And to Sum Up…”Come On, Make Some Noise”

big train

The previous post collects the advice of 25 music icons (well, 24 “icons” and Courtney Love) to aspiring musicians. I thought it timely that English progressive rock band Big Big Train released this promo video today, as it seems to be the keynote address and simple summation of that post.


Big Big Train were named Prog Magazine‘s Breakthrough Act of the Year for 2013 and are a favorite of this blog. Check out “Judas Unrepentant”, which I happen to think is one of the most brilliant prog songs of recent vintage:

Songs You May Have Missed #420

train 2

Big Big Train: “Swan Hunter” (2013)

From Big Big Train’s English Electric  Part Two, the sequel to the Bournemouth band’s outstanding 2012 album. As Prog magazine’s review says of this song:

Complete with an utterly mesmerizing brass section, and lyrics dealing with the decline of a North East shipping yard and the bond between father and son…this could be a potentially depressing tale, but with the band’s skillful delivery, it’s actually unexpectedly uplifting.

I’ll let the song’s vocalist, Big Big Train’s David Longdon further explain “Swan Hunter” in this post excerpted from his blog:


Swan Hunter is a song about the inevitable changing world and how these changes impact directly upon local communities.

What an awe inspiring picture this is. The name on the ship says it all. Imagine being a child who grew up within this community, in one of those houses. Seeing these huge vessels grow daily until their launch and another would start to grow in its place. Imagine the relentless sound of machinery and construction workers. Your father most likely would have worked there and probably his father before him. It must have been almost impossible back then to imagine a time when this way of life, would come to an end. When it did end, what would the people do? If this is what you know and it has defined your role in life for generations … ‘what do you do, when what you did is gone?’

There is a parallel here between the shipyards and the collieries. When I was a boy I remember my Uncle Jack going off to work. I remember their stories, the community and way of life which had developed around generations of miners. It was how things were. It was the way things happened and it was impossible from within it all to imagine it ever coming to an end. The closing of the pits in the late 20th century would change everything.

This song centres around a main character. Let’s call him Jim.  Jim is now an old man and he is reflecting back on his life as a shipbuilder who worked at Swan Hunter in the Neptune Yard. Imagine Jim, sitting by his fireside and recounting tales to his son about how it all once was and how much life has changed. Jim accepts the impermanence of material things and the inevitable passing of time.

Swan Hunter was written by Greg Spawton and I. It was inspired by Big Big Train artist Jim Trainer. Jim sent a letter to Greg a few years ago, which detailed some stories that had happened in the Swan Hunter shipyards. Jim’s family had worked in those yards for generations. Greg thought it would make an interesting story and when I wrote the lyrics, once again I endeavored to find the human story of those who worked and lived in the shadow of those mighty imposing machines.

See also:

Songs You May Have Missed #168


Big Big Train: “Judas Unrepentant” (2012)

Songs like “Judas Unrepentant” are why I hang in there with prog rock. Despite the fact that 95% of what I sift through disappoints, and notwithstanding the genre’s current overall metal leanings, there are occasions when an ambitious practitioner of the long-form rock song produces pure gold. Songs like this one, and bands like Big Big Train, reward repeated listenings and have greater shelf life than more ephemeral pop music.

The fascinating true story behind “Judas Unrepentant”, the story of art forger and restorer Tom Keating, is explained by lyricist David Longdon here.

I also found Keating’s Wikipedia page to be among the most astonishing I’ve ever read.

The song does a remarkable job telling a story that requires quite a bit of detail, as well as the language of the art world–without sacrificing listenability. Let’s face it, if your story is “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, it isn’t difficult to keep it catchy. But weaving a tale with the complexity required here, well–that’s what we still have progressive rock for. That’s why it’s still essential, despite the multitude of claims that the only era of prog that mattered was the Yes/Genesis/Floyd heyday 1970’s.

Judas Unrepentant:

Venetian expertise
Inspired by Titian
Which he modified
Fine tuned along dutch lines

He’s painting revenge
Embittered by lack of success

With signature techniques
Attention to details
And fine tell tale brushstrokes
Of badger and sable

Expressing contempt
For greedy dealers
Getting rich
At the artist’s expense

Infamous forger and restorer
Judas Unrepentant
Branded a charming old lovable rogue
Judas Unrepentant
Judas Unrepentant

His time bombs are in place
And anachronisms
Clues pointing to the truth
If ever they are X-rayed

Wrote legends in lead white
To trick the experts
And hoodwink
Hoodwink the trained eye

Infamous forger and restorer
Judas Unrepentant
Branded a charming old lovable rogue
Judas Unrepentant
Judas Unrepentant
Judas Unrepentant

Establishing provenance
Acquiring old frames with Christie’s numbers
Then paints a picture in the same style
Specialising in minor works by major artists

All rise
Thirteen watercolours by Samuel Palmer
Have proven to be his undoing
And so he confesses then he is arrested
Charged him with conspiracy to defraud

Years of chain smoking and breathing in fumes from restorations
The stress of the court case had taken its toll
His trial was halted due to ill health

So now we can all buy
Real genuine fakes
That’s posthumous fame
It’s always the same

Infamous forger and restorer
Judas Unrepentant
Branded a charming old lovable rogue
Judas Unrepentant
Feeling like Robin Hood
Just as good
As Rembrandt or Titian
Judas Unrepentant
Judas Unrepentant
Judas Unrepentant

See also:

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