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TONY BUTLER - “MY TIME” deep-dive
by Svein Børge Hjorthaug
(Article originally published on the Rocking In the Norselands Facebook music page on 27 June 2018 - ) (DOWNLOAD PDF)

Tony Butler is primarily known as the bass player for Big Country from 1982 to 2000, and again from 2010 to 2012 for the first part of the band’s still ongoing reunion years. In addition he has worked with several of the greatest names in music, including Pete Townshend, The Pretenders, Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Nils Lofgren, and Siouxsie Sioux to name a few.

Tony has also gone solo on occasion. He released his third album “My Time” on the 1st of June after pre-launching it through his Pledge campaign three months earlier.

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding this release, especially as nobody knew if it would ever happen. When Tony left Big Country for good in 2012 he let it be known that he was also retiring from music, and in the following years he kept a low public profile.

We are now learning that these years were reflective ones with a lot of things going on. Tony sums up this time well in the album liner notes: “This album was written during a particularly reflective time of my life. I had quit the band that meant so much to me in 2012. Got divorced 3 years previously to that. Spent a number of very enjoyable years as a music lecturer and head of music at a college in Devon. Watched 2 of my children get married and present me with grandchildren, who I adore and cherish. Watched my youngest son develop as a musician and a songwriter. Found happiness with my new partner Clare.”

Simply put: life happened. Taking a step back to re-focus can sometimes be necessary to be able to move forward. Whether planned or not, it worked. In the middle it all, songs started forming.

In conversation with The Great Divide – the Big Country podcast ( in 2017 about the genesis of the album, Tony revealed: “The summer of 2013 was a wonderful time. I was sitting in the garden one day and just started strumming a guitar – just playing. That was something I hadn’t done for a long time. I enjoyed it, just kept doing it, and started coming up with a lot of different ideas.”

Tony knew early on that the way back to music had to be a very personal one. “At this point in my life”, he continued, “I started thinking of my bucket list and things I wanted to do. I realized that one of the things on my list was to make an album about me, my life, my time, and be what I want to be, do what I want to do, and incorporate everything I ever wanted to do in terms of music, and put it into an album. I was writing songs about my parents. I was writing songs about people close to me. I was kind of getting a bit more aware of the environment that I was living in and surrounded by. And the songs were sort of taking on what I later coined as an audio autobiography. And I sort of unwittingly got into something that I’ve never done in my life – it was all about me. Throughout my musical career, I’ve always done things for other people. Mostly playing their material and supporting that, because I loved doing that. But this was different.”

Big Country is one of my favourite bands. Tony has always been a huge part of that sound to me and one of my favourite musicians. An album of such personal significance is highly interesting to explore, and I am happy and thankful that Tony was willing to join me in a song-by-song discussion where we will look at the inspirations and stories behind each track.

Each of the songs on “My Time” represents something from Tony’s life. The album is filled with memories, experiences, people, and stories from a life lived, which is exactly what Tony set out to do. He explains: “The album was inspired by a lot of facets of my life that I have never had the opportunity to create an artist work about. I have spent many a year working for some of the most amazing artists, been an integral part of a very successful rock band, and had the pleasure of working with a few of the great record producers. The songs are about my life, my loves, my ups and downs and about the people I care most about. My Time is now, the perfect opportunity to put that amazing apprenticeship to into practice. My Time to shine.”

It should be mentioned that Tony sings and plays electric, acoustic, and bass guitars and keyboards on the album, pulling in people like Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki and Big Country’s touring keyboardist Josh Philips to perform. Especially Mark’s involvement on the album will be exciting for Big Country fans, as it reunites one of the best rhythm sections that has ever existed. “Well, the magic is still there,” Tony laughs. “It works, and just the mere fact that he was working for me was a weird scenario. But it’s still us, and we still work the same way we always did, even when we did sessions for other projects. We are very detailed about how we present ourselves in terms of bass and drums. We focus very much on the end result.”

