Glasgow Greats

 Stuart Adamson

11th April 1958  – 16 December 2001

Not many rock stars were as down to earth as Stuart Adamson although his band Big Country, achieved massive international success  in the 80s rivalling rock acts like U2 and Simple Minds or out selling Bros,   Stuart  remained committed to his fans, his family and Scottish roots. A Scot by blood and at heart Stuart was actually born in Manchester but grew up in the small mining village of Crossgates in the Kingdom of Fife. His Dad a worldly man and his Mum were a constant support in his life and a major influence Stuart’s music:

“As has been well documented I grew up in a small mining village in Scotland. My father was an engineer on deep sea trawlers and would sail to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to fish for cod (he would go to college while at home to gain more qualifications to rise through the merchant navy and is now port engineer at Dahran in Saudi Arabia). He made me aware there was more to the world than my local area and him being away so much made me very self reliant early in my life. I was also encouraged to read “serious books” by an amazing old woman who lived next door to us. My mum and dad also had some great friends who played folk and country music (my mum does a mean Patsy Cline) and they would come to our house after the bars were closed and people would sing through the night. This made me aware of the power of the song and how music was interwoven with the lives of the working class Scots I grew up amongst. I would watch these big rough, hard men declare their love of family and the land — emotions they would be embarrassed to admit to in conversation — in songs old and new. I realised a lot of my schooling was solely aimed at my learning to accept my place in the British class system and railed against it. I believe the measure of a man is in his actions and not his social background (maybe this is why I like the US…another disenfranchised Celt). I was fascinated by the simplicity of a singer with his songs and guitar and began writing songs within months of learning to play. A lot of the darkness of the Steeltown album comes from remembering my first experiences of the prejudice of class and nationality and the obvious truths that little had changed in my adulthood. The desire to write initially grew out of just wanting to be a “real” band and then I found I was driven to communicate some of the joy and frustration of the human experience”.

In 1976 and at the age of 16 Stuart  saw The Damned play in Edinburgh and this raw punk energy inspired him to form  his first band Tattoo with bassist Louis and Bill Simpson.

 ”After I left school I started working as a student environmental health officer, doing a course in Sanitary Science – water sampling, shop and pub inspection, anything involved in pollution. The guy who was teaching me the job was great. He was a big mad drummer in a country and western group and he’d take me to see his band in his Ford Escort – you couldn’t see the back seat for four years’ worth of rubbish. He used to toss and twirl the sticks. he was a brilliant drummer“.  “One Christmas, my Dad came home from sea and bought me a Woolworth’s electric guitar which played like a plank and, in 1973, me and a crazy guy called Louis started a group called Tattoo, playing at dance halls doing Status Quo and Stones stuff. But eventually me and Willie Simpson, the bass player, got into Roxy Music and Mott The Hoople and the other guys were still into Rory Gallagher so we split up. And then the punk thing started...”

In the summer of 77 Tattoo linked with drummer Tom Kellichansinger and singer Richard Jobson to form the Scots Punk/New Wave band Skids,. The band released the single “Charles’ on own No Bad Label ’78 and then signed with Virgin in 79 to record Scared To Dance ‘which produced the hit singles “Into The Valley’, “Masquerade’. The critically and commercially acclaimed ” Days Of Europa ’79, produced by Bill
Nelson (Bebop Deluxe). Inspired by working with one of his guitar heroes Stuart found his own distinct Scots guitar sound which helped propel songs like  “Charade’ and “Working For The Yankee Dollar’ into the Top 40.  Stuart later bought the Gibson Les Paul from the Bebop Deluxe ‘Axe Victim’ album from author Adrian Wilson.

After an acrimonious tour Jobson and Adamson picked up new rhythm section of Russell Webb from Zones and Mike Baillie from Insect Bites ; The Absolute Game ’80 was top 10 LP but only “Circus Games’ of the next four singles made top 40.  The pressure of success and Stuart’s growing frustration at Jobson’s second career as media darling saw tension hit the band and Jobson and Adamson went their separate ways in 1981.

