Big Big Train - English Electric (Part One) - 2012



“English Electric is a celebration of the people that work on, and under, the lands and who made the hedges and fields, the docks, the towns and the cities”


If you don't count the “Far Skies Deep Time” EP that was re-issued last year, “English Electric (Part One)” is the seventh album from the British progressive rock band that was formed in 1990 by Andy Poole and Greg Spawton. Personally I think that the band was always underrated by the press. But in the year 2009 the band surprised us all with a very good album entitled “Underfall Yard” that received considerable critical and public acclaim. With “English Electric (Part One)” the band follows the chosen path of that album and refines the typical English atmosphere that shines through the music. The band describes the new album as follows; “Presenting eight brand-new songs, “English Electric takes the listener on a journey through the English landscape, from the mining towns of the north to the chalk hills of the south. Along the way, extraordinary tales are told of inland navigators, art-forgers, miners and men of industry; stories of people who dream of the daylight but are given up to the depths.”


Andy Poole - backing vocals, baritone bee, acoustic guitar, keyboards, mandolin; Dave Gregory - electric guitar, voice, 6 & 12 string guitars, banjo, Mellotron; David Longdon - lead & backing vocals, flute, vibes, tambourine, banjo, accordion, melodica, keyboards, mandolin, electric & acoustic guitar, the birds and the bees, dog whisling; Greg Spawton - bass, acoustic & electric guitar, slow Moog, backing vocals, mandolin, classical guitar, keyboards; Nick D’Virgilio - drums, backing vocals

With special guests:
Abigail Trundle (cello); Andy Tillison (organ, Moog, keyboards); Ben Godfrey (cornet,trumpet,piccolo trumpet); Danny Manners (piano,double bass); Daniel Steinhardt (electric guitar); Dave Desmond (trombone); Eleanor Gilchrist (violin); Geraldine Berreen (violin); Jan Jaap Langereis (recorders); Jon Truscott (tuba); John Storey (euphonium, trombone); Lily Adams (backing vocals); Martin Orford (backing vocals); Rachel Hall (violin); Sue Bowran (violin); Teresa Whipple (viola); Verity Joy (backing vocals); Violet Adams (backing vocals)


“The First Rebreather” (8:32);
The true story of Alexander Lambert who dived heroically into the flooded Severn Tunnel in 1880. The navies who built the tunnel lived in fear that the river would break in and drown them all. However, when the tunnel flooded, the water was fresh rather than tidal. It came from an underwater spring which flowed through a fault in the rock. Conventional diving equipment was used to try to close an iron door in the tunnel to hold the water back. The equipment failed due to the air-hose continually being snagged. The tunnel engineer had heard of a man called Henry Fleuss who had developed an experimental diving apparatus called a Rebreather (in effect, it was the first aqua-lung.) Fleuss was persuaded to make an attempt on the tunnel but was so frightened that he turned back and said he would not return to the darkness ‘for £10,000 or more. ’The equipment was handed over to Diver Lambert who carried out a number of dives which involved swimming 1000ft up the flooded tunnel in complete darkness. Lambert, The First rebreather, confronts his fear in the tunnel whilst the workmen await his return.

The opening song “The First Rebreather” sets the atmosphere for the whole album. The band succeeds to develop a typical English atmosphere. Strong points are the beautiful vocal lines and harmonies. Halfway the song the band is showing off their musical skills by means of some great instrumental parts. You can hear some beautiful and melodic electric guitar and keyboard solo's. The music is never hectic, you could describe it as mellow symphonic rock.

“Uncle Jack” (3:49);
David's Uncle Jack was a collier who worked from a young age in the Derbyshire coal mines in the early 20th century. Jack was obsessed with hedgerows and the countryside and spent all of his spare time exploring the landscape with his dog, Peg.

In the short ballad “Uncle Jack” the band uses even an instrument like the banjo. In a delicate way the band is also accompanied by a string quartet (two violins, cello and viola).

“Winchester From St. Giles' Hill” (7:16);
Winchester stands at a number of crossroads in time, like London and York and is a microcosm of British and English history. There was a prehistoric settlement at Oram’s Arbour, then it became a Roman town and afterwards, a Saxon capital and stronghold. The Normans built a castle and the massive cathedral. St. Giles’ Hill is at the east of the city and forms part of the western edge of the South Downs. From the top of the hill you can see all of Winchester. The song is an historical view of the development of the city and of (as Peter Ackroyd called it) the ‘long song’ of England.