Tony is of course best known for his bass work, so it’s interesting to see him spread out in terms of other instruments. “I found that I was having to maintain a really wide overview of the recording and finished article,” Tony explains. “The bass had the least time spent on it. I didn’t want the tracks to become 4-minute bass solos. I used the bass as a traditional accompanying instrument, in order to let the songs dictate the listening experience.”

“I also had the role of self-producing, but the only part I knew I would need an outside intervention was doing the vocals. I invited my long-time friend and fellow Dogs Or Gods mukka Tom Nordon to help, and I am very grateful to him.”

So, what can people expect from the album overall?

Musically, it stays very much in a rock format, with influences and elements from most of the projects Tony has been associated with over the years. “The Great Unknown”, his first solo album from 1997 (and still one of my favourite albums of the 1990s) in many ways established Tony’s solo sound, and is still a good approximation of his musical style today, but “My Time” has an added depth to it due to personal significance and experience which we will touch on as we go through the songs.

Also, it sounds better. The sonics of “My Time” are excellent, with an impressive overall sound. From a production and mastering point of view, it’s simply a pleasure to listen to, and on a level that bigger albums frequently fail to reach. It sounds crisp, breathes well, feels really good and organic, with every instrumental performance pulsating clearly through the speakers (or headphones).

The song writing and performances are top notch. “My Time” is a record that clearly has been made out of a genuine passion for music and genuine emotions for the subject matter in the songs.

The songs on the album flow well with good sonic variation and contain both more intense rock moments and quieter songs. Having said that, though, this is not an album where we meet Tony the hard rocker or Tony the balladeer too much. A lot of the songs are variations of mid-tempo, but always with a quiet sense of urgency that never allows them to sink into a comfortable ‘mid-tempo hell.’ Every song has a specific feel, a mood, that is quickly established and built upon, and that sets it apart from other songs on the album.

The man presenting these songs to us is clearly reflective and wants to share things of importance with us. Much like Big Country’s music, you could always sense that the lyrics were _about_ something – there was a message, a meaning, a significance. Even when you didn’t understand what the words were about (which, to be fair, happened more than once for most of us with Big Country), you never stopped appreciating them making the effort. The words still felt significant and still somehow made sense. They still comforted and frequently taught us something about ourselves.

This is not forgotten by Tony, who indeed put the following into the liner notes of the album: “These songs are personal, but I hope that you, the listener, finds the emotions related to here are not too dissimilar to yours, and there is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s called life.”

While all songs are autobiographical, Tony is quick to dismiss that this is a ‘rock opera’ or concept album that tells a complete story. The narrative is also meant to be open enough that the listener can put their own experiences or feelings into them. “All the songs may appear to be autobiographical,” Tony explains, “but I think they are loose enough that others can find meaning and an association with them.”



As an album opener, this is a great choice. There are no intros this time (unlike both of Tony’s first solo albums) – the song kicks straight into a nice and irresistible riff which keeps growing as lead guitar lines are added to it and as it goes through several passages.

The song sets the tone for the type of intensity we will see on this album. The rhythm is mid-tempo, but never falls into the comfortable lull that lazier mid-tempo songs can represent. Each note of the music is insistently played. There is a quiet sense of urgency brewing. This is music with an edge, played by musicians who are invested in their performance.

When Tony’s voice comes in the insistence in his delivery matches the music well. The lyrics immediately set the tone for the journey he is about to take us on:

Let me take you to the start, and how this journey broke my heart
I have lost and I have loved, I've sought guidance from above
I was once an only boy, growing up in mother joy
I had friends but failed to see, they all looked so different to me

The title “Heaven Saved A Place For You” reveals the song as a tribute to someone no longer with us. Many of us would likely think of Stuart Adamson, as his passing continues to affect us all heavily. The song is however about someone even closer to Tony.

“This song is based on the appreciation and love I had from my mother,” Tony reveals, “and how she guided me through my earlier years to being a good human being and respectful to all.”



Tony is well known as a Shepherd’s Bush boy, so the title of this song could well have referred to his own boyhood years. However, it is about his father, making the first two songs on the album tributes to his parents.

