As I type this, I do so from Delta Flight 1094, just having departed Detroit, en route to the Pacific Northwest for a week of lecturing for the college. Somewhat brilliantly, at the other end of this flight, I get to enjoy lunch with my brother, Todd (organic farmer extraordinaire and all around brilliant guy), in Portland. He emailed me that we should have Swedish food at Ikea. Either Ikea has expanded beyond furniture, or I’m failing t get my brother’s humor. And, tomorrow, I get to hang out with my great friend, Carl Olson (he of Ignatius fame and a fellow lover of prog and the Catholic Church). And, maybe I’ll even get to run into some old (meaning, former!) students.
But, I digress.
Yes, I know you’re surprised.
On to the main issue (which is not about my flight). After over a year of creating intense anticipation by the progressive rock community the band Big Big Train has released on this today–September 3, 2012–its latest best studio album, English Electric Part One. It is a thing of truth, beauty, and goodness in every way.
Thank to the good will of CV editor, Josh Mercer, I’ve had the good fortune to write on Big Big Train at CV before. Last summer, the band released an epic single dealing with the life of St. Edith. To see this, click here. http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=19315
If you’re new to the genre of progressive rock, which its fans rightly consider every bit as good if not better than the best of jazz (equal in musicianship, but superior in inventiveness and, of course, lyrics, since jazz is generally without vocals), I’ve tried to explain and defend the genre to conservatives and libertarians here: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/299126/different-kind-progressive-bradley-j-birzer
And, to Catholics here: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2011/bbirzer_progrock_may2011.asp
On my personal blog, Stormfields (www.bradleybirzer.com), I’ve had the great pleasure of writing about some of my favorite bands: Big Big Train, Matt Stevens and his The Fierce and the Dead, Talk Talk, the Cure, Rush, The Reasoning, Arjen Lucassen, Tin Spirits, and XTC.
At my main professional site, The Imaginative Conservative (founded by Winston Elliott, the main editor and brain behind it), I’ve also had the good fortune of writing extensively about Big Big Train: http://www.imaginativeconservative.org/search/label/Greg%20Spawton
Until 11:59pm CST today, you can even comment on a TIC BBT-related post and become eligible to win one of five signed BBT English Electric Part One cds.
While I couldn’t even come close to calculating how many words I’ve employed in writing about progressive rock over the years, the same would be even more true regarding my favorite, Big Big Train.
Today, though, is different.
Today’s BBT release is not just another new release. This is not only BBT at its best, this is art at its absolute best. Best described as pastoral, Georgian, and bucolic, the new album is also eccentric (without ever losing its center), intense, brooding, meandering, reflective, joyous, and deeply vernal. This is something new, as BBT has a tendency to explore the more autumnal aspects of life.
It’s also simply hard not to love these guys on a personal level. I started corresponding with Greg Spawton several years ago, and he responded immediately and with what I quickly found out was his characteristic wit and kindness. After all, who was I–just some goofy guy from the U.S. who happened to fall over myself explaining why I loved BBC. I once wrote something similar to Neal Peart. I got a nice postcard back two years later. But, from Greg, a friendship emerged. Now, my kids even color pictures for him and ask how my “English rock star friend” is doing. I have found that all of the members of this band are similar in this regard, and it’s very, very clear by their art that they love one another in a way only brothers can.
A quick look at the wide-ranging debates on the BBT FB page shows how many wonderful and meaningful folks gravitate toward this band and remain! Some of these people have also become good friends, though I’ve yet to meet a single one, face to face.
Greg Spawton and Andy Poole formed the band in the early 1990s, and they’ve since added some of the absolute finest musicians of our day: American drummer Nick D’Virgilio (rivaled in drumming only by Neal Peart of Rush and Mike Portnoy, formerly of Dream Theater), guitarist Dave Gregory (formerly of XTC and currently of Tin Spirits) and flautist and singer, David Longdon, a music professor and folklore and folk music expert. Augmented by a professional team, in particular engineer and producer, Rob Aubrey, BBT makes music that reflects not only the woes, sufferings, and glories of this world, but without timidity, of the next world. Imagine the three parts of The Divine Comedy come to life, and you’ll get a sense of what BBT is doing.
Spawton and Longdon, the two main writers of the lyrics, are clearly well read and articulate. Listening to a 2-hour interview with David “Wilf” Elliott (no relation to the famous Texan cultural critic, Winston Elliott) this past weekend reminded me once again how excellent true conversation among friends and professionals can be. I would give much for our loud talk show (Mike Church excepted, as always) and TV show hosts in this country to take notice of what educated and purposeful English gentlemen can do. To here the interview, go here: http://www.thedividingline.com/podcasts/european-perspective/. I would not be surprised if these five would’ve been welcomed in the Thursday evening discussion in the 1930s in C.S. Lewis’s rooms at Oxford.
To conclude this piece, let me encourage you to purchase a cd from Big Big Train. http://www.bigbigtrain.com/ This is a band that not only pursues, as mentioned above, the Good, the True, and Beautiful, but they are entrepreneurs. For over twenty years, they have chosen not to pursue the commercial path of pop culture sensations and corporate conformity. As Catholics, we know too well that the once successful system of patronage (of which Catholic aristocrats led the way) is long gone. We must be willing to support culture and art where it emerges. I promise you, the music of Spawton, Longdon, and Co. will not disappoint.
If you’re still not convinced, try one of their many songs for free here: http://www.bigbigtrain.com/main/listen
Well, they’ve certainly changed my life and only for the better.