A question-and-answer session with Allan Glen, author of Stuart Adamson – In a Big Country

Questions set by Gwenda Matthews

Why did you write the book, Stuart Adamson – In a Big Country?

Writing the book was an opportunity to pay tribute to Stuart Adamson, and celebrate the work of the Skids and Big Country. Without wishing to sound too nostalgic, the late 70s, 80s and 90s were an exciting – if often frustrating – time to be a fan of the Skids and Big Country. The interviews and features on both bands in magazines and newspapers rarely captured the era. The story has never been documented at any great length, and with any real depth or critical analysis.

What feedback have you had from fans of the Skids and Big Country about your book?

The overwhelming majority of feedback has been very positive. The main recurring point among comments has been that a book such as
this was long overdue.

What would you like readers to get out of reading Stuart Adamson – In a Big Country?

I’d say I set out to write a book that explored Stuart’s career so I would hope that readers might learn something about his work, or at least get a feel for what was going on in Britain or within the music industry at the time.

James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers wrote the foreword for your book and Ian Rankin wrote the introduction. How did that come about?

Both were approached and wanted to get involved. I knew James Dean Bradfield was a big fan of Stuart Adamson and hardly lets a Manics gig go by without reminding everyone where that guitar riff from Motown Junk really comes from. It was a great honour to have them contribute.

How long did it take you to write Stuart Adamson – In a Big Country?

About three years.

Did you think your book would get this level of success?

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what the reaction was going to be when it was first published. If anything, it was just a privilege to be given the opportunity to write it. As for ‘success’, if a reader felt emotionally moved in any way I would judge the book to be successful.

Are you planning another book?

I have other projects to attend to at present so, no, not at this moment.

When did you first see the Skids?

It was when they supported The Clash at the Kinema Ballroom in Dunfermline, October 1977. To this day it is still the best concert I’ve
ever seen. I was a big fan of Stuart Adamson at a formative time in my life – aged 14 to 18 – when I think music and pop stars can take on a greater meaning and when we as fans have a tendency to pin our hopes and dreams on them. In the Skids, he was a musician who seemed to offer more than just music; the way he spoke of books and artists in interviews, his attitude to the music business. He was just different from any other pop
star of the time. Ever since that night watching the Skids support The Clash I followed his career closely and with great interest.

What is your favourite memory of Stuart Adamson?

It’s probably when I was 14-years-old, sitting in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Dunfermline around late 1977 or early 1978 and watching Stuart as he walked up the dirt track that passed by the top of our garden.  Around this time the Skids would often play the Bostock Club in Dunfermline and I remember being caught off-guard by the two extremes:  the self-assured teenager walking along the path and the scissor-kicking guitarist I’d seen on stage with the Skids. He looked very happy and carefree.

What is your favourite Skids track and album?

Masquerade and Scared To Dance respectively. For me, Scared To Dance is quite possibly the best album ever made while Masquerade is just a perfect three-minute pop single. It is also an important track in the development of what came next as it’s perhaps the first time the lead guitar lines became part of the song itself. This style would become more prevalent in songs such as A Woman In Winter on The Absolute Game album and then, of course, in Big Country.

Big Country seemed to polarise music critics. Why do you think that was?

I think anything with real value will always be divisive. Essentially, the rise of Big Country chimed with the times. There was such a fundamental
change taking place in music in the late 70s and 80s with the advent of independent labels and a music press that really found its voice with writers such as Johnny Waller at Sounds and Carol Clerk at Melody Maker, who were great supporters of the Skids and Big Country. With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, perhaps the desire of Big Country to connect with as many people across the world as possible seemed at odds with some writers on publications such as the NME which – at the time – was going through an intimate relationship with the independent sector which itself was more insular. In defence of NME, though, it was far from a blanket of criticism. Writers such as Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Danny Kelly were all champions of the band, particularly during the years when The Crossing and Steeltown were released.

If The Crossing was released today, do you think it would be well received?

What a great question! I’d like to say ‘definitely’ but really I have no idea. To me, it still sounds incredibly fresh and energetic so I’d like to think it would find an audience just as it did in 1983 but, as a wise man once said: the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

What is your favourite Big Country track and album?

East of Eden and Steeltown respectively. East of Eden has a timeless quality and, in my opinion, contains Stuart’s finest lyric. Like all great songs, it sounds like nothing else and was a brave choice for a lead single from the album. If Where The Rose Is Sown had been the debut single from
Steeltown, the Big Country story may well have turned out very differently.

What are your thoughts on how Stuart managed to get his guitar to sound like bagpipes?

Ah, the dreaded ‘bagpipe’ question …  I think it was more to do with the way the guitars intertwined and that wonderful criss-cross style Stuart and Bruce Watson had. I’d say Stuart was very folk influenced while Bruce was more inspired by punk and guitarists such as Mick Jones of The Clash, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and, of course, Stuart. When combined, it gave them a very unique and distinctive sound.

Do you think Steeltown captured the mood of the nation when it was released in October 1984?

I think Steeltown is perhaps the most important album Big Country ever made. It was four musicians at the very top of their game with a lyricist who could articulate what many in the country were feeling at the time. It was undoubtedly in step with one side of the social and cultural zeitgeist in Britain; the problem was, of course, that the 80s proved what a very conservative country Britain really is and, for some sections of the press, Steeltown became a symbol for everything that was wrong in the UK instead of being seen for what it was: an era-defining album, made by a brilliant band.

Do you know why Big Country didn’t play Live Aid on July 13, 1985?

As far as I’m aware, Bob Geldof and Harvey Goldsmith didn’t invite them because they thought the band had split up.

What are your thoughts on the change in the Big Country sound around the release of the Peace In Our Time album in September 1988?

This period is well documented in the book and is the one album guaranteed to start an argument between any two Big Country fans. (That
one or why they were never played on Radio 1 in the 90s.) In all honesty, it’s probably the Big Country album I play least, although I have a definite soft spot for Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys). It’s a very polished and playful sounding album yet the lyrics are very incisive and progressive. The contrasts are quite stark.

Do you know what Stuart’s favourite guitar was?

From having watched far too many Skids and Big Country shows I would hazard a guess at a dark green Yamaha SG2000 or a white Fender
Stratocaster.

Apart from Neil Young and Ray Davies, do you know who Stuart’s heroes were?

Several figures from the worlds of music, sport, literature, comedy and TV would often appear in interviews he gave to newspapers and magazines but among the most recurring were Leonard Cohen, Bill Nelson, Jock Stein, Jim Leishman, Bob Marley, Stan Laurel, Diana Rigg, Roy Barry, PatsyCline, Kenny Roberts and Hugh MacDiarmid.

What do you think of the memorial bench erected in Stuart’s memory in Dunfermline?

If it helps to remind people of Stuart Adamson then I personally can’t see how anyone would think it was anything other than a very kind gesture.

How do you think Stuart Adamson will be remembered by future generations of music fans?

It is perhaps only now that a reappraisal is taking place over what he achieved and the difference he made. The more people are reminded of the songs, the more that appreciation will grow. The best statement I’ve ever heard about Stuart came from James Dean Bradfield: ‘He was like a force ofnature, the sound of thunder coming over the hills.’ Says it all, really.

Allan Glen was born in Dunfermline and worked as a miner before studying journalism. He worked as an investigative news reporter on the South China Sunday Morning Post in Hong Kong before returning to the UK to work for NME, Melody Maker and The Guardian. He writes for The Stage, The Guardian, Audience and Live UK. He lives on Teesside with his family.

Stuart Adamson – In a Big Country is published by Polygon.
The book is available in paperback from Amazon and all good book stores, priced £8.99

 
 

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