A number of short Big Country biographies have been written by many different people. Here are a few, listed in order of the last year mentioned in the bio.
“Having scored incredible commercial success in the late 70′s with Scottish pop-punk outfit The Skids, guitarist Stuart Adamson set out in 1981 to do something new – and in the process found even more success and acclaim as leader of the hugely talented Big Country.
Together with guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brezezicki, Adamson launched Big Country in April 1982 and their unique twin guitar based bagpipe sound soon brought them to the attention of Phonogram Records who issued the band’s debut 45 “Harvest Home” in September of the same year. Though not a hit it did bring the band’s name to a much wider audience and following gigs with the likes of The Jam and U2 they finally made the chart breakthrough in April 1983 when the stunning “Fields Of Fire (400 Miles)” made its way to No. 10 in the UK Top 40. The follow up “In A Big Country” reached No. 17 three months later and coincided with their debug UK headlining tour. Their debut album “The Crossing”, which included their first two singles as well as the superb “A Thousand Stars”, spent over 80 weeks in the UK charts as well as hitting the top 20′s in both Canada and America.
“Chance”, the only ballad on the LP, gave the group a UK No. 9 hit late 1983 and was followed in early 1984 by a Top 10 placing for “Wonderland” and a Top 20 slot for “East Of Eden” whilst their second LP “Steeltown” actually entered the UK chart in the No. 1 position, proof of Big Country’s incredible rise in popularity amongs the nations’s record buyers. Sellout gigs at venues like The Wembley Arena and Birmingham’s NEC showed they could pull in the crowds and gave the band a chance to try out cover versions such a Smokey Robingson’s “Tracks Of My Tears” and The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”.
Most of 1985 was spent writing the soundtrack to the “Restless Natives” film and recording their third LP “The Seer” though early 1986 saw Big Country score their biggest UK chart success when “Look Away” hit No. 7 in the Top 40. “The Seer” LP, which included the single, shot to No. and also spanned the band’s tenth consecutive Top 30 smash “One Great Thing” though the “Hold The Heart” 45 incredibly only managed to reach No. 55 at the tail end of the same year. A UK tour with David Bowie and massive outdoor concerts in Eastern Europe (including the first ever gig to a standing crowd in Russia) showed just how far the band’s popularity had spread and culminated in a UK Top 10 position for the “Peace in our Time” LP which the band officially unveiled in the unusual setting of London’s Russian Embassy!
However, the almost relentless world-wide touring schedule led to Brzezicki quitting in the summer of 1989 (he’s now one of the world’s most in demand session drummers) and he was replaced by Pat Ahern who debuted on the early 1990 Top 50 hit “Save Me”. The success of a “Greatest Hits” package later in the same year helped re-establish the band’s sound and they fully capitalised on it by scoring a Top 30 position with the “No Place Like Home” LP as well as chalking up their 17th and 18th UK hit singles courtesy of “Republican Party Reptile” and “Beautiful People” as their hit making years moved into a second decade.
Today Big Country are still a major attraction on the live circuit and still producing consistently high quality albums, and as this 16 track collections of hits, classic album cuts and ultra rare B sides show, their Scottish rock sound still remains timeless and totally unique.”
“In America, mainstream music may be the thing, but I’m 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 apologize 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 contribution 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 synthesizer player, but after being thrown off a tour supporting Alice Cooper (amazingly, for being ‘too weird’) Adamson and Watson were back to a duo.
Their record company Phonogram put them in the studio to cut demos with two seasoned sessioneers, 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 [Feb. 1993] 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 the 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 include the Fine Young Cannibals, gave the album a more commercial sound, through ‘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 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 Townshend.
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 single 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’ 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 tittle later borrowed by a leading indie band but originating from the Vietnam war to describe 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 the sleevenote’s opening quote suggests, decided to 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 outfit’s 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 the field of one for combining Celtic folk and rock roots in a seamless, soulful and (in chart terms) spectacular fashion.
All Music Guide (biography) by Rick Clark
Music Style: Pop/Rock, Scotland
(scale 1-3; 3=highest)
Scottish group Big Country burst onto the 1982 rock scene with a uniquely expansive twin-guitar sound (Made by Stuart Adamson [b. 1958 04 11, Manchester, England], formerly of the Skids, and Bruce Watson [b. 1961 03 11, Timmins, Ontario, Canada]) that at times recalled bagpipes. Bassist Tony Butler (b. 1957 02 13, London, England) (whose credits included the Pretenders and Pete Townshend) and drummer Mark Brzezicki (b. 1957 06 21, Slough, Buckinghamshire, England) (also Townshend) provided an aggressively supple rhythmic foundation.
