The Passengers' Club by Big Big Train

While most of the western world celebrated Friday, February 14, as the secularized Feast of St. Valentine, preparing for a Cinema Show of epic proportions and armed with chocolate surprises, I celebrated it as International Big Big Train Day. 

Granted, by international, I mean several counties in Michigan, but still. . .

On Friday, February 14, Big Big Train launched its much anticipated web-based fan service, The Passengers’ Club. Let me state immediately: this is, by far, the best such service I have seen.  While I belong—rather proudly—to Marillion’s fan service, I have never been totally satisfied with it.  As much as I adore Marillion, I think the service is a tease.  More than anything else, I feel like my subscription subsidizes their advertisements to sell me more stuff.  Granted, I buy it, but I am less than completely satisfied with the service as a whole. Most frustrating by far, though, is Neal Morse’s fan service. I belonged to it for years—happily receiving several cds and dvds a year. Then, suddenly, it all just stopped, switching all of the great releases to mere downloads. Honestly, I feel as though I was totally ripped off. As such, I finally quit my membership about six months ago. I subscribed for a year too long. Trust me, don’t go near Morse’s service. Admittedly, I still love Morse’s music and his integrity, but he needs a serious reexamination of his attitude toward his followers.

BBT’s, however, is extraordinary. The service offers three levels of subscription: one year; two years; and lifetime. Though I am alone to blame, I initially only saw the first two subscription options, and I went for the two year.  Had I been thinking properly and had I been observing what should’ve been observed, I would’ve signed up for the lifetime subscription (Patron). If you’ve yet to subscribe, don’t overlook the Patron option. 

Through the service, BBT is offering music, videos, essays, and photos. Admittedly, the photos did not do that much for me (though, they’re fine photos), but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the other three sections (“platforms” in the presentation). 

The brightest highlight of The Passengers’ Club, though, is the music platform. Indeed, the two songs released thus far are worth the entire subscription price.  The first two songs are the 17-minute “Merchants of Light” and the (almost) three-minute long demo, “Capitoline Venus.” BBT promises new music and new content every two weeks for the next year and claims that we’ll be receiving four full CDs worth of music over the next two years. Though I’m only speculating, I’m assuming this is the equivalent (perhaps, a 1:1 perfect correspondence) of the long-discussed Station Master’s release.  

The second brightest highlight (close to the second brightest star, it turns out) is Greg’s writeup about the songs.  Stunning stuff, to be certain.  Not surprisingly, Greg is a master of the word—whether in essays or in lyrics.  I’d share some of what he’s written with you, but I agreed not to when I signed up for The Passengers’ Club, and, believe me, this is a trust I hold sacred.

Here’s hoping I’ll see you at the Concourse.

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Brad Birzer Discusses Rush on Political Beats Podcast

Our own Dr. Brad Birzer joins hosts Scott Bertram and Jeff Blehar for an in-depth discussion of Rush on their Political Beats podcast. The more than 2 1/2 hour conversation begins with Rush’s debut album and continues all the way through Clockwork Angels. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, even if you aren’t a Rush fanatic. Jeff Blehar had never heard a single Rush song before he listened to their entire discography in preparation for this episode, and his takes on their various albums are refreshingly honest and fair.

Click here to play the episode.



Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair Set For Reissue

Looking back at the album, Roland Orzabal commented, “Pop music was still a growth industry. It hadn’t sort of stagnated, stalled, diversified into streaming like it is nowadays. We were young, we were both good-looking and we had the right music. As we move further and further from that decade and you keep hearing ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, in various forms I do think it is an era-defining album”.

