This album is the living proof that in my opinion progressive music will always survive. Even if the big fire seems to be reduced to a little flame, there is always something that will fan the fire now and then. Take for instance Big Big Train. In April 2002 I received a promo copy of “Bard” that was announced as the definitive studio album of Big Big Train. And I wrote the following conclusion in my review of “Bard”:
I don't hope this is their last album. But if it is indeed the case than this “Bard” is a worthy last effort. It is just a good album with melodic, mellow prog. And I fell in love with the combination of tasteful mellotron sounds with acoustic guitar. This is not a spectacular album but it is relaxed, sounds great and has beautiful melodic moments and nice vocals.
And now, two years later, this “Gathering speed” fell in my mail-box. I will not beat about the bush; this is the best CD I have heard of Big Big Train. A concept-album full of fresh and melodic symphonic/progressive rock. The album is mixed by Rob Aubrey and Andy Poole. The mastering is also by Rob Aubrey. IQ fans will recognize this name because he is also the sound engineer of IQ.
Sean Filkins – vocals, blues harp, percussion; Andy Poole – bass guitar; Ian Cooper – keyboards; Laura Murch – vocals; Gregory Spawton – guitars, keyboards, vocals; Steve Hughes – drums and percussion.
“Gathering speed” is the fourth album (if you don’t count the demo’s) of Big Big Train. This time it is a concept-album about “The Battle of Britain” and tells the story of a fighter pilot whose Spitfire is seen to fall out of the sky, shot down during a combat patrol. It’s about the personal experiences of the fighter boys of 1940.
The first track “High tide, last stand” sets the scene, a country on the edge of destruction. The music sounds fresh but shows that it has its roots in the progmusic of the seventies (Mellotron sounds and twelve string guitars). “Fighter command” is about the daily life of those pilots and the family of the fighter pilot who falls out of the sky. This is a very strong and varied track with some great symphonic rock parts. But it has also delicate vocal parts with acoustic guitars and even a blues harp can be heard. “The road much further on” is a delicate and emotional song with heartbreaking vocal melodies. It is exploring the viewpoint of the pilot’s wife and his parents who has to cope with their possible loss. “Sky flying on fire” is an instrumental track with great melodies and some nice guitar and keyboard solos. “Pell mell” describes the chaos and fear of a dogfight over the English Channel and the destruction of the pilot’s family. The track is up-tempo with a pounding bass, keyboard solos and melodic vocal refrains. The vocals are sung with a lot of passion. In my opinion one of the best tracks of this album. It goes direct into “Powder monkey” where the pilot’s plane is falling down from the sky. This track is maybe my favorite because the music is so expressive. The CD ends with the title track “Gathering speed” which is about moving on. Like in all the tracks the often many-voiced vocals are great and alternate with melodic instrumental parts.
“Gathering speed” is a pleasant surprise in sympho-land. I think this album can give the band a bigger audience. Big Big Train’s previous album was good but they surprised me with this delicious and fresh symphonic album. Who said that progressive music was dead?