Big Big Train – Grand Tour (English Electric Recordings, 2019)
On the album Grand Tour, British progressive rock band Big Big Train provides a musical representation of the grand tour. This was a European 17th and 18th century tradition carried out by young upper class men, and sometimes women. The idea was to travel throughout Europe to get exposed to other cultures.
Although Big Big Train present songs about ancient history, sailing ships and conventional journeys, they update the customary trip with space travel as well.
Big Big Train has become one of the finest progressive rock acts in the current scene, with outstanding musicians and some of the best male vocals well, including lead vocals and their signature, beautifully constructed choruses.
The album opens with a short song, Novum Organum” with a magical feel that sets the tone of the album. It’s followed by “Alive” the most commercial track on the album, destined to be a sing along song.
Track 3, “The Florentine” begins with a folk-style acoustic and electric guitars and harmony vocals that progresses into marvelous symphonic rock with fine guitar, exquisite violin by Rachel Hall, creative drumming and synths.
“Roman Stone” is a progressive rock gem, an epic showcasing fantastic lead and harmony vocals, the band’s signature classical brass ensemble sound, intricate guitar, more delightful violin, majestic mellotron, sections where Big Big Train intertwines classical, jazz and progressive rock elements masterfully and with ease. And of course, a grand finale with synthesizer goodness.
Next comes the virtuosic “Pantheon.” It starts with bewitching mellotron and violin stars followed by brass, synths and on to the full band, delivering state of the art symphonic progressive rock.
Track 6 contains the album’s second single “Theodora in Green and Gold.” Here, the piano, string synths and vocals take the lead. It’s a beautiful ballad with memorable vocals and guitar work.
“Ariel” highlights more of the band’s masterful intertwined lead and harmony vocals along with genuinely lovely violin. The song builds uptempo with superb guitar and harmony vocals that amusingly sound like a tribute to Queen’s harmonies.
Track 8 is dedicated to the “Voyager” spacecraft. It’s an instant classic, a superb set of first class vocal work, symphonic brass, dancing violin. It grows into full blown epic-form progressive rock. There is a section with mesmeric violin and guitar that is truly electrifying.
The album ends with an engaging song where the full band’s vocals, drums, guitar, electric organ, brass and violin stand out.
Big Big Train is a British progressive rock band formed in Bournemouth in 1990. Until 2009, Big Big Train was active primarily as a studio project led by multi-instrumentalists Greg Spawton and Andy Poole.
In recent years, Big Big Train has built a substantial and passionate following for their music. Noted for their story-telling songs and progressive rock influences, their 2017 album, Grimspound, reached number one in the UK Official Rock Album Chart. After selling out a three gig residency at London’s Cadogan Hall in 2017, the band headlined the Night of the Prog festival at Loreley, Germany in 2018.
Big Big Train released the “Swan Hunter” single on July 13th, 2018. The single set includes a remix of the studio album version and a live performance of “Swan Hunter,” together with two previously unreleased tracks. Swan Hunter is an elegy for the shipbuilding communities of England’s north-east.
Vocalist David Longdon said: “Imagine being a child who grew up within this community, seeing these huge vessels grow daily until their launch. Imagine the relentless sound of machinery and construction workers. Your father most likely would have worked there and probably his father before him. It must have been almost impossible back then to imagine a time when this way of life would come to an end. This is what you knew and it defined you.”
Andy Poole left the band in 2018.
Inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the Grand Tour, where young men and women traveled to broaden the mind, Big Big Train made an album of songs set in distant lands and beyond. Grand Tour features nine new tracks which take listeners on an epic journey over land and sea and through time and space.
The 2019 line-up includes band founder Greg Spawton on bass, guitars and keyboards; Nick D’Virgilio on drums; Dave Gregory on guitars; Rachel Hall on violin and vocals; David Longdon on vocals, flute, keyboards and guitars; Danny Manners on keyboards and bass; and Rikard Sjöblom on keyboards and guitars. Robin Armstrong (guitars and keyboards) joins the band for live performances.
Multifaceted musician and singer Todd Rundgren is known for crossing over into various musical genres. His acclaimed band Utopia was a formidable progressive rock act, although later it morphed into a power pop band. Rundgren brought back Utopia for a tour in 2018 and this double album was recorded live during one of the gigs.
The album contains a mix of progressive rock, classic rock and pop tracks. The most memorable are the progressive rock songs featuring recognizable melodies, fiery guitars and skilled keyboard solos: Utopia Theme, The Ikon, Overture, Communion with the Sun.
