Songs are indeed the soundtracks of our
David Longdon is the lead vocalist and co-songwriter for Big Big Train—a British prog-rock band that’s been on the rise since its revitalization. It’s interesting to note that its newfound success came about as a result of the changes that were made in 2009. Of course, the band has been around since the 1990s, but its current roster is very different to what it was twenty-seven years ago. David said that he had joined the band alongside Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Gregory, and it would seem that combining these musicians’ talents with the remainder of the band’s members was a recipe for success. Still, I urge you to listen to The Underfall Yard—a 2009 album that would leave expectant crowds hungry for more Big Big Train.
Our listeners were kind enough to share their first impressions of Big Big Train, and this next paragraph includes some of their views, too. So, without further ado, here’s how the RVG community feels about BBT:
The fact that the band’s members only make appearances in certain projects gives each new release a different feel. Folklore is one such project—engraved with Celtic and Anglo-Saxon folklore elements. Even if prog-rock isn’t a propagated genre, Big Big Train and David Longdon can take you on a journey through time, leaving you with an unforgettable experience. The olden stories accompanied by David’s rough vocals and fascinating instrumentation are calming and harmonious, allowing you to get lost in your mind’s eye as you listen. Lest we forget, this calming quality is not exclusive to Folklore. Have a listen to Judas Unrepentant from English Electric Part 1—specifically at 03:20 when David’s flute takes charge. I feel that the flute’s kinship with the Fujara is what makes this passage so sublime for a Slovak.
Now, why don’t we take a closer look at their lead vocalist? David is a fifty-two year old multi-instrumentalist and singer, one who is renowned for his work with Big Big Train, but also has one lesser known solo album from 2004 for you to enjoy. He is currently living in England, Nottingham, and sometimes has to work remotely because two of the band’s members are not based in the United Kingdom. In the interview—after we asked him if he had any reservations about joining BBT—he said: “I have been a musician all of my life and at that time I was looking for a band to be involved with.” A quick look at his personal discography will be enough to show you that the vast majority of his work is made up of collaborative projects. Maybe everybody’s already come to realize, but between this and last year’s Ori and the Blind Forest feature, we can clearly see that collaborative efforts are the ones that impress the most.
Because of the complexity of the stories and your personal interpretation, do you think that the inclusion of a booklet with illustrated backstories is important when it comes to fully understanding the meaning behind the songs?
Yes, I think that including information about the songs inside a booklet within the album helps to enrich the listening experience and appreciation of the songs for the listener. We started off writing blogs about the material that we were working on because our music is very specific. We see ourselves as storytellers and we want our listeners to fully grasp the meaning behind our songs.
Some of our songs required us to research the subject matter and then it is a question of adding a unique angle to the narrative, to make it engaging. We often focus in on the human element within our subject matter.
Fans of Big Big Train have said how much they enjoyed the blogs that we wrote about the songs and so it was a natural progression for us to include background information about each song in our album booklets.
Did you have any reservations about joining Big Big Train before you went on to become the lead vocalist in 2009?
No, I had no reservations about joining BBT. I have been a musician all of my life and at that time I was looking for a band to be involved with. I knew that they were financially up against it and The Underfall Yard would most likely be their last hurrah. Greg said that there might be the possibility of making another album but it was by no means certain that we would. I liked the fact that we were a studio based band and we would remain so for a number of years until there was significant demand for us to perform live. We made the best music that we could and fortunately, we connected with a wider audience who responded positively to what we were doing.
Luckily for us, something clicked with The Underfall Yard. We then began to become more successful. One thing led naturally to another and we are continuing to develop the band.
Fans of Telltale Games are going to love next week’s interview!
John Grello—who worked on Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series—is finally going make an appearance on Vox Groovy.
You can expect to learn more about his work on iconic franchises, but we’ll also spend time discussing the art he made at ILM. This is the perfect interview for self-taught artists, like John, who want to get their big break in one of the world’s most competitive industries.
Promotional film for Experimental
Gentlemen (Part Two:
Merchants of Light)
As well as that, the band went through a lot of big changes in 2009. How long did it take for you guys to find your groove again? Were there any challenges that you had to overcome along the way?