The Chris Thomas-produced debut effort “Harvest Home” didn’t chart, but “The Crossing”, cinematically produced by the innovative Steve Lillywhite, captured the band’s sonic vision perfectly. It contains the band’s first (and only significant stateside) hit with “In a Big Country.”
Big Country followed “The Crossing” with an EP containing the fine “Wonderland,” which basically echoed the spirit of “In a Big Country.” In England, meanwhile, Big Country scored a brief string of hits, gaining enough popularity to sell out two nights at London’s Wembley Stadium in December of 1984. This was further aided by the release of the album “Steeltown”, which entered the British charts a #1. After an 20-month layoff, Big Country released “The Seer”. “Look Away” was a 1986 British hit, but only received moderate attention on US rock radio. The rather generic “Peace in Our Time”, released in 1988 on a new label (Reprise), was a misguided redirection of their sound, ditching most of the qualities that made the band so appealing.
Big Country and Reprise then parted ways, and 1991′s “No Place Like Home” was released only in the U.K. Big Country resurfaced on Fox/RCA in 1993 with “The Buffalo Skinners”, which failed to chart in the U.S.
In the heady days of 1978, few people ever dreamt that the guitarist of a noisy Dunfermlin punk band called The Skids would end up leading one of the biggest stadium rock successes of the 80′s. But then, no one would have thought that their square-jawed singer, Richard Jobsen, would go on to be a TV presenter, actor and media clothes horse…
Ironically, out of the two chief Skids, guitarist Stuart Adamson looked less well-equipped to reinvent himself as a frontman in the aftermath of punk. His role in the group has always been overshadowed by Jobsen’s natural bent for showmanship, which included everything from dancing wildly on stage, to dying his hair and reading poetry. Yet it was Adamson who provided the Skids with their trademark guitar sound, and who disciplined the group on stage – and it was always Adamson who had crafted many of the group’s catchiest tunes, like ‘Into The Valley’ and ‘Masquerade.’
After The Skids art-rock took a worrying Nietzschean turn, with Jobsen fencing with Spandau Ballet over who could (ab)use pre-war German imagery to Keenest effect, Adamson departed in 1981 to start his own outfit. Returning to Dunfermlin, he recruited his schoolboy chum Bruce Watson as second guitarist, re-emerging a few months later as Big Country – a group with a strong sense of their Scottish roots and muscular rock sound built around a twin 6-string assault, which occasionally combined to produce bagpipe melodies.
In the spring of 1982, Phonogram fended off stiff competition from Ensign to sign the group, and Tony Butler (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums, ex-On The Air) replacing the temporary rhythm section, they set to work on a debut album with producer Steve Lillywhite.
Their originality and power won them a prestigious support spot on the Jam’s farewell tour in December 1982, and in February 1983 they soared to their first Top 10 with the anthemic ‘Fields Of Fire,’ followed by their classic signature ‘In A Big Country’ and ‘Chance.’ The singles formed the centerpiece of ‘The Crossing,’ whose measured rock and lyrical themes of overcoming physical and spiritual hardships aligned the group to the 19th century Gaelic balladeers, and this traditional aspect helped win them a loyal Scottish and American fanbase.
The sophisticated rocker ‘Wonderland’ heralded the arrival in 1984 of the No. 1 album ‘Steeltown’ – home to ‘East Of Eden’ and ‘Where The Rose Is Sown’ – though it was 1986′s ‘The Seer’ that marked the group’s commercial and artistic apex. Spawning the hit ‘Look Away’ and the stand-out track ‘I Walk The Hill,’ it realized Adamson’s dream of successfully marrying an expansive rock sound with an overt pop sensibility. Sympathizing with the lot of the ordinary man – workman’s check shirts and jeans were the sartorial order of the day – Big Country had become Europe’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, and were even out-Bossing the Boss in his own country.
A need to capitalize on their Stateside success resulted in a more mellow sound for their next LP, ‘Peace In Our Time,’ released around the time this set was recorded. The stand-out track from the album, ‘King OF Emotion,’ gifted them with yet another worldwide smash. But behind the scenes the band were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their record company’s role and after a disappointing ‘No Place Like Home’ (1991), they quit Phonogram to sign with Chrysalis, who issued the far tougher ‘Buffalo Skinners’ album in 1993. This LP included several reworkings of earlier material, together with feisty guitar barrages like ‘Long Way Home,’ thus underscoring their relevance to 1990′s rock. All a long way from their days playing punk rock in the sweaty Marquis club…
In the summer of 1983, when Big Country released its debut album The Crossing, the British quartet’s blend of guitar textures, sweeping melodic hooks and unironically heart-felt lyrics couldn’t have been farther from the high-concept style-pop then dominating the UK music scene and America’s MTV airwaves. Yet, despite its decidedly unfashionable emphasis on earthy rock roots and straightforward songcraft. This seemingly unlikely foursome quickly emerged as a potent musical force, helping to open the floodgates for a resurgent wave of thoughtful guitar on both sides of the Atlantic.
