yard right now, and the same thing strikes me that has on Difference Machine and the under-appreciated English Boy Wonders (re-issue). That's how they manage to evoke the different 70s prog giants, but avoid committing to a complete slavish recreation.

Of course what greatly adds to that feat on this album is the inclusion of horns. So the vocal arrangements can hint at Yes, and the 12-string lushness evoke Genesis, but the horns add such a vastly different element. They partake in that sea of concordant discord that BBT is becoming known for.

Report this review (#269227)
Posted Monday, March 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Just like the Koh-i-Noor diamond which is part of the British Royal Family's Crown Jewels, this album is a flawless gem, an album such as which only comes around rarely. On every level of inspection The Underfall Yard achieves the highest results, whether its the album's theme, the superbly crafted compositions, the moving and insightful lyrics, the excellent musicianship, multi-part vocals (and oh what wonderful lead singing from David Longdon), the clever use of a brass ensemble in places, the crisp and crystal clear production or the superb album artwork. Individually these elements are all worth at least 4*s but taken as a complete package TUY is nothing less than "a masterpiece of progressive rock music" - so 5*s it is.

I won't talk specifically about each track as others have amply covered this previously, especially as its very difficult to pick out one track over an other - but the 23" long title track does have 'epic' written all over it.

Crossover prog may be a fair label to put on Big Big Train if one assesses their total musical output, but I'd venture to suggest that this latest album is as good a Symphonic Prog album as you'll find anywhere and would compare favourably against anything Yes or Genesis produced in their 70s prime.

Now, it just remains for me to see if and when BBT are going to perform The Underfall Yard live -- a journey, like the album itself, which should be enormously rewarding.

Report this review (#271797)
Posted Sunday, March 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the first album I have reviewed, and oh what a way to start off. I am relatively new to progressive music, having listened to the genre for about two or so years now. I only acquired "The Underfall Yard" about a week ago but already it's nearing the top of my personal rankings of albums that I have had the privilege of listening to.

There isn't a flaw in this album, in my opinion. Every note (be it vocal, brass, flute, guitar, etc.) contributes to the somber mood of the record. It all builds to the final act, the 22 minute epic "The Underfall Yard." It is here that musical themes from earlier in the album are revisited and built upon. This is the masterpiece of the album, and one of the greatest 20+ minute songs I have ever had the fortune of hearing.

I highly recommend this album. I award this album 5 stars not because it is perfect, but because I feel it is essential to anyone who considers his or herself a prog lover.

Report this review (#271928)
Posted Sunday, March 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars A journey of wonder. This album strikes the chords of fulfillment for my progressive heart and mind from the first to the last moment. The music, the lyrics, the atmosphere, the arc of energy: This is definitive progressive music. I am not familiar with other albums of Big Big Train (I intend to remedy that), but this one appears to be a leap into a new dimension. Reviews and ads attracted my attention. Now I'm completely taken. I can strongly recommend the extensive podcast that can be downloaded at the band's website. Great information is provided about this exceptional band and particularly about this exceptional album.

The lyrics on "The Underfall Yard" are beautiful, dramas and images of British cultural lore, from Victorian bricks via vanishing rail lines to the murky depths below Winchester Cathedral. Every song unfolds a rich metaphorical force, fantastic paintings of humans and their interaction with both nature and industry in British landscapes.

David Longdon's vocals are simply breathtaking. I love the fact that his voice is strongly reminiscent of Phil Collins (when he was at his best), but the vocal expression breaks free of all mimicry. Genesis is to the music of "The Underfall Yard" as a muse is to a poet. "Twelve Stones from the water."

With Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard, Genesis Rewired, ... ) on drums, numerous visits by Dave Gregory (XTC !) on guitar, a kicking guitar solo by Francis Dunnery (It Bites) on the title track and horns that blow like sun-warmed air, the music simply thrives and generates enjoyment.

I could go on, but I'd rather go listen to the album again.

Report this review (#272493)
Posted Wednesday, March 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars Boring, boring and boring....

I purchased the The Underfall Yard sometime ago based on the reviews and recommendations from this site. After a concerted effort I basically gave up on this album.

There is nothing particularly wrong with it and yet at the same time there is everything wrong with it.

The disease that inflicts this album is one of sameness and monotony. This affliction ranges all the way from the way it was recorded to the compositions and voices.The music lacks tension setting and release mechanisms. Vocals arrangements are uninteresting and frankly boring. David Longdon's voice is colourless and his range is limited. He tries to imitate Phil Collins a little too hard and after a while his efforts starts to irritate.

The compositions are ornamented with orchestrations which in itself is good idea but the orchestral arrangements are so simplistic that they could have been written by a grade 10 student aspiring to be a classical composer.

On the other hand when they stop singing and focus on the music they achieve passable results. Maybe their next effort will be an instrumental CD and I will try to like them again.

My copy of Underfall Yard is going on fire sale and by the looks of it i should not have any trouble finding buyers

Report this review (#273210)
Posted Saturday, March 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars The news that a new vocalist had joined the ranks of Big Big Train really stirred my interest. The weakness in the vocal department had made The Difference Machine hard to enjoy for me and I hoped BBT would fulfil their true potential this time.

And indeed, the vocals are much better. Or should I say more professional? Longdon's vocals aren't very different from the previous singer Filkins and share a similar Phil Collins timbre, but Longdon is more steady and dynamic. However, he still fails to inject BBT's music with the soul that was lacking from the previous album. The result is a pleasant but ultimately unexciting prog album that follows all rules of prog songwriting but forgot to add the excitement of rock 'n' roll. Really, where's the drive and emotion in this music? It's so clean and sterile. Maybe I'm biased from listening to too much RPI lately, but the emotive power I discovered in that scene really puts a perspective on an album like The Underfall Yard. The form is ok, but the substance is lacking.

It doesn't make this a bad album though. The two opening songs for example are very good. But the quality is uneven and much of the album goes to the motions without moving me for more then a few scattered sections. The drums and bass are great and the guitars add some edge to the music, but the songs disappoint for not offering the inspired drive that marked The Difference Machine, an album I prefer to this one. The 1975 Genesis vibe is simply too big for me here. Generally, as soon as the vocals start, I have to get out of the room to get me a coffee or some other distraction.

