I have been studying tenses/verb phrases but am completely lost when there is no action to speak of and cannot find what this would go under. Is it more than just past tense? Also, what would you describe to be the meaning; anything other than describing what was happening up until this point, could you say more than just setting the scene?
I think I see your problem. We don't say "I am away" to mean "I am not here"; so what does "I've been away" mean?
In fact, "I've been away" is a very common idiom: it means something like "I have been somewhere else for some time, but now I have returned."
In your case, the speaker is describing a time just after they had returned after a five-year absence. For instance:
I returned in 1964. I had been away for almost five years, but nothing had changed.
I had been away for almost five years
This sentence uses the past perfect.
The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.
Your sentence fits the portion of the text I made bold pretty well. It shows that something (you were away) before a specific time in the past (there's a bit missing from the sentence, the rest of the sentence should contain information about a specific time or action in the past)
there is no action to speak of
The pattern for past perfect is:
had + past participle
So in this case, you have
had been - been is the past participle of
to be, so this is your verb.
Also, what would you describe to be the meaning ... could you say more than just setting the scene?
Probably not. In this example, this just seems to be setting the scene.
In another example, the perfect part of the sentence comes later. Here is doesn't "set the scene", but it does add more information to an existing scene.
I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.