Big Big Train – Hackney Empire 2nd November 2019
Hackney is not an area of London I am familiar with, but the Empire is a pretty famous venue so when I heard that Big Big Train (BBT) were playing there on a Saturday night in November I thought I had better attend. They are a band I had only recently discovered and had never seen live before. I was seated high up in the gallery but as I was one of the first to queue, I was able to get a seat right on the front row looking straight down onto the stage and people before.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim (SBP) opened proceedings. I had heard of them from an episode of The IT Crowd, but they have now changed their lineup to an acoustic duo. I am not a big fan of folk music but SBP do something unique with a male and female voice and often a single guitar. Their original songs are superb, but it was their version of a popular 1986 hit by Peter Gabriel that was the highlight for me.
After a short break while SBP’s equipment (two guitars, two microphone stands and two effects pedals plus cables) were taken away and a walk around the venue, I took my seat for Big Big Train.
Judging by the amount of equipment on stage, I could see there was going to be a lot of musicians and I was not wrong. In addition to a front man on voice and flute, there is a female violinist, two guitarists, a bass player founder member who also plays bass pedals, a virtuoso drummer who also sings and two keyboard players (one of whom is a live member who was playing his last show with the band). There are also five brass players making a total of thirteen people on stage.
After a pre-recorded instrumental intro piece, the band launch into ‘Alive’. Both songs are from the stunning new album.
‘Hedgerow’ was next and is a song I had not heard before, but it sounded excellent. I especially like the violin break about half-way through. This was followed by ‘Theodora In Green And Gold’ from the latest album and ‘Winkie’ from Folklore.
‘The Florentine’ from Grand Tour is all about Leonardo Da Vinci and features drummer NDV on co- lead vocals. He joined David at the front for vocals and their harmonizing is incredible.
After ‘Brave Captain’ from the 2017 Grimspound album there was ‘Voyager’ and ‘Homesong’ from Grand Tour. Three songs from two different albums but all three were stunning.
The band closed the set with ‘Wassail’ from ‘Folklore’. It is a song which has quickly become one of my favourites from the BBT back catalogue and always reminds me of them of the science fiction western series ‘Firefly’
After a very short break, Nick came back on stage for a drum solo. He was then joined by the brass section for a piece called ‘Drums and Brass 2’
The last song of the night was probably their most famous. The story of the fastest locomotive. It was of course the incredible ‘East Coast Racer’
After the gig, I went downstairs to see if the band would come out. Within about half an hour I had met Nick, David, Robin, Rachel and Greg. Had a lovely chat, got some photos taken and even handed out a few business cards.
It had been a wonderful show and BBT is a band I would love to see live again. I think the next time I would prefer to be able to see the screen, but this did not distract from the amazing music being performed below me.