The Underfall Yard is a professional album that takes a strong start but that ultimately disappointed me. I simply don't have any nostalgia for mellowed out post-'74 sympho, but if you love A Trick of the Tail you shouldn't hesitate. So I arrive at 4 stars for the music, 2 for the vocals, 1 for passion. 2.5, rounded up for now.

Fans shouldn't worry though. This criticism will sure spur another onslaught of 5 star reviews.

Report this review (#273833)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars The instrumental opening number (except some short vocalizing) from this album is quite remarkable. It is full of optimism, delight, freshness and wonderful keyboards and fluting. A real great start to tell the truth where the influence of the mighty "Yes" is obvious and the whole sounds pretty much as the "Gates Of Delirium" / "Awaken" period to my ears.

What comes afterwards is still very skilled but so much cliché again. "Victorian Brickwork" is a good song but so much borrowed to "Yes" and "Genesis" that it falls a bit flat. The closing section, with sweet sax and an orgy of symphonic keys is truly poignant and beautiful though.

The whole album provides splendid mellotron passages, superb melodies, sweet keyboards, nice fluting here and there ("Winchester Driver") and a very warm feeling. This is the type of music that should please any symphonic prog fan, provided that you accept the pastiche side of the work?Some Gabriel feel as well during this fine song.

The same characteristics are available during "The Underfall Yard" (the title track) which is a kaleidoscope of the band's ability in playing enjoyable music. Fully neo-prog oriented, but with talent during this epic song (almost twenty-three minutes).

All in all, this is a very good moment of music. My rating is four stars; but be aware if you can't stand regressive music.

Report this review (#277424)
Posted Sunday, April 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars When I bought this album and listened to it a couple of times I was slightly disappointed with the result. After all this was a highly acclaimed effort according to many and then you expect a lot. I could hardly believe it and decided to give it more spins before doing the review. And I'm glad I did because after more than 10 times my opinion has changed quite a lot.

And the reason is the fact this album is a real grower. The more you listen to it the more the songs get into your system and that's important with an album like this. First two listening experiences I was slightly disappointed with the small number of instrumental passages I detected. Some reviews I had read promised me that especially the long epic at the end had to be something special with tremendous music but I only heard a few minutes of that and felt a bit let down in that department. But after the more and more spins I learned the class of this album isn't just some great instrumental passages but there was also the coherence between the songs and the re-occurring themes there are to be experienced throughout the album. And that 's what I mean when I say this album has to grow on you before you can truly appreciate it.

In the end the final epic is indeed a wonderful conclusion of a great album, a sort of long recapitulation of everything that has happened in the previous tracks. The compositions are marvelous, the vocals are good, the instrumental handling is excellent (with stand out flute) and the coherence is even the strongest aspect of all. So after all a great release by Big Big Train and probably the magnum opus of their career. Indeed worthy of the 4,4 stars they have received by now. Just missing out on the masterpiece status in my opinion because it all isn't really mindblowing for my personal taste. But excellent for any prog rock collection for sure. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#280243)
Posted Sunday, May 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is quintissential modern prog at its best (..and very English). It's got a bit of most of the sub-genres, symphonic, neo-prog and even some guitar solos that would keep a prog metal fan happy.

The key here is melody, perfect performances and interesting songs. It's this accessibility that puts it into Crossover Prog territory. Much of it is quiet and contemplative, you kinda fell like your in the English countryside at times.

The title track is an epic masterpiece that never loses your attention for the whole 23 minutes. The developing melodies throughout the album, interspersed with interesting musical breaks, great guitar solos and the obligatory range of instruments contributing to the whole.

Definitiely worth 5 stars for it's perfect representation of the genre.

Report this review (#284959)
Posted Friday, June 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I was turned on to this album from all the great reviews here on ProgArchives and I have to say it's one of the best English prog albums I have heard in years. Nick's guest turn on drums adds to the already solid rhythm section of the band (Can drums be melodic? I say they can!)

I agree with a previous poster that the last track really brings it home and wraps up all the ideas, emotions and melodies.

It's an excellent add to Prog Archives and a top album of 2009, deserving all of the ratings given. Igf you like Heavy/Crossover Prog, this is a great one to scoop up. It won't disappoint.

Report this review (#285117)
Posted Saturday, June 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
5 stars The Underfall Yard (2009) was my first meeting with Big Big Train's music and it was a great beginning. Back on the day I saw that the band had their new 22 minutes song to free download on their website and just after the first hearing I went on their website and bought this album (together with The Difference Machine).

This is just epic and full of soul and feelings. Music that you listen with your body, not just your ears, if you know what I mean.

The band was almost peaking (which would really happen 3 years later with English Electric Part 1) and their sound on the album is just natural and great.

There's no weak track in here, not a single tiny beat. Just go for it with your eyes close.

Report this review (#286128)
Posted Saturday, June 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Perhaps it's unfair to start this review with an immediate comparison with another and better known band, but as an observer of Prog music through the far too many years of my life, it's apparent that Genesis is almost a holy icon. I haven't myself enjoyed any of their albums since "Duke" which was recorded years before my adult son was born, and I think that qualifies as a lifetime. There has been much great Prog since those days, yet judging the mood on forums such was the wonder of the early Genesis that all subsequent crimes over 30 years can be forgiven in the instant of a reunion announcement.

So if this album, "The Underfall Yard" with its glorious whimsical, watery sleeve bore the word "Genesis" instead of what it does bear, namely "Big Big Train", there would be people making sacrificial offerings of thanksgiving on the the tops of hills all over Albion. Parties would be thrown, tears of joy would flow, there would be massive open air concerts all over the world, the sun would shine and the front cover of the CD would become a t-shirt worn by millions of happy parents from all corners of the globe.

In answer to the question "what's in a name?" then, I can only respond "pretty much everything". If BBT were to play a gig this year, I can imagine that it would be in a small village hall somewhere in Gloucestershire in England, there would be the usual smattering of 300 or so believers there to take it in (as well as 9 other bands on the same bill). They wouldn't even come as far as Scotland.

BBT are not the first band to invite comparisons with Genesis. Marillion's career depended on it at the outset, and despite the twists and turns since, is still founded on it. The Italian band "The Watch" are so like Genesis that they specialize in making albums that could be albums that were lost at the time of he 1970-73 heyday. When the Watch play live they play Genesis songs, because they know more people will turn up if the do. There are many more. On this album, BBT have used a sleeve that would have worked perfectly well for the Wuthering/Trick/Three/Duke era Genesis, added a well known drummer who is himself so influenced by Collins and co that he recorded an entire cover version of "The Lamb", and added a singer who sounds like a cross between H from Marillion and that same Phil Collins. In short, the comparisons are inevitable, unavoidable, probably totally deliberate and equally unfortunate.

