Big Country, 1983
|Origin||Dunfermline, Fife, United Kingdom|
|Genres||Alternative rock, New Wave, folk rock, Celtic rock, post-punk|
|Labels||Phonogram, Track-BCR, Transatlantic, Giant/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records|
|Past members||Stuart Adamson
The height of the band's popularity was in the 1980s, although it retained a cult following for many years after. The band's music was most recognisable for the sounds it infused with Scottish folk and martial music styles, as well as for playing and engineering their guitar driven sound to evoke the inspirational spirit of bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional folk instruments.
Big Country comprised Stuart Adamson (formerly of Skids, vocals/guitar/keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar/mandolin/sitar/vocals), Tony Butler (bass guitar/vocals) and Mark Brzezicki (drums/percussion/vocals). Before the recruitment of Butler and Brzezicki an early incarnation of Big Country was a five-piece band, featuring Peter Wishart (later of Runrig and now an SNP MP) on keyboards, his brother Alan on bass, and Clive Parker, drummer from Spizz Energi/Athletico Spizz '80. Parker had approached Adamson to join his new band after the demise of Skids. Adamson auditioned Parker (1980) at The Members' rehearsal room in Ladbroke Grove, London and the next day was called on to play drums on demos for CBS Records at their Whitfield Street studios. The demos were produced by Adam Sieff and just featured Adamson, Parker and Watson. Adamson had asked bassist Dave Allen from Gang of Four to join the band but he declined. Adamson asked Parker to join the band, which led to eight months of rehearsal in Dunfermline in a disused furniture warehouse.
The culmination was a successful concert at the Glen Pavilion at Dunfermline, (playing to a home crowd, mainly Skids fans), and an interview with BBC Radio Scotland where the CBS Studio demos were utilised. What followed were live dates with Alice Cooper's Special Forces tour in 1982. The band appeared out of their depth with their rambling Echo & The Bunnymen-keyboard-oriented-sound which went down badly with the metal crowds, and the band was dumped from the tour after only two gigs at The Brighton Centre  and Birmingham Odeon. Adamson's management issued an ultimatum and the Wisharts and Parker were sacked. Adamson later asked Peter Wishart to rejoin on keyboards, but Peter declined without his brother in the band.
The manager, Ian Grant, brought in Brzezicki and Butler, and along with Watson, the classic line-up was formed. Although the band's music drew from Scottish traditional music, none of its members was born in Scotland. Adamson grew up in Dunfermline though, and his family was of Scottish descent.
Big Country's first single was "Harvest Home", recorded and released in 1982. It was a modest success, reaching No. 91 on the UK Singles Chart. Their next single was 1983's "Fields of Fire", which reached the UK's Top Ten and was rapidly followed by the album The Crossing. The album was a hit in the United States (reaching the US Billboard Top 20), powered by "In a Big Country", their only U.S. Top 40 hit single. The song featured heavily engineered guitar playing, strongly reminiscent of bagpipes; Adamson and fellow guitarist, Watson, achieved this through the use of the MXR Pitch Transposer 129 Guitar Effect. Also contributing to the band's unique sound was their use of the e-bow, a device which allows a guitar to sound more like strings or synthesizer. The Crossing sold over a million copies in the UK and obtained gold record status (sales of over 500,000) in the U.S. The band also performed on both the Grammys and Saturday Night Live.
The band released the non-LP extended play single "Wonderland" in 1984 while undergoing a lengthy worldwide tour. The song, considered by some critics to be one of their finest, was a Top Ten hit (No. 8) in the UK singles chart but despite heavy airplay and a positive critical response, was a comparative flop in the U.S., reaching only No. 86 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the last single by the band to make a U.S. chart appearance.
Their second album Steeltown (1984) was a hit as soon as it was released, entering the UK Albums Chart at number one. The album featured three UK top 30 hit singles, and received considerable critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, but like Wonderland (and, in fact, all subsequent releases) it was a commercial disappointment in the U.S, peaking at No. 70 on the Billboard album charts.
On Christmas 1984, the four members participated in the Band Aid charity record "Do They Know It's Christmas?". They are among a small handful of acts to contribute a spoken message to the B-side version of the single.
Throughout 1984 and 1985, the band toured the UK, Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the U.S., both as headliners themselves and in support of such artists as Queen and Roger Daltrey. They also recorded prolifically, and provided the musical score to a Scottish independent film, Restless Natives (1985), which was not released on CD until years later on the band's Restless Natives and Rarities (1998) collection.
1986's The Seer, the band's third album, was another big success in the UK, peaking at Number 2. It produced three further Top 30 singles, including the Irish number one hit "Look Away", which would also prove to be the band's biggest hit in the U.K., peaking at No. 7. Kate Bush provided backing vocals on the album's title track, and as was the norm for the band at the time, the album received good reviews from the music press. In the U.S., The Seer sold a little bit better than Steeltown, reaching No. 59 on the Billboard charts.
In what some critics felt was an apparent attempt to regain their dwindling U.S. following, Big Country used producer Peter Wolf for their next album, Peace in Our Time (1988), which was recorded in Los Angeles. It reached No. 9 in the UK Album chart, but sold poorly in the United States. During the "Peace In Our Time" Tour, the band were supported by Diesel Park West and Cry Before Dawn.
No Place Like Home (1991) not only effectively killed off the band's commercial hopes in the US, it nearly broke up the band. Drummer Mark Brzezicki returned to the studio as a session drummer after leaving the band. The album found the band trying to reinvent themselves and shift away from their '80s image. It was not a commercial success and was not released in America, although two re-recorded tracks showed up on 1993's The Buffalo Skinners.
