Big Big Train "Stone and Steel" BD 5.1 March '16

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Neil Palfreyman

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This is intended to be a “replacement” for the now mis-titled “Big Big Train live BluRay 5.1 coming in December” thread.

Besides correcting the date and giving the title of the BluRay it now also includes some “inside info” from my involvement in the on-going play testing of the surround material.

(If any admins read this and want to delete or close the original I would be happy for them to do so.)

Who are Big Big Train?
They're a contemporary Progressive Rock band who are, arguably, one of the most successful of the "new" bands in this genre in recent years, founded in 1990 by Greg Spawton, the current line up, which has been expanded for live performance includes Nick D'Virgilio, Dave Gregory, Rachel Hall, David Longdon, Danny Manners, Andy Poole, Rikard Sjöblom, Gregory Spawton and their sound engineer Rob Aubrey who is such an important part of the sound that they regard him as one of the band.
Their music could be shallowly described as "Trick of the Tail" era Genesis (indeed vocalist Longdon had an audition for Genesis back in the day) but dig deeper and you’ll find they're so much more than that. Melodic, thoughtful and complex (but not "twiddly") and quintessentially English both in character and song subject matter.

Have a look and listen here: Big Big Train website. The video of "Victorian Brickwork" on the main page will tell you everything you need to know about the band! (Watch it until the end as the brass section is spine chilling.)

I've been a fan since around 2007 and one of my biggest musical dreams has been to hear their music in 5.1. To say that I’m pretty delighted that it’s now coming true would be a massive under-statement.

"Stone and Steel"
(taken from the band's Facebook page FAQ)
"This will be a Blu-Ray and high-definition download release. It will consist of live-in-the studio performances of a number of songs plus some documentary footage and film of four live songs from the Kings Place gigs. Bonus material will be available online and may include interviews and drum-cam footage. Release date is March 7th 2016.

To expand; the "live-in-studio" material was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s “Real World” studios using the live band line up complete with brass section and strings. This also served as an extended rehearsal for the now legendary “King’s Place” gigs this summer just gone. The King’s Place gigs were also recorded multi channel and “Stone and Steel” will contain material from both.

I haven’t seen a full track list, and even if I had the band have asked me not to divulge details, but I’m pretty sure that that not all content will be in 5.1. However, I do know from my playtesting that a very significant chunk, including some of their best and most epic songs, most definitely will be in surround.

Please don’t ask me, yet, about sound format. It’s not confirmed yet, but Greg’s keen on full resolution and it’s BD, so I’m very optimistic. To date I have been play testing flacs created from the wav files straight out of the DAW :) and I’ll add more when I can.

Update from Playtesting

I’ve done photography for the band a couple of times so when I saw confirmation that this release included 5.1 material I offered Greg my services as a play tester, reasoning that as I know them, they know me, I know their material inside out and have done quite a bit of 5.1 playtesting this would work well. Luckily he agreed. :)

So, for the past week or so I've playtesting the surround material that's going to be included in "Stone and Steel” in preparation for it’s release in March. It's not often you get chance to do something like this for one of your favorite bands and re-living a part of the hugely enjoyable King's Place gigs has made this a most intense experience. There have been moments when I have been quite literally speechless.
Listening to the recordings, musicianship and song structure in so much detail and clarity has also given me an even greater appreciation into just how talented these guys and girls are. The playing, recording and production qualities are all so good that the only thing that reminds me that it's actually live is the intense energy that's also been captured in the recordings and comes across in buckets full.
It's also been quite a departure from the norm in terms of approach to play testing for me, too. Because it's a first foray into surround for the band, including their engineer, Rob, it's worked out that I have had opportunity to provide input into how the surround mixes are laid out. In doing so I think I have managed to pass on some of my experience of Progressive Rock in surround and some of the things that can make it work so well. Rob's very quickly added this to his prodigious talents and experience as both a live and studio engineer and used it to fine tune his mixes, which were already very, very good. The result is musical magic. It's spine tingling, immersive, exciting and powerful. It's also stands up very favourably when compared to the best surround music I have in my collection. As live surround it’s up there with, say, “Anesthetise.”
It's been a dream of mine to hear BBT in 5.1 and, since the King's Place gigs, I have longed to re-live that very special experience. I'm pretty certain that "Stone and Steel" is going to do both of these immense justice!
Excited? You should be!
I’ll provide a few more updates as more is released, I’m given approval to do so and have time, but I recommend you add this one to your shopping list for 2016. :)
 
Hi Neil, thank you this and future updates, sounds promising.

