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Big Country

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The nucleus of Big Country was formed when Stuart Adamson left The Skids in 1981. Stuart recruited guitar partner Bruce Watson who also lived in Dunfermline where the band was based. They were initially a five-piece and featured fellow Scots Pete and Alan Wishart who went on to form Runrig and in Pete’s case, become a member of Parliament. This line up did very few shows but did open for Alice Cooper in February 1982; however, the band was asked to leave the tour after two shows because they weren’t cutting it. But, fate shone kindly on them because they were soon to re-connect with the rhythm section of Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki whom Stuart had met some two years earlier when their band On the Air (also with Simon Townshend) opened for The Skids. It was considered during that initial phase that the rhythm section was its weak spot. The new line up changed everything and they cut their first demos at Phonograms studios in London and were immediately signed to them in May 1982. After somewhat of a false start with legendary producer Chris Thomas they released their first single and were “Special Guests” to The Jam at Wembley Arena for five nights on their farewell dates. Paul Weller had voted Stuart “The Finest Human Being on The Planet” in an NME Christmas poll, the year before. The single “Harvest Home” sold over 6,000 but in those days that number only reached 83 on the charts and they gained many fans from the Jam gigs. Fate continued to shine kindly because although the exercise with Chris didn’t work out as hoped for, a certain producer by the name of Steve Lillywhite was about to come to the rescue. “Fields of Fire” recorded in January 1983, released in February and after two weeks had become a Top Ten hit.

The band broke massively worldwide during that year with their debut album The Crossing that sold over two million copies and earned Big Country three Grammy nominations. Their subsequent four albums, Steeltown, which debuted at Number One (1984), The Seer (1986), Peace in Our Time (1988) and No Place Like Home (1991) were all certified Gold on release and took the bands total record sales tally to five million. Big Country appeared at Live Aid and The Princes Trust Tenth Birthday Party and in 1988 they played the first ever privately promoted gig in Russia at the Moscow Sports Stadium. At the end of the decade Through A Big Country, featuring all the bands classic hits was released and while it charted Top Five nationwide and sold over a million copies, the group parted company with Phonogram after massive personnel changes at the label. In 1992 Big Country signed to Compulsion, through Chrysalis, scored two top 30 hit singles (“Alone” and “Ships”) from their sixth album Buffalo Skinners, and set out on another sold out UK and European tour. Their first live album, Without The Aid of a Safety Net, was recorded in December 1993 at a tumultuous sold out Barrowlands’ gig originally released in June 94 and released also on DVD in 2006.

Big Country’s seventh studio album, Why The Long Face, was released on the newly reactivated Transatlantic Records label in 1995, and while critically well received, did not sell as well as hoped. But on the live scene the band were doing as well as ever; they co-headlined many 1995 European festivals with the likes of Bob Dylan, Faith No More, Black Crowes and Soul Asylum. They then landed the special guest slot on the 1995 Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge European tour and several shows in the UK and Ireland with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant later that year.

An unplugged album featuring friends (Steve Harley, Kym Mazelle & Hassam Ramzy’s Egyptian drummers) was released in 1996 after which Stuart decided it was time for a break; he moved to Nashville and the rest of the band did their own thing for a while. In August 1998 they were once again invited to open for the Rolling Stones on their Bridges to Babylon tour in Europe. Some of the best songs on the new album, Driving to Damascus, their upcoming eighth studio album, were written in between these dates.

Two songs (“Somebody Else” and “Devil in The Eye”) were co-written with Ray Davies, who became firm friends with the band after they joined him on the main stage at Glastonbury in 1997 to perform a storming set in the rain. “Both Ray and I pushed each other into areas we wouldn’t normally go,” said Stuart. The first single from the album, “Fragile Thing,” featured Eddi Reader. “We had been mutual admirers from afar and Eddi is one of the finest singers I have ever come across. She took a sideways look at the song and expressed herself,” said Stuart at the time. Eddi also sang backing vocal on “See You, Grace and Bella.”

Big Country is one of the few truly awesome live outfits to have survived the roller coaster ride of the mad Eighties and their star was burning brighter than ever in 1999. The band headlined a Scotland for Kosovo gig in Glasgow, joined by Eddi Reader, Teenage Fanclub, Gun, Simple Minds, Ricky Ross and Midge Ure. The success of this gig led to the band actually performing in September in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, as part of a multinational all-star bill brought together by Vanessa Redgrave and Bill Kenwright (label partner of band manager, Ian Grant). The band was flown to the gig by the RAF and then shuttled to the venue in a K-FOR armored car. The sight of several thousand Kosovars going wild in a sports arena in the middle of a devastated city was one of the most moving events in the band’s career.

