Big Country Info Big Country Info


19 December 2018

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Speakpipe by Butt-Heid and/or Beavis

Chance – song deep-dive by Tom and Svein

  • Chance is one of those songs that, much like In A Big Country, is now more than “just” a song. It has taken on a life of its own, becoming a part of the DNA of the band and their fans. A true Big Country anthem.
  • The lyrics are incredibly effective in setting the tone in just a few lines. A setting in a New Town, a girl being “carried away” from her abusive father (and other family) by another man.
  • The next verse reveals the man is a factory worker who promised the woman everything – but he left her, and left her with two young boys and a hard life.
  • The classic chorus – who is the “I” in “I never felt so low”? The song has been narrated from the third person perspective so far. The narrator could of course be depressed about the story and situation, but more likely it now seem to come from the woman’s first person perspective.
  • The singalong aspects of the chorus, vs the depressive lyrics that people are singing.
  • The order of the lyrics in the demo are opposite to the album version. The “skirts hang so heavy around your head” comes before the “he came like a hero from the factory floor.” It makes more sense chronologically to switch those.
  • The simple nature of the song – many clever hooks, lots of great ideas, but they are played matter-of-factly.
  • A song which features a lot of acoustic guitar – featured throughout, but brought up towards the end of the song. The 12’’ mix opens and ends with it.
  • Another song with prevalent use of e-bow. Again, the 12’’ mix highlights it more.
  • “This is yours.”
  • The crescendo towards the end is one of the musical highlights of the song.
  • The demo’s slight-y-too-much intensity vs the album bringing it back a bit, slowing it down just a touch.
  • Release statistics: this song was the 4th BC single, August 1983, UK #9. The best charting Crossing single in UK, just one chart placement ahead of FOF.
  • Why was this single not released in the US to follow up IABC? Why was it not released in Scandinavia? It became a huge radio hit in Norway in any case.
  • Svein has a particular history with this song, which opened his gateway to Big Country in general.
  • The song’s many hooks: the guitar “chicken picking” part between all verses, the vocal harmonies, the chorus melody, the e-bow… The e-bow. I had never heard a sound like that, used in this way.
  • Mark Brzezicki’s tale (from The Great Divide episode 32) about when he sat by the piano with Stuart, coming up with a melody that became the main melodic guitar countermelody in Chance.
  • Stuart was asked by an unidentified pop magazine in 1983, “What is Chance about?” He answered, “It’s the story of a girl who has a hard time at home and marries the first guy who comes along. She has loads of kids and he beats it. It’s happened to a few people I know and I think it’s absolutely disgusting.”
  • In 1990, Stuart spoke about how Chance had become other people’s song more than the band’s, but also how it might be the last tour they would play it. He felt songs like that one had made the shows more predictable and he felt it was time to replace it with a new song. Tom and Svein discuss if it’s even possible for any band to replace their classics in that way.
  • The song viewed from a storytelling perspective – it is a snapshot of a situation, describing the “right now”. There is no solution, no encouragement, no comforting words. This is painting a picture of a situation as it is right now. Given quotes from Stuart, he likely wanted to highlight that there were many women in this situation and give their desperation a voice. Other examples of Stuart applying this approach are mentioned.
  • This song begins the trend of songs taking their title from somewhere in the lyrics not found in the chorus. This was done for the majority of the Crossing songs: Chance, the Storm, Harvest Home, Lost Patrol, Close Action, Porrohman. These title are either taken from a singular reference in a verse lyric, or in some cases, the title is not even mentioned in the song at all.
  • Tony Butler’s comments on Chance from his album song comment-a-long in 2006.
  • The 1-2-3-4 “football chant” countdown in the chorus.

Tom ranking: 6. Svein ranking: 8. Public ranking: 8.
Karate bark countdown: 0.

Thousand Stars – song deep-dive by Svein and Tom

  • “1000 stars” refers to a nuclear attack on the UK. The message of the song is basically: If the bomb hits, we're all toast. They say that if you see a shooting star, it means good luck and you can make a wish. In the situation where a nuclear attack hits, not even the luck of a thousand shooting stars can help in that situation.
  • Stuart was clearly concerned about this and would speak of it in interviews. He often said that if WW3 happened Fife would be targeted due to the location of the Rosyth submarine base. There are also several quotes to this effect in the book “A Certain Chemistry”:
  • The mindset of the 1980s: the cold war. The arms race. Younger people who didn’t live then will probably struggle to understand how much people thought of and worried about various doomsday scenarios.
  • “A card so high and so wild that we should burn it.” Stuart’s one solution to the issue – the option to use nuclear weapons as part of any solution is a very bad idea, and will only lead to mutually assured destruction.
  • “Some say protect and survive, I say it's over.” The phrase "protect and survive" has been used by Big Country (and also another Scottish band, Runrig). Around 1980 the UK government issued a booklet with that title to all UK public libraries, describing how to survive a nuclear war by crouching underneath tables or doors removed from their hinges. Stuart is upset at the notion that hiding under a sofa or whitewashing the windows to reflect the radioactive blast back are presented as survival tactics. As he says, “I say it’s over”. If this happens, there are no survival tactics.
  • In the third and final verse, the bombs are falling. All we can do is spend those last precious moments together with our loved ones, because there’s no saving anyone at that point. “I feel secure in your arms while all the city’s on fire; It’s not between you and me but we are losing.”
  • This song was played again by the reformed Big Country in 2010-11. It was often the opening song. “Now we play our final hand, move in closer understand.” Those words almost took on a different meaning – it felt like Mike Peters was singing about Big Country. Svein is fairly confident that this wasn’t accidental, but something they went for.
  • The musical genesis of the song: “Flag of Nations (Swimming)”. Produced by John Leckie at Abbey Road studio.
  • The song starts with a driving drum beat, which makes it an excellent show opener. Alongside them, the high-pitch guitar lines are firing off right away. The song sets an intense tone.
  • Stuart’s range has been discussed several times. Stuart’s range is pushed on this song, which adds to the urgency of the song and its message.
  • The song does not have a guitar solo, but features lovely dual guitar lines in the natural spot for it. These are very melodic.
  • The third verse stands out with some glorious (almost angelic) backing vocals on “darkest night”. Used ironically? All hope is out at that point in the song, and we hear angels singing. This might possibly be Christine Beveridge’s second appearance on the album.
  • The sheer amount of e-bow on this song becomes really evident if you listen carefully in headphones. So much is going on that it is hard to hear them at times.
  • Tony Butler’s comments about the song from the bulletin boards in 2006.
  • Live memories of the song – seeing it live at the classic Barrowlands show, new year’s eve in 1983. One of their
  • The role of the “Black Queen” in this song.
  • Demo differences, production choices and getting to the finished song.
  • The song that started the long and proud tradition of charging along to the soundtrack of the destruction of mankind.