On this occasion the band featured Todd Rundgren on guitars and vocals, Kasim Sulton on bass, Willie Wilcox on drums and Gil Assayas on keyboards (Gil replaced Ralph Schuckett, who left due to health reasons).
Todd Rundgren was born June 22, 1948 in Philadelphia, USA. He began playing guitar as a teenager, going on to found and lead Nazz, a 1960’s psychedelic group. In 1969, he left the band to pursue a solo career, recording his debut album, Runt.
In 1972 he released a superb album titled Something/Anything? on which he played all the instruments, sang all the vocal parts, and acted as his own producer. This propelled Todd to superstar status. It was followed by essential LPs such as “A Wizard, A True Star” and “The Hermit of Mink Hollow,” as well as singles “I Saw The Light, “Hello It’s Me,” “Can We Still Be Friends,” and “Bang The Drum.”
Rundgren has performed a wide range of styles as a solo artist and as a member and leader of the band Utopia. With Utopia he released two progressive rock albums: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974) and Ra (1977), and a solo progressive album as well, Initiation (1975).
He is known for his elaborate and often- unconventional music, extravagant stage outfits, and his later experiments with interactive entertainment. Rundgren also produced ground-breaking music videos, initiated forms of multimedia, and was an early adopter and promoter of various computer technologies.
After a thirty-year-plus pause, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia reformed to conduct a tour. Todd brought together Kasim Sulton (bass), Willie Wilcox (drums) and Gil Assayas (keyboards). A double live album titled Live At The Chicago Theatre was recorded in 2018.
Also in 2018, Rundgren’s long-awaited autobiography, The Individualist: digressions, dreams and dissertations, was released by Cleopatra Press. The book documents Rundgren’s life through his 50th birthday.
Runt (Ampex Records, 1970) Something/Anything? (Bearsville, 1972) A Wizard, a True Star (Bearsville, 1973) Todd (Bearsville, 1974) Initiation (Bearsville, 1975) Faithful (Bearsville, 1976) Hermit of Mink Hollow (Bearsville, 1978) Healing (Bearsville, 1981) The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (Bearsville, 1982) A Cappella (Warner Bros. Records, 1985) Nearly Human (Warner Bros. Records, 1989) 2nd Wind (Warner Bros. Records, 1991) No World Order (1993) The Individualist (1995) With a Twist… (1997) One Long Year (Artemis Records, 2000) Liars (Sanctuary Records, 2004) Arena (Cooking Vinyl, 2008) Todd Rundgren’s Johnson (MPCA Records, 2011) (re)Production (Gigatone, 2011) State (Cherry Red, 2013) Global (Esoteric Antenna, 2015) White Knight (Cleopatra, 2017)
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (Bearsville, 1974) Another Live (Bearsville, 1975) Ra (Bearsville, 1976) Oops! Wrong Planet (Bearsville, 1977) Adventures In Utopia (Bearsville, 1980) Deface The Music (Bearsville, 19800 Swing to the Right (1982) Utopia (Netword Records, 1982) Oblivion (Passport Records, 1984) P.O.V. (Passport Records, 1985) Redux ’92: Live in Japan (BMG, 1992) Live At Hammersmith Odeon ’75 (Shout! Factory, 2012) Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Live At The Chicago Theatre (Purple Pyramid, 2019)
Moon Letters is a Seattle, Washington
based progressive rock band. I found the band and previewed their new album, Until
They Feel the Sun, on the Seattle Progressive
Rock Festival’s website: http://seaprogfest.org/artist/index/2019.html.
The band just completed their show at the SeaProg Festival, on the Columbia Theater Main Stage; opening day 2, of the festival at 7pm, on June 8th of 2019. Until They Feel the Sun was released on the same day. The band also played Seaprog in 2017.
This band had a wonderful time at
SeaProg and played their new album track by track. Missing the entire Until
They Feel the Sun album live was very unfortunate, however, I
had other obligations. After the success of their performance and the coverage
they are receiving from critics and progressive rock websites, I doubt it will
be their last. I plan to attend as many as I can see in the future.
The band is made up of John Allday, on keyboards, vocals, and trumpet; Mike Murphy, on bass, vocals, and trumpet; Kelly Mynes, on drums and percussion; Michael Trew, on vocals and flute; and Dave Webb, on guitars.
The members came from other local progressive bands with
names like: Autumn Electric, Wah Exit Wound, Panther Attack! Bone Cave Ballet,
Cumberland Big Band, Bill Green Quartet, Cantrip, Chaos and the Cosmos, and Spacebag.
