It has been a momentous time of late for Big Big Train, the British band whose star has been very much on the ascendant, thanks to a string of exquisitely composed, performed and produced albums, that have steadily increased their fan base many times over.
As well as the albums, they also performed three very rare live concerts in London last August, which were met with rave reviews for numerous reasons, above all, the extraordinary quality of performances of often very complex songs, involving up to 13 musicians at any one time.
Stone & Steel is the lynchpin which connects the albums and these live performances. On this Blu-Ray they are doing what the band does best, telling one of their incredible stories, in this instance of an epic year-long journey betwixt studio and concert hall.
The journey begins in August 2014 at Peter Gabriel's legendary Real World Studios in Box, Wiltshire, where the band are seen performing nine songs “live” but in the controlled environment the studio provides. The scene then changes to Kings Place a year later for the live rendition of four of their current classic songs in front of audiences of mainly die-hard fans.
For anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of getting on board with the Big Big Train, Stone & Steel is the perfect place to start. It's not just the beauty of the music but the ambience the band creates when working together, this being the first time the current line-up had been in the studio together - and offering tantalising insights into the songs.
Perhaps the most spectacular of the studio recordings is the extraordinary emotional 20 plus minute long The Underfall Yard*, which composer and bass player Greg Spawton points out is about Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his vision for the Great Western Railway including the construction of the Box railway tunnel, which is just a stone's throw away from the studio.
Stone & Steel also refers to this construction work and also the design of the actual studio itself, which makes the whole concept even more complete.
The studio performances radiate a musical beauty, seldom found elsewhere in music, let alone prog. The classical leanings of pianist Danny Manners and Rachel Hall, with the rest of the band providing the vocal harmonies, makes Wind Distorted Pioneers one of the most moving pieces of all, coming as it does right after the ensemble playing Uncle Jack, the uplifting folky tune, which has all but become the band's signature song. And I defy anyone not to be totally stirred by Ben Godfrey's poignant brass solo in Victorian Brickwork on either the studio or live version.
Of the live songs, there is no greater contrast than between the delicate beauty of Curator Of Butterflies, which here in the concert hall, finds a new gear and energy, and the epic drama of East Coast Racer.
No amount of superlatives can do justice to sheer quality and artistry which has gone into delivering Stone & Steel. Buy it, show it to your friends, family and children, and tell them this is where music in the 21st century is really heading. It is music which draws on the past to inform the lyrics of the compositions through the use of cutting edge technology, engineer maestro Rob Aubrey at the helm to ensure every note, every nuance, every second of these two hours and 45 minutes is total bliss. Prepare to be amazed.
***** Alison Reijman
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