Written by: Paul Gleason
Big Big Train has been on a roll. Since drummer Nick D’Virgilio and vocalist David Longdon joined the band for 2009’s The Underfall Yard, BBT steamed ahead with three other critically acclaimed albums: the two English Electric albums (2012 and 2013) and Folklore (2016), all of which propelled them to the forefront of contemporary progressive rock.
This week Friday (April 28, 2017), BBT returns with Grimspound, which has all of the finest attributes of the previous four albums on board and takes them to a new, imaginative destination.
Longdon’s lyrics on the album’s title track ask, “What shall be left of us? / Which artefacts will stay in tact?” These questions form the basis of the album’s main themes, which celebrate the legacies and contributions of both famous and lesser known artists, scientists, adventurers, and folk legends.
BBT matches the spirit of these figures in the music, arrangements, and performances on Grimspound. Longdon’s “Brave Captain” and bassist Greg Spawton’s “Experimental Gentlemen” are multi-part expeditions powered by virtuosic, eight-piece ensemble playing and intricate musical structures that perfectly accompany the daring doings of World War I pilot Captain Albert Ball and Captain Cook’s botanist Joseph Banks and astronomer Charles Green.
Written by Spawton, Longdon, and guitarist Rikard Sjöblom, the folky “Meadowland” quietly and gorgeously serves as the album’s thematic centerpiece. Its dreamscape, according to Spawton, is an “idealized place where people gather to share their thoughts about the things they love,” which include science, art, and friendship. This “idealized place” could take the form of an album like Grimspound, a band like BBT, and/or the best music from the progressive rock tradition. BBT, after all, dedicates this song to the late John Wetton, whose voice and bass endure on such classic albums as King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Red.
Grimspound takes a dark lyrical turn when Judy Dyble, the original lead singer of Fairport Convention, joins Longdon on “The Ivy Gate” to tell the ghostly tale of Thomas Fisher. Dyble’s mournful intonations combined with Longdon’s, haunt as grippingly as the story itself.
In summation, Grimspound is an album about heredity. It pulls together and re-contextualizes for the present traditions of the past, including elements from the lineages of progressive rock, folklore, and humanism itself. Similarly, a crow, which in folkloric tradition witnesses the passing of time from generation to generation, appears on the album covers of both Grimspound and its predecessor Folklore, connecting the two masterful works.
“What shall be left of us? / Which artefacts will stay in tact?”
(Photographs by Simon Hogg)