There is a magnificent album in this dust jacket. It's beautifully recorded, the arrangements are sublime, the sounds inspiring and nostalgically warming. It's lush and has the same maroon feel to the music as is used on the cover, like the walls of a lovely warm Scottish public house with a lit crackling fire on a cold night. The songs are story led, historically interesting, well told, well played and like the best landscape pictures have paths in them that make your eye follow them and wonder where they go. The album grows with repeated listening and the destinations of those paths becomes proportionally easier to imagine. I love it. I love to close my eyes and just drift away into the music and BBT are exceedingly good at encouraging me to do this. But I just have to get past the constantly re-occurring image that always springs to mind, and that's always masses of Varilites, Jumbo Jet landers, smoke machines, 6 enormous mirrors and a bearded guy in a rugby shirt throwing a tambourine up and down.

I know BBT are capable of making music that stands on its own and find it slightly sad that in order to release such an excellent series of songs as can be found on this album they feel they have to graft the spirit of 76-79 Genesis onto it. (It's that specific!). In the end, I do not blame THEM, but I blame US. Such is our inability to gain closure for the loss of Genesis as we knew them, our grief continues unabated, and bands such as BBT will continue to try and get into our heads by adding the audible icons of that band to the mix. This is a beautiful album that needs no such icons. It would have stood alone, but would any of us have listened to it?.

With a lot of us heading towards our 60s now, I have to ask, are we ever going to accept that Genesis as we knew them are gone, and get on and enjoy the new people? When we were young, weren't we all a bit fed up of everyone trying to sound like Elvis or other 50s Rock and Roll Stars, in that Rubettes/Mud/Showaddywaddy era? ( I reviewed those for a well known paper back then!)

This review is a nit-picking exercise. "The Underfall Yard" is a superb album, one of the best from 2009, one to treasure for many years to come. It is made and delivered with love. It exudes quality. The people who made it should be knighted and given the keys to a couple of English towns. They should be awarded honorary degrees by ancient seats of learning and then go away and make an album that doesn't have to pander to our macabre inability to let go of a band who let so many of us down for so long. Genesis are DEAD!! Long live Big Big Train, Phideaux, the Tangent, Unitopia et al.

Report this review (#289633)
Posted Thursday, July 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This would be my fourth BBT purchase, with the first being "Goodbye to the Age of Steam" way back in the mid-90s. I'll give them credit for maintaining creativity and musicality in the face of ever-changing vocalists (Martin Read from the old days remains my favorite). As with their previous releases, there's melancholy sound nicely melded to pastoral themes. Having lived in the UK for a few years, BBT and releases such as this immediately bring me back to what I miss about England outside of London - they definitely have a knack for evoking a certain space and imagery in your head. Overall, I'd really like to give this a 3.5. The "downgrading" is mostly do to a lack of individual standout tracks and really killer melodies, a real trait of BBT's in the past. I enjoy listening to the whole CD beginning to end, but its pleasantness can be criticized as too much of the same. But a nice plus is the guest appearances by Francis Dunnery and Gem Godfrey, both of who add some punch to the longest track.
Report this review (#291994)
Posted Monday, July 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars One of the most critically-acclaimed progressive rock releases of 2009, Big Big Train's sixth album 'The Underfall Yard' finds this British three-piece working with a heavyweight cast that includes the likes of Spock's Beard drummer-and-vocalist Nick D'Virgilio, It Bites' Francis Dunnery and Frost* creator Jem Godfrey. Obvious a lovingly-crafted album, 'The Underfall Yard' features a slow, careful, symphonic sound enriched by a collection of unusual instruments such as Trombones, Cellos, French Horns and Cornets that juxtapose warmly with Big Big Train's guitar-and-keyboard heavy approach. Obvious influences such as Genesis and King Crimson abound, though the prosaic, almost maudlin tone of many of the compositions on offer also hint towards a slightly more classical sound. Vocalist David Longdon has a deep, bassy, baritone voice that compliments the battery of instruments nicely, but despite the commendably complex instrumentation on show, 'The Underfall Yard' somehow never really takes off and truly excites. What the band have created is a kind of earnest balladry peppered with proggy ingredients that's all very interesting and but pretty hard tack for those in search of genuinely innovative and genuinely entertaining prog rock. There's no denying the group's expert craftmanship, but unfortunately, despite their richly-textured sound, Big Big Train have still yet to reach the heights reached by the genuine greats of modern prog such as Diagonal, Astra and Beardfish, three bands that have created contemporary prog that is both original and exciting. A worthy effort from Big Big Train, but, unfortunately, despite it's musical excellence, a fundamentally flawed one. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
Report this review (#293729)
Posted Saturday, August 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Big Big Train is a band I had heard of only in passing prior to buying this album on the strength of hearing The Underfall Yard on Progzilla radio. After listening to this outstanding album, I can tell you I think it is essential.

The Underfall Yard's mostly dark atmosphere is sometimes broken by jolly yet still grandiose segment, such as Master James of Saint George's interesting use of repetitive lyrics at the begining.

The album's melancholy, sweeping and epic instrumentation and orchestration, combined with the frantic, passionate drumming of Mr. D'Virgillo create an incredibly enjoyable listen, which can hold ones interest from begging to end. From the instrumental starting track, Evening Star's beautifully delicate horn arrangement to The Underfall Yar's twisting melodic solos, this album is a testament to both new ideas and interesting compositions and a tribute to the prog of old.

An awe-inspiring musical work.

I cannot reccomend this album enough. Definitely five stars.

