Sunday 18 December 2016

Big Country. A nostalgic gig reviewed.

Big Country. Live gig review. Cottiers, Glasgow, 17th December 2016

Big Country - The Seer album. 30th Anniversary Tour
On Saturday night I donned my tartan shirt and joined a decent crowd in Cottiers for a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s with Big Country performing there on their current tour. Only two of the original four members were playing in the current five-piece band. With the death 15 years ago of charismatic singer, guitarist and songwriter Stuart Adamson and the retirement of Tony Butler, that leaves Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki to carry the torch for the anthemic Scottish rock band. It may sound a bit like going to see Ringo and George Harrison playing as The Beatles, but a week before Christmas the chance of singing along with one of the favourite albums of my 16 year old self was too good to miss.

Formed in Dumfermline in 1981 by former Skids guitarist and songwriter Stuart Adamson and fellow Fifer, guitarist Bruce Watson. One version of the band briefly featured Peter Wishart on keyboards, later of Runrig and now an SNP MP, but Big Country settled their four-piece line up with bass player Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki. Their first single was released in 1983, Fields of Fire, from the Steve Lilywhite produced album, The Crossing, which also had their hit In A Big Country on it. The Crossing was available in a red, blue or green cover and in textured or smooth finish. As a complete sucker for that kind of fly, marketing gimmick I bought it in all the variations that I could find in the 1980s, despite the album inside being identical each time.

My tatty copies of Steeltown and The Crossing
The single Wonderland followed The Crossing and then the album Steeltown came next, in October 1984, with the singles East of Eden and Where The Rose Is Sown on it. Their success continued with the album The Seer in June 1986. Produced by Robin Miller, the title track features guest vocals from Kate Bush and the album was a return to the more Scottish, bagpipe-guitar sound of The Crossing. It has the hits The Teacher, Look Away and One Great Thing on it. The last of those it is hard to think of without seeing the old Tennents Lager advert that featured it. 

This album was one that I played endlessly and have a 12 inch single version of One Great Thing that has a strange "almanac and discography" booklet in the middle of it. You don't get any of that when you buy a download, do you? This has some photographs of the band in it that I was flicking through today, which are very much of their time. It is 30 years since The Seer was released, and the album is being played in full on the current tour. 

Mark Brzezicjki and Bruce Watson in the One Great Thing "almanac"
Peace In Our Time followed The Seer in September 1988, which marked the beginning of me falling out of love with Big Country and was the last of their albums that I bought. Further albums followed, with diminishing chart success and Stuart Adamson had by the 1990s moved to America to live, where he continued to make music. In 2000 the band ended their "Final Fling" tour with a sell-out concert at the Glasgow Barrowlands. Adamson had a history of alcohol problems and sadly fifteen years ago, in 2001, he committed suicide.

Cheesy  gate-fold picture from the Peace In Our Time album
In 2007 the surviving founder members reformed for a brief 25 year anniversary tour and Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki have intermittently toured, playing the band's old material. The current tour marks the 30th anniversary of the release of their third album, The Seer.

Big Country line up 2016, photo from their website
The current line up in 2016 has Jamie Watson on guitar, alongside his father Bruce Watson, drummer Mark Brzezicki, singer Simon Hough and bass player Scott Whiteley. They came on stage to a warm welcome and battered through the tracks of The Seer with Bruce Watson, grinning from ear to ear, briefly chatting between songs. The sing-along mood was carried into a few tracks played after the album play-through. It was a breezy, cheery evening, no maudlin reminiscing allowed. Simon Hough has the toughest job, trying to fill Stuart Adamson's shoes, and vocally he sings in the same key as Adamson, but was otherwise happy to leave Bruce Watson to do all the chatting. In A Big Country, Wonderland and Fields of Fire gave us further chance to sing ourselves hoarse and a final encore followed, which I think was one of the songs from the film Restless Natives.  Though Bruce Watson looked like he was ready to carry on, the rest of the band dragged him off, still grinning away and clearly having a ball. A nostalgic evening that reminded me of how many great tunes Big Country produced, a distinctive and inventive soundtrack to my teenage years.

Big Country in Cottiers, December 2016