Big Big Train - Gathering Speed

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Treefrog Records
Catalog Number: TFCD002
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:38:00

While there are already four reviews of this album here, I'm throwing one more into the mix.

Gathering Speed is Big Big Train's sixth release and it is a departure from Bard, at least to my ears. There are edges and contrasts here that didn't seem present in Bard. Maybe as the band was headed for a split with and after Bard their heart wasn't in it. Or the mere fact that they got back together renewed their vigor for this album. I don't know. But this is album with a lot more texture and shadings.

The sound draws a lot from Genesis - as the band themselves admit in the lyric notes on the band's website. But it's more than a certain Genesis feel - the Hackett-esque guitar phrasing, the throbbing bass and percussion that recalls the Rutherford and Collins, respectively, in the bands waning progressive rock days (e.g., before the pop days). There's also the fact that new vocalist Sean Filkins sounds a bit like Collins... But, also at times he sounds like Yes' Jon Anderson. It's an interesting combination, because I don't think of Collins and Anderson as sounding like each other. There are vocal sections where Filkins' vocals are joined by those of guitarist/keyboardist Greg Spawton, creating some nice harmonies and which only heighten this Collins-Anderson hybrid. There is kind of a dreamy, hazy feel to the vocals, which I think underscores the story, that look back in time. However... I do find I wish the vocals were a bit stronger, maybe not so hazy; meaning that as much as they have elements of Collins and Anderson, they aren't projected enough to have the kind of impact they should.

The story, as reported elsewhere, is about a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain... and his death seen from his point of view and from those around him. The emotional beats and sentiments reminded me of Marillion's "Out Of This World" (Afraid Of Sunlight). Though Big Big Train haven't utilized completely that suspended-moment-of-time effect to indicate that we are peeking in a glimpsed moment, the lyrics seem to indicate that we are viewing the last few moments of the pilot's life (in some tracks). And like Marillion's "Out...," the tracks "Fighter Command" and "The Road Much Further On," use the idea of what one might be thinking about in one's final moments. As a result of the theme and this idea, there is a strong sense of sadness to this album, even as the arrangements don't always play with that emotion - such as the energetic rock piece "Sky Flying On Fire" with lots of guitar and keys, and "Pell Mell" which mixes high energy sections with floaty, almost pastoral sections, though the latter predominate. Parts of "The Road..." remind me of that understated, watery feel of Bard and thus of Marillion's "Memory Of Water." And in a particularly emotional moment in "Powder Monkey," when pilot meets his end, we get a Rothery-like, heart-wrenching and poignant guitar solo.

My favorite piece is "Fighter Command," which has an epic feel, the sound of a blues harp (or harmonica) adds a country feel to the beginning and end. More so the sense of looking over the English countryside, even as the tone leans towards Americana. It's folky in a way, with chiming, jangly guitar, and cheerful disposition... all of which bring about a certain warmth (think a bit of John Mellencamp). The choruses soar with a trio of voices ? Filkins, Spawton, and Laura Murch. There are other sections that recall Genesis' "The Musical Box" (those calm, pastoral passages featuring 12-string guitar) and Camel's "Nude." At nearly 11 minutes, it's also the longest piece on the album.

Though for me Gathering Speed is a better album overall than Bard, it doesn't quite rise to the level of masterpiece. There are many beautiful musical passages ? and it is the music and arrangements where BBT shine. Filkins isn't a bad vocalist but there are times where I feel just a little bit more umph here and there would give this album even more impact.

High Tide, Last Stand (7:06) / Fighter Command (10:44) / The Road Much Further On (8:39) / Sky Flying On Fire (6:04) / Pell Mell (6:36) / Powder Monkey (9:08) / Gathering Speed (7:23)

Steve Hughes - drums and percussion
Andy Poole - bass, recording
Ian Cooper - keyboards
Greg Spawton - guitars, keyboards, vocals
Sean Filkins - vocals and blues harp
Laura Murch - vocals

From The River To The Sea (demos on self-released CD) (1992)
The Infant Hercules (demo cass) (1993)
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (1994)
English Boy Wonders (1997)
Bard (2002)
Gathering Speed (2004/2009)
The Difference Machine (2007/2010)
English Boy Wonders (remade/remastered) (2008)
The Underfall Yard (2009/2011)
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (remastered/expanded) (2011)
English Electric, Part One (2012)
English Electric, Part Two (2013)
Folklore (2016)
Grimspond (2017)
The Second Brightest Star (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: February 19th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 2984
Language: english


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