Big Country Info Big Country Info


(jump to: Liner Notes by Tim Barr | Credits)

I've always considered myself as a singer and writer of folk songs I like to play though electric guitars."
-Stuart Adamson

I came to one day in 1985 and found I had been around the world several times in a chaos of bagpipe guitars and cold small beer. I had been translated and subtitled from the sack to the mill and came home to a place that didn’t look like the press kit I was aware that I was carrying more than just some cheap luggage around with me, especially when I spoke in an accent deemed everything from cute to impenetrable, depending on who was doing the listening. It seemed that all I did was defined by my being Scots and all of it someone else’s definition.

So I opened my eyes, I looked, I listened, I read, and made tangible for myself what had been instinctive. Somewhere between Alex Harvey and Hugh McDiarmid, Glencoe and Hampden Park was a culture and it was mine. It too had been packaged and marketed but it was there, tucked away in a corner below the whisky and shortbread crates.

So I took it out and dusted it off and there it was. I wanted to be outward looking and forward thinking, freed of the misty sentimentality of nationalism, but aware of its continuity. Where have we been, where are we going, what can we give, what can we learn.

Me? I just brought it to the party.

-Stuart Adamson


(jump to: Liner Notes by Stuart Adamson | Credits)

"More big music," reported NME when The Seer was released in June 1986, "more heroics." And in terms of the epic scale of Big Country's third album, that part of the review was inarguable. And yet, eight months earlier when the band had begun work on The Seer at London's RAK Studios, the record they envisioned had been very different.
Though recording engineer Will Gosling - who'd assisted on both The Crossing and Steeltown - was back onboard, long-time producer Steve Lillywhite had been otherwise engaged with The Rolling Stones. Accordingly, Big Country's search for someone to take his place led them to another great British studio genius Robin Millar.
Those who scoured the credits on record sleeves might, at first, have thought Millar an unusual choice. At that point, he was best known as the multi-million-selling studio mastermind behind Sade's Diamond Life as well as the wistful, jazz-inspired pop of Working Week, Everything But The Girl and The Pale Fountains. However, as an inveterate pop theorist,
he also had very definite ideas about the direction Big Country ought to take on their third album and, in a newspaper interview, talked eloquently - as always - about his desire to work with them.
"I felt that Big Country had got to a point where they'd taken that '80s big reverb sound about as far as it could go," explains Millar. "It was the perfect moment for them to move away from that to a more thoughtful, more organic, deeper kind of record."
That opinion was exactly what Big Country's frontman Stuart Adamson and the band's cofounder Bruce Watson wanted to hear. "In the same way that we didn't want to do The Crossing Pt II with our second album Steeltown," explained Adamson, "I didn't feel it
would be right to do a Steeltown Pt II with The Seer." After reading Millar's comments, they knew they had found someone they could work with.
That autumn, Big Country had been writing and rehearsing in Scotland, developing songs that also had their roots firmly in the band's homeland. Nationalist poet Hugh MacDiarmid was a key influence. "Reading his poems gave me the idea for The Seer," explained Adamson. "He had this idea for a Scotland that was modern and vital and outward-looking, not one that was just a sentimental picture of clans, whisky and bagpipes, a country that was part of the world."
Adamson drew inspiration for the title track's lyric from a documentary about the Brahan Seer, a 17th century Scots mystic whose predictions ranged from the fate of the local nobility to worldwide catastrophe. The words for Red Fox, meanwhile, centred on a notorious miscarriage of justice that took place during the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion. "The idea for the song," Adamson confessed, "comes from the murder of Colin Campbell. He was an officer working for the English army at the time of the Highland Clearances. He was killed up in the Highlands and no one has ever really known exactly who did it, though one of the Stewarts was hanged for it. What I did with that was use that historical context and bring it forward into contemporary times." The Scottish diaspora was also the inspiration for Remembrance Day. "It's quite a potent image of learning from things gone past. This is the underlying theme and the key that the whole album revolves around."