“I did not really know my father,” Tony said. “I lost him when I was 6 years old. He passed away on 16th of December 1963 (the same date as Stuart). He perished in a car accident, and I really miss him.”

I really like how well the songs flow in and out of each other on the album, exemplified here by how “Boy From the Bush” almost feels like an extension of “Heaven.” The flow from one song to the next really works well overall on this album. It adds to the feeling of a cohesive work.

The song has a very alluring guitar melody. Even though the tempo and mood is close to similar to the previous song, the feel it gives off is more laidback and even nostalgic. The vocal harmonies and “oh oh” sections in the bridges are wonderful and add a lot.  

Tony: “An ex-student of mine Rich Walker (drummer with the band The Fallen State) played drums, and I thank him for making the track what I wanted.”

I always felt Tony’s strongest ability as a singer is the emotion he is able to put into a song which welcomes that direction. We hear this a lot on “My Time” in general, and we definitely hear it in this song:

I remember the day that changed my world forever
I was young and full of hope, I thought we'd see this through together
And ever since that day, your spirit’s been with me in silence
Always there for me in dreams when I needed you to give me guidance

“I inherited my father’s musical genes,” Tony continues, “which grew into a real eclectic appreciation of all kinds of music. He was not around to see how I developed in the person (and musician) I turned out to be; but in the hope that he, where ever he may be, has been able to appreciate what I have turned out to be. That little boy from Shepherds Bush.”



Tony: “I have lived most of my adult life in a little town on the Cornwall/Devon border. I wrote this song in appreciation of how I have been received by the lovely people, but also how I was able to to have my family grow up, feeling like they belonged.”

The melody of this song is nice and hummable, in a more straightforward song structure than the first two. The vocals are noteworthy in that they are sung in a lower pitch. This, along with the solid melody and overall relaxed atmosphere drives it home that this is not a song of high dramatics but in fact the opposite.

As a tribute to a place that became ‘home,’ it is quite touching:

I found a homestead
I found a peace of mind
A place where I could see
The man I thought that I could be

I never meant to break your feelings
I never meant to let you down
My train is coming but I'm not leaving
I'll see my days in this strange old town

Tony has often spoken of his love for the Cornwall area and what it has meant to himself and his family. Nobody will be surprised that a song about this area would appear on the album.



This seems to be the song that most Big Country fans have latched on to, which is understandable. It has a solid Big Country-style guitar lead playing over the chorus (and elsewhere). The “rock band” vibe and arrangement is also strong here. Crucially, though, we have Mark Brzezicki’s incredible drum intro and strong signature presence all over this track. This is, simply put, one of the tracks on “My Time” that sounds the most like Tony’s previous band.

“The song She’s Coming Home is about my daughter,” Tony initially shared on The Great Divide podcast in 2017. “She gave it eight years in London, and did really well, but then she decided to come home.”

The song is joyous in every aspect, from its wailing lead guitar lines, to the power put into the performances, and the ecstatic lyrics. These words clearly come from the perspective of a parent who is proud of his daughter’s accomplishments, but primarily delighted that she is returning home where they can see more of each other:

Spring had come in a flash of cheer
The winter broke as you appeared
You grew with heart with a troubled soul
You rose to the test to achieve your goals

Tony adds: “She’s Coming Home is about an experience all parents have when their offspring flees the nest to pursue an independent life. But having them return is a huge joy, and this song is a celebration of that moment.”



This song may be my personal favourite on the album. The start is classic Tony: a cool rhythm track played on guitar with a very melodic guitar lead playing over it. Like the previous song, this is not too dissimilar from his previous band either. While Mark does not play on this track, I feel Colin Wright (from Tony’s other project Dogs Or Gods) do a great job of approximating that Brzezicki style with a cool drum intro and overall strong percussive performance.

The topic may be the most serious so far. Tony explains: “It is perfectly normal for us mere human beings [to not always be] perfect. There have however been moments in my life where I have been made to feel like the villain, and struggle so hard with it, that I start losing my focus on who I am. My dignity is important to me as it is a core part of who I am, but when made out to be otherwise, I despair and go into a dark oblivion, when actually I am not to blame. My intentions in life has always been about respecting my fellow human beings.”

