Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard

Year of Release: 2009
Label: English Electric Recordings
Catalog Number: EERCD005
Format: CD
Total Time: 60:39:00

At the closing of 2009, I am very fortunate to listen to an album that touched me very much. The new album by Big Big Train (BBT), called The Underfall Yard. This album was very hard to get out of my CD player, although it seemed to enjoy the CD player in my car. The Underfall Yard is a treat and this may be the biggest understatement of the year! So far this album has made the strongest impression on me, which I did not expect.

A few years back in time, 2007, I reviewed their previous album, The Difference Machine. That was my first contact with BBT and after a number of spins, that one really won me over. If I had ever thought they would not top this album, I was wrong ... because they did with The Underfall Yard, which is their 6th studio release to date.

As I said, this album really touched me. The Underfall Yard has captured me like a good book can. This starts already with the artwork: a series of paintings that not only pictures the story, but also the mood of the album, an emotionally charged masterpiece of musical craftsmanship. It is especially noteworthy to read the lyrics, so you can understand the songs a bit better, that way the album will come even more to life.

The sound of the album is more in the vein of the classic 70s rock, less neo-prog, which was found on The Difference Machine. A touch what I really enjoyed, and what makes this album stand out, is the use of a brass section in the songs! Similar to the previous album, there are a few guest musicians, like Nick D?Virgilio on drums. The vocals are by David Longdon, whom some might know of from the fact that he was working with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, but unfortunately was not picked for the Genesis album Calling All Stations. Pity, as maybe if David sang on it, I might have gotten it. I really love to listen to his voice. He reminds me a bit of a medieval minstrel, with his soft voice.

Vocals are quite important on an album and with David Longdon, BBT has only improved even more. Just listen to him in "Victorian Brickwork." As he also is responsible for the vocal arrangements, you can hear the benefits of him being on board the train.

The compositions are all exquisite, not a weak song at all. The opener "Evening Star" is quite beautiful, here you hear the brass section already. Each song tells a story, some even quite personal; and even if you would not know it, you can hear it in the songs. Just listen to "Master James of St. George" and "Victorian Brickwork." Note here the tender vocals and the beautiful guitar arrangements. And again, in the second part of "Victorian Brickwork," the brass section. Wow, I really like this in the music! It adds so much depth and warmth to the music.

One of my favourite songs is "Winchester Diver." Sheer musical delight! I love to listen to this song and just close my eyes and dream away ... so beautiful, the keys in the intro, the superb guitar and David Longdon on flute. This is prog rock at its very best! And I absolutely cannot keep the story behind the album from you:

"This is a great true English folk tale. For 5 years, from 1906, diver William Walker worked under the flooded foundations of Winchester Cathedral which was close to collapse. Diving in 20 feet of water and in appalling conditions, he saved the cathedral by shoring up the foundations. The song explores the contrast between the dreadful working conditions he endured and life in the cathedral above him, which carried on as normal."

Of course the magnum opus, the grand finale is the title track of the album, The Underfall Yard. Almost 23 minutes long, the band takes you on a journey though time and history, to the times of enlightenment and the fear that we may be heading for darker times. The song was composed as one song, rather than linking several smaller songs to one large epic and I am thankful for that! This is truly classic prog songwriting!

The theme is well worked out in the song and musically everything is used to make this a classic among classics. Fantastic vocal lines, beautiful melodies, great solos on guitar (by Francis Dunnery) and keyboard (by Jem Godfrey of Frost*) and once more the brass section.

In every aspect The Underfall Yard is a fantastic album and probably the best album of 2009. And I think that 10 years from now, people will refer to this album as being a classic. My hat off to the gents of Big Big Train for composing and recording such a wonderful album, showing that even in 2009, prog rock is alive and still can bring forth classic albums.

My advice to anyone who does not have this album: go to your favourite on- or off-line store and order it. Or better yet, buy the album directly from the band. And if you are not entirely convinced, you can download the title track from the band's website.

Evening Star (4:53) / Master James Of St. George (6:19) / Victorian Brickwork (12:33) / Last Train (6:28) / Winchester Diver (7:31) / The Underfall Yard (22:54)

Andy Poole - bass, leyboards
Greg Spawton - guitars, keyboards, bass
Nick D'Virgilio - drums
Dave Desmond - trombone
Francis Dunnery - guitar solo, guitar
Rich Evans - cornet
Jon Foyle - cello
Jem Godfrey - synthesizer solos
Dave Gregory - guitar solos, guitars, electric sitar
David Longdon - vocals, flute, glockenspiel
Nick Stones - French horn
Jon Truscott - tuba

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: January 3rd 2010
Reviewer: Marcel Haster
Artist website:
Hits: 2253
Language: english


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