- Music/Genesis, Van de Graaf Generator, IQ
Big Big Train is an English Progressive Rock band formed in 1990, and still active. Founded as a studio-based project releasing independent albums, since the late '90s they have become a more traditional touring band with a stable line-up.
The group specializes in epic, often album-length celebrations of English history and culture, from bucolic nostalgia to Steampunk and Diesel Punk. Their music manages to stay highly melodic and complex at the same time, and has slowly incorporated more and more classical instrumentation over the years.
The group was formed in Bournemouth by then-guitarist Greg Spawton and then-bassist Andy Poole (the two would later trade instruments), who employed a series of singers and guest musicians to fill out their songs. Since their breakthrough 2007 album The Difference Machine, Big Big Trains popularity and album sales have steadily increased among prog fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
Principal Members (current members in bold):
- Greg Spawton bass (2009-present), guitar, keyboards, vocals
- Andy Poole bass (1990-2009), guitars (2009-18), keyboards (2009-18)
- Martin Read - lead vocals (1991-2003)
- Ian Cooper keyboards, vocals (1991-95, 2003-04)
- Steve Hughes - drums (1991-98, 2002-09)
- Tony Müller keyboards (1995-2003), vocals (2000-2003)
- Pete Hibbit drums (1998-99)
- Phil Hogg drums (1999-2002)
- Sean Filkins lead vocals (2003-09), harmonica (The Difference Machine)
- David Longdon lead vocals, flute, keyboards, guitar (2009-present)
- Nick D'Virgilio drums, percussion, vocals (2009-present)
- Dave Gregory guitar (2011-2020)
- Danny Manners keyboards, double bass (2011-present)
- Rachel Hall violin, vocals (2014-present)
- Rikard Sjöblom guitar, keyboards, vocals (2014-present)
- Robin Armstrong (live) - guitar, keyboards, assorted instruments (2018-2019)
- Randy McStine (live)- guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (2020-present)
- 1993 - Goodbye to the Age of Steam
- 1997 - English Boy Wonders
- 2002 - Bard
- 2004 - Gathering Speed
- 2007 - The Difference Machine
- 2009 - The Underfall Yard
- 2012 - English Electric Part One
- 2013 - English Electric Part Two
- 2013 - English Electric: Full Power (double album, with tracks of the previous two albums reordered, and the addition of four new tracks)
- 2016 - Folklore
- 2017 - Grimspound
- 2017 - The Second Brightest Star
- 2019 - Grand Tour
Extended Plays (EPs):
- 2010 - Far Skies Deep Time (EP)
- 2013 - Make Some Noise (EP, featuring the four new tracks from EEFP)
- 2015 - Wassail (EP)
- 1992 - From the River to the Sea
- 1993 - The Infant Hercules
- 2015 - From Stone and Steel (Blu-ray)
BIG BIG TROPES:
- Abusive Parents: The third part of "A Boy in Darkness" describes the horrific case of Baby P, albeit obliquely.
- Concept Album: Even the albums that don't tell an explicit story are heavily thematic:
- The Difference Machine juxtaposes a dying man's thoughts with the explosion of a star in another galaxy.
- The Underfall Yard is an album-length lament for the great builders and the golden age of steam.
- Folklore is Exactly What It Says on the Tinit covers English myths and legends both ancient and modern, from peasant wassailing superstitions to early motor racing.
- Grand Tour is inspired in the tours affluent Europeans used to make in the continent and is a journey of sorts - from England to Italy, then Prospero's Island, then outer space and finally back home.
- Beneath the Earth: "Winchester Diver" is the true story of William Walker, a deep-sea diver who spent five years shoring up the foundations of Winchester Cathedral to keep it from tumbling into the sea. Walker worked deep underwater, for six hours a day, in total darkness.
- Big Big Damn Heroes: In "The First Rebreather", a diver saves his fellow workmen by keeping a tunnel from flooding.
- Bittersweet Ending: In "Judas Unrepentant", the protagonist's talents are at last recognized, but only after the stress caused by his forgery trial, compounded by years of chain-smoking and exposure to toxic fumes, takes the final toll on him.
