Big Big Train – Ingenious Devices: Album Review

Prog visionaries Big Big Train with more grand designs on Ingenious Devices.

Release Date: 30th June 2023

Label: English Electric Recordings

Format: LP / CD / digital

A band ever-evolving in many ways. An already fluid BBT lineup gets hugely expanded on their latest project which sees new versions of four epic and highly revered songs from their catalogue be redefined to prominently feature an elite 17-piece string section. Recorded at London’s iconic Abbey Road Studios, the tracks have been remixed especially for this release; the same picture in a different frame (or different picture in the same frame – neer can remember) approach.

Alongside the orchestra and the remix, three of the songs include the late David Longdon’s lead vocals, which have been compiled from the original album sessions. A nice touch and sensitive to keeping within the original spirit.

A personal favourite BBT epic, East Coast Racer is a completely new studio version recorded by the line-up of the band as it was in 2019. Gregory Spawton proudly calls it “the definitive studio version.” With Dave Gregory’s guitar solo on the closing section, previously featured only on live versions of the song, adding to the climactic closing passage, the finale and the “Into history, into legend, she flies” lines are pure Prog heaven. Almost as iconic as Genesis doing the New Jerusalem in Supper’s Ready or the soaring middle section of Yes’ And You And I. In a word, goosebumps.

Brooklands features newly recorded drums, bass and bass pedals, while the middle section features a particularly expansive and thrilling passage. The terms ‘sweeping’ and ‘cinematic’ hove into view in perhaps the most dramatic of the new arrangements. Again, Greg Spawton has talked of not being entirely satisfied with a track he felt was “overlooked on the Folklore album.” It finally gets a deserved status-befitting workout and maybe…maybe..could be polished up for a live debut.

Voyager includes additional guitar and violin. The string and brass parts add a mournful interlude while the dexterous instrumental passage just after the halfway mark and change of mood, mark an ever-changing piece. Acknowledged that the changes are more subtle, the elevation beyond the existing recording is primed for a side-by-side analysis for those intrigued by minutae.

The album also includes a previously unreleased orchestral piece entitled The Book of Ingenious Devices; a mere vignette that links East Coast Racer and Brooklands. Drummer Nick D’Virgilio says how the album “is a great way of uniting four of Big Big Train’s epic songs about technology. The album also celebrates the wonderful vocals of our late, great friend David Longdon and looks forward to the future with Alberto.

There is indeed a tinge of sadness at listening to David sing these songs again with the new arrangements on board, but it’s a fitting tribute and the inclusion of the live version of Atlantic Cable (recorded live on tour at Friars, Aylesbury in September 2022 by the live band of the time) that features the ‘almost’ debut live performance / baptism of fire, from new singer Alberto Bravin and offers a BBT souvenir that eases the transition towards a new album appears. The latter combines the busyness with calm and pastoral modes and the chance to appreciate some nicely audible bass parts from Mr Spawton. Add a busy drum track from Nick D’Virgilio and you’d be doing an injustice to call them a rhythm section. Together with some fleet-fingered keyboard and guitar, that kicks off around the ten-minute mark, the excitement is palpable, the tightness admirable.

It’s not uncommon to have rock bands, particularly those who dwell within the Progressive realm, to work alongside an orchestra. The musical ambition of Big Big Train is made for this sort of treatment. Their grand designs now enhanced with a suitably glorious embroidery.

A new grand tour is set to roll, new music has been worked upon in Italy and the immediate future is looking bright. Time to get excited again about what’s happening in the world of Big Big Train.

Atlantic Cable live from Aylesbury 2022 (we were there!)

Big Big Train will be on tour in the UK and across Europe in August and September 2023, with UK dates as follows:
10.09.23  EDINBURGH Queen’s Hall
11.09.23  BIRMINGHAM Town Hall
12.09.23  LONDON Cadogan Hall
13.09.23  LONDON Cadogan Hall

Support at all shows (except 13th September) will come from rising Norwegian stars Dim Gray, who also feature BBT keyboardist Oskar Holldorff.

Big Big Train online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud / Youtube

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