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Big Big Train - Bard

Ten years ago I decided to investigate the then current state of prog in the UK.  Bands I had known and loved since the 70’s had all but disappeared and I was sure there were some newer bands around that I had yet to discover.  I heard that Pendragon was headlining a prog event in a theatre in the Stoke On Trent area so I ventured there.  Six or seven bands performed that night and although that meant short sets in order to fit them all in, two bands caught my interest. One was Grace and the other was Big Big Train.  As a consequence, I bought a copy of BBT’s From The River To The Sea, the band’s demo album.  18 months on from that gig they released Goodbye To The Age Of Steam, which had come on leaps and bounds in terms of both production and composition from the first album.  BBT were on their way, it seemed.  Then I lost touch.  Internet searches in 1995 proved fruitless and nobody I spoke to knew what BBT were up to.  In fact they released a further album, English Boy Wonders’ in 1997 but this passed me by somehow, not helped by the band rarely gigging I suppose.  Then in December 2001 BBT lynchpin, Greg Spawton, contacted me to advise of the band’s forthcoming album, Bard.

Initial impressions of Bard can be summed up in one word – beautiful – but that does not in itself help you, the reader, in determining if it is your cup of tea.  Imagine, if you will, the feel that exudes from works such as Genesis Trespass/Trick of The Tail and Anthony Philips output up to at least Wise After The Event, add some pensive early Hackett in calming electric mode, litter with P Gabriel and All About Eve vocals, throw in some Jadis for good measure and finally filter through a fine Big Big Train mesh.  Maybe this ‘Bard’ thing has gone to my head, but hopefully you get the idea.

This is without doubt the finest BBT album yet. It is complex without feeling rushed, has some wonderful keyboard (is that a Mellotron or an emulator?) and guitar sounds, and the vocal duties are shared amongst the band within tracks offering variation that is rare.  Not that it matters because all the vocals are some of the best I’ve heard certainly in the context of this style of prog album.  Divided into eleven tracks spanning 67 minutes the surprise comes in the cohesiveness of the work aided by recurring themes, thoughtful arrangements and delicate instrumentals.

The name, Bard, conjures up visions of William Shakespeare (I should know – I attended his school, not in his time though).  Track 10, For Winter, is I believe taken from A Winters Tale.  However, the Bard in this case has to be Greg Spawton who penned all the lyrics (and all of the music except; Broken English in collaboration with Andy Poole and Phil Hogg and For Winter in collaboration with Andy Poole).  By the way, the lyrics are not printed in the CD booklet but are available to download in ‘make yourself Blue Peter style’ CD booklet size from the BBT website (details below).

The band is currently trying to decide whether to call it a day (see letter on BBT website).  It must be very discouraging to juggle full time employment and family to find time to compose, refine and record material, especially of the quality of Bard, to find that few people take the time to listen to the resultant let alone purchase the album.  As shown in my preamble, it is very hard to reach an audience when publicity is lacking. 

There are some sample MP3s available for download on the BBT site, so why not give them a listen?  Big Big Train have, on the basis of this album, reached maturity.  Most bands do by their third or fourth album.  It would be a shame to lose them at this crucial stage.

Jem Jedrzejewski


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