Meet me at the mead hall in winter
(Set the world to right)
With songs, science and stories
(Hold back the fading light)
Artists and dreamers and thinkers
(Right here by your side)
Finding truth in those travellers’ tales
(On this brief flight of life)
Here with science and art
And beauty and music
And friendship and love
You will find us
The best of what we are
The poets and painters
And writers and dreamers
“A Mead Hall in Winter” from the CD “Grimspound”
Music by Rikard Sjöblom and David Longdon
Words by Greg Spawton
“A Mead Hall in Winter” is a song from Big Big Train’s “Grimspound” album released earlier this year. A reference to St. Bede’s analogy of a man’s life to a sparrow’s brief flight through a feasting hall, the song pays tribute to the age of Enlightenment that the band fears we are losing sight of. As Greg Spawton describes it in the liner notes, “the mead hall becomes a metaphor for an enlightened place where people can gather and speak freely of the things that matter to them whilst sharing a drink and some food.”
It seems an apt song to round out our visit to England to see Big Big Train. The band, besides creating beautiful music, brings together people from all over who share a love of all that is good in the world. Throughout the weekend, thoughts and ideas were exchanged over curries, breakfasts, and pints of good English ale in pubs and restaurants around London.
Reflections from each of us on the weekend, and on the overall experience:
We arrived back in London on Friday after our visits to Bristol and Winchester, looking forward to a full slate of pre and post-gig events. While waiting in the lounge of the hub by Premier St. James Park/Westminster for the 2:00 pm check-in time, we met fellow Passenger Will Hsiung and Plane Groovy owner Chris Topham (Plane Groovy is a vinyl-only record label and the source of the vinyl versions of BBT releases, amongst others).
After check-in, first on our agenda was the Big Big Pre-Gig Curry. When BBT fans gather for an event, a meal at an Indian restaurant is tradition. Carol, Will and I Ubered over to the designated curry house, Kwality Indian restaurant in South Kensington. Upon entering the restaurant, we immediately recognized a number of people from the BBT Facebook forum. We’re not prolific posters, but we introduced ourselves and chatted with couple of people that we have interacted with online.
Then it was on to the designated pre-gig drinking establishment, The Antelope pub. It seemed like the other 895 gig attendees that didn’t go to the curry went to The Antelope. I’m exaggerating, but the place was a madhouse. I think we managed to get to the bar only once to order a pint and then bailed out early.
A short walk later we arrived at Cadogan Hall, entered the foyer area, ordered a couple of Proseccos and prepared ourselves for what was to come. We have been anticipating this event for two years. The band revealed their intent to play live dates in 2017 as far back as late 2015. The gigs were formally announced on September 14th, 2016 and we bought our tickets for the first two shows on September 16, 2016 and the Sunday matinee on October 8. In the hall, you could cut the anticipation with a knife. The shows were beyond our expectations and each show was better than the previous one. Moved by passages of exquisite beauty, overwhelming crescendos and poignant lyrics, grown men wept, and I was one of them.
Each night after the gig, the band members came out to the foyer and mingled with the fans and autographed programs, CDs and the like. We were fortunate enough to meet each band member Saturday night. And unbeknownst to us at the time, there were a number of celebrities attending the shows, including Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks.
We started our Saturday with a walk along the Thames (see our September 30 blog entry) towards the Big Big Breakfast at The Minories pub. There we joined about forty of our fellow Passengers for the traditional full English breakfast. From there we made our way to The Islington pub for a the Mad Mothster’s Tea Party, a solo performance by the incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and fellow BBT fan Peter Jones, who performs under the moniker Tiger Moth Tales. Peter lost his sight at the age of fifteen months. You can find some videos of this performance on YouTube. Search for Peter Jones Islington.
After Friday afternoon’s experience at The Antelope, we avoided it after the gig Friday and pre and post-gig Saturday. Sunday after the gig, we were determined not to let our weekend buzz (not necessarily the alcoholic kind) end so soon, so we headed for The Antelope for one last pint. Much to our delight, few concertgoers had arrived yet and we snagged seats at a large table in the front of the pub. More people trickled in and a few that we knew joined us at our table. More people joined us and the next thing we knew we had made several friends-for-life and one pint turned into four or five plus a round of Glenfidditch Scotch whiskies. No one wanted the evening to end. But we still had to pack and get up at 4:30 am the next morning to prepare for our noon flight home. Reluctantly, we said goodbye to our new friends from England, Scotland, Australia, France, Sweden and Italy.