You say that Greg is keen on full resolution, but is he also keen on full dynamic range? The English Electric 24 bit is not so dynamic. i know it is not all about dr values, but now that you are on the inside, you might want to mention dynamic range as well :)
 
Neil, thanks for the over view. I have been a Big Big Train fan for past couple of years and they are a great band, I echo your excitement and think its very cool that you are involved.
I echo Robert's question, how are the dynamics as you have said this should be like PT's "Anesthetise", if true thats a pretty lofty praise as we know SW does most or almost all of his mix's which do retain fantastic dynamics which to me is as important as having a great surround mix. If true this will be a exceptional release.
This is one of the criticism's I have of Bruce Soord surround mixes, while his surround mix's are pretty good, none of the things he has done so far score very well in the dynamics field and for me its not about the numbers its about the problem when to much compression added either during mixing or mastering that gives me ear fatique when listening to recordings at a loud volume and at my age I do listen to things loud and the louder you listen to something that has been compressed to much it does give one ear fatigue and a headache.
 
Yeah, good points both. I'm no fan of compression either. However the band obviously have their own views about their recorded sound and in addition the challenges of recording live have to be overcome. I have to respect that and work within those constraints. We've had a number of discussions about it, as you can probably imagine. What I can say for sure is that there's no limiter used in the audio I've been testing and on the whole I'm very happy with the dynamic range.
 
I gave my final "thumbs up" to three of the surround mixes for "Stone and Steel" today.

One of them, the mix for their epic "Victorian Brickwork" is quite simply one of the best things I have heard in surround. The blend of musicianship, recording and mixing reveals the full complexity and beauty of what is an amazing piece of music in a way that draws a very strong emotional response.

Here's a copy of my note to Rob, giving my thumbs up on the final mix:

Rob,

to say that I'm merely happy with that would be the most heinous of understatements. I'm ecstatic about it! It's still making the hairs on my neck stand up, even after so many plays.
You should be very, very proud of it and to have produced it on your first foray into surround mixing is quite astonishing!
 
As good as the band sounds, I figured some of the members had to be part of previous projects/bands. Yep.

Drummer, Nick D"Virgilio has quite a colorful past. He was drummer for Spocks Beard and also Mike Keneally Band. Seems he's something of a session drummer as he's sat it for Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Queensryche.

Guitarist, Dave Gregory was once with XTC and also is a session guitarist appearing on multiple artists efforts including Peter Gabriel, Aimee Mann, and contributed some arrangements to Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun.

Wow!
 
As good as the band sounds, I figured some of the members had to be part of previous projects/bands. Yep.

Drummer, Nick D"Virgilio has quite a colorful past. He was drummer for Spocks Beard and also Mike Keneally Band. Seems he's something of a session drummer as he's sat it for Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Queensryche.

Guitarist, Dave Gregory was once with XTC and also is a session guitarist appearing on multiple artists efforts including Peter Gabriel, Aimee Mann, and contributed some arrangements to Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun.

Wow!

Vocalist/flautist David Longdon also worked with Genesis for a while and came quite close to getting the "Calling All Stations" role. In addition some of the brass section they work with have played with the Coldstream guards band, so all-in-all quite a pedigree!

A little more info on the album; over the weekend I found that a good many more tracks are to be mixed in 5.1 for the BluRay :) The ones I have heard so far are the first batch, there will be a lot more, so it's looking like a significant 5.1 release. :)
 
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A couple more pieces of information. I now know that the majority, if not all, of the material will have a surround-mixed version included on the BluRay and that most will be the "live-in-studio" recordings done at Real World. Will post more updates as I get them and am allowed to release them. :)
 
Another quick update from playtesting today:

We've had a Big Big Day! :) Rob's been on fire with the mixing and has been sending me zip after zip of files, fixes and more more files. Most of the big problems and issues I had early on have now been resolved and he's really hit his stride in terms of knowing what works, what to avoid and how to treat the band's recordings in order to get the best out of them in surround. The fact that he's also enjoying himself comes across very strongly in the mixes too.

