Big Country Info Big Country Info



February 1993
1:18:20

CD & Cassette

 

LINER NOTES


"In America, mainstream music may be the thing, but I'm really not very comfortable with it. I like to play folk music with loud guitars: that's what I do. I like loud guitar music, and I'm not going to apologise for it anymore."

Big Country leader Stuart Adamson's typically forthright quote in an early-Nineties interview sums up his straightforward attitude to life and music. Manchester-born but a Scot in every other sense, guitarist-vocalist Adamson had left Celtic art-punks the Skids in June 1981 with the intention of getting back to a more direct form of rock. Though his contributin to the Skids' success was somewhat overlooked, a scan of the writing credits indicated that beside canny, controversial frontman Richard Jobson stood more than just an able lieutenant.

The same six-string sound that had powered the Skids was taken to its logical extreme with Big Country. And in guitar partner Bruce Watson, who had never escaped the local scene and whose day job was cleaning nuclear submarines, Adamson had chosen wisely. The two detonated almost immediately, but a suitable rhythm section proved rather more difficult to find. The original choices, like Watson local musicians, were augmented by a synthesiser player, but after being thrown off a tour supporting Alice Cooper (amazingly for being 'too wierd') Adamson and Watson were back to a duo.

Their record company Phonogram put them in the studio to cut demos with two seasoned sessioners, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki, whose earlier group On The Air had once briefly supported the Skids. The combination worked so well that a permanent alliance was forged.

It proved quite a combination. "Harvest Home" announced their arrival in no mean fashion - and, though it failed to chart, encompassed all the vitality and power that would become their trademarks. The equally rousing "In A Big Country", the third single, remains their theme tune. "It was the song that people really latched onto throughout the world," admits Adamson. "The lyrical idea was about having hope, a sense of self and dignity in times of trouble." That, plus the memorable melody...

Both these, plus further singles "Fields Of Fire" and "Chance", were included on the debut album "The Crossing" which notched a staggering 80 weeks in the charts - no mean feat for a first attempt. Two more tracks from it "Close Action" and "The Storm", are featured here. The album also reached a creditable Number 18 in the States, the single "In A Big Country" doing one place better in its respective chart. It would prove the peak of their stateside success.

The band opened 1984 with the potent blast of "Wonderland", like the first album produced by Steve Lillywhite who also did the honours for U2 and Simple Minds. Their second album "Steeltown", that followed caught the band at its creative and commercial peak. Entering the charts at the very top in October 1984, it stuck around for 21 weeks and spawned three singles. The theme was the industrial decline of Dunfermline and so many other communities, capturing decline and desperation but also hope and pride.

Three album cuts, including the title track, are featured here - along with "Belief In The Small Man" (the b-side of "Where The Rose Is Sown") and "Winter Sky" (the b-side of "Just A Shadow", whose Top 30 a-side is also present here). Big Country's rapport with their fans extended to giving them non-album material on single releases, the quality of these suggesting a band with inspiration to spare.

A sold-out Wembley Arena reverberated to the joyous Big Country sound for a two-night 'residency' just before Christmas 1984, setting the seal on an eventful couple of years. It was surprising that Big Country were not to release a live album (and to date have yet to do so), but would include several bonus concert cuts on singles.

Despite detractors harping on about the band's "bagpipe guitar sound", Big Country stood out as one of the more distinctive acts in a post-punk musical landscape. "If the music comes out naturally it's bound to have a stamp of identity," insisted Adamson. "I refuse to acknowledge that my roots in folk and rock music are any less valid than someone who grew up in a ghetto playing dance music." Hardly an attitude guaranteed to make Big Country critics' favourites, but it was the bond with their audience that made this band special.

Kate Bush gave Big Country her personal seal of approval by duetting with Stuart on "The Seer", title track of the band's third album released in July 1986. The employment of producer Robin Millar, whose track record includes the Fine Young Cannibals, gave the album a more commercial sound, though "The Seer" was kept from emulating "Steeltown"s chart-topping performance by just one place...not through lack of fan enthusiasm but the immovable object that was Madonna's "True Blue". Three further cuts - "Remembrance Day", "The Sailor" and the single "One Great Thing" - are also featured here.

As before, when Big Country had girdled the world touring, there would be a two-year wait for a new album. This time, though, it was film music that occupied them - and the sessions for the Restless Natives soundtrack, coming on top of their relentless schedule to date, threatened to split the band as family man Stuart Adamson felt the strain. But by the end of the year internal problems had abated, and Big Country were special guests of The Who's Roger Daltrey at New York's Madison Square Garden. Butler and Brzezicki did double duty backing the star of the show, having earlier performed the same task on album for Pete Townsend.

The eventual release of "Peace In Our Time" in September 1988 was celebrated by a trip to Moscow - yet paradoxically the band's fourth album featured a more American sound than before, having been recorded on the other side of the Atlantic with producer Peter Wolf. Postcards were included with the title track's release as a singel for fans to send to the White House and Kremlin urging their occupants to secure world peace - but though the Iron Curtain would fall mere months later, the album only reached Number 9. The lack of tour probably didn't help its chances.

The single "King Of Emotion" found Top 20 success nevertheless, its b-side, "The Travellers", also being worthy of inclusion here. "King Of Emotion" was unashamedly inspired by the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women", a song Big Country had once featured in their set. "There was a groove that suited us," admitted Stuart, "so I thought why not go the whole hog and write our own song?"

Another of the albums' outstanding tracks was "Thousand Yard Stare", a title later borrowed by a leading indie band but originating from the Vietnam war to dexcribe the glaze-eyed look of shell-shocked young US soldiers. "I like to put characters in my songs," explained Adamson, who admitted it was fascinating "to see America finally try to come to terms with its guilt over Vietnam." Elsewhere, keyboards played a greater than usual part in proceedings. At the time Stuart described this as "a natural evolution"...but, as this sleevenote's opening quote suggests, decided to go back to basics next time round.

Released in May 1990, "Through A Big Country - Greatest Hits" brought breathing space and an impressive Number 2 chart placing. But when a new album, "No Place Like Home", finally emerged in September 1991 on Phonogram's Vertigo label (its predecessors had been on Mercury) it reached only Number 28 - a consequence, perhaps, of 18 months out of the spotlight. But the big news was the outfits first ever personnel change, London drummer Pat Ahern coming in for Mark Brzezicki. Band and label parted company the following year, suggesting a new chapter in their eventful ten-year history was on the horizon.

In their chart heyday, Big Country were bracketed with U2 and Simple Minds in the widescreen guitar-rock stakes. Runrig and others have since worn their Celtic roots proudly, but Big Country remain leaders in a field of one for combining Celtic folk and rock roots in a seamless, soulful and (in chart terms) spectacular fashion.