When Judy Dyble met David Longdon in the foyer of King’s Place, London, in August 2015, she knew next-to-nothing about his band. Big Big Train were playing some rare live shows and, on the recommendation of this writer, Dyble had hopped on a train, post-that year’s Cropredy Convention, and found herself – along with a venue-full of Passengers – swept away by what she heard and saw. “I’d love to sing with that band!” she enthused, and, after the show, she briefly met vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Longdon and bassist Greg Spawton before her return trip home. Longdon was a little starstruck by the woman from Fairport Convention who he’d read of as a teen; he asked for a photo with her and the pair were soon in frequent contact. By the end of the year, two tracks were written and Dyble Longdon – Longdon’s first partnership with another songwriter – had sprouted wings, and a tail.
Dyble did sing with BBT, duetting with Longdon on the The Ivy Gate on 2017’s Grimspound. But a full complement of Dyble/Longdon songs took longer to consolidate, and final vocals were recorded at Real World in April and July 2019. Dyble was then 70, and long suffering with emphysema, but you’d never guess to hear her on Between A Breath And A Breath. Her assured, cut-glass tone is impeccable and beautifully paired with Longdon’s earthier, soulful style.
Special guests were mooted, including Richard Thompson. That would have overshadowed the project; Dyble and Longdon are the undoubted stars. However, all of BBT are here, plus Dave Gregory on “twangy guitar” and Gong bassist Dave Sturt. On breezy pop-prog opener Astrologers you’ll hear the Herbie Flowers-like bass of Dyble collaborator Andy Lewis (see: 2017’s wonderful Summer Dancing album) and Isuldur’s Bane’s Luca Calabrese adds trumpets here and there. Jade Warrior’s Jeff Davenport drums.
If you’re already on board with BBT and have lapped up Dyble’s albums with her Band Of Perfect Strangers, Between A Breath… will be for you. Dyble’s aptitude for expressing yearning, hope and whimsicality remains. Longdon’s sumptuous arrangements make tracks such as the centrepiece suite France symphonic storytelling in excelsis. But Dyble’s own life experience is central, Longdon encouraging her narrative, an older woman’s point of view. Tidying Away The Pieces reflects on the loss of a partner; Whisper is the lament of older people fading into society’s wallpaper. And Heartwashing… well, given that Dyble sadly passed away before the album’s release, when you hear its denouement it might just take away the breaths between your breath.