Rock group

The Scottish-English rock band Big Country struck it rich with their debut  album, The Crossing, in the early 1980s, and gained recognition as one of the top Scottish bands of the 1980s. By all accounts a rock band unlike any other, Big Country was known for making guitars sound like bagpipes, and at the height of their popularity the group shared the stage with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Queen. While their later releases proved less popular in the United States, the band retained a strong following in the United Kingdom, eventually selling more than ten million albums. The group declined in popularity in the 1990s, and called it quits in 2000, nearly 20 years after first getting together. The group’s final studio album, Driving to Damascus, was released in Europe in March of 2000, and this was followed by a re-mastered re-release titled John Wayne’s Dream in 2002. Big Country’s front man, Stuart Adamson, who had a history of depression and alcohol abuse, committed suicide at the end of 2001.

Guitarist Stuart Adamson started Big Country in 1981 after leaving a two-man Scottish punk band called the Skids. The Skids had garnered good reviews with their debut release Scared to Dance in 1979, but personality conflicts drove them apart. Seeking a new start, Adamson asked a friend from childhood, Bruce Watson, tojoin him as second guitarist in his new venture. Adamson wanted the new band to sound like a loud rock band with a strong infusion of folk and country. Watson, who at the time made a living cleaning nuclear submarines, readily agreed, and Big Country was born.

The group’s name, Adamson later explained, was meant to represent new discoveries born of ambition. Clive Parker soon joined the group, as well as brothers Pete and Alan Wishart, completing the group’s original lineup. The group got its start by opening for American rocker Alice Cooper on tour, but they were soon let go. Adamson and Watson decided they needed a personnel change, and they dropped the band’s three other members and hired Tony Butler on bass and Mark Brzezicki on drums. The resulting quartet was to form the group’s core for nearly two decades.

Big Country signed with Polygram’s Mercury label shortly after Brzezicki and Butler took over, and the group cut a single called “Harvest Home” that was released in late 1982. Following the single’s release, the group went on a high profile concert tour, which helped boost “Harvest Home” to the British top ten charts. The group’s debut album followed soon afterwards, in 1983. The Crossing turned into a smash hit at home; propelled by the hit singles “In a Big Country” and “Fields of Fire,” it went platinum. It also did well in the United States, selling more than 500,000 copies to earn the group a gold record. The album was a critical as well as a commercial success. Critics raved about the group’s refreshing take on rock, which was influenced by Celtic music and was a marked departure from the usual popular “new wave” rock then in fashion. Soon the group was in demand as a live act, sharing the stage with such superstars as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Queen, and David Bowie, and playing on television shows.

Another hit single, “Wonderland,” followed on the heels of The Crossing, again taking the group to the top of the British charts. The 1984
album Steeltown came next, and while this album was also well-received, there was already talk in the press that the group might have reached its
pinnacle. However, Big Country’s third album, The Seer, gave the group its biggest hit ever in the single “Look Away.” Album number four, 1988′s
Peace in Our Time, took the group on a ground-breaking tour of the Soviet Union, making the group one of the first Western bands to play there. As Brzezicki recalled later to Billy Sloan in the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail, “Going to Russia was a massive event. Of all the gigs we played, it
was one I’ll always remember.”

Brzezicki quit the group in 1989, to be replaced by Pat Ahern on drums in time to cut the single “Save Me.” After the group completed No Place Like Home, released in 1991, Chris Bell replaced Ahern. In a sign that the group’s fortunes had turned, this was the first of the group’s albums that did not receive an American release, although it earned the group a gold record, pushing total Big Country album sales to more than ten million copies.

Polygram dropped Big Country following the release of No Place Like Home, and the group moved to the Compulsion label to release The Buffalo
Skinners
in 1993. A new drummer, Simon Phillips, replaced Chris Bell for this album, which spawned “Alone” and “Ships,” two singles that reached the British top 30 charts.

Brzezicki returned to Big Country for Without the Aid of a Safety Net, a live album recorded in Glasgow in 1993. Two more albums followed, with the release of Why the Long Face in 1995 and another live album, Eclectic, in 1996. Adamson then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with his
second wife, Melanie Shelley, an American beauty salon owner. Without its front man, Big Country was forced to take a long break, returning to record the group’s last studio album, 1999′s Driving to Damascus. This album featured “Somebody Else,” a single co-written by Adamson and Ray Davies of the Kinks.

For the Record …

Members include Stuart Adamson (born on April 11, 1958, in Manchester, England; died on December 16, 2001, in Hawaii), guitar; Mark Brzezicki, drums; Tony Butler, bass; Bruce Watson, guitar.

Group formed in the U.K., 1981; signed with Mercury label, released first single, “Harvest Home,” 1982; released debut album, The Crossing, to wide popular and critical acclaim, 1983; released numerous albums during the 1980s and 1990s; released final studio album, Driving to Damascus, 2000; group split up, 2000.

Addresses: Website—Big Country Official Website: http://www.bigcountry.co.uk.

Big Country made the group’s demise official with an announcement and farewell concert in 2000. Adamson expressed no regrets at ending their 19-year run. “I’ve been touring for eight months out of every year since I was 19,” he told Sloan. “It’s time to move on.” The leader of the group remarked that he was tired of living on the road and wanted a more stable home life. Unfortunately, that stable and peaceful life proved to be beyond his reach. With his marriage to his second wife failing as 2001 drew to a close, Adamson disappeared from his Nashville home. Given his history of depression and alcohol abuse, his friends and family feared the worst. Their fears were confirmed when he was found dead
at the age of 43 on December 16, 2001, in a hotel room in Hawaii; he had hanged himself. “He had a heart as big as a mountain,” said rock star The Edge of U2, after hearing of Adamson’s death. “He will be missed by all who loved his music and even more by those lucky enough to know him.”

Selected discography

The Crossing, Mercury, 1983.

Steeltown, Mercury, 1984.

The Seer, Mercury, 1986.

Peace in Our Time, Warner, 1988.

No Place Like Home, Alex, 1991.

The Buffalo Skinners, EMI, 1993.

Why the Long Face, Castle, 1995.

Live: Without the Aid of a Safety Net, Compulsion, 1995.

Eclectic (live), Castle, 1996.

Driving To Damascus, Pinnacle, 2002.

John Wayne’s Dream, 2002.

 

Sources

Periodicals

Daily Telegraph (London, England), December 18, 2001, p. 23.

Guardian (Manchester, England), December 20, 2001, p. 18.

Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), December 23, 2001, p. 11.

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), June 4, 2000, pp. 44-5.

Online

“Big Country,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 22, 2004).

Big Country Official Website, http://www.bigcountry.co.uk/ (April 22,
2004).

—Michael Belfiore

 

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