Well, it turns out that the French Prog Rockers think we’re (we, meaning The Bardic Depths, though, let’s hope they love Spirit of Cecilia as well) ok!
Nothing Big Big Train does is unimportant in the world of music or in the larger world of art. As such, its most recent release, Summer’s Lease, is an important cultural marker, a signal act of beauty in a terribly—at least at the moment—ugly world. It’s as though Spawton, Longdon, and Co. are stating: hold on just a bit longer. . . we’ll all make it.
The album begins with the enchanting and pastoral instrumental, “Expecting Snow,” followed by a majestic—and reworked—version of “Kingmaker,” one of the oldest songs in the BBT canon, but a song that never tires and never grows old or out of style. The song is approaching, quickly, its thirtieth anniversary. Again, though, it only gets more interesting with age.
From here, BBT jumps forward two years, to 1995, and offers us a glorious reworking of the very first track to appear on CD, “Wind Distorted Pioneers.” Danny’s delicate-turned-jazz piano work and Rachel’s lush strings (as opposed to heavy guitar) make this a track to behold and celebrate. Truly, this track is a thing of wonder.
The band then gives us an in-studio live version of Swan Hunter’s rather sensuous and pondering “Summer’s Lease” and a subtly reworked version of track two of The Underfall Yard, “Master James of St. George.”
To conclude disk one, BBT offers a slightly shorter version of “London Song.” What was once barely over 34 minutes is now, with a bit of pruning and reworking, just barely under 34 minutes. Each version though—whether the original download or this CD version—is simply outstanding, a manifest demonstration of BBT’s compositional skills and dedication to excellence.
Disk two is, for the most part, much more straight forward with few surprises: “Victorian Brickwork”; “Judas Unrepentant”; “East Coast Racer”; “Curator of Butterflies”; “Swan Hunter”; “Transit of Venus Across the Sun”; Nick’s latest song; and “Brave Captain”.
On disk two, the only real surprise is the just-mentioned Nick D’Virgilio’s latest song, the undeniably mesmerizing “Don’t Forget the Telescope,” a track of seemingly endless possibilities, a tangle of love intertwined in a spirit of exploration. The song feels live, and it feels as though we’re listening to it an Irish baptism or wake (you know, the kind wake that celebrates life) being held on the south side of Chicago in the 1920s. Glorious.
Finally, I must write something about the packaging. BBT understands well that its fan base likes tangible things, and this package does not disappoint. Each of the two CDs come in nice cloth sleeves, the booklet is long (though, in Japanese!), and Sarah Ewing’s artwork is. . . well, just perfect and fantastic. Indeed, this is now my favorite BBT album cover. I would love to own a print of it.
No matter how bleak the world looks at the moment, Big Big Train wields the light, encouraging us to keep going, no matter the cost and no matter the doubt.
Well, it’s that time. That glorious time. Two weeks later, and Friday. This means that Big Big Train has updated, once again, its Passenger’s Club membership-only fan service. And, for this third update, I am reminded yet again how good BBT is. This week’s update comes in four (well, really five) parts.
First, there’s a new song, one written by Greg roughly ten to twelve years ago. It’s a love ballad for his wife, Kathy. Tender and fluid, “Sundial” might have ended up on Bard. Thus, it can probably be regarded as a “b-side,” if BBT created such things. I like the song quite a bit, and it fits nicely onto the Master Passengersonglist/album I’m slowly compiling as BBT releases each new song.
Second, there are a number of really nice photos taken during the Grand Tour rehearsals. Honestly, when the Passenger Club first emerged on February 14, I thought this was the weakest part of the service. But, I’m proven wrong here. There are no weak parts to the service, and these photos are really interesting. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to repost them, so I’ll refrain from doing so. But, I like them—really nice captures of the band.
Third, Nick Shilton give us yet another fascinating look into the marketing and branding side of the Big Big Train business. Shilton has a winsome writing style, and he clearly understands that the band must continue to innovate as entrepreneurs as well an innovate as artists. He sums up everything best about BBT in his final sentences of his update: “The BBT ethos is to strive for top quality in everything that the band does. If on occasion we fall short of that with the Club, we’re sure that you will let us know and we will always seek to rectify any issue as soon as possible.”
