Cadogan Hall, London
Wednesday, 13th September 2023
As previously announced, a report on the last performance in a series of sixteen shows that would take British band Big Big Train (BBT) through nine countries, under the moniker ‘The Journey Continues’. It’s a traditional conclusion with a show in the English capital for a frenzied and extremely dedicated audience consisting largely of hardcore fans, the so-called ‘Passengers’. Clearly recognisable by their clothing, I have rarely seen so many band t-shirts, all out for a party – and a party it would be.
The show starts at half-past seven with no support act this time, and for good reason as it enabled the band to present us with a show lasting more than three hours, sending everyone home not only with a broad smile but also in plenty of time to catch the last tube/train/bus. Kudos to both band and management.
After a not entirely successful tour in 2022 where a number of performances had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, it was now time for a real tour. Although this sixteenth and final show was certainly not the first for a number of fans, including your reviewer, it was still eagerly awaited, for several reasons: would the band be able to maintain the high level of performance after a few weeks on the road (no problem at all), but above all, which songs would find their way into the set list this time? BBT is not taking any half measures: no fewer than twenty songs were played during the tour, and a (partially) different list of songs was played almost every evening. Kudos to the band as this means a lot of extra preparation and practice sessions, and much more fun for the regular followers who were occasionally surprised by an old classic or the unexpected appearance of an (almost) forgotten song. Back to the show…
The band starts with Folklore and The Connection Plan after the by now well-known opening music by Ozzy Osbourne. The atmosphere is cheerful, the fans treat the band to a standing ovation after just about every song; perhaps a bit exaggerated, but indicative of the special bond between musicians and fans. The show continues with Curator of Butterflies and Summoned by Bells. Nick D’Virgilio’s solo spot Drums and Brass 2023 is quite a success. The new, lighter song Love is the Light is followed by the literally gloomier A Boy in Darkness while the instrumental Apollo completes this trio of songs.
The audience is super enthusiastic and reacts excitedly to what is happening on stage. After a few weeks of playing together, here we have a well-oiled solid machine on stage that seemingly effortlessly provides an intense and energetic rock ‘n’ roll show. The rejuvenation has done the band a world of good, the thirty- and forty-somethings are at the front of the stage and steal the show, once again with guitarist Maria Barbieri and multi-instrumentalist Rikard Sjöblom in leading roles, but everyone is in great form this evening. The showmanship of frontman Alberto Bravin almost makes us (dare I say it) forget predecessor David Longdon. I know: blasphemy in Passenger circles. The Italian singer literally bounces around the room like a rubber ball during the encore with the house lights on, adding a considerable amount of energy to the sometimes slightly static presentation of the rest of the group.
For me personally, the climax is always that special mix of progressive rock and the sound of the brass ensemble, creating that unique sound that BBT has patented. The sound is loud but clear, regular soundman Rob Aubrey is back behind the mixing desk, the bad experience of the gig in the same hall in 2017 has now been completely washed away. The beautiful, subdued light show comes into its own in this former church building; a fitting backdrop for a high mass of prog. Video recordings were made this evening by a large film crew, there’s a good chance that this performance will once again find its way to a Blu-ray and/or (double) live CD in time.
The surprising end to the regular show is a special acoustic set with leading roles for Nick D’Virgilio on acoustic guitar (!), Alberto Bravin on keys and Rikard Sjöblom also on acoustic guitar. A medley of Leopards, Meadowlands and Wassail follows, with violinist Clare Lindley initially joining the trio, followed not much later by the rest of the band. Pure magic. A proud Greg Spawton watches from the wings, approvingly. Even without the experienced forces from the past, the future is bright for his Big Big Train.
The two epics that serve as an encore get the audience completely on their feet. East Coast Racer and Victorian Brickwork take the show to an absolute climax. After three hours of continuous play it’s all over. Fans and followers of Big Big Train will for now have to make do with the pleasant fact that a new album is in the pipeline. And that the band now knows that it’s actually possible to successfully organise and complete a large-scale overseas tour. Until next year, let’s just say: the train keeps on rolling.
The Connection Plan
Curator of Butterflies
Summoned by Bells
Drums and Brass 2023
Love is the Light
A Boy in Darkness
Leopards / Meadowlands / Wassail (acoustic medley)
East Coast Racer
Maria Barbieri – Guitars
Alberto Bravin – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Oskar Holldorff – Keyboards, Vocals
Clare Lindley – Violin, Vocals
Rikard Sjöblom – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Spawton – Bass Guitars, Bass Pedals
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Big Big Train Brass Ensemble conducted by:
Dave Desmond – Trombone
[Photographs by Anne-Marie Forker and used with kind permission.]