- Contrast Montage: "Winchester Diver" portrays the locals at worship, bathed in light from the stained glass; the song switches back and forth from them to a man deep beneath their feet, working in underwater darkness to preserve them.
- Cool Car: "Brooklands" hearkens back to the classic Bentleys, Napiers, Invictas, and Sunbeams that all burned rubber at the eponymous racing track.
- Cool Uncle: Uncle Jack, from the eponymous song, is a well-read man who enjoys taking strolls outdoors and sharing curiosities with his nephew.
- Cool Cool Train: Fitting with the band's name and usual themes, "East Coast Racer" tells the story of a locomotive called the "Mallard" and how it set the (still standing) land speed record for a steam-powered vehicle.
- Downer Ending: Many of the band's songs are nostalgic, observing the last moment of something about to die out or pass away:
- "Last Train" gives us a railway station the day before its route closes down.
- "The Underfall Yard" closes with an observation on the limits of nostalgia: "Those days are gone; their names are lost."
- "Brooklands" takes place in the mind of the legendary British racer John Cobb ... on the morning of the speedboat test drive that would claim his life on Loch Ness.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Nick, Dave, Danny, and Rachel all appeared as guest musicians before becoming full members.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The group began as a highly experimental two-man project, altogether studio-based. Over the first decade, they acquired a cohesive line-up with proper band members, and their music became less overtly avant-garde.
- Epic Rocking: As one might expect from a Progressive Rock band. Their songs often last more than six minutes, but the highlights are certainly "The Underfall Yard", which clocks in nearly 23 minutes, and "East Coast Racer", which lasts almost 16 minutes. The London Song EP is a slightly more unusual example; it is a compilation of previously released songs but it is formatted as a single 34-minute track.
- Grief Song: "Victorian Brickwork" from The Underfall Yard is partly about the death of Spawton's father, and a posthumous embrace of the unnoticed ties that had always bound them.
- Lead Bassist: Originally a guitarist, co-founder and main songwriter Greg Spawton switched to bass in 2009, and still guides the bands direction from behind his Rickenbacker.
- Lighter and Softer: Beginning with The Underfall Yard, David Longdon's smooth, melancholy voice contrasted strongly with his predecessor Sean Filkins's more rock-inflected vocals.
- Lovable Rogue: Explicitly stated in "Judas Unrepentant", which tells the story of a talented but failed artist who resorts to forgery to make a living. And while he's at it, he leaves hidden messages and anachronisms as a means to stick it to inept experts and critics and greedy dealers.
- Nostalgia Filter: Averted in "A Boy in Darkness", in spite of the band's fondness for the Victorian era. The song vividly describes child labor and appalling working conditions in coal mines during the time.
- Small Town Boredom: The English Electric albums include several examples, enough to make it a secondary theme: "Upton Heath," "A Boy in Darkness," "Summoned by Bells."
- Step Up to the Microphone:
- Drummer Nick D'Virgilio shares lead vocals with David Longdon in "A Mead Hall in Winter" and "Theodora in Green and Gold".
- Violinist Rachel Hall shares vocals with Longdon on "As the Crow Flies."
- Tony Müller was solely a keyboardist on "English Boy Wonders" before joining Read and Guest-Star Party Member Jo Micheals as a member of the Vocal Tag Team on Bard
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: After seven tracks of Sturm und Drang, The Difference Machine closes out with the lovely, elegiac "Summer's Lease."
- Uncommon Time: The band isn't strictly above playing in 4/4 time, but they're forever breaking out of it for something more expansive.
- Vocal Tag Team:
- Martin Read, Tony Müller, and Jo Michaels all sing lead on Bard
- Even with David Longdon singing lead, Nick D'Virgilio, Rikard Sjöblom, and Rachel Hall all have experience both within and out of BBT performing lead vocals
- Wanderlust Song:
- "Summoned by Bells" and "Winchester from St. Giles' Hill" both show a protagonist taking the first, long-awaited steps away from the small town of his birth.
- "Alive" is a straight example and starts Grand Tour properly; inverted in "Homesong", which closes the album and the journey.