Report this review (#294091)
Posted Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Underfall Yard is truly a pleasure to listen to. I heard about this album on The Dividing Line. I downloaded the free MP3 of the title track and knew that this was a must have. Listening to the interview which was available for free on the Big Big Train website along with the complete album was a big help in understanding the themes which the lyrics were built upon. I remember having to go back in the podcast thinking, "Wow is this Peter Gabriel?" It came as no surprise that David Longdon did not pass his audition with Genesis hearing the stunning resemblence. Upon first listen I was immediately impressed with the standout harmonies at use in the vocals of Evening Star. Continuing through the album I was pleased with the intsrumentation. The use of brass and woodwinds to compliment the traditional rock lineup adds pleasant color and tone to an already elegant composition. The main theme throughout is the demise of trainyards throughout England. I can hear Spawton's melancholy for the physical and emotional remains of the industry. His use of names he's found during his explorations of these sites gives this listener a sense of historic validity. That is rarely found in rock, except of course prog! The build-up that comes with Master James of St. George really got my interest piqued. The real treat comes in the main guitar theme in Victorian Brickwork. The rub off of Steve Howe's Gibson is palpable and makes for a truly stirring fist pump by this listener everytime it comes back around. Coming around to the end or caboose, (sorry American) we have the epic title track. This is a spectacular epic. The guest soloists really add dynamic tension in the middle section of the song which brings us to the gentle farewell of the end. This is my favorite prog release of 2009. The Underfall Yard not only showcases some of the best composition in Symphonic Prog but also shows off some it's finest talent. NDV and Jem Godfrey are two of the finest musicians in modern prog. This recording is a must have for symphonic prog lovers like me. I think there's only about 10 of us in the U.S.
Report this review (#295268)
Posted Thursday, August 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album has a lot of elements going it's way. Lush sounds, great production and balance, wonderful singers, great grooves, complex rhythms, and shows it off really well. Every track goes in a pretty new direction and gives us a great Spock's Beard-esque symphonic rock experience.

The fact that I so aptly compared it to another band, however, really is its biggest downfall.

This album fails to really innovate anything. Most every sound on the album could be traced to someone else fairly easily, and it shows. I hear Spock's Beard synth, Kamelot-like vocals, Genesis organ drones?. the list goes on and on. It sounds like it could just be any other unknown album by so many symphonic bands. This brings the inspiration level down to about 0.

Nonetheless, all the elements were expertly produced and that also shows. It gains three stars as a valiant effort.

Report this review (#295566)
Posted Friday, August 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Underfall Yard is a contemporary progressive rock album. Hailing from Bournemouth and with 4 previous albums to their credit Big Big Train have delivered an album which is nothing short of astonishing. It's transparent that these pieces have been crafted and toiled over in a way which is not dissimilar to some of the themes on the album. Winchester Diver tells a true tale of Willian Walker who worked under the flooded Winchester Cathedral to shore up the foundations in appalling conditions and save the historic building. I like this analogy: English theme, hard work, painstakingly beautiful result. In terms of the theme and approach you can draw comparisons to the Genesis album Selling England By The Pound, but that would only be part of the story. The whole appeal of the album is its freshness and conviction. There are post-rock elements exemplorised by opener Evening Star which although fairly abstract, introduces one to some of the themes of the album, notably the exquisite use of brass instruments. Nowhere is this more justified than the closing section of Victorian Brickwork. It must have been revelationary when this came together in the studio, the mellotron and trumpet passage augmented by guitar solo is one of those moments that sends the hairs on your neck into spasm. To round things off is the title track, a modern classic, a 22 minute masterpiece. I can't recommend this album highly enough. it should become part of any self respecting music collection.
Report this review (#298197)
Posted Thursday, September 9, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I write this review under a great deal of strain, both professionally and personally. The former I won't bore people with, but the latter is pertinent to this review.

Last Friday, my best friend Kerri died suddenly, without any warning whatsoever. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

I'm sure that most members of Prog Archives appreciate that, at times such as these, we turn to our music in order to release our emotions, try to find out some meaning to such events, or simply to wallow in the depths of our individual feelings and torment.

I was recommended The Underfall Yard by Progkidjoel on the forum when asking for birthday recommendations. When I finally acted on his, wise, advice I sent him a PM telling him just how fantastic this piece of modern progressive rock was as a body of work. If I had reviewed it at the time, it would have generated a certain four star review. "An excellent addition to any prog rock collection".

Since last weekend, the album has come to mean a whole lot more, deserving of five stars, and really because of one piece of music, and I will explain why.

Victorian Brickwork is the first epic track on the album. Until that point, we are treated to exemplary playing and lyrics on Evening Star and Master James of St George.

The lyrics themselves, when I played them on my MP3 player last week meant so much to me, recalling so many conversations with Kerri, my friend.

Lost in the low lights at the ocean tides The love you never meant to hide The low lights at the ocean tides The love you never meant to hide

Kerri and I had so many discussions about how different our beloved wives were from us, the idiosyncrasies, and the day to day ups and downs of married life. But one thing held us in a bond. The love we both shared for our life partners and the children that we have. Those lyrics are so profound and just so painfully reflective. And so true. We never seem to tell our love just how much they mean to us until it is too late.

Some seven minutes into the track, the piece transforms itself into a glorious explosion of sound, guitar telling a painful story. And then, that moment.

The joy of the best progressive rock bands is to change moods and signatures. I am not ashamed to say that at eight and a half minutes into the track, when the brass solo commences, then accompanied by keyboard and rhythm section, into such an achingly beautiful, joyously painful, section of music, I cried my eyes out, in sheer wonder of the breadth of expression and emotion portrayed.

I am not an overtly religious man. However, I tell you, God spoke to me that night, and as I write this review. God gave these musicians the wonderful talent to create such an incredible piece of music, to call out to me in a moment of emotional crisis and of need. These incredibly talented musicians provided me with an outlet in which to cry, reflect, and to come to terms with both Kerri, and the love I feel for my family.

Very rarely does a band, or music, touch one like this.

The album as a whole is a great work. However, for me, I am going to award five stars to this album on the rare basis of one track from it, a track which I will forever associate with my friend.

Salute. Gorffwys mewn tangnefedd (rest in peace)

Report this review (#300120)
Posted Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars When you're listening to this album the first time you will thinking this is another great symphonic-prog album from the seventies. But no! This piece of music is from the year 2009! "Big Big Train" sounds like the great prog-bands from a past glory era, like genesis, yes or king crimson. But also much new music elements from this time are available on this album. So it's the perfect mix of old and new prog-rock.

With the first note of the first song ("Evening Star") you will thrown back in the good old times and this feeling will hold on till the last sound of "The Underfall Yard". The songs are all very atmospheric. Listen to the ending of "Victorian Brickwork", it's just wonderful. Of course you will thinking sometimes 'this is very close to genesis', but it's O.K., because they just try to sound a little bit like them, but they don't try to copy them. The listener should be remembered to the golden prog-times.