Svein ranking: 6. Tom ranking: 4. Public ranking: 9.
Karate bark countdown: 1.

Speakpipe from Paul Barker.

The Storm – song deep-dive by Tom and Svein

  • What makes a song into an epic? The discussion will go on, but there is no doubt that this song is a true Big Country epic. Vast lyrical and musical changes, song length, several sections, passages, and an incredible aural scope.
  • Tom shares his great research on the song’s background, detailing the parts of Scottish history that goes into it. Who was “Ah, my James”? What battles are referenced in the song? What is going on? All is explained.
  • As the song starts, it describes more the aftermath of a battle rather than the main battle itself. Someone returns back down from the hills having been at a battle, and finds his own village destroyed. They chase the garrison who did it through forest and moors. In the middle of this, a storm sets upon them that has dramatic consequences for both sides. They get their revenge in the end, but there is no joy in it. The damage is too devastating.
  • Breaking the cycle of war – “And now I’m sure of where I stand / Let the strength of peace run through this land.”
  • The storm is also a metaphor for war, and for the destruction that follows in its wake.
  • Lyrical changes between demo and final version. The lyric sheet contains the demo/early lyrics “I chased them for miles I had hate in my eyes / Both horses and masters bogged down in the rain”. The final version: ““We chased them for miles I had tears in my eyes / Both hunters and hunted washed out in the rain”
  • The e-bow showcase on the album. Amazing intro, lovely ambience throughout.
  • Comparisons between the demo and album version. Your podcast hosts firmly disagree on which version they think is the better one.
  • The outro. Christine Beveridge’s main moments on the album. She is very prominently used on this song, providing haunting backing vocals.  
  • Christine Beverage. Epic, ethereal, ghostly, spine-tingling.
  • Tony provides a lovely bedding for the music during the verses. He breaks out into a lovely bass run in the instrumental section between verse and chorus. A lovely bass moment on this album, which is easy to miss because of yet another wonderful haunting Christine Beveridge moment.
  • Which section of the song fulfils the role of the chorus? Is it even right to look at the song in terms of a standard build-up with verses and choruses, as it changes its nature several times, focuses on different passages and has a structure of its own?
  • What does the outro mean in terms of storytelling? Beveridge’s vocals have had a haunting quality throughout the song, almost feeling like she is the ghost of a woman who was slain during the events of the song. It almost feels like she is hovering over the remains of the village that was attacked, or her own body, or something equally dramatic or sinister. The song, both music and lyrics, is extremely cinematic, meaning that the music will also be part of the storytelling.
  • There is also something about Mark’s outro drumming – they are busy, intense, and downright dramatic, like something is still going on. Like the battle is continuing, or at the very least, something is still going on. It’s storytelling with drums.
  • More demo comparisons. It’s harder edged, only containing the core verses and the “My James” choruses. The entire intro and e-bow parts are missing, as well as the outro, and the “I know I can never return” sections. It is the one demo version from The Crossing that is the most incomplete compared to the album version – the one that the most was added to when recording the full album.
  • This is also the shortest demo, at just over two minutes. Is this the shortest Big Country “song” that we have?
  • One of the strengths of the song is that it can be about anything – any situation where an attack of any kind has taken place, and you set out for revenge. A young Svein would think of Viking invasions.
  • The story of the song – the 1st verse describes the attack, the 2nd the chase, the 3rd the revenge and aftermath. The second part of the song is about leaving the “storm’s roar” – a.k.a. battle and war – behind, he is “afraid no more”. It is about breaking the chain of violence.
  • Stuart’s use of “meanwhile!” when the song is played live.
  • Tony Butler’s 2006 song commentary from the official Big Country bulletin board.

Svein ranking: 1. Tom ranking: 7. Public ranking: 3.
Karate bark countdown: 0.

BIG COUNTRY – “Chance” (public singalong part from the Sutler, Nashville TN, on  9 July 1999)