Blog: Big Big Train’s Big Big Weekend In Winchester!
Prog can do strange things to people – like finding yourself weeping behind the steering wheel whilst driving up the M3. This happened to me last summer when listening to English Electric Pt 1 by Prog’s 2013 Breakthrough Act Award winners, Big Big Train. The song which got me grappling for the in-car tissue box was Winchester From St Giles’ Hill, the most poignant musical depiction of my home city I have ever heard.
With this tribute to my town and having to got to know the band a little, I had an idea – why not soak up the flavour of this album and band by gathering fellow Big Big Train fans together and organising a tour of Winchester? I mooted the concept online and the reaction was immense, so planning started in spring this year. After getting the band’s full blessing, I threw an invitation open to fans from the band’s dedicated Facebook page to come and explore the city, using the song’s lyrics as our tour guide.
We aimed for the weekend of September 14 and 15 to coincide with a UK visit by two New Zealand “Trainees”, plus a Swedish fan, who jetted in just for the weekend (and a visit see his countrymen Moon Safari at the Peel in Kingston). By summer we had a manageable dozen fans in total and the band, who loved the concept, then agreed to form part of tour. We also now had our event name – the Big Big Weekend.
Trainees were issued with a detailed itinerary in advance of the Weekend which began on the Saturday morning, as you would expect, outside Winchester Railway Station where the party was joined by Greg Spawton, fellow band founder Andy Poole and violinist Rachel Hall.
First stop was Oram’s Arbour, as mentioned in the song, where the Romans first settled in the city, calling it Venta Belgarum. We then strode off to the Great Hall, the only remaining part of Winchester Castle, in which King Arthur’s Round Table (cue Rick Wakeman) hangs on the wall.
Inside Winchester Cathedral, Greg turned architectural historian, pointing out how the walls of the Norman edifice had slightly tilted, providing an introduction to a small bronze statue of William Walker, immortalised in Big Big Train’s song Winchester Diver on The Underfall Yard.
We all marvelled at the thought of deep sea diver Walker successfully preventing the Cathedral from sinking by shoring up its foundations with bags of concrete cement.
Strolling down to the River Itchen – another central feature of Winchester From St Giles’ Hill – and arriving at the statue of King Alfred, Greg gave an impromptu talk on why Alfred was a such great monarch. The finale, the ascent of St Giles’ Hill, proved steeper than many anticipated, but the vista from the top across the whole city was probably the tour’s defining moment.
With the evening upon us, the Big Big Weekenders invaded a local curry house, where we were joined by band multi-instrumentalist Danny Manners, sound engineer Rob Aubrey, Cosmograf’s Robin Armstrong – who provides backing vocals on one of the songs on the new Big Big Train EP and album – and the BBT’s merch lady Nellie Pitts, before repairing to the pub where Greg presented Trainees with their new EP Make Some Noise.
Sunday saw an orderly four-car convoy heading down the M3 and M27 to Aubitt Studios in Southampton. There, Andy Poole and Rob Aubrey – punctuated by a brief visit from Steve Thorne – treated us to an incredible adventure in modern recording, including a deconstruction of all the parts making up Judas Unrepentant and a sneak preview of the new Make Some Noise video.
Finally, Andy ‘unveiled’ their newly-won Prog Breakthrough Act Award and gave each Trainee a bottle of the Big Big Train beer, a bitter-sweet porter produced by The Box Steam Brewery. And at that point it was cheers all round…
The Big Big Weekend was purely a random idea which took on a life of its own and turned into something extraordinary because of the huge generosity of Big Big Train and Rob Aubrey in giving of their time and energy, resulting in everyone leaving with huge smiles on their faces.
Would I do it again? Of course I would – and not just for Big Big Train either, because at the end of the day, it’s all about putting prog firmly on the map!
– Alison Henderson, September 20, 2013
All photos supplied by Martin Reijman
Following the Big Big Weekend, Andy Poole had this to say: “This was an inspired piece of top quality derring-do by Alison to organise and host this event in Winchester, her home city and the lyrical seat of several BBT tunes. It was no surprise that the folk who joined us were thoroughly good company and keen to soak up and explore the historical and visual wealth of the city … and then enjoy a jolly good ruby!”
And it seems to have gone down well with Danny Manners too: “As the band has not gigged for a while, this was a rare opportunity for us to meet some fans, thoroughly enjoyed by all concerned. Many thanks to Alison for organising it. If she’s thinking of doing another lyrics-based event, perhaps we ought to persuade Greg to set his next song in Barbados or the Maldives…”
Got a prog pilgrimage that you’d like to share? Or would you like to organise something like this too and would like to ask Alison a question? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!