Until They Feel the Sun opens with a
wonderful instrumental tribute to “Skara Brae”, one of the best-preserved
Neolithic settlements in Western Europe. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage
site. Royal, high note lead electric guitars, along with the thunder of drums bring
regal power to the track. Then the thunder drums get heavier as wonderful
synthesizer adds to the chorus of instruments driving the song higher. They
finish with wonderful flute and birdsong.
“On the Shoreline”, opens with flute, just like Peter Gabriel played on the first Genesis’ album, From Genesis to Revelation. The flute fills the air as Michael Trew sings his first lyrics. You can hear that perfect G to Revelation, adolescent vocal sound that I remember from childhood. Lyrics that remind you of songs like , “Fireside Song”, “Take your hand, it’s very cold. Take you to my home, sit beside the fireplace”…remember that one. Easily one of my favorites already. The flute and warm guitar brings back so many memories, then Allday lays on the Banks’- like keyboards from ….And Then There Were Three…leaving you drifting on a sea of reminiscence…
“What is Your Country” opens with gulls and thunder. Then harmony vocals that follow, encapsulate a return to that G to Revelation sound. Wonderful vocal harmonies blended well with drums and bells. Dreamy keys and effects that take you to the finish.
“Beware the Finman” has a strong heavy guitar and gut punching drum opening. The heaviest song on the album. Oversize guitar licks meet raised vocals. Is it a warning of the coming of more men like Erik Finman, of Bit Coin fame, or something much more? You decide. The keys and electric guitar solos tell a sinister tale of their own.
“Those Dark Eyes” opens with brilliantly played guitar plucking and cool eerie backing vocals. That driving synthesizer pulsating with the drums is awesome! At times you can hear a Doors/Manzarek organ sound, bringing with it more elegance. Then full power keys and synthesizers. Enough to make both Dream Theater and Genesis fans smile with joy. Some of the notes and sounds on those keys have not been heard for a very long time. Taking you back to the very beginning of prog. Another of the best songs on the album. Excellent lyrics, “And now we have our children three. You take them bathing in the green, green sea”.
“Sea Battle” opens with air raid siren keyboards; before more keys, electric guitar, bass, and drums get the battle under way. Probably my second or third favorite song on the album. I am fairly certain this will also make my end of the year list. It is just as epic its title promises. Like ELP’s “Mars the Bringer of War”, only set at sea. 9 minutes of epic progressive music like it used to be. So much wonderful keyboard work you will want to put it on repeat. I did.
“The Tarnalin” is another interesting story. Does it follow the story of Mr. McDonnell’s novel? Or does it stand on its own? You choose.
“It’s All Around You”, takes you right back to G to Revelation. Some of the lyrics even remind me of those from, “In Hiding”.
“The Red Knight”, is full of more
great powerful progressive rock music. Is the songs’ theme Miles Cameron’s book
or the game Fortnight, you choose? Whichever, it is full of emotional
playing and would sound wonderful live.
They close with, “Sunset of Man”. My favorite song. This deep and powerful closer is one of the best closers I have heard since TPC’s “Vision”. It moved me to rate it as one of, if not, the best songs I’ve heard this year. The lyrics and music are perfect. When everything comes together like this…magic happens. From the warm opening flute to the calming keys that welcome you to the vastness of this anthem, you should and will be amazed. Michael Trew’s vocals are at their best, and the lyrics match the caliber of play on this epic. “Oh Lyonesse, are you really lost? Once did the sun caress your golden shore. I swear it was here. I swear I can hear my mother laughing. I was asking She said, sometimes when you lose, you’re victorious. To forgive is a joy, and a light you can hold in your hand. For, if you do not soften your heart. You’re content to play your part, in the sunset of man” Yes, forgiveness is so important in this difficult world in which we live. Sit back and enjoy John Allday’s keyboards take you away to dream time, like Tony Banks used to do back in the 70s.
Please get this album and enjoy every minute of it, like I did. Right now, it is my favorite prog album of 2019. A wonderful surprise found exploring my backyard, on the Internet.
