Happy birthday, Greg, master of the TrainYard!
If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html
Part II of our symposium. A second indepth look at the philosophy and emotions behind Big Big Train’s latest album, GRAND TOUR.
Beginning with genteel blushings and awed whispers, David Longdon’s vocals—so plaintive and so earnest and so full of wonder—begin Grand Tour by sharing hard-earned wisdom.
After all, this story begins far from home, and the craft in question flies along shadowed paths beyond all human sight, but never beyond human imagination. By whatever measure of success or failure, the craft made the attempt. And, by necessity, so did those who launched it in the first place.
Whatever the fate of that craft, it was made by human hands, and those hands should be celebrated. And, thus we should celebrate not just the act of creation but the very life that gave the very intelligence to act.
We are, after all, ALIVE!
And thus begins Big Big Train’s latest album, Grand Tour, a masterpiece even among masterpieces. Ostensibly, this hook—which catches onto the eighteenth-century ideal of English travel throughout the European continent and, especially, into and around the Mediterranean and Aegean—ties the latest album together. By employing such a story, the band can travel not only across space but also back through time. The album explores ideas and as well as biographies.
This is, simply put, an album for the intelligent and meaningful person.
With track three, “The Florentine,” the band looks at the very core of the Italian Renaissance and one of its four greatest figures, Leonardo.
On track four, “Roman Stone,” the band digs deep back into western civilization, finding the very stones that created the Roman Republic and the various Mediterranean powers of the ancient world. There is both regret at the loss and admiration at the gain. See what we once were, the band claims. See what we could’ve been, the band asks. After all, things that have broken have often been made whole again. Sometimes even with the very material that had fallen into ruin becomes the cornerstone.
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Given that this site’s patron is also the patron saint of music, it seems meet and just to review our favorite music. Thus, I give you the awesome Tad Wert’s first entry into the symposium, “What Hath the Train Wrought,” a deep look at Big Big Train’s GRAND TOUR.–Brad, editor
“GRAND TOUR” by Tad Wert
There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from them, as principles and their supposed indisputable truth, derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.
–Francis Bacon, Novum Organum
Never let it be said that Big Big Train doesn’t think big. Their latest opus, Grand Tour, is a massive undertaking, taking the listener on a voyage from the cliffs of Dover to Italy, Constantinople, and out to interstellar space. Along the way, we pay our respects to Leonardo da Vinci, Saints Theodora and Justinian, exiled Prospero and Ariel, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to say hello to Francis Bacon, the first “modern” thinker.
If this project were attempted by any other artist, they would be ridiculed for their pretentiousness. To BBT’s credit, they have done their research, and every song on this amazing album is filled with respect, appreciation, and love for their subjects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, every well-educated European took a “Grand Tour”, which included visits to famous cultural and religious sites, such as Rome, Florence, Paris, etc. Thanks to BBT, we can embark upon our own grand tour via their artistry.
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Tony Rowsick, the host of my favorite music podcast, Prog-Watch, invited me to be a “Guest DJ” on the latest episode (#603). I had a really hard time narrowing my choices down to four songs, but I eventually settled on ones by U.K., Big Big Train (of course!), Sanguine Hum, and Glass Hammer.
You can stream the episode here, or catch it via iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, etc. ( Just search for Prog-Watch)
If you are a lover of prog rock, then you need to subscribe to Prog-Watch. I have discovered more great artists through Tony’s show than any other source. He is also an excellent interviewer of prog’s biggest stars as well as up and coming ones. It comes out weekly, and it is well worth the time spent listening. As Tony would say, “Until next time, be good to each other, and Prog On, my brothers and sisters!”
Spirit of Cecilia Books has begun a series of ebooks–Cecilia’s Notations–on the history of modern music (mostly rock, pop, and jazz).
Other volumes in the series, forthcoming: on Talk Talk, Big Big Train, Rush, Glass Hammer, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush.
To purchase the first volume of Cecilia’s Notations, Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop, please click here. It’s only $2.99.