Big Country, who has scored 17 Top 30 singles and seven Top 30 albums in the past, released their eighth studio album in September 1999. Produced by Rafe McKenna, Driving to Damascus was released on the Track Record label (original home of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, etc.) reactivated by Bill Kenwright and Ian Grant. Driving to Damascus was a major leap forward for the band, containing textures and influences never before embraced and manifested Big Country back at the peak of their creative powers. However, in November 1999, the band received more International media coverage than they had seen in a decade or more. Stuart Adamson did not arrive in the UK for British TV appearances and some shows with Bryan Adams. Speculation was such that not only the tabloids but the broadsheets (The Times called his publicist requesting an up to date biog so that they could prepare an obituary) and radio and TV gave massive coverage to his being missing. Then residing in America and with many changes in his personal life, Stuart decided he had had enough of touring. He agreed to tour one final time in Europe. The band embarked on their Final Fling tour of UK, Germany and Holland. The last gig at their beloved Barrowlands was filmed, recorded and a double DVD - Come Up Screaming (bonus disc was the band playing before 150,000 people in East Berlin) which included most of The

Crossing live and other favorites was released in 2002.

Big Country did, in fact, perform one more show in 2000 and this was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In October they were on a multi-national bill, which included Jethro Tull, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, plus numerous acts from the Pacific Rim. This was their last ever performance. Stuart only ever wanted to put Big Country on the backburner while he explored new territory in Nashville with his new band, The Raphaels; he fully intended to work Big Country again. Tragically, it was not to be.

Stuart sadly died on December 16, 2001.

He was honored by his children, Callum and Kirsten, former band members and musician friends when they gathered to perform and remember him and his music at Barrowlands (long considered the band’s spiritual home) in Glasgow on May 31, 2002. The Skids made an appearance for the first time in 20 years. Hugh Cornwell (former Stranglers frontman), Midge Ure, Bill Nelson, Steve Harley, Brian James and The Vibrators, Runrig, Damon Hill, Mike Peters and many more took part in a program put together by Bruce Watson and band manager Ian Grant.

Coming to terms with what happened was always going to take as long as it would take. The following year (2003) Bruce and Mark were both guests on a Fish album and during the recording sessions, both expressed their mutual wish to work with their own band again. It was considered too soon to relaunch Big Country out of respect to Stuart’s family. So, with this in mind, the Casbah Club was born. With Tony reluctant to tour, Bruce and Mark joined forces with Bruce Foxton formerly of The Jam, JJ Gilmour (The Silencers) and sometimes Big Country keyboard player, Josh Phillips. The band toured UK and recorded a live album. The line-up splintered the following year with Simon Townshend replacing Gilmour and Phillips in 2005. During this era, on and off over a three year period, Bruce also played with Mike Peters in Dead Men Walking’s various line ups. The remaining three members had not had any thoughts of performing as Big Country again. But, Tony Butler, Mark Brzezicki and Bruce Watson united in 2007 to celebrate the band’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Nineteen dates took place that year and one show was recorded and was released via Track Records under the name of 25 Live. The first two shows sold out (Glasgow and Aberdeen) and left the band on such a high they decided to go straight into the studio with producer Pete Brown (son of Joe) and record some new songs. “It wasn’t a come-back . . . it was just the three of us having fun, as friends and as a band, and hoping to give the fans some enjoyment by playing our songs live, to celebrate 25 years. The enthusiasm rubbed off and we decided to document it”. The songs were released on Track Records under the name of Butler, Brzezicki, Watson.

In mid-summer 2010, it was apparent that there were issues relating to the business of Big Country that needed addressing, and this would most probably need the band being proactive in some way in order to help resolve these long standing issues. Manager Ian Grant suggested to Tony, Mark and Bruce. “Either we get band business back in shape or we may lose it forever; you should consider doing some gigs”. Co-incidentally at this time, the band was notified of a Kirsty Macoll tribute concert (of which they were very keen to get involved in) and this got them thinking about who could stand in Stuart’s shoes. No-one could replace him; however, Bruce had been working with his son Jamie and indeed both had stood in for Stuart with the Skids 2007 reformation. Mike Peters had worked with the band before both opening for them and appearing with them in 2004 at a fan convention in Holland. Could it work with Mike and Jamie? It was worth a try. Dates were booked. They began to sell well and with only three rehearsals under their belt, the new line-up took to the stage and was back in Glasgow on New Year’s Eve last year. Six more sell out gigs took place with the fan and critic reception alike being unanimous.

The Journey (2013) marks a major step in Big Country’s history as it is the first studio album not to feature the late Stuart Adamson and the recording debut of the Alarm’s Mike Peters (who wrote nearly all the lyrics on this album).

They have been touring with much success with Mike Peters fronting the band, although this is the test to see if they can carry the band’s over to a new era. There is also a line-up change with original bass player Tony Butler, who retired last year, and his replacement is ex-Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes, who joins the aforementioned Peters, original members Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki and Bruce’s son, Jamie, to complete the line-up.

Having Mike Peters singing and writing the lyrics will naturally lead to some Alarm comparisons, none more so than on the raucous opening song “In A Broken Promise Land,” which really does sound like Big Country and the Alarm jamming together.

The closing “Hail and Farewell” is a slow burning anthem, again recalling the Alarm (by way of Runrig). Mike Peters has lost none of his passion and vocal power down the years and backed by the fine musicians that make up the rest of the band you know it is going to be an enjoyable album.

The classic Big Country guitar sound is all present and correct on the stirring “Another Country,” a song that allows Bruce Watson’s guitar playing a chance to shine. “The Journey” has already been played live and released as a single and shows how the band have successfully kept the things that made the band a hit in the first place (strong anthemic choruses, powerful guitars, strong and personal lyrics) and added in some newer sounds.

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