There are over a dozen songs in total, with the split between "live" and "live-in-studio" being roughly 1:3. This includes many of the bands "epics" that are 10 or 20 mins in duration. They all sound great. Far, far better than live recordings have any right to sound, but there are also several real jaw droppers in there.

I don't mean just good, I mean stunning!

Highly worthy of a group of top notch musicians playing intricate and moving songs with a brass section and strings. It's also well worth pointing out that there are several very good vocalists in the band too. This means that the multi-part vocal harmonies and choral sections, that any fans of the band will know are a "signature", are well performed and are all very active, discrete, enveloping and beautiful in the surround mixes!

Rob hopes to get the last two complete tomorrow and ready for sign off within the band. I'm really excited about it (can you tell?) and can't wait until this is out next March, and not just so that I can finally see the videos too! ;)
 
Another quick update from playtesting today:

We've had a Big Big Day! :) Rob's been on fire with the mixing and has been sending me zip after zip of files, fixes and more more files. Most of the big problems and issues I had early on have now been resolved and he's really hit his stride in terms of knowing what works, what to avoid and how to treat the band's recordings in order to get the best out of them in surround. The fact that he's also enjoying himself comes across very strongly in the mixes too.

There are over a dozen songs in total, with the split between "live" and "live-in-studio" being roughly 1:3. This includes many of the bands "epics" that are 10 or 20 mins in duration. They all sound great. Far, far better than live recordings have any right to sound, but there are also several real jaw droppers in there.

I don't mean just good, I mean stunning!

Highly worthy of a group of top notch musicians playing intricate and moving songs with a brass section and strings. It's also well worth pointing out that there are several very good vocalists in the band too. This means that the multi-part vocal harmonies and choral sections, that any fans of the band will know are a "signature", are well performed and are all very active, discrete, enveloping and beautiful in the surround mixes!

Rob hopes to get the last two complete tomorrow and ready for sign off within the band. I'm really excited about it (can you tell?) and can't wait until this is out next March, and not just so that I can finally see the videos too! ;)

This is sounding really good. Not sure if you know answers to this but I'm curious.
Has Rob Aubrey done any other 5.1 mixing before this?
Would they remix any of their older albums in 5.1 if this sells well?
 
This is sounding really good. Not sure if you know answers to this but I'm curious.
Has Rob Aubrey done any other 5.1 mixing before this?
Would they remix any of their older albums in 5.1 if this sells well?

I didn't think he had but I was wrong. He's done 5.1 work for IQ (subterranea).... a Jadis live gig (Poland), something for Pallas ...and something for Transatlantic. According to Rob they were quite "low key" but it explains why his base mixes were already pretty good. They've moved on a lot from that stage though. :)

Despite liking all the bands I know nothing about any of those mixes. When I have time I'll try and track some of them down.
 
Hi Neil. This will definitley be a pre-order for me. Can I presume the blu-Ray will contain both a video and audio-only music. Or it all video with those great surround mixes?

Thanks for all your posts. I'm excited about this release too!
 
To say I'm excited about this is a huge understatement. To hear the hype from Neil and the info that it's discrete and done well is making me :banana:
 
Hi Neil. This will definitley be a pre-order for me. Can I presume the blu-Ray will contain both a video and audio-only music. Or it all video with those great surround mixes?

Thanks for all your posts. I'm excited about this release too!

You're welcome. :) I think it's going to be huge, so I'm very happy to spread the word as best I can.

To answer your question; I don't know anything about the physical release, yet, I'm afraid. I'm play testing wavs of the audio exported directly from Rob's ProTools DAW. It sounds immense, but, apart from being assured that they wont do any mastering compression on the 5.1 audio when it's transferred to BD I don't know what audio options will be available.
 
Ready for pre order from BBT shop,
http://www.bigbigtrain.com/main/shop/stone_and_steel

Stone and Steel documents Big Big Train's return to live performance after many years as a writing and recording band. Released on Blu-Ray and high-definition download, Stone and Steel features performances of nine songs recorded live at Real World studios in August 2014 and four songs recorded live at the band's London gigs in August 2015 alongside interview and documentary footage. All live performances are presented in 5.1 and stereo. Running time approximately three hours. The Blu-Ray release includes a 64 page booklet. The release date is March 7th, with Blu-Ray pre-orders being taken from January 1st and downloads being available from Vimeo in March.

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