Musically, too, songs such as The Teacher and Eiledon had their roots firmly in Adamson's childhood in the Fife mining village of Crossgates. "Most of European pop and rock music is blues-based," he mused, "but I didn't grow up listening to blues music - I grew up listening to folk and country. My playing has its roots in a whole different chord structure and a whole different set of melodies."
Three years before fellow travellers The Waterboys reinvented themselves as a folk outfit with their Fisherman's Blues masterpiece, those kind of sentiments were distinctly out of step. But Adamson was dismissive of the critics. "What annoys me a little," he said, "is that it's OK for a soul group from Detroit to acknowledge and write about their roots and influences. However, some people find it harder to accept it when we are influenced by our own Scottish folk tradition, which I believe is just as valid. I'm not embarrassed about my roots or my Scottish identity."
On a flying visit to London from his hometown of Dunfermline, Adamson found that Millar - who had begun his career as a rock guitarist before moving into production - was indeed a kindred spirit. Sitting in the control room at the Power Plant, the producer's own studio complex in Willesden, the pair immediately hit it off. "The first thing I asked him to do," recalls Millar, "was bring in an acoustic guitar and sing these songs to me. It was a magical experience. And, for me, the tragedy is that I didn't record it. Because, I think, if people want to understand Stuart, they have to strip away all the fantastic drumming and bass playing and Bruce's divine guitar playing and imagine Stuart on his own in a folk cellar - with a dreadnought and a Fair Isle sweater - just singing a song like Eiledon. To me, he was a Celtic folk troubadour. That's why I felt that, even in the context of Big Country, we could bring that much more personal, thoughtful sensibility - which was very much part of his character - to the record."
'Going into our third album was a daunting out exciting prospect," remembers bassist ony Butler. "The fantastic thing about Robin as that, after a very short period of time, we'd aII forged a special bond with him. He was early in tune with the band. It was a joy to ork with him."
Millar's talent as an arranger - something he'd studied formally after abandoning his own chart-topping career as an artist - also proved crucial. "It's something I wanted since I started the group," Adamson explained. "I always wanted to have the parts much more orchestrated than, say, 'This song goes FDGA' and I based everything around the melody lines on the bass as well as on the two guitars, so there are identifiable harmonies and choral effects going on."
Moving from initial tracking sessions at RAK to Millar's Power Plant in December 1985, recording of The Seer continued into the early part of 1986. "Robin had a different way of working," explained drummer Mark Brzezicki. "He would strip the songs back, not have so many overdubs and allow the songs to breathe a bit more." For the band themselves, Millar's tales of hanging out with The Rolling Stones - even sitting in on bass on one occasion as they rehearsed Tumbling Dice - moving to Paris and working as an engineer at the famous Chateau D'Herouville during the time David Bowie was recording his seminal Low album there, made the process fascinating as well as fun. Adamson's razor-sharp sense of humour also got a chance to shine.
"One of my favourite memories from those recording sessions was when we were doing the lead guitar parts on Look Away," remembers Millar. "We needed a new texture and I'd persuaded Stuart to use a Les Paul so we could have a thicker, creamier sound coming in. We set it up so that his Marshall amps were miked up out in the studio, but his guitar was plugged in so he could be beside us in the control room. When we pushed up the volume in Studio 1, he could hear this big, rich Les Paul sound and I could tell he was excited. As I sat at the recording console, he stood right behind me playing that wonderful melody. I'm a guitarist and I recognised, just from the vibrato in his fingers, how much he was getting off on doing it. So we rolled the track and, as always, he was brilliant. Then, in the middle of the take, while he was playing, he leant over and into my ear, in his broad Fife accent, whispered: "I'm fucking great!" It was so funny. Only Stuart. And, amazingly, that was the take we kept, that's what you hear on the record."