The saga of a Big Country taken from the Country Club Fanzine (Issue 2)

Once upon a time, in a land far to the North, lived a young man who played music. He and his friends banded together to form a close knit group of strolling players known as the Skids. The fluctuating ranks of this gallant fellowship swept through many a foray in the treacherous valley of the shadow of stealth. It came to pass, however, that a task was set upon the bold family and each of its sons was sent to fulfil his duty. The first born son embarked on a journey beset with peril, but always his spirit held true.

One cold, foggy night he took comfort in the warmth of a small travellers rest and his attention fell upon a weary fellow, an edgy ill looking man. Much given to gales of laughter they struck up an immediate rapport, and so it was in time to come they discovered a Big Country. This was to be the land of productivity and discovery and a place where all men could visit safely. During a fierce winter however, a great blight fell upon the soil
and the people were much troubled by the wicked witch from the West, the demon Elsie Cooper, who filled herself with magic potions and cast an evil spell over a once fine land.
And so it was that the nation was much weakened and the populace more than halved. They were strengthened by the arrival of the nomads from the South, men who had done enough wandering to know their true goals, and saw them in a Big Country. This led to a great coming together of cultures which was a joy to behold, and once again the people were strong and happy“.

Stuart’s continued to quest for a style he felt more accurately represented his musical tastes and strong social beliefs, led to a studio collaboration with guitarist Bruce Watson and   the Jam’s drummer Rick Buckler possibly the first version of Big Country.   After a few performances Stuart was still not happy with the sound and brought in session musicians Tony Butler (bass) and drummer Mark Brzezicki  who had just played on Pete Townshend’s album “Empty Glass”. Tony and Mark met Stuart in the band “On The Air” who had upported Skids on their final tour.

In May 1992 Big Country makes its live debut at the 101 Club Clapham, London and by   December 1982 they have gathered a reputation for the quality of their live performances and asked to support to the Jam five times during their final shows at Wembley Arena, leading Stuart to quip ” I don’t think Dennis Law played there that often“.  Their first album, The Crossing  was released in 1983, made a strong impact on both the British and American charts. In the hit singles “In A Big Country” and “Fields Of Fire” Stuart  produced a unique sound that was so distinct that Big Country would forever be instantly recognised where ever it was played. The music was  big, bold and did more for Scottish tourism in the 80s than ten years of Scottish Tourist Board Marketing! A classic album and widely regarded as their finest effort “The Crossing” won two Grammy nominations for Best New Group and Best Single, sold over 3m copies and such was their prominence that   Bob Dylan and Tom Petty came to watch them while the band were in Los Angeles.

Subsequent releases “Steeltown”, “The Seer”, “Peace In Our Time” and “No Place Like Home” all earned gold discs in the UK, and took the band’s total album sales over the 10m mark.  The band appeared onstage at the end of Live Aid in 1985 but did not perform due to an unfortunate misunderstanding by Bob Geldof who mistakenly thought they had split up! Big Country continued to tour often and their hard work ethic and vibrant energy made their world tours a massive success. Stuart scored the Soundtrack to the Scots film “Restless Natives” in 86 and performed “Balcony”  on the OST to the film “Against All Odds” in 87. During 1988 they were the first Western Band to play behind the iron curtain at a  Moscow Sports Stadium and although the gig was a success  difficulties with shipping equipment and corrupt officials nearly bankrupted the band. The music scene was also changing and Stuart struggled to come to terms with fading stardom and refused to compromise his musical beliefs “

