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Big Big Train - Gathering Speed

Big Big Train - Gathering SpeedCan two years really have passed since the release of BBT’s highly acclaimed Bard album?  Back in 2002, Big Big Train were seriously thinking of calling it a day but with the release of Bard came good reviews, a renewed interest in the band and, I imagine, improved sales.  Thankfully, BBT decided to continue and have been working on the new album, Gathering Speed, which is officially released on 29th March 2004.

Gathering Speed is set in the summer of 1940 during the Battle of Britain.  For those of us lucky enough not to have been born back then and who have never seen any of the historical documentaries covering the event, the Battle of Britain was a battle for survival and the domination of the skies over Britain.   The British were vastly outnumbered in terms of aircraft and pilots and life expectancy of an RAF pilot amounted to less than a handful of sorties so it is no understatement to say that these few chaps were exceptionally brave, skilled and highly motivated. 

The album tells the story of one of the fighter pilots who was shot down during a combat patrol.  The previous three BBT albums may have followed certain themes but gathering Speed is actually the band’s first concept album. 

Coming back into the fold are a couple of names familiar to long standing BBT fans; rejoining Greg Spawton and Andy Poole are Ian Cooper (keys) and Steve (The Enid) Hughes (drums).  BBT newcomer, Sean Filkins takes on lead vocal duties and Laura Murch helps with backing vocals.

Be warned – if you are listening to Gathering Speed for the first time, listen to it indoors, NOT in the car or in the garden because if you have a dickey heart you could have problems.  The sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the power behind the Supermarine Spitfire, dominates the intro to High Tide – Last Stand and when the aircraft comes around again for a low fly past, you cannot help but duck, which is not the best thing to do when driving a car.  Delicate bass (Andy Poole) and twelve string invoke memories of Genesis’ middle period, a memory temporarily broken by a Radiohead style ‘fuzzy’ section before returning to the Genesis style.  Sean’s vocals have a strong hint of Phil Collins’ backing vocal style back in the good old Gabriel days of Genesis.

The very strong opening track could cause problems for the other six tracks that make up this 56-minute album but I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t.  The Big Big Train sound has moved on again since Bard and not just as a result of a new vocalist, yet the band have retained that delicate ‘English’ feel that is surely their trademark whilst taking a nod (and a wink) towards the highly respected prog establishment, most noticeably Genesis, Camel and Pink Floyd.  Greg’s guitar style is ever changing from the acoustic of Anthony Phillips, the Genesis phrasing of Hackett and his solo ‘nightmare’ stuff, to the bluesy-ness of Dave Gilmour.  Steve Hughes has to be one of the top UK drummers of the moment and is truly living up to the potential he showed when he was in his late teens.

At a time when the most dangerous thing the youth of today are likely to encounter is when they attempt to buy some designer drink in a bottle at a real ale pub, Gathering Speed is a reminder of times when young lads were men with real guts and a sense of patriotism, the latter being almost illegal these days.

The storyline may be a bit of a downer (excuse the pun) but real life is like that sometimes.  Whatever your personal thoughts on the subject matter, the album is a joy musically and an essential purchase for all BBT (and Genesis, Hackett, etc.) fans.  If history had been different both in 1940 and in 2002, we would have been denied Gathering Speed.

Jem Jedrzejewski

Big Big Train


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