And now the countdown begins again. BBT will be playing one gig in 2018, in Germany. It’s not likely that we will be attending but we haven’t entirely dismissed the idea yet. But the band expects to be touring the UK, mainland Europe, the US and Canada in 2019 and 2020. Not only are we looking forward to seeing the band again, but we can’t wait to see our friends again.
2017 was a challenging year. I lost my father in March after almost losing my mother in February. Mike lost his brother in May. The icing on the cake was losing our two 18-year-old cats within two months of each other in the summer. Yes, they were “just cats,” and, yes, they lived long, happy lives. But by the time September rolled around we were both feeling the toll the year had taken. The bright light that continued to shine for us was the anticipated trip to London to see our favorite band, Big Big Train, and to meet the fellow Passengers we’d connected with on Facebook.
You went to London for a Concert?
If you think a trip across the pond for a concert sounds a bit extravagant, that’s just what I would have said 2 years ago. In fact, when Mike and I went to England in the spring of 2015 he said something about how he’d wished we’d timed the trip differently so that we could attend a rock concert that was being held in London that August. I thought, “um, okay……”
He’d begun talking about Big Big Train earlier that year. Mike loves music, as do I, and while our tastes usually align he likes some obscure bands and I had gotten used to his talking about this or that random band he’d stumbled across. But Big Big Train kept coming up in conversation. He started telling me stories. About an art forger, a train, a diver, a pigeon… One day I asked him if Big Big Train had replaced Yes in his affections. He said “I think they have.” I knew then that this was something serious.
One day, Mike received an eagerly awaited Blu Ray in the mail. After working through some challenges getting it to play on our system (during which trauma I wisely kept my thoughts to myself – “It’s just another music video, nothing to get all worked up about”) he got it working. Because I love my husband and support his interests I agreed to sit down and watch “Stone and Steel.”
For those of you who don’t know this band, “Stone and Steel” is taken from the rehearsal sessions the band undertook in 2014 to see if they, an 8-piece (plus 5-piece brass section) studio band could actually play their very complex music live. They found that they could, and it resulted in the 2015 live performances at Kings Place in 2015. (The concert we missed by mere months on our trip to England!) It was the first gig they’d played in almost 20 years, and the first ever for this current lineup.
The rest, as they say, is history. I downloaded their 2009 album “The Underfall Yard” and listened to it non-stop. I accused Mike of pulling me into his obsession as I happily explored their other albums, Folklore, English Electric Part I and Part II.
And then I joined the Facebook forum. Such a wonderful group of people! I’ve never seen an online forum – especially a music forum – filled with such good humor, respect and downright decency! Such a welcoming environment and respite from a chaotic world. So, when BBT announced gigs in London for the end of September 2017, Mike raised the question with me. Did we have the money? Could I get the time off work? I said: “Are you kidding me? Of COURSE we’re going!”
My anticipation for this trip was certainly about the music, but also about the community of Big Big Train fans known as “Passengers.” Through the online interactions I already felt a sense of camaraderie that I hoped would carry over into our interactions. Mike and I are not terribly outgoing but from the first gathering at the Kwality Indian restaurant we immediately began to feel at home.
We attended all three of the performances, each one better than the last. I will leave the music review to those with more expertise than I, but leave it say that I have never experienced a live music event that left me as emotionally drained as these shows.
After each performance the band came out and interacted with the audience. I pushed myself way, waaay out of my comfort zone and approached each member of the band, chatting a few minutes while garnering programme signatures and some photographs. In reality, they made it very easy by being so warm and approachable. We also met many of the other folks we’ve interacted with online, and even had people coming up and introducing themselves to us having followed us online!
The last evening, at the Antelope, was certainly a highlight for me. What was meant to be a quick pint ended up a long evening reveling with new found friends… Glenn, Harry, Mark, Andy, Rosie, Paolo, Will, Marc, Alison, Carla, Tobbe, Antonina and others. Such a strong sense of connection. It was clear that none of us wanted the night to end. As I sit here in Fairfax, reflecting on the week it sometimes feels like a wonderful dream. It brought a sense of light and hope back into what had been a year filled with loss. But I know it was real and although we are all flung far across the globe (US, England, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, France, Australia) I know these connections will last and that we will all meet up again in the great Mead Hall built by Big Big Train.