Big Big Train gigs are not so much concerts, but pilgrimages in which their fanbase travels from across the globe to descend upon London every two years to witness their heroes reproduce the intricacies of an extensive recorded catalogue. The line up of eight core musicians supplemented on stage by a five piece brass section must be one of the most challenging tasks in live sound mixing history. Sure, there are bigger ensembles, but none that bring such a variety of textures that require a place in the mix. Duke Ellington or Simon Rattle might dispute that claim but neither have had to weave their subtleties around a thumping rock drum. This is evident on record but especially more so in a live setting.
Friday night was the first of three concerts spread over the weekend for which tickets had sold out over a year ago. To say that the level of expectation was immense does no justice at all to the dedication of the fanbase, who organised themselves into pre gig meet, greets and curries.
All however were sat ready when the evening began with a rather lovely introduction as Rachel Hall (Violin) and the brass band took the stage to ease us in.
The rest of the band took the stage for the opening number and immediately it was evident that there were problems. Drums and bass were heard a plenty but little else. The sound was dreadful, but as most of the audience knew every not played, they were able to fill in the missing bits in their head and they stayed true. There was an element of emperor’s new clothes about the next 45 minutes or so, until it became evident that there was unrest in the upper gallery. I thought I’d detected a broad Yorkshire accent screaming something about f**ing drums but put it behind me until he made his way forward lent over the gallery and shouted to the stage, giving feedback in no uncertain terms. The band were spooked and David Longdon (lead vocalist) acknowledged the sentiments with a thumbs up.
An extended interval followed in which there was all sorts of activity around the hall to get things up to an acceptable standard. As the band came back on after the break, they sensibly recognised the issue and apologised. They were genuinely hurt and I can only begin to imagine the backstage conversations that had taken place (I’ve had a few drummer conversations myself over the years!). The second half was much better, but there were still members of the band who were barely audible. Such a bloody shame. A certain Mr Tony Banks was in the audience, who I’m sure sympathised.
People had flown in from around the globe, or (fittingly) by long distance train journeys from up and down this fair land. Some had a bloody long round trip for this one evening, but many more had booked themselves into the metropolis for all three concerts and so hopefully got to hear a more polished version.
It made me think..
A more traditional rock venue would suit the band much better that the quirky premises they have thus far sort out. Get into Hammersmith!