Brae – 2:50
the Shoreline – 3:37
is Your Country – 2:35
the Finman – 7:47
Dark Eyes – 7:36
Battle – 9:00
Tarnalin – 4:34
All Around You – 1:10
Red Knight – 4:25
Sunset of Man – 7:29
All music copyright Moon Letters
Produced by Barrett Jones and Moon Letters
Engineered and mixed by Barrett Jones at
Laundry Room Studio – Seattle, WA
Mastered by Jeffery McNulty at
The Pachinko Parlour
Logo by Suzanna Fisher
Photos by Hans H. Bjorstad
American progressive rock band IZZ has released one of its finest
albums in recent years. Don’t Panic makes multiple references to science in its
lyrics and the album cover.
IZZ has the best female vocals in the American progressive scene. Don’t Panic contains superb choruses, hooks and interactions that skillfully bring together the female and male vocalists (4 in total). Undoubtedly, the best lead vocals on Don’t Panic are provided by Annmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade.
On the instrumental side, IZZ is a powerhouse as well, featuring outstanding guitar work, incredibly beautiful modern synths, propelling bass and the creative beats of two formidable drummers.
The lineup includes guitarist Paul Bremner on electric and acoustic guitars; Anmarie Byrnes on vocals; Brian Coralian on acoustic and electronic drums, percussion; Greg DiMiceli on acoustic drums and percussion; John Galgano on bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ukulele, additional keyboards and vocals; Tom Galgano on keyboards and vocals; and Laura Meade on vocals.
Don’t Panic is first-rate progressive rock, masterfully-arranged
and performed. It’s modern in the sense of technology and draws inspiration
from progressive-era Yes, Genesis and ELP, and fusion as well.
IZZ will be performing in support of the new album at the New Jersey Proghouse the weekend of June 15-16.
Norwegian progressive rock band Jordsjø has released one of the finest albums so far this year. Nattfiolen is progressive symphonic rock at its best. Although there are Anglagard influences, the music is not as gloomy. Additionally, Jordsjø takes the music forward with electronic music influences.
Progressive Rock Central talked to multi-instrumentalist and band leader Håkon Oftung.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Probably when I played in a band for the first time, jamming
out, having fun, fighting and playing weird gigs.
Did you have any formal music studies?
Yes, both the drummer Kristian Frøland and I went on to
study jazz music in our early twenties.
What was the first tune you learned?
Easy piano pieces, my mother taught me piano from I was five
years old. When I got eight or nine, we started fighting and arguing too much,
so she sent me to the public music school instead!
Describe your first instrument.
J&D was the brand. It was a Stratocaster-type guitar
which worked fine. Sold it to a friend in school later when I got a real strat.
He gave me the opportunity to buy it back sometime, but I don’t know where it
is now. Probably no big loss.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Strong melodies, dynamics and never to put virtuosity before musicality.
Mainstream media ignores progressive music. How did you come into contact with progressive rock?
Through the articles in Pro/Gres/Siv from the Norwegian
metal magazine “Scream Magazine”. They wrote about well known and
some hidden gems of Prog rock in the 70s.
How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years from your debut album to your new recording?
The first tapes was never intended to be released the way it was. I just had a lot of fun making demos and making 70s prog for the first time. So it has gotten a lot more serious the last two years. I’ve become better at recording and producing the songs. I also think we’ve found our sound on the latest album, at least the way I want it to go.
We’ll develop it even further on the next one. More acoustic elements and more fuzz when needed. I think it has more spiritual jazz in it as well, that’s definitely something I want to have more of.
Your first CD is listed as a compilation of various cassettes. Did you actually release physical cassettes? Why?
Yes, Jordsjø I, II, Songs from the Northern Wastelands and Jord was all released first on tape. I copied them in my living room, which took many hours of dubbing and drinking beer. I’m a devoted collector of music, mainly vinyl records and I couldn’t bear the thought that the music should only be available on the Internet, I wanted it to exist physically.
Where do you see yourself as a musician five years from now?
Definitely teaching and doing some freelance gigging, as I do now. Hopefully still doing some gigs here and there with my friends in Black Magic, Tusmørke and Wobbler. And Jordsjø gone completely crazy, writing Jazz Masses, ballets and poetry and playing gigs only in Finnmark, under Aurora B.
Judging by the number of promos we are receiving from Norway, there seems to be a progressive rock thriving scene. Do you play live at venues or festivals?
Not so much, usually we make some co-gigs with friends or
play at small venues. We did a gig in Rome last year, though, that was pretty
cool! So we want to do it, but at the same time we play best with our friends
in the audience and clubs where 14 people in the crowd feels like a success.
As mentioned earlier, mainstream media doesn’t provide an outlet for progressive music. In what ways are you promoting your music?