2009 was a watershed moment for the band. If The Underfall Yard was going to be the last album, then we were determined that our swan song would be a strong one. We had nothing to lose. The line up changes were decided by the band, I was brought in and Nick D’Virgilio (ex-Spock’s Beard) was also a new member of BBT (he’d guested on some tracks on The Difference Machine) ~ I brought in Dave Gregory (ex-XTC) on guitar and then we were good to go.
Albums can be recorded remotely thanks to developments in Music Technology. So the album was multi-tracked (layered together).
We got on with each other as people and although the sessions were lengthy, they were fun. When you have the right people involved with a project, it runs smoothly. It’s like any relationship. We also benefited from the freedom of knowing that we would most likely never have to perform this material live. So we went for it and made the best music that we could with what people and resources we had.
How long did it take for Big Big Train to develop its band identity, and how did your fans and the progressive rock community initially react to your new brand?
Big Big Train had been together for twenty year prior to my joining, so they were established in the world of Progressive rock. It’s not easy being a progressive rock band as there was and still is considerable prejudice towards our genre in mainstream media.
When we released The Underfall Yard, the album was met with great positivity from supporters of the band and progressive rock fans generally. It connected in a positive way and it brought us a great deal of attention and momentum.
The idea of storytelling and world-building plays a big part in The Underfall Yard and Folklore, and I feel that this makes song writing really tough. After all, you’re using your entire album to tell a story. Could you tell us a little bit about how Big Big Train writes its songs?
Progressive rock to us is extended song form. It allows us to develop themes and an album in our genre could be likened to a writer writing a novel rather than a short story. Greg Spawton and I write the material for Big Big Train and usually it is a process of us researching subject matter that sparks our initial interest. We speak often about what we have been looking into and eventually an idea is formed between us as we discover common threads that run between our writing interests. Once we have an idea or a theme for the album, we know where we are headed and we go ahead and make the album.
Progressive rock is a flexible medium for dramatic storytelling because it lends itself perfectly to the extended song format.
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I listened to the song cycle with a London theme. After the thirty-four minutes passed, I was tempted to reconsider some of my views regarding the capital, and the same thing happened to our listeners. Would you call it a job well done?
The London song cycle was written by my friend Greg Spawton, many of our songs are about landscapes and the people that inhabit and shape those places. If our songs can give people an appreciation of the places that we write about then that makes us happy. As songwriters, we try to dig deep and get under the surface of places. London can seem like a busy, bustling, modern city, but around every corner there is a different bit of history and a story to be told.
Please tell us about your favourite song and what it means to you as a person.
This is an impossible question for me to answer because I don’t have a single favourite song. There isn’t one song that eclipses all the others.
My reasons for choosing songs that I admire are varied too. There are songs that I wish that I’d written because they are well written in a musical and lyrical sense. I like others because of the storytelling within the words. I like the way that some songs develop structurally. I like some songs because of the way that they have been recorded and mixed. It can also be a combination of these points.
Then there are songs that I like because they are special to me in some way. Songs that invoke memories of people, places and circumstances from my past. Songs are indeed the soundtracks of our lives.
If you asked me today what my favourite song is, I’d say “My Friend The Sun” by Family. I think it is beautifully written and well performed. There is something truly wonderful about it.
But if you ask me this question tomorrow, I will most likely choose a different song.
you ever wonder – yes, we do play analog quite often.
Meadowland by Big Big Train performed live in the Wood Room, Real World Studios (2017)
What’s going to be the next stop for Big Big Train and for David Longdon?
We have our Christmas single out now. It is available on all formats. It is also available on 7” white vinyl, which looks beautiful. Writing a Christmas song was always an ambition of mine because it is writing to a specific brief. I enjoyed the challenge of having to format it to fit in the four minute thirty seconds 45 RPM time restraint. It also had to work as a Christmas song and appeal to a mainstream audience as well as progressive rock fans. Not an easy task to accomplish.
We are writing for the next Big Big Train studio album. We are co-headlining the Friday night, Night of the Prog Festival at the Loreley Ampitheater, Germany in July. There are lots of other projects in the pipeline too, so 2018 promises to be busy for BBT.
Thank you for the interview and thank you for taking an interest in Big Big Train.
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
Article in Slovak language;