Leader Stuart Adamson’s songs drew on a wealth of music tradition while maintaining a completely contemporary focus, projecting an unshakable sense of faith in the face of a dark and troubling world. Adamson’s impassioned vocals resonated with urgency, as did his and Bruce Watson’s aggressive yet densely layered guitars, while the seasoned duo of bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki comprised a rhythm section as airtight as any in rock. The resulting music was a timeless breath of fresh air in a scene dominated by faddish fetishism.
The Crossing‘s bracing, Celtic-inflected sound may have been unexpected, but it wasn’t entirely unprecedented. Adamson had established a partial blueprint for Big Country’s style in his previous incarnation as principal sonic architect of the Scottish post-punk combo the Skids, with whom he recorded three albums, Scared To Dance (1979), Days In Europa (1979) and The Absolute Game (1980). Adamson left the Skids in the summer of 1981 and hooked up with Watson, a fellow Dunfermline native whose former band, Delinx, had often shared local stages with the skids. After recording some demos with the Jam’s Rick Buckler on drums, the pair began playing Adamson’s new songs locally with a short-lived five man lineup. When it came time to recruit a permanent rhythm section a few months later, Adamson and Watson looked to Londoners Butler and Brzezicki, who’d previously recorded with Pete Townshend as well as backing Pete’s younger brother Simon in a trio known as On The Air.
Its lineup complete, Big Country signed to Phonogram in April 1982, playing its first London show the same month; by the end of the summer the quartet had made its U.S. debut at New York’s Peppermint Lounge. The September release of the band’s Chris Thomas-produced debut single, “Harvest Home,” was followed by a six-night stand opening for the Jam at London’s Wembley Arena and the release of its first top ten U.K. hit, the rousing “Fields of Fire.” The latter tune marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship with producer Steve Lillywhite, trademark balance of atmosphere and instrumental pyrotechnics. A third single, the anthemic “In A Big Country,” hit the U.K. Top 20 in May, setting the stage for the July release of The Crossing.
Along with the band’s first three a-sides, The Crossing featured a fourth U.K. single, the poignant ballad “Chance” (which. like “In A Big Country,” appears on this collection in its popular, yet previously unavailable on CD, 7″ mix). The album was quickly acclaimed as one of the year’s standout debuts, both in the U.K. (where it went platinum and remained in the Top 40 for over a year) and in the U.S. (where the band was named Best New Group in Rolling Stone’s year-end poll, as well as earning a pair of Grammy nominations). Somewhere amidst a dizzying swirl of roadwork and promotion, Tony Butler found the time to lend his talents to the Pretenders’ hit “Back On The Chain Gang.”
A non-album U.K. single, “Wonderland” (released in the U.S. as a part of a four-song EP, and making its North American CD debut on this compilation) served as an enticing prelude to Big Country’s sophomore albumSteeltown, recorded with Lillywhite at Abba’s Polar Studios in Stockholm. The album, released in the fall of 1984, found Adamson’s lyrics conjuring compelling visions of life in his economically devastated homeland, delving deeper into the connection between the personal and the political. On tracks like “East Of Eden,” “Where The Rose Is Sown” and “Just A Shadow,” the singer steadfastly refuses to succumb to cynicism even when faced with harshest of personal trials, and the band echoes the lyrics’ indomitable spirit with consistently intense ensemble work.
Following two years of near-constant activity, 1985 was a relatively quite one for Big Country, with its score for the Scottish film comedy Restless Natives (subsequently released on the B-sides of a pair of U.K. singles) and an appearance in the finale of the historic live aid concert in London marking the band’s only major public activity during the year. While Adamson worked on songs for a new album, Brzezicki moonlighted on Roger Daltrey’s Under A Raging Moon LP (which also featured Butler and Watson on one track). Brzezicki and Butler later accompanied the Who frontman for a short tour, whose New York date at Madison Square Garden found them playing sets with both Daltrey and Big Country.
For its third longplayer, 1986′s The Seer, Big Country hooked up with a new producer, Robin Millar, to explore a slightly more spacious sound. Despite the sonic readjustments, songs like “Look Away” (which proved to be the band’s biggest U.K. hit to date), “The Teacher” and “One Great Thing” boasted lyrics as insightful and hooks as sharp as anything the band had done. The quartet spent much of 1986 on the road, headlining various festivals in Europe, as well as a pair of sellout dates at Wembley Arena and a special-guest slot with Queen at England’s Knebworth Festival.