The music of “Winchester From St. Giles' Hill” has influences from the Canterbury scene. I just love the combination of the beautiful flute and the string quartet. But you can hear also jazzy guitar parts in this wonderful song. And always those beautiful melodies and vocal harmonies!

“Judas Unrepentant” (7:18);
This is the story of Tom Keating, the art restorer and forger. Keating perceived the gallery system to be corrupt and retaliated by creating forgeries to fool the experts, hoping to destroy the system. He planted 'time-bombs' in his products. He left clues to the paintings' true nature for fellow art restorers or conservators to find. For example, he might write text onto the canvas with lead white before he began the painting, knowing that x-rays would later reveal the text. He deliberately added flaws or anachronisms, or used materials peculiar to the twentieth century. In 1970, auctioneers noticed that there were thirteen Samuel Palmer watercolor paintings for sale – all of them depicting the same theme, the town of Shoreham. The auctioneer became suspicions about their provenance and Keating confessed that they were his. He also estimated that more than 2,000 of his forgeries were in circulation. Keating was arrested in 1977 and accused of conspiracy to defraud. The case was dropped, owing to his bad health. Keating is buried in the churchyard of Dedham Parish Church and his last painting, The Angel of Dedham, is to be found in the Muniment Library of the church.

The next track is called “Judas Unrepentant”. The first part is more up-tempo but then the atmosphere of the music becomes more classical before it develops into a symphonic rock ending with Andy Tillison (The Tangent) on organ and keyboards.

“Summoned By Bells” (9:17);
This is a song about continuity and change in the Highfields area of the East Midlands city of Leicester. Greg's parents and grandparents grew up in Highfields where they worked on the railways. Places and people change but, in essence, may remain the same.

The longest track of the album is entitled “Summoned By Bells”. This is a piece of music with breathtaking melodies and a diversity of used instruments. Besides all the instruments that are played by the band you hear also nice recorder parts played by Jan Jaap Langereis (recorded by Flamborough Head keyboardist Edo Spanninga), the string quartet and a brass ensemble (trombone, cornet, euphonium, tuba). You can also hear beautiful Mellotron parts in this fine song. It is a diverse piece of music with a beautiful closing section (brass ensemble) that was arranged by Danny Manners.

“Upton Heath” (5:39);
A song of friendship and of the Dorset countryside.

“Upton Heath” is a slow and delicate song with banjo, mandolin, accordion, violin and cello. The string arrangement is by Rachel Hall.

“A Boy in Darkness” (8:03);
Uncle Jack told David the true stories of how children suffered in the mines in the 19th century. Although there has been considerable progress there are still plenty of dark corners where children may suffer. This song is about shining light into those dark places.

“A Boy in Darkness” is divided into three parts. After the first delicate part there is a second hectic instrumental part with a screaming violin solo. In the third part the song develops into a great symphonic rock piece with a electric guitar solo in the end. Together with “Summoned By Bells” this are my favorite tracks of the album. There are some very beautiful vocal melodies on this album.

“Hedgerow” (8:52);
The album ends with Uncle Jack and a walk along the hedgerows.

Besides beautiful vocal harmonies “Hedgerow” includes a violin melody of immense beauty and nice Mellotron strings. It is a worthy ending of a very good album.

I would like to mention two things about “English Electric (Part One)” that got my special attention. First of all I'm impressed by the great lead vocals of David Longdon. His voice fits wonderful in the typical English atmosphere of the music. The vocal melodies and vocal harmonies with the other musicians/singers are sometimes breathtaking. Secondly I would mention the artwork of the album. “English Electric (Part One)” comes in a beautiful digipack with photography by Matt Sefton. Matt Sefton's book of photographs is called “Raincoats of Rust” and can be purchased from:


“English Electric (Part One)” is a fine album full of beautiful melodies and vocal harmonies. The album is a delicate mix of symphonic/progressive rock and influences of the Canterbury scene with often a classical touch. With “English Electric (Part One)” the band follows the chosen path of “Underfall Yard” and refines the typical English atmosphere that shines through the music. In a delicate way the string ensemble and brass band is integrated into the music. Well done, Big Big Train has outdone itself!

“English Electric (Part One)” will be followed by “English Electric (Part Two)”” in March 2013.

author - date - rating - label

Douwe Fledderus - August 2012 -   - English Electric Recordings / GEP