So, with this fusion of 70-prog and 21-prog "Big Big Train" wrote the best album of their career and the best album of the new century. A masterpiece.

Report this review (#304414)
Posted Saturday, October 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Genesis clone? Nope. Yes copycat? No way.

Good music? No doubt.

Big Big Train's Underfall Yard has been a very pleasant surprise. Inspired by some classic prog, yet aspiring to make their own mark, the band has developed a very nice sound for this album. This album reminds me a bit of neo-prog, but without the--as some might believe unnecessary--bombast and pandering. Within that genre, it's much more Phideaux than Arena or IQ, for example.

Overall it feels fairly mellow, but underneath lies a certain intensity that really holds my interests. Big Big Train has a habit of keeping the tempo up in quieter sections, accentuated by some very nice basslines, delicate percussion, and numerous lively guitar melodies. The result is a collection of songs that keep you coming back for more, without always knowing precisely why. Throw in some occasional flute, sitar effects, and a fair helping of refreshing horn arrangements, and this makes for a very nice album in most prog collections.

The highlights for me are of course the two extended pieces (with the opener, Evening Star, deserving mention as well): Victorian Brickwork and the title track. Brickwork is a little sporadically pieced together, but certainly well-played, with the gorgeous brass sequence toward the end stealing the show. Definitely progressive in my book. They also saved plenty for the title track epic, as the intro by itself just teems with intense playing and musical creativity. Sometimes I feel it drags a bit long, but I don't know what I would cut, and the band does a nice just of kicking up the energy just when things might be starting to lose momentum.

All in all, a great effort by talented set of musicians, and a prog epic that is much more than standard prog-by-numbers to boot! It's difficult not to be pleased with Underfall Yard.

Report this review (#314321)
Posted Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars BBT's "The Underfall Yard" is quite good example of good crossover prog for me. There are plenty of multi layered boys' vocal bands and synth-pop bands and all other types of mostly pop-bands,who decided because of current progressive fashion just to add some vintage keyboards sound to their music or make it a bit more complex. Then listeners without deep prog knowledge or with deep under-skin love to pop-harmonies name such release "prog- masterpiece". A believe that "prog fashion" will pass very soon and no-one will remember such fake "progsters" .

In such strange times it 's really pleasant to find some real crossover prog album: album with some softer and possibly more melodic sound, sometimes a bit more accessible music, but that music is prog!

I you as me not very big fun of fakes, but at the same time like melodic,a bit vintage,but quality prog, this album is for you. Yes, there are plenty of citation from early Genesis, but in all music is still enough original and pleasant. Musicianship is surprisingly of high level, and in fact it's difficult to criticize this album's music on any department.

Being released in mid 70-s, such album could be really the one in the centre of attention. For today it sounds a bit dated, not too much original, but there are many listeners for whom originality or innovation isn't too much important. If you're one of them, take this album and you will enjoy!

I am new ideas and sounds seeker, so I am not very happy when didn't find them there. But still really enjoyed this release: far from Supertramp's " Crime Of The Century" (which is absolute etalon of great crossover prog for me), but much better than many of genre competitors all around. Should attract many neo-prog lovers ass well.

My rating is 3+ ( fans early Genesis and other melodic not very complex and well arranged symphonic prog could add plus 1 point over my rating).

Report this review (#336613)
Posted Saturday, November 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Underfall Yard is a 2009 release by the English band Big Big Train. This is the band's 5th studio album, and first with their new lead singer. This is my first experience with Big Big Train, so I was going in not knowing what to expect, but was extremely pleased with my purchase. Listeners who have any interest in symphonic prog and modern prog at all should feel the same.

The music of The Underfall Yard is very pleasing, and consistently good throughout. Most of the songs are driven by acoustic guitar lines, and have a fair amount of singing. Other instruments include electric guitar, flute, and a few different keyboards. There are also a number of classical instruments, such as cello and an assortments of horns. However, these are played by studio musicians, and don't make as many appearances as the core instruments. The flute along with the acoustic guitar give the music an almost pastoral feeling, which really sets the mood. Although the standard feel of the album is softer, they do have their loud moments, characterized by electric guitar riffs, and are usually accompanied by well placed strings. These moments help in giving each song a nice up and down dynamic, and usually aid in leading to their climaxes. The lyrical themes of the album are pretty interesting, and deal with a band member's deceased father, English folk stories, and the decline of Western thought.

The album itself is very consistent, with every song being enjoyable and having something to offer. Each song is also pretty dynamic, and has a clear, satisfying climax. The lyrics carry the songs well, and are sung with lots of emotion that make them very enjoyable. There are a lot of nice guitar solos, and even the occasional flute and keyboard solo, which are used sparingly, but effectively. The solos in the last song are closer to the shredding you might find on a metal album, rather than the slower paced, melodic efforts in the previous 5 songs, but they offer a nice contrast, and are some of the most exciting moments on the album. Some passages involving the brass are just so emotional and beautiful that I just go into shock every time they pass. There are also some great, subtle, compositional touches, such as the vocal harmony in the first song that is brought back in the closer, or some whistling at the end of the second song that introduces the vocal melody of the next. Moments like these are great touches, and really make the album come together as a whole, rather than being just a collection of good songs. At just around an hour, the album is a great length, that really has no down moment.

The parts that I like about the album also brings me to my only complaint about it, namely, its consistency. Each song feels very safe within the context of the album. After listening to one song, you could pick a random one and guess very major characteristics about it, and you'd probably be right. That's not to say that every album has to have a weirdo song from the rest, it's just that the band seems to lack a sense of adventure here, and likes to stick to what it's good at. Again, this is a minor point, and really speaks to how good it is if the only negative point I can make is basically "none of these songs manage to be worse than any other song."

Lack of exploration aside, this album truly is excellent. There is just no bad moment to be found here, and the highs are very high and worth waiting for. This is surely one of 2009's top albums, and even at the end of 2010, it's still pulling at me and distracting me from this year's releases. The Underfall Yard is a must listen to, and a masterpiece of modern progressive rock.

