[Neo Era Prog #9] Big Big Train

Big Big Train is an English Progressive Rock band, formed in Bournemouth in the 1980s. The origins date back to the early 1980s when Nigel Spawton together with Ed Serafinas, Pete McDonald, Steve Lugg and Tim McCarty gave life to the Punk group of Big Big Train. In the same period Greg, Nigel‘s brother had formed the Equus group, which however had a short life, disbanded in 1984 after studio rehearsals and some concerts. In 1987, the meeting between Poole and Spawton, made the two discover that they have a passion in common, the love for bands like Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and above all a more recent group of the Prog scene, IQ. So they decided to start recording something together with the name Arshine and in 1990 there was the transition to the definitive name Big Big Train, with the lineup consisting of: Spawton on guitar, Poole on bass, Cooper on keyboards, Hughes on drum and Read on voice. The band’s first material was a 1992 demo “From The River To The Sea,” which also took on a good live activity. Thus they released “The Infant Hercules” in 1993, second demo album and in the same year there was also the first official record release “Goodbye To The Age Of Steam” which allowed the band to enter the stable of Giant Electric Pea, a well-known Prog label. The album’s success was worldwide, so much so that it was reissued in Japan in 1995 with a bonus track. Ian Cooper left the band which was thus forced to interrupt the tour and to look for a substitute, however starting work on the second album. At the beginning of 1995, he was identified in the figure of Tony Müller, the new keyboard player and the recording of the new album began. In the fall of 1997, the second album entitled “English Boy Wonders” was released, receiving a less positive response than the previous one, also due to the lack of interest from the label. Steve Hughes also leaves the band to join Enid, replaced by Pete Hibbit, but it seems that the group has entered a period of crisis. They almost returned to the starting point, and the Spawton-Poole duo resume working on some demos rather than on an actual album. As the songs began to take shape, they began to call the other members of the band as well and after three years of effort in 2002 they released “Bard” with the following lineup: Spawton, Poole, Read, Cooper and Hogg, the latter replaced by Hughes, returned after the disbandment of Enid. Other changes occurred in 2003 when Müller and Read left the band, the latter being replaced by Sean Filkins. With this lineup they release “Gathering Speed” in 2004, with Cooper on keyboards, a concept that tells the story of a pilot in 1940. With this album there is a slight change of direction in the sound, leaving the standard Prog territory of the previous albums. , incorporating slight Post Rock influences. Three years pass and in 2007 they release “The Difference Machine” with high level guests such as Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) and Nick D’Virgilio (Tears 4 Fears, Genesis and Spock’s Beard) who will then join the band full time. The following year they re-released “English Boy Wonder,” updated and partially re-recorded, totally re-mixed by Rob Aubrey. Hughes and Filkins left the group in February 2009 and it was at this moment that Nick D’Virgilio definitively entered the lineup, while the singer and flutist David Longdon took over in place of Filkins. Thus they record their album number six “The Underfall Yard” which is released in December 2009. Some guests appear on the album: guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC), keyboardist Jem Godfrey (Frost *) and guitarist Francis Dunnery (It Bites ). The album gets a good success and the song “Last Train” is included in the Modern Prog compilation of iTunes, while the title track has been described as Track Of The Day by ClassicRock. Meanwhile, Longdon embarked on a solo career, releasing his first CD “Wild River,” in 2004 with distinguished guests from the Prog scene. Also in the same year “Gathering Speed” was published, while in 2010 it was the turn of “The Differenbce Machine” with the addition of a bonus track. Also in 2010 they recorded a 41-minute EP “Far Skies Deep Time,” containing 5 tracks, including a cover of Anthony Phillips‘ “Master Of Time“. Among the tracks from the 17-minute album “The Wide Open Sea” which tells the story of the Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. Figure again XTC guitarist Dave Gregory who will join the band permanently and keyboardist Martin Orford and bassist Danny Manners, collaborator of Louis Philippe. The first album is also remixed from the original tapes by Rob Aubrey and Andy Poole with some keyboard sounds being replaced. In September 2012, the seventh studio album was released, which is the first part of a double titled “English Electric (part One)“. The second part, on the other hand, was released in March 2013 and saw the entry of Danny Manners into the lineup as an official member. They therefore won the Act Breakthrough Award at 2013 Progressive Music Awards. In September of the same year a double album version was released, containing all the songs of the first and second part entitled “English Electric: Full Power.” In addition to the edition, an EP is released “Make Some Noise”containing the new tracks in a separate version. Since the beginning of 2014 Beardfish frontman Rikard Sjöblom joins the band only as a session-man as keyboard player and singer. In the same period, a new live setup was rehearsed with the addition of violinist Rachel Hall and a brass section made up of five elements, conducted by trombonist Dave Desmond. The band announced that performances would begin at London’s King Palace in August 2015 and that both Sjöblom and Hall had entered the lineup permanently, both for live and studio sessions. Thanks to their high-level performances, their concerts were voted Event of the Year by the readers of Prog Magazine. An EP “Wassail” was released containing studio and live tracks in 2015 and the following year a Blu-Ray disc with some rehearsal tracks at Real World Studios and four live tracks at King Place. “Folklore” was released in May 2016, achieving great success and the following year “Grimspound,” with videos of “As The Crow Flies” and “Experimental Gentleman” being uploaded to YouTube. 2017 is also the year of “The Second Brightest Star” to support the two previous albums, containing 40 minutes of new music. The theme of the album is a journey to discover landscapes, rivers and meeting places around the world and towards the stars, in addition to 30 minutes of material from “Folklore” and “Grimspound.” In 2018 the co-founder of the band Andy Poole leaves, replaced by Robin Armstrong. In 2019 with the lineup composed of David Longdon, Dave Gregory, Rikard Sjöblom, Danny Manners, Rackel Hall, Greg Spawton and Nick D’Virgilio, they release the album “Grand Tour.” The success is remarkable and the album wins the Album Of The Year at the 2019 Prog Awards, with merit. Numerous guests appear and the theme developed are educational trips, the Grand Tours in fact, which faced children from rich families in the 18th and 17th centuries around Europe. A band to be considered fundamental in the panorama of modern Progressive, with a career spanning over 30 years and many awards and prizes obtained, demonstrating the quality of the music proposed. Big Big Train are one of the longest-running groups of the Neo Prog and rightfully become part of this editorial, having become over the years one of the best bands in the genre and a certainty for all passionate listeners.

