at The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., October 27, 2019

BIG BIG TRAIN (Live at The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., October 27, 2019)
Photo: Mick Burgess

It’s incredible to think that, in a career spanning almost 30 years and 12 studio albums, this is Prog Rockers, Big Big Train’s, first major tour, having only played sporadic shows and festivals over that time, preferring instead to being more of a studio band.

With much of the tour sold out, even the band themselves seem to be surprised at the huge demand for their music, as many fans have taken time off work to follow the tour on a Prog Rock road trip, or should that be rail trip?

With five of the nine songs in the main set being from their recently released Grand Tour album, this was a brave move by Big Big Train, especially as they don’t play live often yet the fans of Prog Rock seem particularly amenable to new music and lapped it up.

It certainly helped that Alive, Homesong and the sprawling epic, Voyager, in particular were so imposing, articulate and multi-faceted musically that attention never wandered.

Front man David Longdon cut a dashing figure dressed in a black suit with a silver topped cane with a voice that simply oozed character and perfect for the most complex of Prog Rock epics. It’s no wonder that he was on the shortlist of two to take over from Phil Collins on his departure from Genesis back in the mid-’90s.

Musically the performance was impeccable and it’s hard to believe that the band have played comparatively few shows over the years. Maybe that tightness is down to the impressive musicianship and the addition of such quality as guitarist Rikard Sjöblom from Beardfish and Nick D’Virgilio, drummer/vocalist with Spock’s Beard.

D’Virgilio showed a real dash of versatility with some adept backing vocals and excelled when he stepped from behind his kit during The Florentine and duetted with Longdon.

The addition of the Big Big Train Ensemble, a 5-piece brass band bedecked in flat caps and braces together with Rachel Hall on electric violin, gave them a unique sound that sets them apart from other Prog bands.

In fact, the vocals throughout were stunning with four-part harmonies adding a shimmering layer to the beautifully atmospheric music of Wassail and Winkie, the touching tale of the bravery of a carrier pigeon during World War 2 that also featured some haunting flute from Longdon.

In keeping with the war theme, this time The Great War, was Brave Captain, arguably the highlight of the night with its big dramatic, keyboard driven bombast, as the story of the flying ace unfolded across the giant video screen to the rear of the stage as David Gregory’s guitar solo soared and swooped at the song’s climax.

During each song the crowd sat quietly and attentively yet exploded into enthusiastic, rapturous applause with the first of many standing ovations coming at the end of set opener Alive but the biggest and loudest was saved for the final song East Coast Racer.

Review and Photos By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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1 Comment

  1. The story of Winkie, Dicken Medal winning pigeon, dates from WW2 not WW1. So the songs cover both WWs with acts of bravery in the air, one human one avian.

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