Report this review (#366118)
Posted Monday, December 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the first album I heard from these guys; I wanted to check it out due to all the positive reviews this was getting. Before listening to this, I wasn't sure I was going to like it much. Turns out I enjoyed it a lot more than I ever thought I would. You can definitely hear a Genesis influence in the music, but it also sounds more modern as well. Lots of guest musicans on the album, some more famous than others. The lyrics are very England- oriented. This is apparently a concept album about Victorian England.

The album opens with great a capella harmony vocals in the otherwise instrumental "Evening Star". Great electric piano and tom-tom centred drumming at first. Nice flute solo. Great brass at the end. "Master James Of St. George" has great marching style drumming and catchy lyrics. Unlike the vocals on the first track, I don't really like the harmony vocals here. I do like the bass and the guitar solo in the middle, which continues until the vocals come back. Nice whistling and the sound of waves at the end.

I don't like the beginning of "Victorian Brickwork" very much. It's the second longest song but overall doesn't do much for me until over halfway with the eerie piano and crazy drumming. Then a hard rock riff. Good ending with the keyboards and brass before some vocals, acoustic guitar and flute finish it. "Winchester Diver" has good sounding synth at the start. Good flute and guitar work in this song. The flute melody is great and is sometimes double- tracked. I like the backwards effects before the singing begins and violin comes in. Gets very Genesis sounding near the end. Backwards effects with eerie music comes back at the end.

The almost 23 minute title track has some good guitar playing and drumming at the beginning before some great piano chords. Followed by more great playing and then the vocals start. I like the parts with the line "he can still see faaaaar..." Good guitar solo around the 5 minute mark. Cool Mellotron in this track (or is it a digital imitation like a Memotron?) Nice synth solo around 6 1/2 minutes. The harmony vocals halfway are good. Some subtle but good use of (electric?) sitar throughout the piece. Another good synth solo after 15 minutes, followed by some great cello. Later on some great organ playing. More great harmony vocals. You hear the sounds of people making noises at one point. Later a Wakeman-style synth solo; not as good as the others IMO. Ends with some sitar arpeggios. This epic generally flows well but some parts are better than others.

The sound and production is very well done. The compositions are good and the playing is genrally great. I can see why many like this album, but this is usually not my kind of music. I'm not sure if I would enjoy their earlier albums or not. I enjoyed this album for the most part, but I don't think it's something I would listen to very often. Recommended to Symph and Neo fans. I would rate this as 3.5 but I'll bump it up to 4 stars.

Report this review (#397255)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars PA turned me on to this beautiful album. I saw it listed in the Top 2009 albums and was intrigued by both the band's name and the album title.

The 5-minute Evening Star begins a capella and then turns instrumental, with a spacey flute section at about the halfway point, and transitioning to a horns piece with a harpsichord- sounding keyboard in the background. When I listen with eyes closed I can imagine a talented high school marching band doing this piece on a football field on a Friday night.

Master James of St George begins his march with a bit of drumming and then the singing begins. I love this singer's voice. I can easily imagine the repeated "Master James James James Jaaames of St George" being tiresome with a different vocalist. The song includes some nice countersong, and the lyrical theme about building castles gives me chills. There's a pleasant guitar solo over drums about 3 minutes in, with acoustic turning to electric, and with choral voices joining in. At the end we get whistling and the sea. Love it. "Lines get broken down."

Victorian Brickwork starts immediately with melancholic singing over gentle guitar. "Fog hampered the search." A murder mystery? "Told me many stories of the great ones." "Every day they put the boats out, but not this day." The first few listens suggested there's an interesting story in there. Repeated listening reveals that story, but I won't give it away. There's a nice trumpet piece just before the rocking guitar kicks in at the 2-minute mark, and this brief rock'n'roll section (and its reprise several times throughout the piece) reminds me somewhat of YES on The Yes Album, and at 12.5 minutes, it might have fit very well on that album. About 8. 5minutes into it, a guitar solo fades out and the song seems like it might end, but a trumpet piece leads a fade-in to another section that might also sound nice being performed by a marching band. (I guess I like marching bands.) "Lost in low light."

Last Train. This is the one that pulled me in. The singer starts right in, over a gentle guitar, bass and percussion, and a bittersweet melancholy sound to it. I guess I also like sad- sounding music. (Probably explains why I liked Jackson Browne back in the 70s.) This song has a definite Genesis sound to me, but it does not seem like a Genesis clone piece in any sense. Great guitar solo about 3.5 minutes into the song. "Living on the line for all those years."

Winchester Diver begins with a musical coda with flute and chorus that builds to the vocals entering about 2.5 minutes in. This song also tells an enjoyable story, and includes the first mention of Underfall. The tempo is slow throughout the first half and picks up just after the halfway point. There's some more nice flute and some lyrical repetition in the second half before a fading thing with cymbals. My least favorite song on the album and I still love it.

And then there's the 23-minute The Underfall Yard. I'm just going to say that it's an awesome epic, and recommend that you give it a listen, and it won't cost you anything except a little bandwidth, since the band has generously made it available for download on their website.

"Those days have gone. their names are lost the stories left untold."

Big Big Train may not have found their names, but they have found the stories and shared them to us in a lush and beautiful musical setting. Personally, I'd categorize this album as Symphonic instead of Crossover.


Report this review (#437833)
Posted Friday, April 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars A memorable works of art . Big Big Train truly earned a place in my heart with this brilliant masterpiece entitled "The Underfall Yard."

This could be the album of the decade. I think it is. Every listen of this album made ​​me love him more and more to the point of making it one of my favorites of all time, what I say without fear.

At the same time respects and makes references to the great '70s (especially Genesis - the similarity between the voice of singer David Longdon and Phil Collins is undeniable), "The Underfall Yard" creates a unique sound, unique, beautiful.

The choir that opens "Evening Star" is wonderful, and makes you wonder what will come. Then there is an instrumental section that keeps growing and growing until culminate in a powerful climax marked by the repetition of a flute choir and somewhat out of place (in fact the inappropriate use of the flute at times the album is his weakness). After that is the best part: a section with a beautiful twelve string guitar (a la Steve Hackett) and brass instruments - unlike the flute, the addition of only magnifies the album.

Then comes "Master James of St. George," which is my favorite track from the album. Longdon has a voice just perfect, and the way he sings saying "Master, Master, Master James of St. George ..." is absolutely flawless. The guest guitarist Dave Gregory (who performs most of the guitar on the album here) contributes a great solo accompanied by a powerful mellotron. After the beautiful chorus be replayed at the end of the song ends with a melancholy whistle and sounds of waves crashing.