If I ever discover I'm not to blame
Working my way just numb the pain
So I can feel paradise

If I look to discover where I went wrong
Why did I ever think I belonged
To this life or paradise

I love how the song grows organically as you get into it. What starts as a basic vocal delivery grows into numerous lovely backing vocal overlays later in the song. The layers of instrumentation grow as well, with the lead guitar line becoming dual at some point. The percussive rhythm guitar part remains at the core throughout, which suits the song really well as other things can come and go, and the music builds on top of it.

The heartfelt insistence of the singing struck me immediately the first time I listened, which given the subject matter isn’t surprising. This is further underlined by the many vocal parts as the song goes on. The second half of this song may well contain my favourite vocal moments on the album, when all the voices come together in a big way to form a choir of Tonys.

While the song acknowledges that a lot of shit can hit the fan, ultimately it also contains a die-hard optimism that really works for me. I fully embrace the song’s insistence that no matter what is going on, and even if something big in your life is coming to an end, there is still something else worth living for on the other side.

Come the end of a new day
Come the end of a children's story
Come the end of a beautiful love
There's always something there to live for

By the end of a career
By the end of a long hard journey
By the end of a fantastic meal
There's always something there to live for



Time for a more atmospheric song! For some reason, parts of the song reminds me of latter-day Pink Floyd, with Tony even channelling David Gilmour’s vocal style in some of the verses.

Interestingly, Tony is quick to confirm the connection: “As with all the other songs, playing the guitar was just an incredible experience for me. I had worked with a few brilliant guitars, including the great Dave Gilmour, and it was he I had in mind when I did the guitar parts.”

The song is very evocative and searching, which fits the times when it was written. “I used to live in a bungalow,” Tony explains, “that had a lovely view of an estuary, giving me the opportunity to gaze aimlessly at the vista before me. I wrote this track during one of those aimless gazing days, to try and re-connect with my future and ambitions, rather than this thin veil that had shrouded life at the time. Being directionless, I reflected very deeply about the concept of being in a group of musicians and how fickle it must look stepping outside of it.“

Black tie, tuxedo and patent leather shoes
How can I enjoy this, after hearing the news
Starlets and celebrities in bling and lace
And there's the PM, with a smile on his face
Broken bodies lay on sun-kissed desert sand
All this, for the accolade, of being in a band

I must admit to having goose bumps when listening to the section near the end of the song, where Tony repeat the words “Long Shadows” over a lovely musical backdrop, and eventually have the song slide into one of Tony’s Gilmour-esque guitar solos. The musical passages in this latter half of the song always makes my mind drift away as my thoughts wander off to parts unknown.

Tony adds: “Long shadows were cast over me at that time, and I can only say that writing that song was to be a cathartic exercise that filled me hope and energy.”

I’ve been searching for the broken dream
The honour and the right to be a human being
Differences and opposites are part of the game
When will the penny drop, we're all the same

This is the longest song on the album, at just over seven minutes, and I’m glad the song was given the time it needed to build the atmospheric sections. This would not have worked as well as a snappier four-minute track.



It was perhaps inevitable that we would see a song about alcohol abuse on this album. Rather than being about a specific person, though, “Scared To the Bone” is a more general take on the issue.

“With this song,” Tony explains, “I created a caricature of the fallen hero, struggling with life and resorting to the age old remedies. The darkness that inhabits one when times are shit. The trauma of survival is evident in the places that one could find themselves in.”

From the get-go, the music in this song appeared to have a very dramatic flair. From the chord progression of the riff, to the screeching lead guitar, to the lyrics that grab me more than any of the other lyrics in this song:

When I was a boy, I didn’t think it would be like this
Now I’m a man, I’m ashamed that it’s still like this

Tony’s approach to writing these lyrics are interesting: “I put myself into this character in order for me to fully understand (or as much as I could) how we meek and weak humans can let things slide to a point of no re-emergence. I’d witnessed it before. It certainly put the fear of God upon me!”

