Reflectors of Light is a phrase from the lyrics of A Mead Hall in Winter, the same goes for Merchants of Light. Both phrases suggest the world of Big Big Train (BBT) and are therefore extremely suitable as a title for this release. The Reflectors of Light Blu-Ray was recorded during the band’s three performances at the very end of September 2017, including the additional matinee show on 1st October, at the Cadogan Hall in London. The recording features the best performances from the three shows and every track played across the shows is represented.
We see a top band at work, playing an anthology from their now extensive oeuvre, against the backdrop of a former church in the heart of London. A performance by Big Big Train is a truly wonderful experience, a delight for both eyes and ears. Goosebumps, every now and then. Impressive too, from start to finish; from the violin intro by Rachel Hall, bathed in blue light, for opening track Folklore to the drum intro by Nick D’Virgilio as a prelude to the popular Wassail at the end of the show.
A somewhat static performance, BBT is not a group of extravagant stage personalities, this fact is further enhanced by the fixed camera positions. I really miss some good close-up shot, emotions on faces, hands on instruments. However, that also means no camera crew jumping up and down right in front of you in the first couple of rows. Some musicians hardly come into the picture, such as bass player Greg Spawton and keyboard player Andy Poole. Surely this couldn’t have been the reason for the latter to leave shortly afterwards?
Perhaps the chosen venue is not particularly suitable for video recordings, the old church having its limitations in that respect. The images are somewhat dark, the band opts for a limited light show without large spotlights, which naturally has its repercussions on the video images. The supporting video footage, projected on the large screen above the stage, does not come across as well on the Blu-Ray as ‘live’ in the hall. Nevertheless, the recording crew makes a considerable effort to get a total picture with shots from the gallery. The overall intention is to portray the musicians as well as possible, an understandable choice: Big Big Train is mainly about substance over form.
As indicated earlier, the choice was made to select the best from three gigs; this is also visible in the musicians’ clothing, not really disturbing, more striking once you pay attention. And it also explains the somewhat strange fact that the individual tracks do not blend seamlessly; fade to black/fade outs being chosen, except for the odd song.
On the other hand, the sound is perfectly balanced, all instruments are perfectly audible individually or in combination in the total mix. Not so easy, given the complex song structures and the varied instrumentation of no less than thirteen musicians, including five wind players. This is already clearly audible on the previously mentioned audio CD Merchants of Light.
The lead roles are for the slightly more extrovert forces in the band, in particular singer David Longdon, violinist/singer Rachel Hall, guitarist/singer/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom and, last but not least, drummer/singer Nick D’Virgilio. In this respect, the others just get a raw deal. Having said that, it becomes blatantly clear what a brilliant musician Dave Gregory is: the film director offers a good look at his hands when he is creating his magic. For me, song highlights are Brave Captain (brilliant prog rock), A Mead Hall in Winter, Swan Hunter (those heavenly horns!), East Coast Racer (magnificent piano intro/outro) and Victorian Brickwork.
It must have been a nightmare for a professional camera crew to deliver a coherent product under the aforementioned conditions: a static band, virtually no light, no room for close-ups, difficulties in properly managing both group and video screen in one shot. If you then have no option but to work with (a multitude of) fixed cameras, this surely does not benefit spontaneity and dynamics. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful and balanced visual document of an impressive performance by the band that is going from strength to strength.
All the more reason to eagerly look forward to the DVD/BluRay, which will undoubtedly be released at some point, with footage of BBT’s latest show at the Hackney Empire in London in early November last year. I estimate that this theatre is better suited for filming an intimate concert by these gents and one lady. Hopefully they won’t let us wait for another two years.
01. Folklore Overture
03. Brave Captain
04. Last Train
05. London Plane
07. A Mead Hall In Winter
08. Experimental Gentlemen (Part Two)
09. Swan Hunter
10. Judas Unrepentant
11. The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun
12. East Coast Racer
13. Telling the Bees
14. Victorian Brickwork
15. Drums And Brass
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun (with reprise)
Summer’s Lease (recorded live at Real World studios)
Danny Manners – Keyboards
David Longdon – Vocals, Flute
Rikard Sjöblom – Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Vocals
Dave Gregory – Guitars
Rachel Hall – Violin, Vocals
Greg Spawton – Bass, Bass Pedals
Andy Poole – Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
– Brass section:
Dave Desmond – Trombone
Ben Godfrey – Trumpet
Nick Stones – French Horn
John Storey – Euphonium
Jon Truscott – Tuba
Record Label: English Electric Recordings
Date of Release: 6th December 2019
– Reflectors of Light (2019)
– Grand Tour (2019)
– Merchants of Light (2018)
– Grimspound (2017)
– A Stone’s Throw From The Line (2016)
– Folklore (2016)
– From Stone and Steel (2016)
– Wassail (EP) (2015)
– Make Some Noise (EP) (2013)
– English Electric: Full Power (2013)
– English Electric Part Two (2013)
– English Electric Part One (2012)
– Far Skies Deep Time (EP) (2010)
– The Underfall Yard (2009)
– The Difference Machine (2007)
– Gathering Speed (2004)
– Bard (2002)
– English Boy Wonders (1997)
– Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (1994)