"Victorian Brickwork" was a song that took me to appreciate, but now I love her. Of the songs on the album, this is where the voice is more like Longdon Collins. I especially love the final, where the metal back to an epic climax.

"Last Train" was the first song on the album I've heard, and without it there would be introduced to this fantastic band. The song is far simpler in structure, but the advantage of "The Underfall Yard" is that it is equally accessible and complex - a key feature, in fact, the whole genre of Crossover Prog.

"Winchester Diver" was another song that took me to get used to, but now I wonder what it was that I did not like it. Although it has a structure typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus, it lasts seven minutes and features strong instrumental passages.

The title track closes the album, and is an epic 23 minutes. Although my feelings for her have become more positive over the eavesdropping even consider it the weakest of the whole album. No joke! Seriously, for a song that size, it is little explored and inspired. But the mistakes of the first part are compensated with a strong second half - the time when they reprise the chorus of "Evening Star" is simply stunning! The ending is also wonderful!

5 star: Evening Star, Master James of St. George, Victorian Brickwork, Last Train, Winchester Diver, The Underfall yard

Average: 5.00


Report this review (#443239)
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars "...Bring on the cornets!!"

The sixth full studio album from Big Big Train featuring new vocalist David Longdon.

The Good: Despite having been around for twenty years now The Underfall Yard was my first exposure to this band. It was recommended to me by a friend as 'the best greatest album of the decade' and whilst I don't entirely agree with this bold claim, I can see where they are coming from. The stunning finale was the first track I heard and is easily the highlight of the album. The rest manages to avoid Octavariumitus with generally strong compositions throughout, Master James of St. George and Victorian Brickwork being my personal favourites. The vocals are a joy to listen to and the combination of brass instrumentation and screaming synthesizer fills is a somewhat unusual mix, but actually works really well. The overall sound falls somewhere between Genesis, Camel and Spock's Beard.

The Bad: Evening Star and Winchester Diver never really grab my attention.

The Verdict: One egg short of a full English breakfast.

Report this review (#478601)
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Just before I submitted this review, a screen alert reminded me to be sparing in allocating 1 and 5 stars to reviews. In the case of 'The Underfall Yard' there is no album more deserving of five stars. This album is truly outstanding and incredibly beautiful to listen to. I must admit that when I first listened to Big Big Train's 'The Underfall Yard' just over a year ago, I wasn't completely bowled over. But, honestly, this music has a magical quality that just grows on you. A year later I am still listening to it regularly. It has a haunting, nostalgic quality to it that just cannot be ignored.

'Victorian Brickwork' is on my personal top ten songs list of all time. It simply stirs my heart and returns me to simpler times when I was just a boy. It is simply beautiful, simply outstanding in its execution. The horn arrangements are innovative and stirring. This is a beautiful and emotional album and an absolutely essential addition to any music collection.

Report this review (#508721)
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Every once in a while you come across an album that just speaks to you. It seems to speak to you personally, directly and is guiding you somewhere. It opens a door to a new wing of that big old house you thought you had explored to the full. Having grown up listening to Genesis, Caravan, The Strawbs and many other "English" style bands I always have a soft spot for pastoral, eccentric and undeniably English prog. For me this album ticks all the boxes. The songs tell great stories, the music is varied using brass and woodwind and David Longdon brings a great vocal prescence. This is my favourite album of the last 3 years.
Report this review (#563655)
Posted Monday, November 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Big Big Train's The Underfall Yard seems to get a lot of plaudits from the prog crowd but personally I don't see the appeal. With a few Genesis-isms slipped in here and there (in particular, there's a pinch of Steve Hackett's classic "weeping guitar" sound present), the group I most immediately thought of here was Spock's Beard, particularly when it comes to the use of vocal harmonies. (And what do you know - Nick D'Virgilio was pulling drummer duty in the band during the recording of this album!) Maybe that's the problem - I've never been able to stand Spock's Beard, finding their aesthetic a bit artificial and phony, and The Underfall Yard also feels like a facade to me. Either the band sincerely believe in this tedious Victorian-era nostalgia codswallop, or they don't; if they do they're cranks, if they don't they're just singing about a whole bunch of stuff they don't sincerely buy into, which if anything is worse. Ho hum.
Report this review (#759605)
Posted Monday, May 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars After seeing all the glowing reviews of this album on the site it is with some trepidation that I post a review which basically disagrees with almost everyone.

I have tried to embrace the music of Big Big Train over the years but I have never really come away with any feeling except boredom. I admire their musicianship but hardly anything about their music excites me. Nothing daring or different about this album, it's just track after track of inoffensive progressive elevator music to my ears. I'd actually rather hate some music than feel the total indifference that I feel towards this because at least that means it has registered some sort of response in me.

I have seen this compared to early Genesis. I can hear in the music why people have made that connection and there is a similarity in some of the soundscapes but apart from that I feel the comparison is misleading. Words that I associate with early Genesis are quirky, inventive and daring. I cannot ascribe those adjectives to any music that I have ever heard from this band and in spirit they are a million light years away from Genesis.

I honestly don't want to feel this unenthusiastic about an album which seems to be loved by almost everyone on here but I just can't help it.

Report this review (#815718)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Starts stronger than it finishes.

I am not very familiar with the band, but I do also own "The Difference Machine" album. They are excellent muscians and their music does qualify them in the prog world. The Underfall Yard is a good album and I would get it again, but it tends to leave me a little flat at times.

Evening Star - This has a very classical choral sound that in a way reminds of a Beatle/Proto-Kaw mix. It works for me.

Master James of St. George - This song is very Yes influenced and at the end sounds like the ending of Hearts of the Sunrise. The Sharp.....Distance.....section. It is good regardless.

Victorin Brickwork - A very nice mix of symphonic prog and excellent trumpet work that is not over powering, but is blended in perfectly.

Last Train - Appears to me like an 80's Genesis Prog-Pop song. Just OK.

Winchester Diver - Slow tune that also has that 80's Genesis feel. The lyrics are very good, but the melody, or lack there of, is not memorable. Another OK.

Underfall Yard - This is the album epic, as mentioned before, excellent muscians and this song does have some good moments but it just does not there for me. If I were to rate it, the rating is 3.