Fourth, BBT has released not one but TWO new videos! One is of the orchestration conducted at Abbey Road Studios, and the other is a “Behind the Scenes” look at the creation of the “Make Some Noise” video. When this first came out, I loved Dave Gregory’s “Slash” hat. If anything, I love it even more seven years later. There’s something quite humorously rebellious and defiant about the hat.
Well, there you have it. Granted, the world kind of reeks at the moment, and we’re either suffering or waiting to suffer—but that doesn’t negate the importance and permanence of the good, the true, and the beautiful. No matter how miserable things might get, BBT reminds us yet again that excellence really does matter.
It’s that time again–the time (every two weeks) when Big Big Train updates its brand new, shining, glimmering, and more than meaningful web service, The Passenger’s Club.
Update #2 again reminds us of how important and how well done this web service is. In my previous update, I mentioned two other fan services that were, rather, lacking, and I’ll keep this one more positive. Let me just reiterate: BBT does it EXACTLY right.
The highlight of the new material is the achingly beautiful demo track, “Hope Prologue.” It contains everything that makes BBT. . . well, BBT. Soaring guitar, Mission-like flute, bizarre rhythms, tasteful keyboards and brass, and David Longdon’s simply perfect vocals. Even the lyrics–though all too brief–evoke mystery.
Two other additions are here as well. We get a fascinating look at the business side of the band, in Nick Shilton’s masterful “Building a Bigger Bigger Train” (which should’ve been titled, “Building a Better Better Train).
Finally, we also get a confessional video–thoughts from the band members on their first appearance and arrival in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.
If you’ve subscribed to this service, amen. If not, do so immediately. I’m also really glad to see that BBT is not erasing what it released two weeks ago. The new material is an addition, not a replacement. Thus, all of the older material remains accessible.
As I’ve typed many, many times before: Ave, Spawtonius and friends!
Whether you’re a fan of BBT, specifically, or prog, generally, this service is excellent. Enjoy.
The Tennessee-based prog rock band extraordinaire, Glass Hammer, has announced its next studio album, DREAMING CITY.
From the band’s official description:
Glass Hammer returns to the world of THE INCONSOLABLE SECRET with 2020’s DREAMING CITY. Perhaps the group’s most powerful musical statement to date, DREAMING CITY tells the story of a “desperate man…as doomed as they come” who must fight his way through a spectrum of horrors to rescue his lover. We find out early in the album that the protagonist has only three days to find her before she dies; a dilemma which sets the stage for all that is to come and guarantees an emotional roller-coaster ride for the listener.
For my own longish take on the band:
America’s single most innovative and interesting rock band is also, sadly, one of its least known and appreciated. This needs to end, and the sooner, the better for all concerned. Amazingly enough, the band Glass Hammer is now celebrating its 26th birthday, and it’s about to release its seventeenth studio album. This is an astounding achievement in the world of art and, especially, in the world of rock. To add even more accolades, the band exists because its two founders were and are perfectionists, refusing to compromise on their own vision of what excellence is.
[Our friend and ally, Greg Spawton, has begun a book publishing firm, Kingmaker, and has announced the first book, Genesis, 1967-1975: The Peter Gabriel Years. Here’s the announcement, with the pre-order link at the bottom–}
Two of the almost constant elements of my life have been music and books. On the music side of things I am a member of Big Big Train, but involvement in book publishing remained an unfulfilled dream. However, last year I formed a company with journalist Nick Shilton which has a goal of publishing high-quality books about music. Our first book is now available for pre-order from our official store Burning Shed. The book has been written by Italian author and journalist Mario Giammetti and is called Genesis 1967 to 1975: The Peter Gabriel Years.
I have read of lot of books about rock bands and music in general and I have to say that this volume is an absolute gem. It tells the story of the early years of one of progressive rock’s most important bands. It is full of original interviews with band members and associates which have never before been published in English. There are photographs and insights in the book that cannot be found anywhere else. Most importantly, while the Genesis story is an interesting one full of personalities, the focus throughout the book remains on the most important thing of all: the music.