Big Country was out of the spotlight for much of 1987, emerged briefly during the summer to appear as special guests on the British leg of David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour and in December for a low key tour of U.K. clubs and colleges. The foursome’s artistic restlessness took shape in the reshuffled sonics of the 1988 album Peace In Our Time, on which another producer, Austrian synthesizer specialist Peter Wolf employed state-of-art studio gadgetry that might have seemed at odds with the band’s established style, yet which nonetheless enhanced the bittersweet lyricism and melodic drive of numbers like “King of Emotion,” Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)” and the albums title track. That September, Big Country celebrated Peace In Our Time‘s release with a tour of the U.S.S.R., which they launched with a performance at the Soviet Embassy in London, broadcast live on BBC Radio One.
After touring with Big Country through much of the first half of 1989, Mark Brzezicki left the group in July (he subsequently concentrated on a variety of session work, as well as an extended recording and touring stint with a reformed Procol Harum); in his absence, the band worked with a variety of drummers, including Pat Ahern, Chris Bell and noted session ace Simon Phillips. While a dearth of U.S. roadwork significantly diminished the group’s stateside profile, the Tim Palmer-produced singles “Save Me” and “heart of the world,” and the slyly humorous Pat Moran-helmed “Republican Party Reptile” (from the 1991 U.K. album No Place Like Home) – all of which make their U.S. debuts on this collection – demonstrate that the band’s sense of adventure and commitment continued undimmed.
By 1993, Big Country had returned to the U.S. market with a new label and a new album, The Buffalo Skinners. That disc’s domestic release preceded the band’s first U.S. shows in seven years, with Brzezicki back in the fold. Whatever the future holds, however, Big Country’s place in rock history is already secure, thanks to its legacy of richly emotional, vitally human music – a generous sampling of which you now hold in your hands.
Life in a Big Country: I remember seeing The Skids at the Hammersmith Palais and noticing shy Stuart Adamson’s contribution. I remember co managing The Skids, and undertaking a tour of the school playgrounds the length and breadth of the country. I remember Virgin Records holding onto Richard Jobsen and letting Stuart Adamson go when The Skids fell apart. My partner Ian Grant pinpointed Chris Briggs and Phonogram as the right record company for Big Country and just kept on and on at them until the deal was done.
Live Big Country played at the Dingwalls club circuit and supported Alice Cooper at Brighton Conference Centre, the latter backfired when the obnoxious Vietnam vet tour manager took a dislike to the band and kicked them off the tour. This did the group a favour, and hot rhythm section bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki who were working with Pete Townshend were enlisted. Big Country never looked back. Moody magnificent guitarist Stuart Adamson, rhythm guitarist and comedian Bruce Watson, friendly rock solid bassist Tony Butler and quirky Mark Brzezicki with the massive drum sound.
Soon sweaty venues like Nottingham Rock City were heavy with the pure excitement of a real live rock band cutting a swathe throughout the new romantic and posey pop scene. America beckoned, and a combination of guitar rock and tartan imagery struck a chord. ‘In a Big Country’ stormed up the singles chart with the album in hot pursuit Stateside, it seemed a far cry from their U.S. debut supporting The Members at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. It all happened very quickly in America, guitar rock was a well established tradition.
Pressure dropped on Big Country big time, endless touring – Stuart not really wanting to be part of the rock and roll trip – a hastily mixed second album, a canceled tour with Hall and Oates the band need a break.
Manchester United fan Stuart was football mad, backstage players popped up like they were in the penalty box – Steve Archibald, Charlie Nicholas, Tony Woodcock, Paul Mariner, Kenny Daglish to name but a few. When Stuart wasn’t touring he was watching Dunfermline’s athletics good times.
The audience too felt like they were too off the terraces, and the empathy that was felt between the band and crowd rivaled that of the Liverpool players and the packed Kop. The music was authentic and so was the sing along response and support from the masses down the front.
Back in the USA again, standout show in Sinatra’s old N/Y/ stomping ground the Roseland Ballroom, sellouts at the Palladium in L.A., crazy party at Sunset Marquis, broken down bus on the way to San Diego, snowbound spectrum in Montreal and good fun at Saturday Night Live with then world champ Larry Holmes. Back in Scotland for Hogmany or was it Christmas Eve at Edinburgh Playhouse, followed by a cranky propeller driven small plane ride back to London.
June 1994 still got it live at Chapham Grand, always worth the price of admission Big Country continue the great rock tradition.