“I don’t give two hoots about it. It really doesn’t trouble me at all. I don’t make records so that people can say to me ‘God! Isn’t that startlingly like Big Country!’ Who else is going to make records that sound like Big Country? We are Big Country! (Laughs) Our songs are all different. What’s the same is the commitment. Take the song The Seer’. It’s nothing like ‘Hold The Heart’ or ‘Look Away’. If people say they sound the same, that’s their opinion. Opinions are like aresholes. Everybody’s got one.” “I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been successful.There’s a commitment in the group. If there’s one thing that runs through all of Big Country’s work it’s that it’s all done with the same amount of commitment and excitement and genuine feeling. People identify with that. Too many people go far too low as a common denominator and think of ‘the kids’ as some mass of mindless morons. There’s a responsibility to create music that’s worthwhile and lasting and invokes a sense of involvement in the real world rather than some fictitious desert island… (pause) But then again, it’s only bloody pop music...”

Big Country continued to tour as a live band supporting The Stones, Roger Daltry,  Bryan Adams and Bowie as well as seeing their standing have a commercial revival  with the 1993 release”The Buffalo Skinners”. Despite the commercial success Stuart’s commitment to his music but disillusionment with the music industry continued, “Basically it’s what we sound like when people get out of the way and just let us do it,” Stuart enthuses. “It’s organic, alive… I’m really pleased with it. I just think it’s a great record. I just hope that people can come to it without too many preconceptions, and just take it for what it is, rather than what they think it might be.” Commenting on the interviewers question about its Scottishness Stuart challenged “It’s something I’m not embarrassed about,” . “People expect you to be embarrassed about it. They look at it, then accuse us of using it as formula. It’s just as natural as some kid who grew up in Detroit using soul or rap. People should fucking back off and let me be myself!

Between 93-99
This is not yourfather’s Big Country. The sound has changed—edgier, more angular, modern and ayered than The Buffalo Skinners or Why the Long Face. Only the occasional hintof the Big Country of old. Much better overall than Why the Long Face. The mostconsistent album since The Seer. 1999 Big Country were  the toast of Kosovo after a gig in war-torn Pristina performed in a dilapidated sports hall-right next to a bomb site. Stuart, guitarist Bruce Watson and bass player Tony Butler were escorted over the border from Macedonian in a UN troop military convoy. The concert came just three months after they starred in the Sunday Mail’s charity gig at the SECC for Kosovan refugees. The band returned from Europe to make one last sold out tour of the UK to say a final farewell to their long legion of fans.

During this period Stuart moved to Memphis to find inspiration and started to work with a celtic rock band called “The Raphaels” featuring singer songwriter Marcus Hummon, musician John Mock  (who has worked with such notable artists as the Dixie Chicks, James Taylor, Nanci Griffith and Kathy Mattea) Andrea Zonn, John Gardner and Mark Prentice. Former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki guested on drums when the band played their the UK Tour. Stuart was stimulated by the environment which gave him an opportunity to work with other song writers such as  Hummon. Stuart and Marcus fused Celtic, rock and country together in an exciting and dynamic way, became great friends and out this friendship came critically acclaimed “The Raphaels” album Supernatural.

Sadly Stuart died in December of 2001 just as his enthusiasm for making music was returning. A constant in Stuart’s life was his long time friend and manager Ian Grant who told how he was about to start work on a solo project he enthusiastically described as, “a punk country album” and was keen to contribute a track called “Sending Me Angels”  to the Frankie Miller Tribute CD. In the coming years Stuart will be remembered along side other Great Scots artists for his music and wonderful lyrics. He was a big man from a big country, full of passion, commitment and poetry but a troubled soul he passed away not really aware of how much love and respect he was leaving behind. We and music will miss him!

Written by Alec Downie
in Memory to
William Stuart Adamson, singer, guitarist and
Born April 11 1958 – Died December 16 2001

QUOTE  Those are the people I grew up amongst and I could see the beauty in such simplicity as wanger and beaten
acceptance. I think that frustration and learned apathy is the daily bread of
the great majority of people in the world and as such represents the greater
part of life experience, certainly in the western world and is to me a fertile
source of inspiration.

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