Folklore is the ninth album from the English progressive band Big Big Train. I first heard the band quite late in their development, around the time of album number 6, The Underfall Yard, but I really started to take notice with the two English Electric albums from 2012 and 2013.
One of the most interesting aspects of Big Big Train for me is the lyrics. They are often incredibly nostalgic, and tell unique stories – of times long gone and landscapes no longer seen. Drawing on art, literature, landscapes and history, Big Big Train deliver stories of master forgers, mining communities, shipbuilders and curators of butterflies, with music that matches the imagination and variety of the words.
So onto Folklore, the new Big Big Train album. I’ve been living with the album for nearly two weeks now, and its already one of my favourite albums of the year. Make no mistake, this is a classic album, from beginning to end.
Opening with the title track, strings and brass (real, not synthesizer) usher in one of the albums most powerful tracks. Driven by a mesmerising drum groove and shaft-like guitar line, its a real statement of intent. The breakdown towards the end of Folklore is so moving, real hairs on the back of the neck stuff.
“Sometimes truth hides behind the lines,
grist to the mill, fuel to our fire.”
London Plane is a gentler piece, with wonderful layered harmonies, and a long, very proggy instrumental section. Reviews of Big Big Train often mention the band’s Englishness. I’m not going to get into a Brexit / stay or leave referendum argument in this review, don’t worry, but certain bands really evoke where they are from, or where they draw their influences. You can hear New Jersey in early Springsteen as much as Big Big Train have the English countryside and Northern cities dripping from every organ solo or acoustic flourish.
Along The Ridgeway has some great guitar from former XTC mainstay Dave Gregory, and a key feature on this album, some fine brass arrangements. The track seques into Salisbury Giant, an organ and violin driven piece that builds on the melodies from the previous track.
The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun is my favourite track on the album. Opening with a brass arrangement that owes as much to Peter Skellern as it does to Genesis or Peter Gabriel, the song takes many twists and turns on its journey. Vocalist David Longdon delivers his best performance on this track and the mid-section chanting that gives way to delicious harmonies has to be heard to be believed. Its a stunning track.
“Here be dragons taking flight..”
Wassail reminds me of mid-80s Peter Gabriel, and is the most immediate of the songs of the album, with a blazing hammond solo halfway through the song.
Songwriting duties on Folklore are split between vocalist David Longdon and founding member, bassist Greg Spawton, yet there is a real feel of consistency throughout the album.
The subject matter for Winkie is based on a true story – read more in this BBC news piece. This is the most progressive track on the album, with some Chris Squire like bass from Greg Spawton.
Brooklands is the album’s longest track, with lyrics from the point of view of a racing driver reminiscing about racing at the long closed Brooklands racing track in Surrey. As much a song about the passage of time as it is about a specific racing driver, the music compliments the lyrics well, giving a real feel of speed and movement.
“Just give me one more run…”
The album closes with the pastoral Telling The Bees. The song has a real early 70s vibe to it – on first listen I almost expected Rod Stewart to start singing! If you don’t find yourself swaying and nodding your head to this song, you need to check your pulse.
Telling The Bees is the perfect ending to a wonderful album that I can’t recommend enough.
Buy Folklore from Amazon
Buy English Electric Full Power from Amazon