I would like to thank Mario for trusting us with his wonderful words. I would like to thank Octavia Brown who translated the book into English from the original Italian and has put her heart and soul into this project. I would like to thank Geoff Parks who proof-read the book with his customary eye for detail. Finally, I would like to thank Nick for being a most excellent publishing partner.
–Greg Spawton (of Kingmaker and Big Big Train)
If you would like to pre-order the book (a highly recommended course of action!) the Burning Shed link is here:
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.
Go here to subscribe: https://thepassengersclub.com
|Pure Reason Revolution reunite; sign to InsideOutMusic for release of first new studio album in nearly 10 years|
|Jon Courtney & Chloë Alper have reunited the much-loved Pure Reason Revolution, playing their first show in close to 8 years at the recent Midsummer Prog Festival in the Netherlands, and performing their debut album ‘The Dark Third’ in full. They comment: “The festival & crowd reaction was incredible. We were touched that people had travelled from Canada, Russia, Italy, Spain, UK & many more countries. The tracks are exciting as ever to play & it’s encouraging to see the material still has relevance & connects.” |
The band have also revealed they are working on a brand new studio album, and have signed to InsideOutMusic for its release in 2020. Jon Courtney comments: “We’re currently working on material for the new album which returns to a more progressive sound & it’s nice to remind ourselves of the genesis of PRR” while Chloë adds: “it’s sounding spectacular.”
Pure Reason Revolution originally parted ways in November 2011, following touring in support of their 2010 album Hammer & Anvil. Since then, Jon Courtney started Bullet Height and released their debut album ‘No Atonement’ in 2017, while Chloë Alper began a new band called Tiny Giant as well as playing live with the likes of Charli XCX & James.
The band originally formed back in 2003, releasing their much-loved debut album ‘The Dark Third’ in 2006 via Sony BMG. They went on to release the albums ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ in 2009 & ‘Hammer & Anvil’ in 2010.
Look out for more information on the bands forthcoming new album.
I get really, really tired of being asked to “like” Facebook pages.
Being on the other end of it, though, makes me far more tolerant of such things.
So, if you’re so inclined, please like our page “The Bardic Depths”–dedicated to our album coming out from Gravity Dream on March 20, 2020.
Your “like” helps us know what the atmosphere in FB-land is like, and it’s also, admittedly, good for the ego! (You thought I was devoid of such base things, didn’t you!)
I’m only the lyrics guy, but I’ve had the chance to listen to the completed album (music written by a sheer genius, Dave Bandanna, with engineering and production by another genius, Robin Armstrong) three times now, and I’m rather blown away by the quality and purposefulness of the album. Dave is an extraordinary composer, and Robin, at least as I see it, is one of the two best audiophiles (the other being Rob Aubrey, with Steven Wilson being a close third) in the music business.
It’s a little weird–and also indescribably cool–to hear my words being put to music. But it’s also a dream come true. The story revolves around the friendship of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and their attempt to create coherent and meaningful mythologies for the 20th century.
Additionally, Dave has attracted some of the single best musicians out there. Several of the guitar and sax solos just make me weep.
Here’s the lineup:
Kevin McCormick – Guitars
Paolo Limoli – Keyboards, Piano
Tim Gehrt – Drums
Gareth Cole – Guitars
Peter Jones – Saxophone, vocals, spoken word
John William Francis – Marimba, spoken word
Glenn Codere – Backing Vocals
Mike Warren- Cello
Dave Bandana – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Flute, Harmonica,
Robin Armstrong – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Drum programming, backing vocals
Extremely impressive. Again, I’m just the “words” guy! But, I love it all.
One side note about the musical lineup–I met Kevin McCormick back in September and October 1986. We traveled throughout Europe (and England) together, we listened to Talk Talk’s SPIRIT OF EDEN (and were gobsmacked by it) together in the fall of 1988, and we now proudly serve as the godfather to each other’s children. We’ve been prog buddies for over three decades. Crazily, we even knocked on Sting’s door in London in the spring of 1988. Thank God no one answered! When we got back to America after that, we roomed together. Ah, college.
Anyway, if you’re so willing, please like our page. Lots and lots of us will greatly appreciate it if you do.