by Geoff Bailie
Folk Rock? Folk Prog? Giles Giles Fripp meets Big Big Train? When I first heard of this collaboration I was intrigued at what the finished article would sound like. I had no doubts that the combination of the founding Fairport Convention vocalist and the BBT senior partner would be interesting, having been foreshadowed by Judy’s duet on BBT’s Grimspound track The Ivy Gate. However that was a guest appearance, albeit a prominent one, but this is very much a joint venture, with Dyble providing the lyrics to the music and production of Longdon, who also sings.
With Spawton, Gregory, Hall, Sjoblom, Manners and D’Virgilio (as well as cover artist Sarah Ewing appearing vocally) it would be easy to think of this as BBT+ – but that would over simplify things. At 42 minutes it’s a traditional album length, but its length disguises the musical invention within. Kick off track “Astrologers” is enchanting with an ear worm chorus and a memorable 12 string riff. “Obedience” which follows is a more traditional duet, and the twin vocals contrast and combine beautifully, as its folky beginnings give way to some proggy synth underpinning. “Tidying Away The Pieces”, a feature for Judy’s vocals adds trumpet, fretless bass and delayed electric guitar in its soundscape – expertly constructed, the sounds from the acoustic to the electric interact nicely. “Between A Breath and A Breath” is a more traditional duet, with a midsection that features Longdon’s flute. Prog fans will enjoy the twists and turns of this track when it takes off towards the end.
The album comes with the stunning artwork of Sarah Ewing much beloved by BBT Passengers, the vinyl gatefold giving this the feel of a luxury item.
Side 2 begins with the album’s epic, “France”. This track is unashamedly the BBT gang doing what they do best! An interesting narrative played out by the two vocalists, it’s a song of two parts with a waltz interlude separating them. Each of the singers and the players get their spotlight moment in support of the song – and the closing section of this track is a moment of breath-taking magnificence. Well worth checking out. It’s hard to think of either “Whisper” or “Heartwashing” as anything other than Dyble’s reflections on mortality and the backing is suitably sensitive. I’m reluctant to write anything about the final track, Heartwashing for fear of spoiling it for the listener. I’ll simply leave by saying that the ending is stunning and heartbreaking – part epilogue, part epitaph it’s a fitting end.
The project has clearly been a labour of love for David Longdon, showing that… well a solo album would be great! His instrumental versatility floods this album, and the range of instruments he expertly contributes is extensive.
For those reading who may not know, Judy Dyble sadly passed away in July of this year. This album is a fitting testimony to her musical legacy of more than 50 years – an innovator who perhaps is less recognized than she should be, it’s simply a shame that this collaboration ends with a single album. But what an album to go out on!
Released on Sept. 25th, 2020
Key Tracks: Astrologers, Obediance, France
1. Astrologers (5:54)
2. Obedience (5:12)
3. Tidying Away The Pieces (4:57)
4. Between A Breath And A Breath (3:59)
5. France (11:35)
6. Whisper (7:29)
7. Heartwashing (2:42)
Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention) – vocals, autoharp
David Longdon (Big Big Train) – vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, piano and keyboards
Jeff Davenport (Jade Warrior) – drums, percussion (1)
Danny Manners (Big Big Train) – double bass
Rikard Sjöblom (Beardfish, Gungfly, Big Big Train) – accordion
Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) – violin
Greg Spawton (Big Big Train) – bass guitar and Moog Taurus pedals
Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard, Big Big Train) – drums
Dave Gregory (Big Big Train, XTC) – guitar (1)
Andy Lewis (Paul Weller) – bass guitar (1)
Luca Calabrese (Isildurs Bane) – trumpet
Dave Sturt (Gong, Steve Hillage) – fretless bass