Sunday, 16 August 2015

It's just music, isn't it?

'Music was my first love,
And it will be my last.' 

No, wait. Come back!

My life has been wrapped up in music, for as long as I can remember. Like a comfort blanket, music has soothed me, calmed me. Like an electric shock, live music has excited me, thrilled me. For 44 years.

The greatest live gig I ever saw was on 29th May 1981, Wembley Arena. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band brought The River tour to London. I stood on my seat, at the start of Thunder Road, as an audience, largely unfamiliar with the song, sat down. I screamed every word, oblivious to the steward at the end of the aisle, angrily gesturing for me to sit down. "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night," nearly burst my lungs.

Twenty two days later, my Dad died.

That gig, 34 years ago, has beaten off all competition, time and time again. Hundreds of gigs have tried, many have come close (another Springsteen gig, in Cardiff, came closest) but none have defeated that night in North London.

Until now.

Big Big Train are an odd band. In one way, they are a throwback. They sound like early Genesis, remind me of early Yes. They sing songs, some long, about miners, and communities, and trains, and history. 

And England. Always England. 

In another way, they are thoroughly modern. Self sufficient, active on the internet and social media, with some of them in other bands too, they represent the modern rock band. Independent. All about the fans, their own community.

They have been going for 25 years, although you can be forgiven for never having heard of them. Like many bands, they operate on the fringes, releasing new music themselves, without a record company, but not playing live. 

They haven't played to a live audience for 17 years.

Until last Friday night.

Yes have been going for 47 years. Twenty different musicians have been in the five-piece during that time, through thousands of gigs.
Chris Squire has played bass at every Yes gig. Until last week. Chris died from  leukaemia a few weeks ago and the band performed for the first time, without him, in America, last week. At the start of the gig, the house lights went down, the audience roared, and one of Chris's songs played over the P.A. In the darkness, Chris's roadie carried his white Rickenbacker bass guitar onstage and rested it in his stand. A single spotlight lit it, as the song concluded. Class. Yes are a class act.

Someone knocked on my front door. It was early evening and I was ready to leave for London, for the Big Big Train gig. I was both excited and tense. Packing after work, when I'm on a deadline, is always tense. I opened the door to find the postman, grinning. 
"Too big," he said, as he handed me an envelope. I thanked him and shut the door, confused and conscious of the time. I opened the cardboard envelope. Chris Squire's young face looked up at me, from the cover of August's copy of Prog magazine. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it. Yes were the reason I got into Prog. I hate the term but it defines a group of bands. Yes were my entry into Genesis, King Crimson, Moody Blues and, eventually, Rush. So, having this tribute issue of the magazine to take with me, to see my favourite Prog band.....no, my favourite band in the world, seemed so appropriate.

I had Chris with me. It was a sign.

Jan & I walked down to the station, for our train into London. Janet was coming with me, but not to the gig. She loves one particular BBT song, but, as an 80's music fan, she has no love for 18 minute songs about trains. I had bought her a ticket to Les Mis, a musical that we both love. Waiting on the platform for the train to arrive from Reading, I was aware that a gentleman standing next to me had a camera out and was looking down the tracks, towards London. Suddenly, there it was. Incredibly, a steam train thundered, nay blasted it's way through our little village station. It was another sign. A Big Big Train.

I'm really shy, painfully shy. Always have been. Walking into a room full of people I don't know fills me with terror. So, riding down the escalator at King's Place was terrifying. Below? Just loads of fellow fans of Big Big Train. Passengers, they are called, on their Facebook page. The fact that I knew many of their names, even their faces from their online photos, made no difference. I was terrified. However, at the bottom of the escalator was a gig. By my favourite band. Deep breath. You'll be fine.

The audience made the gig. Of course there is no gig without the band, but the audience made this gig. The roar at the end of the first song was nothing short of epic. After that, it just kept getting better. How can a group of eight musicians (plus a brass section) make me cry, make me weep at the sheer beauty of their art? 

Music, that's how. 

So, is this the best gig I've ever seen? I really think it is. Bruce in ’81 is clouded by my Dad's death, which has cemented it as a celebration in a traumatic time. This had no such baggage. The quality of musicianship was simply stunning. Amazing players, not earning much money, playing for the sheer joy of the music. It was just joyful. Truly, full of joy.

On both sides of the stage. 

"Music was my first love......"


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