Monday, 24 August 2015

The Church of Prog

Reflecting on events of nearly 2 weeks ago can be difficult, but I've been without the means to share any thoughts for the past 2½ weeks due to lack of Broadband, and this is my first opportunity to share my thoughts on 'that weekend' in Kings Cross earlier this month.

It is safe to say, I think, that for most of us who were there this was one of the most hotly anticipated events in the history of ever. A band whose popularity (if one can use such a word in Progressive circles) has been growing over the past 5 or six years - since the release of 'The Underfall Yard'; whose line-up seems to be constantly developing; and who have not played a live show in over 20 years, and never with the current line-up - at least to paying customers, were now finally taking to the stage to present their particular brand of Progressive Rock to a waiting and endlessly patient fan-base.

Arriving at the venue on the Friday evening, having caught the train from Cumbria earlier that day, one could sense - almost taste - the anticipation in the air. The venue was well-chosen: big enough to accommodate the numbers who would be attending over the three shows, yet intimate enough to make it feel almost like a family gathering. And to some degree that 's what it was.

Over the years of their ascendancy, Big Big Train have built an online community of followers and fellow-travellers - the Passengers - who have been instrumental to a large degree in bringing these shows into being. Much wisdom and frivolity has been shared, and many friendships forged over the aether, and it was wonderful to be greeted by, and to greet, people one had never met 'face-to-face' as old friends - sometimes people who had travelled from overseas to be there - united by a common love for fine music.

The concert itself was simply stunning. The music was tight - you wouldn't know that this was the first time it had been played in front of an audience - and David Longdon's vocals particularly shone. As a front man he was engaging with the clearly knowledgeable audience, and even performed a little role playing during 'Summoned by Bells' and 'Wassail', when he became the Green Man. Comparisons with Peter Gabriel were evident: in fact he seemed more at home in character than as himself at times. (What would Genesis have become had he got the gig ahead of Ray Wilson?)

The set came from material from the band's more recent recordings (2009 and later), in fact mainly from English Electric, and brought goose-bumps and even tears to many a grown man's eye, performed as it was with passion and flair. After each show the band were on hand to talk, pose for photos and sign autographs, adding to that sense of community and family that I mentioned earlier.

Reflecting in my hotel room after the Friday gig, the nearest analogy I could find for the events of earlier that evening was that it had been like the best of Church. That may surprise some, but indulge me for a second. There was clearly worship there, and the well-worn liturgy of the lyrics brought us together in a real, powerful and tangible way. But there was also this togetherness, this fellowship: what the New Testament calls 'koinonia' - mutual sharing & unity - that one so rarely finds, but when one does it transforms.

As a Christian minister, I would want to say that if more people's experience of church was like that, many could be the stronger for it. The Prog community is a wonderful 'koinonia', united by a love of beautiful music, and it was great to be a small part of it - not only on 14th August, but also (somewhat unexpectedly) on 15th too!

I only hope I don't have to wait another 20 years to share again.