Stuart Adamson was born William Stuart Adamson on 11 April 1958 and died December 16, 2001. he was an English-born Scottish Musician (Guitars / Vocals / Keyboards / Songwriter). He also founded the top-40 Scottish art-punk band The Skids and later the more mainstream rock Big Country, as well as the 1990s alternative country rock act, The Raphaels.
Adamson is best known for his distinctive guitar work, which made the harmonics of two electric guitars sound somewhat like a bagpipe; Adamson, along with Big Country’s other guitarist, Bruce Watson, achieved this with a combination of various guitar effects and heavy use of reverb. The often quoted “bagpipe” sound was actually probably more to do with the phrasing of Big Country’s guitar work as it often loosely followed traditional Scottish pipe band arrangements and rhythms. Also adding to the distinctive Big Country guitar sound was the use of the e-bow, a device that provided a haunting strings type effect in Big Country’s music. Along with Bill Nelson (Guitars / Vocals / Keyboards / Bass Guitar / Drums / Percussion / Songwriter with such bands as Be Bop Deluxe, Red Noise, Channel Light Vessel and solo), Adamson’s use of the e-bow helped popularize the device.
Adamson’s songwriting was at least as distinctive and significant a part of his musical contribution as his guitar work. His songs melody, structure and lyric content were heavily influenced by the Scottish folk music he heard in his parents home and the pub of Crossgates. His primary lyrical concern were the factors he perceived as dehumanizing working-class people. For example, he suggested that factory work not only destroyed worker’s dreams, but even their intelligence. Yet while many of his songs addressed melancholy topics, they also frequently championed positive emotions, such as hope and love.
Adamson is usually considered Scottish, although he was born in Manchester, England. His parents were both Scottish, and returned to Scotland when Adamson was four. The family settled in a small mining town, Crossgates, about a mile to the east of Dunfermline in Fife. Adamson founded his first two bands in Dunfermline and they both started out playing Dunfermline and across the firth in Edinburgh. He went to school with Ian Rankin, who was two years younger and a great fan of The Skids. Adamson was a life-long supporter of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club.
Adamson’s father was in the fishing industry and travelled the world. He encouraged his son Stuart to read literature, and both parents shared an interest in folk music. As such they were strong influences on Adamson’s art.
Adamson founded his first band, Tattoo, in 1976 after seeing The Damned play in Edinburgh. Originally the band played covers of Status Quo, but it split up when Adamson got more interested in Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople. Besides Adamson, Tattoo included good friend William Simpson, who would also play bass guitar for his next band, The Skids.
Adamson founded The Skids in 1977, when he was 18. Adamson and Simpson first recruited drummer Tom Kellichan. They played as a trio around Dunfermline and Edinburgh until running into “the only other punk in town” on a street corner, 16-year-old Richard Jobson. Jobson was recruited as a frontman; Adamson and Jobson both wrote songs for the band.
The Skids’ biggest success was the single Into the Valley in 1979, which did well in the UK charts, and still regularly appears in anthologies. The band had four singles chart in the UK that year. Adamson was involved with three of their four albums, leaving in 1980 before Joy (which many fans considered “non-canonical”, though Adamson did play guitar on one memorable song of the album, ‘Iona’). Jobson’s influence had increased in the band, which may have lead to the increasing disputes between the two artists.
Six years later, Adamson reported he’d suffered a nervous breakdown at around this point in his life. He seems to have kept any such problems deeply private though. Jobson later said “This was a guy who had a mortgage, a wife and a family when we were all trying to live some mythic punk lifestyle. He seemed level-headed, grounded.”
Adamson was a large part of The Skid’s sound, which set it apart from many of the punk/New Wave bands of the period, including slow riffs, as opposed to speedily played ones, which anticipated Black Flag and Grunge’s “slow punk”. In 2006, Adamson’s music achieved an unexpected success when U2 and Green Day covered The Saints are Coming as a charity single. The Edge, who also contributed to Adamson’s memorial service, paid tribute to the guitarist by exactly replicating his original solo for the single. The single led to a revival of interest in Adamson’s earlier material. Richard Jobson in an interview with the Sunday Post, said that he was upset Adamson had not been alive to see it.
Stuart Adamson first came to international prominence with Big Country. Adamson constructed the band with friend and fellow-guitarist Bruce Watson (then employed as a cleaner on submarines at Rosyth naval base) and a rhythm section of well-established studio musicians Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler, whom he found with the help of his record company. He founded the band in 1982, the same year his first child was born.
Big Country’s first hit, 1983′s “Fields of Fire”, reached the UK’s Top Ten, and was rapidly followed by the album The Crossing. The album was a crossover hit in the United States, powered by the single “In a Big Country”. They were sometimes considered a one-hit wonder in the USA, but clearly they were more than that worldwide due to their popularity in the UK and Europe, and the band still have a devout following in their homebase of Scotland.
Their second album Steeltown appeared in 1984, and was again a success with both fans and critics, although not quite to the same heights as their debut. The band’s third album “The Seer” continued along somewhat familiar territory, but did veer towards album oriented rock. The first two albums were produced by Steve Lillywhite. The band continued to record studio albums, and to tour until 1999. In many ways, Adamson was the sound of Big Country, supplying much of its distinctive guitar work, as well as being lead singer and main songwriter (both music and lyrics). In terms of being an instrumentalist, a vocalist, and a prolific songwriter, he is matched by very few contemporaries, such as Paul Weller (The Jam, Style Council, solo). The band’s lineup never really underwent changes, the exception being a brief departure of drummer Mark Brzezicki.
Adamson was married twice. He also had two children, born to his first wife Sandra in 1982 and 1985. After his death, some close friends were surprised to learn Adamson had long had problems with alcohol. He reportedly gave up drinking in 1985 at Live Aid, but apparently returned to drinking about a decade later. In 1996 Adamson split with Sandra, and moved to Nashville. There he remarried, and founded his final band, the alternative country band The Raphaels, which was really a duo of Adamson and veteran Nashville songwriter Marcus Hummon.
In 1999 Stuart Adamson disappeared for a time before resurfacing, stating that he had needed some time off. His family reportedly “knew where he was” during this period, leading some to speculate that he was in rehab. In November 2001, while undergoing a divorce with his second wife, Adamson disappeared again, this time to the great concern. They initiated an international search, appealing to fans who might have been drinking with the singer to encourage him to telephone home. On December 16, 2001 he was found dead, in a room at the Best Western Plaza Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, having committed suicide.