We all cry when we're faced with a tragedy
Dark is the world when we feel so alone
My heart died when I faced the reality
I scared myself right to the bone, the bone, the bone, the bone

Here in this place for the sad and broken
A sanctuary built to restore one’s soul
Shaking and cold I'm defeated by gravity
Is this my time, have I lost control?



The intro and first verse are played quietly and atmospherically, and just as you wonder what mood the song is going for, the chorus hits and the full band thunders in. The song keeps flipping it a bit back and forth between the quieter passages and the “rock band” moments, almost using the music to underline certain passages for emphasis while letting others remain more reflective.

The song has a fairly simple message: in order to have a certain quality of life it is necessary to embrace love. I feel Tony opens up and shares quite a lot of himself in this song. It goes back to receiving advice from his mom. It recalls episodes of happiness and missteps along the way. It talks of people he has loved, of losing his way and finding it again – in short, the song feels like it details the journey to where he finds himself now.

Mother, father, children, brother, wife, good friends and lovers
Men in musical arms to name the few
My love I’ve spread like sweetened jam to fortify my soul
And navigate a way through life that’s true

“Whilst on Holiday in Cyprus a few year ago,” Tony says of the song’s inception, “I was out with my partner and the good people we were staying with, having a wonderful Japanese meal. Outside the open side of the restaurant, I saw a really lush and expensive red Ferrari. I’d never seen one close-up, and by Christ, it was impressive. Our hosts explained that it must belong to a very rich Russian chap, as they were the only people rich on the island to be able to afford such a thing of beauty. I decided to use the car (and colour) as a metaphor to describe what I thought my heart was. To love all the important people in my life, I needed to have that big and raging passion of a heart.”



No secrets as to what this song is about! “As it says on the tin – I’m getting old!” laughs Tony. “I am 61 years old now. I did think I was to old for this, but I don’t now. I have grand-children; it’s like having a glimpse of a gateway to the future.”

I’m getting old
I’m not the man I used to be
I’m just a stranger
To the boy that set me up
To live my life

For a song that seem to lament old age, it feels unashamedly young musically. Kicking off with a drum salvo (courtesy of Mr. Brzezicki), then diving into a guitar riffing extravaganza, and maintaining an almost punk flair throughout, you’ve got to wonder if the song is really meant as a celebration. “Well, it’s also a great rocking tune,” admits Tony, “fab to play guitar on.”

And why not? The lyrics definitely end up looking proudly ahead, with a swagger similar to the music:

I’m on my way
I’m on my way
I feel prepared
To face whatever’s next for me

And so, the song with the potentially saddest and most melancholy title on the album may in fact be amongst the more upbeat and celebratory songs on offer. Innit!



We change gears again as we get into a very intriguing song. The lyrics tell the story of someone who clearly took part in a war, who saw and experienced horrible things, and who, although he survived, was scarred for life. The big question is: who is this person, and what happened?

“I had a next-door neighbour,” Tony recalls, “who would tell me stories of the disaster of a war that he was unfortunately involved in. He was very old, he was frail, with a nastily disfigured hand, and eyes that had seen enough mustard gas to render him blind. I wrote the song because I wanted to pay homage to this man. He is probably dead and long forgotten, but not by me.”

He still hears those screams and cries
He was spared and wonders why
Sunken eyed, face etched with pain
He never saw his friends again

The music that goes along with this horrific tale of survival is interesting. It feels open-ended, with a lot of ambience and room for atmosphere, even though the instrumentation keeps the flair of dramatics going. The post-chorus sections are wonderful, with lovely keyboard backdrops with interesting guitar work on top. Those sections always draw me in.

The experiences of the man in the song does not make for light entertainment, really, but like all the other songs on the album this is a genuine story from a time that is now in the history books. This further explains Tony’s fascination with the subject: “I always loved history. I had thoughts of becoming a history teacher due to my enjoyment of the subject.”

The song ends on a poignant note. The last line is “He never saw his mates again,” with the music suddenly ending before the final word “again” which is sung naked without music. The final word stands alone, just like the man in the story. A nice and fitting touch.



