Friday 29 April 2016


Words and music by David Longdon
Wassail  is Track 6 from the album 'Folklore' by Big Big Train

"Apple tree, old apple tree
Bountiful we raise a glass to thee"

This track was first heard last summer as the title track of BBT's Wassail e.p, which was released to herald the return of Big Big Train to the live stage. The e.p featured a beautiful cover (above) painted by Folklore artist Sarah Louise Ewing. "It looks like a Christmas card!" remarked Team Rock Radio's cheeky Phil Wilding when he interviewed Greg and Danny live on his radio show during the height of summer! He did have a point. Ideally it would have made a good Yuletide release but because it had been a while since the English Electric albums, we thought that the fans would enjoy having some new music from the band to whet their appetites in advance of our live shows.

An explanation of what Wassail means was given in the sleeve notes of the e.p and it has been mentioned in various interviews that Greg and I have done over the last year. If by chance you have not seen or heard them, I've included a couple of links within this paragraph - Wassail is an English pagan ritual that was performed in apple orchards in England in order to ward off evil spirits and bless the trees so that they would yield a bountiful crop. I understand that it is making a bit of a come back.
The drum tracks for Wassail were recorded at the end of our Stone and Steel sessions at Real World during the summer of 2014. We had booked a day to record drums for material that would become Folklore. Months earlier during one of our epic phone calls Greg and I discussed song ideas that we had and I mentioned Wassail. We thought it was good subject matter and I set about writing and arranging the piece. When I programmed the VST drums, I got so carried away playing it that I broke several keys on my MIDI controller keyboard. (Rock 'n Roll! Whoooo!)

I wanted to musically pay homage to some of the great music that has come out of Real World, especially the Peter Gabriel tracks 'Sledgehammer' and 'Steam.' I wanted Wassail to have the huge and present drum sounds that those tracks possess and recording our drums in those studios would give us access to the same acoustic environments. Stone and Steel features the 'Wassail Drum Session' as an extra on the Blu-Ray and it shows Nick performing, Rob and Ollie engineering and me producing the session.
Wassail was written with the idea of it being a 'single.' It is a pagan chant that grooves along and its subject matter is powerful. We loved the image of the green man that Sarah had painted at the top of the frame for the e.p cover, so we asked her to paint another picture, solely of the green man because we thought it would make a strong image for BBT marketing.

During yet another epic phone call with Greg, we spoke about visuals for the forthcoming live shows. We had chosen Wassail as one of the pieces in the set and we spoke about having a mask made, based on Sarah's picture. A week later I was having a conversation with Simon Withers and I mentioned the idea of the mask. Simon has been involved with the Nottingham art scene for years and he instantly recommended Stephen Jon - mask maker extraordinaire. The following Thursday I was at Stephen's house having a plaster cast made of my face.

Once the plaster 'negative' is made, Stephen makes a 'positive' from it (sorry - no glasses)

Working in clay, Stephen is then able to build up the features of the mask.

Hours of skillful sculpting, with intricate detailed items placed over paper mache and then painted. A few weeks later I return to meet 'Greenie' for the first time.
The first fitting is to make sure that I can wear the mask comfortably and also play the flute while wearing it too.
Stephen's masks are featured and worn not only by Stephen and myself but also by some of the passengers who attended the 'Folklore' music video shoot on St. Catherine's Hill near Winchester a few weeks ago. The whole of BBT wore Stephen's masks for a Prog Magazine photo shoot and as soon as the masks were on, the capering begins. Masks are very interesting things when introduced into an environment. 

When Wassail was performed live during our Kings Place shows, it came of age. It was written to be performed as a piece of live entertainment. When I wear the mask live, I become the character - he makes his entrance midway through the song and he takes his bows before leaving the stage. (See Stone and SteelI am very interested in the folklore element of masks. They tap right into the spirit of our ancestors wearing them to become something other than they were. 

Wassail was nominated in the Progressive Rock Awards 'Anthem" category and also in the Classic Rock Society's 'Song of the Year' category. It has been played several times on BBC Radio 2 by legendary broadcaster Bob Harris who is a supporter of Big Big Train music. Hearing Bob's iconic voice reading out the opening lyrics to Wassail will remain with me until the end of time.

Friday 1 April 2016


Words and music by David Longdon
Folklore is Track 1 from the album 'Folklore' by Big Big Train

"Let us begin where it all began..."

This is the first of eight blogs that will give background information about the songs on our new album. 

Folkore [the album and the track] starts off where most of our ancestral stories most likely began. Around the cracking flames of the campfire. Stories told after sunset, with no daylight reassurances or distractions. The cold dark night forcing us to huddle closer together, among the security of the 'pack', beside the warm glow of the flames. The night focusses us in. Our minds become much more open to suggestion. Our imaginations are susceptible, impressionable and pliant. It is at these very moments, when the unbelievable can all too easily be believed.

The moment is right and the stage is set. Firelight makes the shadows dance. Flickering light contorts the animated features of the storyteller - transforming them into something other than they are.

Women and men, young and old - rapt listeners all. Although the older listeners have heard these stories many times before and they know what is to unfold. They too delight in the engrossed faces of the youngsters. Open mouthed and spellbound as they listen to wondrous tales. Or recoiling in fright to the comforting arms of their mothers. Caught up in the drama of the moment. Hanging on each word and every plot twist.

These tales Ignite and fan the flames of our fertile imaginations. These are our stories of love, words of wisdom, cautionary tales. Heroic adventurers featuring fantastical creatures and conniving villains. Supernatural tales, stories involving the incredible luck of particular individuals. Stories that reveal the fate of their many characters and the consequences of their actions. It is an integral part of who we are and who we think we are.  Forming the bedrock of our cultures. 

Passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation - the fine details and factual information sometimes abandoned and exaggerated in favour of the drama within the story as these tales are reinterpreted from storyteller to storyteller. Country to country, each adding something of themselves to embellish the tale. 

"The pen is mightier than the sword, the music of the word is scored"

Each development further enhancing the power of the word. The emergence of the written word, the development of the ink press, the incredible technological advancements of the 21st century - all fuel to our fire and grist to the mill. We are still making out own cultural folklore to this day - the addition of the press and social media allows our stories to be told at a terrific rate.

Folklore is a deliberate companion/bookend piece to Wassail. It shares the same chord sequence and it uses the same mandolin/violin/flute riff. The instrumental play out at the end of the piece features members of the band taking a short solo section then passing it on to the next player and so on until the piece concludes.

In addition to Folklore being the first track on the album and the title track of the album, it will also be the first 'single' taken from the album. A short film (music video ) has been shot to accompany it, featuring a cast of extras drawn from our fantastic 'passengers' on the BBT Facebook forum.

My friend and fellow band mate Greg Spawton will post a blog next week in which he writes about the next track on Folklore.

All Fools' Day 2016