On November 20, 2021, singer and flautist David Longdon died as a result of a fatal accident. On behalf of everyone involved in prog & rock, I would like to express my condolences to his family and friends.
The review of “Folklore” as you can read below, I wrote a few weeks before his death. It’s more or less a tribute to how great I thought he was.
Big Big Train – Folklore
2016 (English Electric Recordings)
I am a messenger: I speak with integrity, truth, love and light.
This somewhat surreptitiously pronounced sentence comes at the end of the energetic opener of this album, title track Folklore. This way, the sentence actually signifies the format of the work, an introduction and eight stories. The lyrics of the songs are truly beautiful. Each writing has a typically English touch. Call it melancholy, they are all warm words that create a brooding glow.
Musically everything is beautifully supported by brilliant arrangements. In addition to the band itself, you can hear superb brass band-like horns on instruments such as euphonium and French horn. There is also a string section, which means that no fewer than sixteen musicians are present to express the full splendor of “Folklore”.
It’s really incredible to see that, from the 90s on, Big Big Train has grown from a bunch of reasonable musicians to a top-notch band with a capital T. By recruiting David Longdon as singer in 2009 the band has done itself a huge service. His performance on “Folklore” belongs to the ultimate in prog, if you like singers as Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Marc Atkinson. He is always in control whereas expression is constantly present. In addition, he enriches the music with, among other things, some fine flute playing.
Drummer Nick D’Virgilio is yet another giant, this man knows how to mix flexibility, subtlety and accuracy into wonderful rhythms. Together with bassist Greg Spawton, he lays an excellent foundation on which the lush guitars of, among others, Dave Gregory and Rikard Sjöblom can go about their business as well as the ditto keyboards of, among others, Danny Manners and aforementioned Sjöblom. It is remarkable that the keyboards often produce organ sounds. To top it all off, Rachel Hall’s graceful violin neatly carves out the folky side of this Genesis and Jethro Tull-esque music.
It’s all done very tastefully. Therefore, the complexity in the music lies not so much within the technical skills department, despite the fact that these are undeniably present, but in creating the right mood. Big Big Train’s band members know exactly which particular effect, chord or color the sound should have, how the rhythms should run, the harmonies, the expressions, the solos and much more. Just listen to it, in all its glory, on “Folklore”.
The heartwarming opening track invites you from the bloodcurdlingly beautiful orchestral intro to attentively take in the album. A catchy drum rhythm with exuberant vocals by alternately Longdon and D’Virgillio, makes you feel good, the way this folk-infused song deserves, the same applies to the voluptuous guitar parts
Now we are ready. London Plane kicks off with acoustic guitars, combined with the heated vocals, this definitely has similarities with the ‘old’ Genesis. It eventually develops with the greatest of ease into a piece of dazzling prog in the vein of Yes. The following Along The Ridgeway is also a beauty that is perfectly in keeping with the rest of the album. It’s remarkable that this song gets a jazzy twist. The song flows seamlessly into Salisbury Giant which is largely an instrumental song.
The album has been very good so far, but from The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun it gets truly brilliant. It starts with beautiful pastoral horns, after which the song continues tranquil. The band knows how to penetrate deeply into the soul of the listener. It becomes quite impressive when one adds a rhythmic piece and an inspired guitar solo. With Wassail and Winkie the band brings two steaming songs to the forefront. Wassail, previously released as a single, has a catchy vocal line that is framed by flashy organ sounds. Winkie tells the story of a pigeon that plays a heroic role during World War II. It’s wrapped in a fiery Jethro Tull-tinged track. With more than twelve and a half minutes of Brooklands, Big Big Train climbs to its peak while swinging and counting bars. What a mighty fine song. The ballad Telling The Bees concludes the album. I’m all smiles.
I’m a lucky man.