Curt Smith “You would never normally get three songs that strong in an album. But balance that out with tracks like ‘Listen’, ‘The Working Hour’; all those things that give it air and give it time to breathe I think is what makes it something more than just the sum of its parts. I think the album had a lot more depth than a lot of those other albums of that time. And albums of more depth tend to stick around longer”.
— Read on

Brad Birzer writes lyrics for progressive rock album – Hillsdale Collegian

Track 1: “The Trenches.” Under­scored by ambient whistling, rifle shots, and single notes struck on a piano, Brad Birzer’s voice fades in softly at first, repeating, and echoing over itself. He speaks C.S. Lewis’s description of his expe­rience in World War I: “The frights, the cold, the smell of human excrement, the hor­ribly crushed men still moving like crushed beetles…” 

Then, cue an electric guitar intro, a chorus of “This is war!” and, finally, drop in some heavy metal drumming.  

These are the opening lines and sounds of the pro­gressive rock epic chron­i­cling the meeting, devel­oping rela­tionship, and, ulti­mately, failed friendship between J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis. Birzer, pro­fessor of history, wrote this seven-track album, “The Bardic Depths,” in col­lab­o­ration with pro­gressive rock musician Dave Bandana. 
— Read on

New I Am The Manic Whale Coming Soon

One of the highlights of 2017 was I Am The Manic Whale’s second album, Gathering the Waters.

Here’s their press release for the upcoming third album, Things Unseen:

Things Unseen by I Am The Manic Whale

Release:     24/04/2020

Formats:     CD, vinyl, download

Labels:     Independent (CD/download)
Plane Groovy (vinyl)
Run time:     65 minutes

Track listing

  1. Billionaire                        7:30

  2. The Deplorable Word     7:56

  3. Into The Blue                  6:28

  4. Celebrity                       19:01

  5. Smile                              4:24

  6. Build It Up Again            7:03

  7. Halcyon Day                  5:28

  8. Valenta Scream             7:19

Following the success of 2017s Gathering The Waters, Michael, David, John and Ben have been working hard writing, recording and producing 8 more songs of intelligent, energetic, beautiful, whimsical, thought provoking and inspiring progressive rock for your listening pleasure.

The boys have again chosen to work with the mighty Rob “mix wizard” Aubrey at Aubitt studios and the result, Things Unseen, will be released on the 24th of April on CD through the band’s bandcamp page and as a download in all the usual places. There will also be a vinyl release courtesy of the magnificent Chris Topham and Plane Groovy, including a limited run on coloured vinyl.

So what are the songs about? Michael Whiteman (bass/vocals) explains; “Expect the unexpected. These songs aren’t about what you might at first think. They are inspired by urban myth, fantasy literature, ecology, celebrity culture, a baby’s smile, a summer afternoon at Grey’s Court, interlocking block construction toys and a British engineering marvel. What more could you want?”

“We are delighted to be working with Plane Groovy again,” said John Murphy (keyboard/vocals). “We’re very proud of this album and knowing that it’ll be available in such a great quality 180 gram double vinyl version is incredibly exciting. Vinyl is so visceral, so tactile and above all, so large that we’re even able to include some bonus music on the fourth side; a live recording of Derelict, our 20 minute epic song about an abandoned swimming pool, which we recorded one night at a theatre in Reading last year. The night of that show, I heard that Reading even has a swimming pool somewhere, which made playing the song feel even more poignant.”

David Addis (guitar/vocals) had this to say; “Things Unseen has been a labour of love for three years, and the conception reaches back to some musical ideas that have been in incubation for over a decade. We hope everyone will have something to relate to on the album and that it conjures up some tangible and fantastical images. Also, the metal parts kick ass.”

Ben Hartley (drums/vocals) said this; “I am thrilled that Things Unseen is coming out soon. Pre-orders will be available on our bandcamp page for CDs and Burning Shed for the vinyl from Monday 10th of February. We’re also setting up some crowdfunding options through bandcamp, so people can help us finish the album. These include booking us for a house concert, purchasing sheet music and sticks I used during the recording process, or buying a cover song of your choice, which we will lovingly make for you.”