For both the band and the producer, another of the album's most memorable moments was firmly centred on the title track. "To anyone involved in British music," says Butler, "from the late '70s onwards, Kate Bush has been an inspirational figure not just in terms of her artistry but in her dedication to doing things her own way. So when she came in to do vocals on The Seer, it was a real highpoint for us."
"She was amazing," agreed Adamson. "She's a perfectionist. She won't give up until she's absolutely satisfied with what she's done. She has a lot of dedication."
"Kate was incredible," adds Millar. "She came in with her parts already worked out and told me, 'I know exactly what I've come to do. I have five parts, I'll record them in order.' When I asked, as the producer, what would happen if I didn't like her parts, there was a slight bit of tension but, once she'd finished everything - which took about six or seven hours I think - she went off to the café to get something to eat and I threw together a fairly quick mix. When she came back, I played it for her and
she patted me on both shoulders and said, 'You're really very good, you directed me well, thank you'. It was a lovely moment."
Millar remembers his mix of The Seer as one that highlighted Adamson's sensitivity as a songwriter. "I wanted it to be like a conversation between Stuart and Kate," he reveals. "The mandolin and bodhran were in the middle, totally dry, with Stuart's vocal to the left and Kate's to the right. My starting point. as always, was remembering him sitting on the little corner sofa in Studio 1 with a borrowed acoustic, singing these songs to me on his own. I felt that the band could complement his songs in a different way and really deliver something new
"Robin was very good for the band," explained Adamson. "He brought out the space and melody. That was a direction we wanted to go in. We felt we wanted to be a bit more airy with this album and have a bit more room in it."
The "hugely enjoyable" recording sessions seemed to have paid off in April 1986 when Millar's mix of Look Away - a song inspired by the Bruce Dern movie Harry Tracy - gave Big Country their biggest UK hit, climbing to No7 in the charts.
With the album finished, mixed and delivered, Big Country ventured out on the road to begin the almost year-long Seer tour, which took them across Europe, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada. Meanwhile cover artist Julian Balme, who'd done such a tremendous job on The Crossing and Steeltown, set to work, developing the artwork. Initially, he drew his own version of the eye-catching eagle but after seeing final proofs quickly decided to commission illustrator David Da Silva to come up with an alternative.
Balme wasn't the only one to have second thoughts. In a dramatic twist, a sudden decision was made to call in the services of Walter Turbitt, who was much in vogue following work with The Cars and Cyndi Lauper, to remix the album. "One person at the label got cold feet about us releasing such a different-sounding album," Brzezicki revealed. "Walter started to add all sorts of things to the tracks. When I heard some of these mixes I was horrified. I think we all were." In particular, the band were appalled that Kate Bush's contribution to the title track was almost totally inaudible. "Robin's mix was really organic," added Watson. "In fact, it was probably one of my favourite mixes of all the albums we've done." "In the studio, the songs had sounded magic," insists Butler. "Robin's mixes were very powerful. But when we heard the finished album, Walter's mixes were much weaker. It wasn't the record we'd made."
The Seer did go on to yield two more Top 40 hits with the release of The Teacher and One Great Thing as singles. In November 1986, Hold The Heart, even with Turbitt's lifted and layered remix, stalled outside the Top 50. Four months later, U2 released The Joshua Tree, a dramatic shift in direction that saw the band move towards a rootsier, more organic sound.
Almost 30 years later, however, it's the songs themselves that still connect. This package reunites the album with b-sides and extended mixes and also includes the band's soundtrack to the film Restless Natives, which they completed a few months before Live Aid (though the band didn't perform on the day, they did join David Bowie, Paul McCartney and their old pals U2 on stage at Wembley for the grand finale).
"I think that any underlying feel that there is to any body of work that we do comes from the atmosphere surrounding the group at the time," explained Adamson. "We are a group who try and connect the ideas in our songs as directly and explicitly as possible ... if people can identify with our songs and take them into their lives, there can be no stronger confirmation of our work."
© Tim Barr - 2014