Discography

YEARALBUM TITLELABEL
(1994)Goodbye To The Age Of Steam[Giant Electric Pea/English Electric Recordings]
1997English Boy Wonders[Giant Electric Pea/English Electric Recordings]
2002Bard[Treefrog]
2004Gathering Speed[Treefrog/English Electric Recordings]
2007The Difference Machine[English Electric Recordings]
2009The Underfall Yard[English Electric Recordings]
2012English Electric (Part One)[Giant Electric Pea/English Electric Recordings]
2013English Electric (Part Two)[Giant Electric Pea/English Electric Recordings]
2016Folklore[Giant Electric Pea/Plane Groovy]
2017Grimspound[Plane Groovy/English Electric Recordings]
2017The Second Brightest Star[Plane Groovy/English Electric Recordings]
2019Grand Tour[Plane Groovy/English Electric Recordings]

Lineup

Current Members

Greg Spawton / Guitars (1990–present), Backing Vocals (1995–present), Keyboards (1995, 2003–present), Bass (2009–present)
David Longdon / Lead Vocals, Flute, Keyboards, Guitars (2009–present), Bass (2018–present)
Nick D’Virgilio / Drums, Backing Vocals, Percussion (2009–present), Guitars, Keyboards (2018–present)
Rikard Sjöblom / Keyboards, Guitars, Backing Vocals (2014–present)

Touring members

Randy McStine / Guitars (2020)
Carly Bryant / Keyboards (2020)
Dave Foster / Guitars (2020)

Former members

Dave Gregory / Guitars (2009–2020)
Andy Poole / Bass (1990–2018), Keyboards (2004–2018), Guitars (2012–2018)
Ian Cooper / Keyboards (1991–1995, 1999–2004)
Steve Hughes / Drums (1991–1998, 2002–2009)
Martin Read / Lead vocals (1991–2003)
Tony Müller / Keyboards (1995–2003), Vocals (1999–2003)
Pete Hibbit / Drums (1998–1999)
Phil Hogg / Drums (1999–2002)
Sean Filkins / Lead Vocals (2003–2009)
Danny Manners / Keyboards, Double Bass (2012–2020)
Rachel Hall / Violin, Viola, Cello, Vocals (2014–2020)

Former touring members

Robin Armstrong / Guitars, Keyboards (2018–2019)

Big Big Train |Official Website|Bandcamp|Facebook Page|Twitter|YouTube Channel|

Giant Electric Pea Ltd |Official Website|Facebook Page|Twitter|

English Electric |Official Website|YouTube Channel|

Plane Groovy Records |Official Website|Bandcamp|Facebook Page|Twitter|YouTube Channel|

Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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