Big Big Train – Victoria Theatre, Halifax
Date: 29th October 2019
Their newest album, Grand Tour, was PROG magazine’s album of the year. After playing the occasional one-off gig and event, they’re finally on tour and heading to the provinces. They have ex-Spock’s Beard man Nick D’Virgilio on drums. They are one of Prog Rock’s great hopes and they’re in Halifax. After listening to them for years, we had to join their dedicated fanbase, the Passengers (geddit?) and go see Big Big Train.
For a band steeped in tradition, storytellers with a penchant for capturing a combination of cinematic and intimate scope in song, the Victoria Theatre is a perfect venue. For many, it was the first chance to catch up with a band and see how they reproduce their intricately arranged recorded and highly acclaimed recorded work in the live setting. There’s no expense spared with the full eight-piece band supplemented by a five-piece brass section decked out in flat caps and a backdrop where visuals rotated on a regular basis. Amongst the many pre-show visuals, a request to keep the phones down and should anyone want a souvenir of the night, they could have visited possibly the best-stocked merch emporium you’ll find these days and having since visited the Marillion tour which usually offers a wallet-busting selection, BBT’s stall wins handsomely.
Such is the appeal of this Grand tour (after the album of the same name) that we also had some musical celebs in the crowd: Peter Jones of Camel and TigerMoth Tales and Panic Room’s Dave Foster (also at the Marillion gig in Liverpool later in the week) were potted in the crowd.
And we’re happy to report that onstage, Big Big Train are as convincing as they are on record. Inevitably vocalist David Longdon dominates in the visual department although flanked by an impressive array of musical colleagues. It’s good to see Rikard Sjoblom in gainful employment after winding down Beardfish as well as the smartest drummer in town, Nick D’Virgilio also contributing his vocal talents particularly stepping up on The Florentine which has one of those folky acoustic Spock’s style opening that suits him well.
A set based around the Grand tour album and dotted with choice selections from the catalogue saw an impressive opening pairing of the lively Alive and Hedgerow, the latter showcasing some sparkling harmonies with Rachel Hall stepping across and sharing a vocal spotlight. They’re an all-encompassing collection, with the writing talents of Greg Spawton on music like the grand Voyager – one of the big numbers in the set along with Brave Captain and Winkie – highlighting how the band are a genuine greater than the sum of their gifted parts.
And when he’s not on flute or casting his lyrical spells with a commitment and passion see Longdon is delivering Homesong with a Union Jack mug in his hand and giving us a moment to appreciate an evening refreshingly without any sort of political agenda or commentary.
The set-closing Wassail is a bit of Gabriel-esque Sledgehammer funk for our times and what genuine prog rock evening would be complete without ending on one of your signature numbers. The lengthy East Coast Racer another modern folk tale that completes an impressive ‘flying aces, trains and pigeons’ collection.
Ultimately, the Grand Tour has catapulted Big Big Train into a new dimension. Seeing the reaction of audience and band to the thrill of BBT onstage simply results in a feeling that we must do this again.
Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.