Big Big Train - Bard

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Treefrog Records
Catalog Number: TFCD001
Format: CD
Total Time: 67:36:00

After listening to this the first several times, I thought, "maybe I just don't get it," this being my first experience with this band. I'd read Marcelo's review, after having come to some conclusions myself, and found I didn't hear it the same way he had. Nor really should I, even if we were to agree. And, at first, we didn't. But I gave it one more listen several days later. An unusual thing happened. My initial opinion of this album had to be revised. Now, Big Big Train's Bard is the kind of album that ordinarily I'd be all over -- UK prog (though perhaps it seems I am more a metal head these days). I mean, this is a band that seems influenced in part by Marillion, but a specific aspect to that bands 90s sound -- an album full of "Memory Of Water"s, let's say. It worked for Marillion, because around it there were tracks of various hues, textures and colors. Here, the palette is pretty much limited to a few colors. Or so it seem at least at first "glance." But this is an album that works in very subtle ways. It doesn't have hugely bombastic passages, but yet still manages to create a sense of movement. Not something I noticed right away.

My favourite moments remain, however, the instrumental passages, which often have a very jazzy feel. I especially like Spawton's guitar work and M¨ller's piano. Admittedly, Spawton's style owes a lot, or seems to owe a lot, to Rothery's and one gets the sense that "Easter" made an impact upon the guitarist. Actually, Spawton is a fantastic guitarist, and the highlight for me in the instrument department. I hear a little Hackett in his style, too, which ties in with the vague sense of Genesis in their sound, too. What doesn't grab me, however, is the vocals. There are several vocalists, though website research tells me, keyboardist Tony Müller is the main vocalist. Not sure exactly when he's singing -- multiple vocalists are listed on any one track -- he (or one) sounds a bit like Steve Hogarth on the higher notes (example is "This Is Where We Came In"), but there is also a sense of Phil Collins. Humm...imagine Phil Collins stylistically and Hogarth with laryingitis sonically. There is also a female vocalist, the very fine voiced Jo Michael (I think they should let her handle all the vocals).

"Broken English" is the first epic-length track at 14-plus minutes, a place where instrumentally the band stretch out. "Blacksmithing" is a vocally dreary, musically shimmering track, which would have been better served I think with a less dry delivery. "Love Is Her Thing" has a mellow 70s feel about it... a hint of jazz in the instrumentation used. Reading the notes from the band at their website, they mention the song being influenced, in part, by Genesis' "Entangled" (Trick Of The Tail), and knowing that ... yes, you can hear the Genesis influence in it. What Bard feels like -- and maybe this was the intent -- is one long suite with multiple movements. "A Short Visit To Earth" begins as if it's going in a direction very much like Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," but doesn't. The second epic-length track (16:47) is "For Winter," which for me was the highlight of the album. There is so much emotion in the vocal delivery and much drama in the music. It's here, too, where you here a lot of Marillion influences -- the descending bass lines during the bridge are so reminiscent, at least to me, of Trewavas', some of the keyboard work like Kelly's, though the addition of organ adds a few other flavours. And here the guitar work is unlike Rothery's. This song compares, by the way, to Marillion's "This Strange Engine."

Bard is, as I said, a very mellow album. In the nature of what some others have said about this album, it's the kind of music for when you are kicked back in your recliner, a snifter of brandy in one hand, and a fire in the fireplace. Topically, songs range from the historical ("The Last English King," set in the year 1066) to the personal (roughly the rest of the album). It's an album that will at first seem very dull, and I'll admit that was my initial impression. That impression lingers still, owing to the vocal delivery. But where Big Big Train shine is in the instrumental sections, as I said. So while I recommend this album, especially to other fans of UK prog, I am not overflowing with praise as some of my fellow reviewers have. I might be if it were a strictly instrumental album, or if every piece were like "For Winter" and Michael were singing.

By the way, it appears that Bard is likely Big Big Train's swansong, as they indicate that the band are considering calling it quits.

The Last English King (5:50) / Broken English (14:09) / This Is Where We Came In (5:22) / Harold Rex Interfectus Est (1:02) / Blacksmithing (3:03) / Maffosse (0:53) / Love Is Her Thing (3:50) / How The Earth From This Place Has Power Over Fire (1:53) / A Short Visit To The Earth (6:18) / For Winter (16:47) / A Long Finish (8:20)

Andy Poole - bass
Phil Hogg - drums
Gregory Spawton - guitars, keyboards, vocals
Tony Müller - keyboards, vocals
Ian Cooper - keyboards
Jo Michaels - vocals
Martin Read - 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: November 17th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 906
Language: english


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