The Seer
1 Look Away (4.23)
2 The Seer (5 24)
3 The Teacher (4.07)
4 I Walk The Hill (3.29)
5 Eiledon (5 35)
6 One Great Thing (4.02)
7 Hold The Heart (605)
8 Remembrance Day (4.28)
9 Red Fox (4.09)
10 Sailor (4.52)
11 Restless Natives (B-Side to Look Away) (4.00)
12 Margo's Theme (B-Side) to Look Away) (3.42)
13 Highland Scenery (B-Side) to Look Away) (4.06)
14 Home Came The Angels (B-Side to The Teacher) (2.07)
15 Song Of The South 7” Version (B-Side to One Great Thing) (3.49)
16 Honky Tonk Woman Live (B-Side to Hold The Heart) (3.54)

Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. 11.15. 17 (Stuart Adamson). Track 2 (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson). Track 6 (Stuart Adamson / Tony Butler). Track 8 (Stuart Adamson / Tony Butler / Bruce Watson). Track 10 (Stuart Adamson / Mark Brzezicki). Track 16 (Mick Jagger / Keith Richards). Tracks 1-10, 15, 17 produced by Robin Millar. Tracks 11-14 produced by Geoff Emerick. Tracks 1-3.12-13 published by EMI 10 Music Ltd. Tracks 4-11, 15 published by Big Country Music Ltd. Tracks 14. 17 published by 10 Music Ltd. Track 16 published by ABKCO Music Ltd. / Onward Music Ltd. Westminster Music Ltd. All tracks © 1986 Mercury Records Limited. This Compilation, © 2014 Mercury Records Limited © 2014 Mercury Records Limited.

1 Restless Natives Restless Soundtrack Part 1 (B-Side to Look Away 12") (16.43)
2 Restless Natives Restless Soundtrack Part 2 (B-Side to The Teacher 12") (18.08)
3 I Will Run For You Complete Film Version (Previously Unreleased) (424)
4 Look Away 12" Mix (6.32)
5 The Teacher Mystery Mix (5.40)
6 One Great Thing Boston Mix (5.34)
7 Song of The South (5 04)
8 Look Away Outlaw Mix (6.54)
9 One Great Thing Big BAAD Country Mix (6 12)

Tracks 1-5, 7-8 (Stuart Adamson). Tracks 6, 9 (Stuart Adamson / Tony Butler). Tracks 1-3 produced by Geoff Emenck. Tracks 4-9 produced by Robin Millar. Tracks 3, 5, 7 published by 10 Music Ltd. Tracks 1-2 7, 9 published by Big Country Music Ltd. Track 8 published by EMI 10 Music Limited. All tracks ©1986 Mercury Records Limited. This Compilation: © 2014 Mercury Records Limited ©2014 Mercury Records Limited.


Stuart Adamson Vocals, Guitar, E-bow
Mark Brzezicki Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Tony Butler Bass, Bass Pedals, Backing Vocals
Bruce Watson Guitar, Mandolin, Sitar
Original Production by Robin Millar
Mixed by Walter Turbitt
Engineered by Will Gosling
Assistant Engineers Dave Anderson, Phil Legg, Nick Lacey, Russell Leahy
Additional Vocals on 'The Seer' by Kate Bush
Backing Vocals on 'Remembrance Day' & 'Eiledon' by June Miles-Kingston
Bodhran: Davie Duncan

Thanks To:
Ian Grant, Alan Edwards-the Management
Les King, Dave Davies, Pete Barnes, Kevin Hartman, Joe Seabrook,
Peter Stevens - the Crew
Katie, Catherine, Jennette, Paulette - the Office
Pearl (Drums), Zildjian (Cymbals), Fender (Guitars), Jimmy Moon (Guitars)
Sleeve by J.B.
Illustrated by David Da Silva
Recorded at the Power Plant & RAK Studios
Mixed at Maison Rouge
Kate Bush Appears Courtesy of EMI Records
Management Address:
Grant/Edwards Management
30 Bridstow Place, Talbot Road
London W2 SAE

Fan Club:
c/o Andy Marlow
Acme House
26-40 St Andrews Street
Northampton NN1 2HL


Compiled by Dermot James
Product Managed for Universal Music by Joe Black at Hey Joe! Designed by Mike Storey and Jason Smith at Storey London Sleeve Notes by Tim Barr
Mastered by Jared Hawkes at Universal Mastering, London
Big Country memorabilia supplied by Liam Donoghue, Barry Gray, Rene Schraven and Derek Phillips,
Hey Joe would like to thank : Big Country, Justin Brown, John Chadwick, Johnny Chandler, Dave Clarke, Paul and Helen Con, Jamie Davidson, Liam Donoghue, Kathryn Gilfeather, Ian Grant, lames Grant, Simon Gurney, tared Hawker, Richard Hinkley, Dermot James, Sheenagh James, Lee Jenson, Pete Matthews, Stuart Ongley, Tasha Pert, Mike Peters, David Rowe, Emma Shalless, Colin Smith, Naomi Smith, Greg Snowdon, Pete Thompson, Allen Ward, Charlotte Wilson and Andrea Wright.