Overall, a solid album and I give it a 3.


Report this review (#817010)
Posted Saturday, September 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Admittedly I pondered this album after their most recent release, English Electric, so my listening ears are somewhat spoiled by the beauty of that album. I will say though that this is amazing in its own right. These guys definitely know what they're doing; the instrumentation is top notch and the musicianship is equally so. But perhaps what impresses me most about this album is just the vast number of instruments used. Along with the classic setup the band also includes, mellotron, flute, and a whole brass section which gives this album a very distinctive feel.

The album opens with the instrumental 'Evening Star' which has a gradual build-up that gets increasingly more chaotic. But the last two minutes contains an absolutely beautiful melody played by the brass instruments.

'Master James of St. George' contains some strong and dramatic vocals from Longdon, along with some pristine guitar work from Spawton.

'Victorian Brickwork' is my favorite track of the album. It has a slower intro before an amusing melody enters backed with D'Virgilio's crazy drumming. The song introduces new bits throughout while still repeating melodies appropriately. The ending is another example of the beautiful brass section that makes this album so fun and unique.

'Last Train' and 'Winchester Driver' are both similar to 'Victorian Brickwork.' There is a combination of slower, softer moments with acoustic guitar and flute mixed with some upbeat and heavy moments with pounding drums and guitar.

The album ends with the lengthy title track, 'Underfall Yard.' The song introduces some great melodies, but also reprises some previous ones appropriately. It's very structurally diverse with some nice time signature and tempo changes throughout.

While this isn't a masterpiece by any thought, I believe this has plenty of merit to represent the current progressive era favorably.


Report this review (#866993)
Posted Monday, November 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3.5 stars, really

With this album issued in 2009 named The underfall yard BBT become one of the most appreciated prog acts in last years, and for good reason. Sounding almost same with predecesor but with a good doze of brass sections in some parts, BBT manage to come with a pleasent album all the way but again I can't call this a masterpieces, because the influences are more or less present taken from old Genesis (Gabriel era ). Now with D'Virgilio as permanent meber who btw done a great job here specially on title track, another gust appears here Dunnery from It Bites and Godfrey from Frost. The music is calm most of the time combined with some great guitar parts made by the head of the band Greg Spawton combined with refined instrumental sections almost pastoral in places. Nice voice coming from the new voice David Longdon, with a typical english tone not far from old masters from prog like Gabriel. All in all I like every BBT album, some of them more some of them less, this one is among their best quite diffrent from what is to be heread on English boy wonders, but still pleasent most of the time. All pieces are ok with a plus one Victorian Brickwork and the stunninmg title track, an epic that worth to be investigated for sure for every prog fan. So among the top albums in last yers in prog, to me a little more then a great album but not a masterpieces for sure. Jim Trainer done a fantastic job, the drawings from the booklet are top notch. 3.5 stars is best I can give, great but not fantstic.

Report this review (#876183)
Posted Sunday, December 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars 7/10

Autumnal Beauty.

(Quick Review)

Big Big Train's eight album, "The Underfall Yard", presents more surprises than the previous album of theirs, "The Difference Machine". The band has kept the same level of complexity in their music, with some major differences: the songwriting skills have increased ten-fold, the structuring of the songs has noticeably improved, and the production sounds much more sophisticated, and puts all of the instruments perfectly in balance. It's a modern Symphonic Prog album with great flow, and the songs manage to not disappoint in their task of maintaining the listener's attention throughout the entire time. "Master James Of Saint George", " Last Train", and especially the epic twenty two minutes of the closing title- track, are worthy of being remembered as some of the highest moments of modern-day Progressive Rock, for their perfect mix between catchiness and complexity. "Winchester Diver" however is another story, feeling completely useless and not being in the slightest bit worth listening to. Perhaps without that track, the album would have turned out to be a near-masterpiece.

Report this review (#914228)
Posted Saturday, February 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Big Big Train reminds me early Genesis. And it's a compliment. The first time that I listen The Underfall Yard, I was blowed up. This album is really good. Surely the best of 2009 and one of the best of the 00's. If all the songs are good, the title track of 23 minutes is a masterpiece. Not boring, this song is quiet at the beginning and PAF ! Explosion. David Longdon sings very well and the guitarists are just amazing. All the musicians are magicians. Evening Star is the opening instrumental and it shows the suite. Master James Of St George, Victorian Brickwork, Last Train and Winchester Diver are really, really good songs. If you like prog rock, you have to listening this album. The best moment is surely the ending track but all the songs are great and to conclude : The Underfall Yard is a must-have to all prog rock fans.
Report this review (#933590)
Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars To a well respected album here and I must say that I do have a penchant to like this band - a lot. I will say that I don't know why it forms a part of the Crossover Prog genre here when it clearly doesn't fit there with the release of the previous three albums. I don't get the early Genesis comparisons other than to agree that it is essentially "English" music - pastoral in style to a large degree. This music carries me on warm clouds of musical bliss and it is like balm to my ears when I am in the mood for something just to ride the notes with. The only trouble with Big Big Train I would suggest is that they don't have a harder edge to their music at times although when I spool it up to listen to then I'm not in the mood for a harder edge anyhow.

The music is tasteful and soothing with just enough adventure in it to please me when I'm in the mood for it (which is often) - if I want musical adrenalin excitement then I'll play something else - it is like slipping into a warm relaxing bath as opposed to riding a whitewater raft. The musicianship is excellent and I love the inclusion of the wind instruments and the way they are used throughout the compositions. Greg Spawton is no slouch with the lead guitar and he plays with good taste adding to the beauty of the music without dominating it at all - the same really goes for each respective instrument and member here. David Longdon on lead vocals has a soothing voice which has the same kind of tone as what Peter Gabriel has, perhaps richer though.

There is no weak track on the album at all and they all make up a cohesive whole of a brilliant and very well put together album which grows more on me each time I listen to it. The musicianship making up the album is complex and I discover more each time I listen to it - which makes for an interesting experience each time I slip into that warm, relaxing bath that is "The Underfall Yard". A very solid 5 star release as far as I'm concerned and an extremely valuable addition to my collection.

Report this review (#1021361)
Posted Wednesday, August 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#1743137)
Posted Thursday, July 13, 2017 | Review Permalink
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!

Report this review (#1948763)
Posted Monday, July 16, 2018 | Review Permalink

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