Big Big Train - Grand Tour
Big Big Train (BBT) were formed in Bournemouth in Dorset in 1990. This is the twelfth studio album by the seven-member band, was released in May 2019 and has a running time of around seventy-four minutes. Like its ex-Top Gear namesake, the album is inspired by the Grand Tour that men and women used to take in the eighteenth century to expand their minds and open themselves up to new cultures. In BBT’s case, the nine songs on the album tell stories of adventures in distant lands in European countries such as Italy but also space travel.
"Novum Organum" is short at just two minutes long but gives a soothing introduction to the album both lyrically and musically. It is a good example of one of an introduction tracks that should not be ignored.
"Alive" was released as a very funny video on YouTube about a month before the album’s release. It is a very uplifting four-minute pop song with lots of keyboards, some of the most powerful drumming on the album and a brilliant synth solo.
"The Florentine" is about Leonardo D Vinci has an array of influences from folk music and therefore features a lot of acoustic guitar, mandolin and violin but does not lose its progressive rock vibe over the eight minutes. It is a wonderful introduction if you are not a fan of folk music.
"Roman Stone" is the first of the songs that are over ten minutes long. It starts off with quite a mellow sound with acoustic guitar, organ, piano and violin. It then gets more powerful later in the song with lots of horn parts added into the mix that remind me of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. It is one of the highlights of the album.
"Pantheon" builds from synth pads, violin and horn parts at the beginning before going into some wonderful guitar arpeggio playing and some very interesting drumming patterns. It is a six-minute instrumental epic piece inspired by King Crimson, Porcupine Tree and Jethro Tull.
"Theodora In Green And Gold" is driven by some lovely piano playing (there is a lot of piano on this album) and what sounds like a Jew’s harp but when the twelve-string guitars come in during the chorus, it makes it one of the most wonderfully uplifting choruses on the album.
"Ariel" is a fantasy song in eight parts and is the longest song on the album. It is fourteen minutes and thirty seconds long and tells the story of Ariel from Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ but also references Percy Bysshe Shelley. I love the wonderful piano playing, the combined male and female backing vocals throughout the song and is probably my favourite song on the album.
"Voyager" is also just over fourteen minutes long and is the third and final of the songs over ten minutes. The song starts with the sounds of space but leads into some more wonderful piano and horn parts throughout the song. It is well known that the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 carries music on the Voyager Golden Record (they wanted Bach, but someone said that would just be showing off) and the song conveys how man has always dreamed of reaching space. The spacecraft are all still out there and may even return to our solar system one day.
"Homesong" leads us back to Earth and to home, which for BBT is the United Kingdom and Dorset. At five and a half minutes long, it has more of a folk vibe than most of the other songs and feels very pastoral with lyrics about walking in the English countryside. A beautiful way to finish the album with the birdsong and running water.
This is the first BBT album I have heard in its entirety and I have to say I am very impressed by this album and band. It is perhaps no coincidence that my three favourite songs on the album are also the three longest. I can hear a lot of the usual prog influences such as Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Yes in this album. It also comes from folk bands such as Fairport Convention, Renaissance, Steeleye Span but also from Marillion, Elbow and Radiohead as well as from classical music much as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. I believe that this could become an album that gives progressive rock a much needed (or not, depending on your opinion) resurgence in the mainstream. The train is leaving the station, make sure you have a ticket and come along for the ride.