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Articles Home » 2004 Articles » Big Big Train - 2004 Gathering Speed
Big Big Train - 2004 Gathering Speed

ARTIST: Big Big Train
ALBUM: Gathering Speed
LABEL: Treefrog Records
YEAR: 2004


LINEUP: Sean Filkins - vocals, blues harp, percussion *Andy Poole - bass * Ian Cooper - keyboards * Gregory Spawton - guitars, keys, vocals * Steve Hughes - drums, percussion * Laura Murch - vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 High Tide, Last Stand * 02 Fighter Command * 03 The Road Much Further On * 04 Sky Flying On Fire * 05 Pell Mell * 06 Powder Monkey * 07 Gathering Speed


I'm really glad this album is with us. There was a great deal of talk about Big Big Train calling it a day if their last album 'Bard' didn't attract enough attention. The prospect of living in a world without these guys.. well, I don't really want to think about it. Luckily, it never happened and can I just say, how time flies! Unbelievably, this album's release comes a full decade after Big Big Train gave the world 'Goodbye To The Age Of Steam' - arguably the best prog album of the 1990s. It's been a couple of years and another line up change has occurred, since the under-rated 'Bard' was released. Keyboard player and sometime vocalist, Tony Muller has gone, leaving Ian Cooper to handle all keyboard duties. Filling the empty vocalist's spot is Sean Filkins - 'Gathering Speed' marks his first journey on board the Big Big Train. For the uninitiated (and there are still far too many of you), this album doesn't break the listener in gently at first; the treated and distorted vocals during the opening number are a huge surprise. It's not a sound I'd normally associate with Big Big Train. They are, however, inter-cut with softer harmony vocals and guitar work more typical of BBT. As Greg goes into the guitar solo, things again get a little edgy - the time signature is 'out there' and the keyboards are unashamedly old prog. I'm worried, could it be that (harmony vocals aside) one of my favourite atmospheric bands have traded in their beautiful, haunting whimsy, in favour of bombast and muso aggression? Thankfully, the answer is no and things begin to sound a bit more familiar from here on in. 'Fighter Command' leans more towards the trademark sounds of old BBT, the warmth of the harmony vocals balanced against a 'from-the-heart' lead; this track focuses more on Sean's solo voice. His voice has a slightly rougher edge than Martin Read's vocals, but I can imagine that the psychedelic-shirted one will be broader in appeal than his immediate predecessor, Tony Muller.

The Songs
Nice to hear some acoustics coming back in during the intro of 'The Road Much Further On', lending the album some welcome laid-back qualities. It works nicely against the softer side of Sean's vocals, and the harmony vocals courtesy of Greg Spawton and Laura Murch. It's easily one of the high points on 'Gathering Speed', especially taking the closing guitar solo into consideration, with its soaring qualities. The band aren't afraid to boldly wear their influences on their sleeve during the instrumental cut, 'Sky Flying On Fire' which has an intro which bares more than a passing resemblance to 'The Fountain Of Salmacis'. Ian's keys have a chorale sound and Greg plays some very Steve Hackett inspired acoustic lead. All we need is for some flesh and bones to be strangely merged, and we're all set. The main body of the piece has a mid tempo, nice rhythmic qualities, widdly keyboards from the neo-prog school (to be honest, I much prefer the piano based BBT stuff, as opposed to the 'typical' prog mellotron and synth sound - it was one of the aspects of their sound which set them apart from other bands). Filkins plays the harmonica here again and I'm a little unsure whether it sits nicely or not (can you think of prog rock bands who used harmonica before? I'm struggling.), but I guess it gives BBT another element to their ever evolving sound. Things then take another wrong turn for me, with the slightly aggressive 'Pell Mell'. Most of the song showcases really typical prog rock aspects: a quirky time-sig during the verses, neo-prog keyboards (which later will launch into a messy sounding solo). It has two saving graces: another atmospheric and soaring guitar solo and the presence of those now trademark BBT harmony vocals. Still, it's possibly one of the weakest numbers in the band's repertoire. The intro to 'Powder Monkey' sets things back on the right path, with its harmony vocals and piano (sorry to keep bringing things back to harmonies and atmospheres, but those of you familiar with BBT know how important these factors are) - as if to redress the balance completely, the song offers very little else, like a calm after the storm of 'Pell Mell'. It's here I'm most obviously reminded of my favourite stuff from 'Goodbye To The Age Of Steam' and is solid proof that the band still have that magic touch, despite it being used more infrequently on this album. A similar tuneful quality to parts of 'Fighter Command' and 'The Road Much Further On' can be heard throughout the album's title track, where everything falls into place - the perfect balance of fairly typical electric prog-rock and mellow atmospheres. It seems very well placed at the end of the album, leaving the listener with one of the better tracks on the album.

In Summary
I'd have to say that most of 'Gathering Speed' seems like a far cry from the sheer wonder of 'Goodbye To The Age Of Steam'. On the other hand, it's a little less complex than the overtly ambitious 'Bard'. Welcome to the next chapter in a journey of new discoveries.

Related Articles
Big Big Train - 1993 Goodbye To The Age Of Steam
Big Big Train - 2002 Bard
Big Big Train - 2004 Gathering Speed

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