For more information visit the band’s bandcamp page from Monday




T.E. Hulme on the Religious Attitude ~ The Imaginative Conservative

To transcend or to break through this delusion of progress, a true scholar, Hulme continued, must attempt to see the gaps in both senses, recognizing them and allowing them to exist. In other words, much like Friedrich Hayek will proclaim with the “knowledge problem” several decades later, true scholars must be humble and be content with knowing what we do not know. The modernist, of course, hates ignorance more than anything else, and in his blind zeal to know all things, he will create “knowledge” where no knowledge is possible, thus truly derailing centuries upon centuries of fine work and of understanding of the human person. Ironically, in his hatred of religion, the modernist merely creates a new, shallow, and false religion. The modern, Hulme understood, is nothing short of a full-fledge Gnostic, ultimately seeing the universe as pre-determined, mechanistic, and absent of free will.
— Read on

Was he nae poet? Robert burns’

FROM ” Epistles to J . Lapraik”

Lapraik was a minor Scottish songwriter and poet but he was a lover of Scottish songs and poems and hence a man after Burns’ heart. Here Burns describes his method at producing poetry straight from the heart. Burns shows great sincerity, honesty, modesty and courage. Burns had earlier made an apology in the Preface to the Kilmarnock Edition at his lack of Latin and Greek. Burns also had very little knowledge of French or Gaelic (but certainly more than many as proved by his French quotations and Gaelic names and titles). Burns states his natural response to the world might have more poetic relevance than the (by then) almost hackneyed references to classical allusions. Burns humorously compares his poetic talents to those of university educated scholars whom he says in brilliant imagery go in as “stirks” (Bullocks) and come out as asses! How amusing, now to think people thought Burns semi-literate and unable to distinguish between the genres of poetry or prose (he as a master of both). These epistles are rich in the “lallans” (lowland) vocabulary of the Scots. Only Shakespeare, I believe, had contributed as many unique phrases and vocabulary to English and Burns essentially translated an entire Scots tradition in English with his own unique combination of rich Scots expressions and English. He valued the harmonic poetic and music treasures of the Scots thus preserving forever ,as a kind of causeway, English literature and ancient Scots literature making them one tradition.


I am nae poet, in a sense; 
But just a rhymer like by chance, 
An’ hae to learning nae pretence; 
Yet, what the matter? 
Whene’er my muse does on me glance, 
I jingle at her. 

Your critic-folk may cock their nose, 
And say, “How can you e’er propose, 
You wha ken hardly verse frae prose, 
To mak a sang?” 
But, by your leaves, my learned foes, 
Ye’re maybe wrang. 

What’s a’ your jargon o’ your schools- 
Your Latin names for horns an’ stools? 
If honest Nature made you fools, 
What sairs your grammars? 
Ye’d better taen up spades and shools,  (taken up spades and shovels)
Or knappin-hammers.  (stone-breaking hammers)

set o’ dull, conceited hashes 
Confuse their brains in college classes! 
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,  (the go in bullocks…)
Plain truth to speak; 
An’ syne they think to climb Parnassus  (since)
By dint o’ Greek! 

Gie me ae spark o’ nature’s fire, 
That’s a’ the learning I desire; 
Then tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire  (puddles and mud)
At pleugh or cart,  (plough/plow)
My muse, tho’ hamely in attire, 
May touch the heart. 

Burns who “jingled” at his Muse later (Second Epistle To J. Lapraik) has the Muse assume the form of a worn-out servant girl.

The tapetless, ramfeezl’d hizzie,  (Heedless, wornout hussy or wench)
She’s saft at best an’ something lazy:  (Soft)
Quo’ she, “Ye ken we’ve been sae busy 
This month an’ mair, 
That trowth, my head is grown right dizzie, 
An’ something sair.” 


Nature, according to Burns places little value on material wealth. Amusingly he says the rich will return as savage, hungry wolves and the poor as gentle souls united by love and friendship. Clearly the meek shall inherit the earth.


O mandate glorious and divine! 
The ragged followers o’ the Nine, 
Poor, thoughtless devils! yet may shine 
In glorious light, 
While sordid sons o’ Mammon’s line 
Are dark as night! 

Robert Burns, Scotland’s Bard and a very special poet worthy of study and admiration by the world. He may have been Britain’s greatest songwriter.

Music, Books, Poetry, Film

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