Poppodium De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
Saturday, 26th August 2023
The Journey Continues Tour 2023 will take Big Big Train (BBT) through a number of countries in mainland Europe, starting and ending on their beloved island. In September 2022, De Boerderij had the honour of being the first to organise a BBT performance outside the UK, apart from an outdoor show at the Night of the Prog festival. The band must have loved it, because the Zoetermeer rock temple is once again the location of choice for a show by the British prog sensations a little less than a year later. And just like last year, Norwegians Dim Gray have been selected to be the supporting act. The venue is almost sold out, very different from last year, a sign of justified and increased appreciation for the music of the Brits.
Dim Gray, the band of the extremely talented Oskar Holldorff, now a permanent member of the BBT company, plays songs from their two studio albums, Flown (2020) and Firmament (2022). The young quintet from Norway does so with great dedication and intensity and knows how to win over the visitors at De Boerderij in a time frame of about 40 minutes with their emotional art rock. Especially top song Ráth, with lead vocals by Holldorff himself, pointing towards his mother in the audience, appeals to the fans. Loud applause is the rightful reward from the crowd.
Håkon Høiberg – Guitars, Vocals
Oskar Holldorff – Vocals, Keyboards
Tom Ian Klungland – Drums, Vocals
Milad Amouzegar – Guitars, Keyboards
Kristian Kvaksrud – Bass
The main act has now fully matured, with real show elements such as opening music in the form of hard rock with Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train. With the last ‘Train’ echoing, the sound and lights of an approaching train accompany the arrival of the musicians to the stage. Cleverly devised, the tension is palpable – something special is going to happen here.
Folklore is the folky opener from the 2016 album of the same name. The energy is overwhelming in this rocky version including wind instruments; the atmosphere is excellent right from the start. The Connection Plan is from latest studio album Welcome to the Planet and will be played live for the first time on this tour. Then it’s time for the first really new piece of music, Oblivion is a rocking song with a quiet middle part, and will appear on the next studio album. This definitely whets the appetite for more.
It’s been ten years since English Electric, Part Two was released, a good reason to play Keeper of Abbeys live for the first time, including a fabulous guitar solo from Maria Barbieri. She replaces David Foster for this tour, as he had other commitments with the Steve Rothery Band. For Curator of Butterflies, the horns return to the stage – goosebumps, especially because of Barbieri’s guitar solo. This melancholy track, also from English Electric, Part Two, is an early highlight of the show.
The sound sometimes leaves something to be desired, especially Holldorff’s keyboards don’t always come through very well in the mix, despite the presence of permanent soundman Rob Audrey. But above all, a tribute is due to the lighting crew who do a special job. In addition, the stage is decorated with light columns, fluorescent tubes that change colour and intensity depending on the song – nicely done. No videos this time.
Drummer Nick D’Virgilio (NdV) introduces Apollo in his own special way, an instrumental in a swinging jazz style, after which birthday boy Dave Desmond, leader of the horn section, is serenaded by the entire crowd. Drums and brass get a new arrangement, I even hear a slice of Heart of the Sunrise by Yes! Summoned by Bells, from English Electric, Part One, is a vocal tour de force for singer Alberto Bravin, which he just barely manages. The final instrumental section is of a high level.
Alberto Bravin has grown even further in his role as lead singer, but also as entertainer. He has now let his hair grow halfway down his back, but his stage presentation has also grown, sympathetic and honest. He sings at the top of his lungs to provide his own interpretation of the truly not so simple parts of his lamented predecessor, David Longdon.
Another song from English Electric, Part One, Brooklands, and yet another live premiere with this epic classic. The applause is deafening, especially vocals, keyboards and guitar get their deserved spotlight. Trombonist Dave Desmond doubles on Mellotron. The announcement of the ‘last song’ is responded to with feigned booing by the fans. The surprising A Boy in Darkness, from the same album, will be a ten-minute crowd favourite for future live performances. The band take a short break before quickly returning to the stage for this evening’s dessert.
All musicians are doing exceptionally well tonight, this time with a new face among them as Italian guitarist Maria Barbieri regularly steals the show. But not through showboating, on the contrary, she is the natural replacement for the ever timid Dave Gregory, mostly because of her fabulous technique on six electrically amplified strings. Quite a winner, I would say – hold on to this one. That last bit of advice I gave to leader Greg Spawton for free after seeing Oskar Holldorff on keyboards last year. I don’t know if he will take my advice to heart this time too; Oskar was in the fold again this time, hopefully Maria will also be here to stay.
The first track of the encore is entitled Love is the Light. A completely new song, dreamy, slow and melancholy, during which Bravin invites the audience to sing along. Then it really is time for the very last song of the evening. Victorian Brickwork is announced with some humour as a ‘short number’. We are treated to a superb rendition of this epic track from 2009’s The Underfall Yard, with solo spots for all musicians including the horn section.
A very excited audience rewards the band for the last time with tumultuous applause, after which the obligatory selfie follows, then it’s all over and done. A show with a surprising setlist which, with one exception (Apollo), is completely different from last September’s show. Unheard of, these days. After just under two hours, the band leaves the stage of the Boerderij, tired but satisfied. Another long nightly bus ride follows: the next day they’re scheduled to play more than 500 long kilometres away in the northern German harbour town of Hamburg. And I myself will travel in pursuit of the band to attend the last gig of this tour, in London on 13th September. And I will report back on that as well. To be continued…
The Connection Plan
Keeper of Abbeys
Curator of Butterflies
Drums and Brass
Summoned by Bells
A Boy in Darkness
Love is the Light
Alberto Bravin – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Greg Spawton – Bass, Bass Pedals
Rikard Sjöblom – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Maria Barbieri – Guitars
Oskar Holldorff – Keyboards, Vocals
Clare Lindley – Violin, Vocals
Big Big Train Brass Ensemble conducted by:
Dave Desmond – Trombone
[Photographs by Arie van Hemert (Poppodium Boerderij), used with kind permission.]