Just nine months after my review of their predecessor “Folklore” the British band Big Big Train has released the new “Grimspound” album. On “Grimspound”, Big Big Train tell stories from the oceans and the skies, from the meadowland and the mead hall, tales of scientists and artists and poets and dreamers. Here can be found songs drawn from history and folklore, true-life tales of a flying ace, of Captain Cook's experimental gentlemen on his first voyage of discovery and the legend of a ghost waiting outside an ivy gate whilst the carriers of souls circle overhead. Again first class story telling by the masters of pastoral English progressive rock. You can find extended instrumental sections alongside beautiful vocal passages on this remarkable album. “Grimspound” is released on the Giant Electric Pea label. Maybe you think that this is a strange name for a record label. But if you know that the label is owned by the guys of IQ it all make sense!
Nick D' Virgilio - drums, percussion, backing vocals; Danny Manners - keyboards, double bass; Rikard Sjöblom - guitars, keyboards on The Ivy Gate, backing vocals; Rachel Hall - violin, viola, cello, backing vocals; Greg Spawton - bass guitar, bass pedals; David Longdon - lead and backing vocals, flute, piano, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, banjo, lute, melodica, celesta, synthesizers, percussion; Dave Gregory - electric 6 and 12 string guitars; Andy Poole - acoustic guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Judy Dyble - vocals on The Ivy Gate
Philip Trzebiatowski - cello on On the Racing Line
The albums opens with the long (12:37) “Brave Captain” suite which is divided into four parts. It considers the human element within heroic iconography, propaganda and warfare. “Part 1: Captain Albert Ball cradled in the arms of Mademoiselle Lieppe-Coulon, May 7th 1917”. The plane crashed and Ball's body is believed to have been pulled free from the wreckage by a young French woman. It was said that he died in her arms. The atmospheric opening section musically depicts this scene. After this short instrumental intro “Part2: Memorial to Captain Albert Ball, Nottingham Castle grounds 1973”. includes a lovely story of a seven years old boy who visited the Memorial site with his parents. The music is typical Big Big Train which has a patent on Pastoral Symphonic Rock with amazing harmonies and vocal melodies The uplifting melodies are becoming somewhat darker with the instrumental opening of “Part 3: The Great Game”. The national hero with his handsome looks and his heroic acts, made him a celebrity of his age. But in fact Albert was quiet by nature and something of a loner. The war office made of him a useful propaganda tool by transferring him from the front. The War Office did not wanted a dead hero. But in the end Albert's continual requests to return to the front paid off. He was a young Knight of gentle manner who learnt to fly and to kill at a time when all the world was killing ... and made him a terrible instrument of death. The atmospheric ending of “Part 4: Annoeullin, The Present Day” is echoing the passing of a national hero. What a fantastic opener “Brave Captain” is.
This is followed by the instrumental “On The Racing Line”. It is a further piece about John Cobb, the racing driver, who was the subject of the song “Brooklands” on the “Folklore album”. It has a beautiful classical piano and cello opening and then the song develops into a jazz fusion oriented piece with amazing drum parts by Nick D'virgilio before the classical influences will return with breathtaking melodies. This is a very strong instrumental piece.
The next long (10:01) piece is called “Experimental Gentlemen”. In 1768, Captain Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour, set sail from Plymouth. The voyage had been financed by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy and had a number of aims, including the observation of the 1769 Transit of Venus and the search for what was thought to be an undiscovered southern continent known as Terra Australis Incognita. Along the way, the botanists aboard the ship were tasked with collecting specimens from all locations visited in the Southern Hemisphere. Those “Experimental Gentlemen” of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries brought knowledge and understanding about this matter. It is a wonderful piece of music with lovely melodies and diverse instrumentation. I love the beautiful flute and violin melodies in this piece. The music on this albums has it's complexity but it never sounds complex or hectic. That is because the music has wonderful harmonies.
The next piece “Meadowland” features one of the characters of the “English Electric” albums ... David's Uncle Jack. Jack had a love of nature and the countryside and, in his spare time, would walk the hills and fields. This piece has that typical Pastoral English atmosphere that has become one of the trademarks of Big Big Train. This intimate piece of music is dedicated to the late John Wetton.
Then it is time for the title track “Grimspound” which is a slightly older song than the others on the album. It goes back to the time of “Stone and Steel” and was further developed for an EP which has intended to be a companion to the “Folklore” album. But that EP has now become an album. “Grimspound” is the name of a Bronze Age settlement on Dartmoor in Devon. The name is a reference to their god Grimr and the name of the Crow on the cover. The song is about the folklore and myth that surround crows. They were thought to escort the souls of the departed between the lands of the living and the dead. The song is also about archaeology. The song includes beautiful vocal melodies and an intimate instrumentation. The band is a master of integration of acoustic and electric instruments. The next song is entitled “The Ivy Gate” a dark song about family and loss, the perils of childbirth, warfare and faith. The song includes a duet between singers David Longdon and Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention) and has some wonderful keyboard parts.
The last long (15:20) track of the album is called “A Mead Hall In Winter” and was originally intended for the “Folklore” album and later for that earlier mentioned EP. Rikard Sjöblom developed his short instrumental (it began life as a two-minute acoustic guitar and piano instrumental) into an epic progressive rock piece. It is a diverse piece of music with twists and turns and has it's complexity. It is the most progressive piece of the album but at the same time you can enjoy the most beautiful vocal melodies in this piece that is full of instrumental highlights and solo's. Musically speaking this is the highlight of this album. My personal favorite however is the opener “Brave Captain”.
The album comes to an end with the piece “As The Crow Flies”. The concept for the cover artwork of the “Grimspound” album ... a crow in flight. The theme is about the aspects of letting go of things. I love the combination of electric guitar and the acoustic violin. As on the whole album you can find wonderful melodies in this track. It is a worthy closing of a remarkable album.
I was a little bit surprised that only after nine months after my review of predecessor “Folklore” the band came up with another full-length album. The band must have been in a very productive and inspired phase of their career. Like “Folklore” this “Grimspound” album is an album with a wealth of new material. An album full of great instrumental sections alongside beautiful vocal passages. Some of the material has it's complexity (“A Mead Hall In Winter”) but in overall the album locates on the mellow and pastoral side of progressive rock. The music is typical Big Big Train which has a patent on Pastoral Symphonic Rock with amazing harmonies and vocal melodies. Like it's predecessor “Folklore” this “Grimspound” album is also highly recommended by progVisions.