Karisma Records has done some work to promote us since we
signed a CD deal with them last year. In the end, I think good music will get
out to people. I didn’t do any particular promotion work for the tapes, but
somehow people got into it anyway. And I played a lot of gigs with Tusmørke the
last years which has helped a lot. I’ve met many new people who are into much
of the same music as us, so the word got spread.
What guitars, keyboards and other instruments do you use?
Fender Stratocaster, a cheap Mexican one with a nice surf
green finish, Gibson Les Paul, Danelectro 12-string, Gretsch 6120, all through
a Marshall 1974x or a Fender Princeton, Taylor, Alhambra and Levin acoustic
guitars, Yamaha marching band flute, Hammond M100 through a Leslie 145,
Clavinet D6, Mellotron m4000d, Arp pro soloist, Korg Ms-20, Eminent Solina
String Ensemble, my grandparents old piano, Steinway Grand Piano, Elka Rhapsody
490, Klemt Echolette NG51 and Roland Space Echo, Slingerland drum kit from the
60s with four toms, Bonham size!
And what effects do you use to develop your sounds?
Just some reverb and echo.
If you could gather any additional musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I love the voice of Andreas Prestmo from Wobbler, the guitar playing of Reine Fiske, the keyboards of Ståle Storløkken. If Lindsay Cooper was alive, I definitely would’ve wanted her to play Bassoon. Sinikka Langeland on kantele, Tone Hulbækmo on vocals and harp, Christian Meaas Svendsen of Nakama on acoustic bass. And a bunch of hippies on various percussion and flutes.
Aside from the new album Nattfiolen, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?
Yes, the Black Magic album is finishing this year, I hope,
and a record from a new project called Elds Mark, mellow, dark, spiritual
folk/jazz/prog-stuff. And new Jordsjø material is always in the making.
Andalusian rock band Alameda was born in Seville. The group fused flamenco and progressive rock, featuring two keyboardists, the Marinelli brothers.
The lineup included Rafael Marinelli on keyboards, Manuel Marinelli on keyboards, Manuel Rosa on bass, José (Pepe) Roca on guitar and vocals, and Luis Moreno on percussion.
Alameda released 4 albums during its first phase: Alameda (1979), Misterioso manantial (1980), Aire cálido de abril (1981), and Noche andaluza (1983). The group disbanded after Noche andaluza and re-formed in 1992 for a concert that took place during the World Expo 92 in Sevilla. Three albums were released in the 1990s: “Dunas” (1994), “Ilusiones” (1995) and the two-CD live set Concierto – 20 Aniversario (1999).
Original founders Pepe Roca and Rafael Marinelli kept the band alive, supported by session musicians and released “Calle arriba” in 2008.
Russian act Lunar Cape band has released a beautifully-packaged album titled “Lunar Folk Tales.” The music defies boundaries. In some cases Lunar Cape is described as a progressive rock band even though this recording contains deep folk music influences. The group clarifies that it doesn’t associate its music with any style or subculture and identifies itself as “popular instrumental music”.
The album is a series of fairy tales inspired by the moon, Russian and English traditions. The LP-sized set contains three discs: a Russian language album, an English-language CD and the third disc features the instrumental version of the tracks. The package also includes beautiful artwork with illustrations and lyrics in Russian and English.
Band members include Olga Scotland on flute, recorders, tin whistle, mandolin, spring drum, sound effects, VSTi; Andrey Shashkov on bass, vocals; Roman Smirnov on guitars, washboard, vocals.
Guest musicians: Paul Bulak on keyboards; Grigory Shelehov on drums; Alexander Koval on drums; Shahid Rashid on vocals.
Storytellers in English: Ozma Nagatovna and Trey Gunn.
Guest storytellers in Russian: Nastya Postnikova and Maxim Kucherenko.
Scavenger is the debut album of talented Indian
multi-instrumentalist Prateek Rajagopal under the name Hoia.
Although Prateek is known for his work for prog metal band Gutslit, Hoia is way more interesting than the tired metal riffs. It’s truly a forward thinking album, bringing together progressive rock, dreamy electronic atmospheres, spellbinding psychedelia, haunting vocals and remarkable guitar and keyboards experimentation.
‘Scavenger’ revolves around human feelings such as nostalgia, departure, anxiety and the need to ‘forage’ to survive.
Personnel: Prateek Rajagopal on guitars, vocals, synthesizers, electronics, piano, digital manipulation; Colin Edwin on bass; Wojtek Deregowski on drums; Neerav Nagumantri on vocal production; and Priya Panchwadkar on additional vocals.