On the final new song on the album, which Tony put out a promo video for in August 2017 to launch the Pledge campaign for this album, Tony is looking more outward at the state of the world. His outlook is not overly optimistic.

“A kind of follow on from the last song,” Tony shares. “Even in these so called enlightened times, there is always someone who wants to cast the spectre of a humanity destroying conflict, where the only people who suffer are the ones who don’t have easy access to nuclear shelters. I wouldn’t even bother, not sure I want to be part of a civilisation trying to re-build itself after such a conflict, possibly only re-developing itself to do it a gain with bigger and more powerful weapons.”

People died today who had no need to die
Every day we wait to hear about more
Humankind is under siege by men with sunken eyes
Prepared to end, to end their own sad lives

Musically, this is not just the heaviest rocker on the album – which totally feels right given the subject matter of Armageddon, bombs falling, and the destruction of humanity – but it is also in my mind the one song that sounds the most like a Big Country track on this record. This is apparently not totally accidental.

In conversation with The Great Divide podcast in 2017 about the genesis of this song, Tony revealed: “We were writing material for Why the Long Face at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire. There were lots of little jams and riffs that Stuart [Adamson] and myself worked on at that time. One idea that I started playing that Stuart played along on, before we moved on to other things, is now part of “Here Comes the First One.” That song emanates from a riff that I started, with Stuart joining in, but it never went anywhere. It comes from the same gestation period as God’s Great Mistake. As I was working on “My Time” all these years later, I realized there was something missing from the album in terms of dynamics and tempo, and I found the tape with this particular riff on it. It was a bass riff, not guitar, but I wrote the song around it. And to me, that’s what I call our relationship – our relationship was organic in that particular way. Something happened, but it didn’t gestate – it was lying there dormant. And all these years later it has come back to me, and it’s coming out as the song that will represent “My Time” and how I am as a songwriter now. So that link, I think, is an incredible link.”



The liner notes reveal that this bonus track which ends the album comes from a batch of demos recorded in 1998. “I had recorded this as a demo back in the 90s,” Tony explains, “but lost the files until I was looking for something else. I found it going through old recordings and felt that the song was too good to waste.”

Given when the song is from it is no wonder that both musically and thematically it stands out from the rest of the album. The title of it says it all – it is an idyllic description of a lovely time spent in a beautiful landscape, perhaps more than anything being a distant cousin of “The May Queen Leads Her Parade” from “The Great Unknown” (1997).

It’s time to go
It’s been a lovely day
A cloudless sky
A feast that’s taste will linger

A waterfall
Glistening in the sunlight’s ray
The smell of lump wood rides on the breeze
The child asleep on mother’s knee

It’s not always fair to include bonus tracks in album summaries. They are usually included as an extra present for fans rather than part of the main body of work that is the album, but in this case it is well worth mentioning.

The song itself has a great feel to it, some nice playing, and musically it rounds off the album on a much more tranquil and upbeat tone than “Here Comes the First One” would have. Many great albums end with a bang, but the melodic music of “A Lovely Day” combined with the hope for the future offered in the lyrics fits the overall narrative better. While “My Time” has its share of dark narratives, it is not a downbeat album. Ending it with a tale of humanity’s destruction would have ended it on the wrong foot. Several of the songs are joyous, and most others looks ahead with determination and hope – albeit also with a bit of concern.

Tony is aware that the sonics of the song are different to the rest of the album. “I thought about re-recording it,” he says, “but there was something gloriously simple and tender about it – and it didn't have any bum notes! – so I put the track on as is. It had a feeling about it that I not sure if I could re-create. It holds a few lovely [memories] for me, from times gone by.”



Many thanks to Tony Butler for willingly providing interesting insights and anecdotes. Also a hearty thank you to those of you who managed to read this to the very end. You managed to hang in there – well done!

“My Time” is available from online music shops, digital download stores and streaming platforms now. I really like it, and think you would, too, so please check it out.

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Svein Børge Hjorthaug
Rocking In the Norselands -
Norway, June 2018