Big Big Train - Gathering Speed

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Treefrog Records
Catalog Number: tfcd002
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:38:00

That's a Spitfire on the cover - see the shape of the wings? So it's no surprise that Gathering Speed is a concept album about a World War II fighter pilot in the Battle Of Britain.

In their earlier days Big Big Train had a reputation as an also-ran Brit neo band lurking in the shadows of Jadis and IQ. That may have been true of their first few albums, but with Bard the band had a really strong neo progressive rock release which was well received by reviewers and the buying public. Well - here are two surprises:

Firstly, after their previous album Bard, the train nearly derailed itself with announcements of the band's dissolution due to low sales volumes and other woes. But it completed its journey despite that glitch and thankfully the Big Big Train has arrived at the station modified but essentially unscathed.

Secondly, the train has changed tracks! The new album clearly builds on the band's past releases and you'll even hear some of Bard's themes reprised here, but Gathering Speed is not really what I'd call neo. It shares many of the characteristics of neo progressive rock: a focus on vocals, standard rock band lineup, a strong keyboard presence, big walls of sound and a noticeable Genesis influence. But rather than neo, the sound here is much more symphonic than on Big Big Train's prior releases. (Symphonic neo?) No I'm not hung up on labels, but in this case they help to describe the ambience of the music.

At first listen, the music may sound rather simple - but it is bristling with complexities and interesting progressive elements that will reward repeated listening. The time signatures change continually, there are breaks and reprised themes and solid song structures, and the whole album has a classic progressive sound. You'll hear multi-layered instrumental passages with nine- and ten-minute song lengths, big two- and three-part vocal harmonies, a blues harp (a kind of harmonica), mellotron, twelve string guitars and dual keyboards. A signature sound on the album is the 12-string guitar, strummed or picked, which yields a pleasing melodic sound.

The long instrumental passages are strong, and are particularly important to this CD because Big Big Train's new vocalist Sean Filkins uses a sort of whisper-soft voice, that falls below the standard of the instrumentals. You can't help thinking that a stronger, more spirited delivery would have significantly enhanced the album. The occasional inclusion of Laura Murch's singing adds an important dimension to the music. Listen to track 2, "Fighter Command," for the Floyd "Gig In The Sky" style female vocals. It's a pity Murch wasn't used a lot more.

The song structures and the melodic sounds will keep your interest and it stands the test of multiple replays. But Gathering Speed doesn't work as a concept album. There isn't enough passion or variety or storytelling to support the concept. Big Big Train would benefit from a more rebellious nature - they need stop playing it safe, and Filkins needs to put more emotion into it and belt a few songs out at full steam.

As a WW-II concept album, it won't move you in the way The Snow Goose did. But if you separate the music from the concept, it is a very good listen. Not with the doomed pilot's story driving the songs - but rather with it adding one more layer to the already rich textures of the music.

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

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: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday
Artist website:
Hits: 1567
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]