In 1991, the band was dropped by Phonogram, the label that had released all of their material for ten years. After that, Big Country became a minor act, popping up in the lower echelons of the charts in the UK and Europe with the release of every subsequent album. Only one of these, 1993's The Buffalo Skinners, received a major label release (via Chrysalis Records), and it seemed a return to form of sorts for the band, reaching the UK Top 25. The album obtained a surprisingly enthusiastic critical response, and although it produced two UK Top 30 singles in "Alone" and "Ships", its sales were meagre and, in retrospect, it can be seen as Big Country's last, lost chance to regain a mass audience. Regardless, the band retained an intensely devoted cult following, as evidenced by their deceptively large post-1990 discography, which consists mostly of live concert recordings and singles/rarities collections.
Throughout the 1990s, Big Country became a popular supporting act, supporting bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Who. Big Country had backed Roger Daltrey on his 1985 solo album Under the Raging Moon, and Tony Butler played bass and provided backing vocals on Pete Townshend's 1980 hit single "Let My Love Open the Door". Both Butler and Brzezicki performed on Townshend's 1985 solo album White City: A Novel. Brzezicki played drums for The Cult on their 1985 Love album and featured in the video for the single, "She Sells Sanctuary".
Of growing concern was the mental and emotional health of lead singer Adamson, who reportedly had struggled with alcoholism for several years. Adamson split with his first wife, who later spoke to Scottish and English tabloids about his heavy drinking. He moved to Nashville in the mid-1990s where he took up residence and married a hairdresser. While in Nashville he met country music singer/songwriter Marcus Hummon, and together they released an alternative country studio album as The Raphaels in 2001 (four months before Adamson's death).
In 1995 Big Country released another album, Why the Long Face.
1999 saw the release of Big Country's eighth and final studio album with Adamson at the helm, Driving to Damascus (titled in its slightly different, augmented U.S. release John Wayne's Dream). Adamson said publicly that he was disappointed that the album did not fare better on the charts, which led to depression. Later that year, he disappeared for a while before resurfacing, stating that he had needed some time off.
Farewell tour, Adamson's death
Adamson returned for the band's 'Final Fling' farewell tour, culminating in a sold-out concert at Glasgow's Barrowland Ballroom on 31 May 2000. Although that marked the end of Big Country as a touring band, they were always adamant that they would appear together again. They played what turned out to be their last gig in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October that year.
In November 2001, Adamson disappeared again. Numerous appeals were put on the Big Country website asking for Adamson to call home and speak to anyone in the band, the management company, or his ex-wife. The website also requested that any fans who might have been 'harbouring' the singer to contact the management company and alert them to his whereabouts. Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler had indicated they were concerned but the reason Big Country had lasted so long was they stayed out of one another's personal lives, and both later noted they were unaware of the extent of Adamson's problems. He was found dead in a room at the Best Western Plaza Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii on 16 December 2001. The autopsy revealed that he had hanged himself.
At the time of death he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.279%.
A memorial to Adamson was held at Dunfermline's Carnegie Hall in January 2002, followed by a tribute concert at Glasgow Barrowlands in May. It brought together the remaining members of both Big Country and Skids; Adamson's teenage children, Callum and Kirsten; as well as Steve Harley, Runrig, Simon Townshend, Midge Ure and Bill Nelson.
In 2007, to celebrate 25 years of Big Country, founding members Bruce Watson, Tony Butler (now lead vocalist for the first time), and Mark Brzezicki reunited to embark on a tour of the UK with dates in Scotland and England and a gig in Cologne (Germany). They also released a new album, twenty five live, on the trackrecords label.
As of September 2008 the band returned to an indefinite hiatus.
The surviving original members toured again in late December 2010 and January 2011 with Mike Peters of the Alarm and Jamie Watson, Bruce's son, added to the lineup. They played another set of concerts in April 2011. Big Country have been announced at six major UK/Irish festivals in 2011 — Isle of Wight, T in the Park, Oxegen in Kildare and V Festival (Chelmsford and Stafford), plus Inverness with Simple Minds.
Steve Lillywhite, who had produced Big Country's first and second albums, produced the band's first single in over twelve years. He remarked: "When I heard the demo of their new song, I was impressed on first listen. I am looking forward to working with the band again whom I last worked with in the 80s on one of my favourite albums I have ever produced — The Crossing."
"It will be a real buzz working with Steve again", Tony Butler said in response. "He is a producer we all have a great regard for and are looking forward to working with again. We'd also like to thank all the festival promoters for having faith in us."
The band will also soon announce a series of smaller dates where they will be "breaking in" new songs for a future release. "These will be places we have never played before," Mark Brzezicki added, "giving us the chance to work in new songs in the more intimate type of venues.”
Mike Peters said, "Due to the success of the January and April tours, the band have decided to continue and have already started planning for a new album and a 30th anniversary tour in the new year."
Bruce Watson commented: "We are 100% dedicated and intent on making this new line up a permanent one. We can finally look forward to completing unfinished business from the past, particularly internationally, and look to a creative and active future".
Around August 2011, Big Country released their first single in 11 years called "Another Country" with Peters on vocals.
2012-13; Peters' departure
In 2012 the band played many festivals around Europe including Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, The Isle of Wight Festival and Fairport's Cropredy Convention as special guests of Fairport Convention on the Saturday.
On 20 September 2012 guitarist Bruce Watson announced in the forum on the band's website that bassist Tony Butler had announced his retirement from the band during the last tour and that the remaining members of the band would not be continuing their involvement with long-time manager Ian Grant. Butler was replaced by Derek Forbes, formerly of Simple Minds.
In January 2013, the band announced on their website that they had completed recording a new 12-track studio album entitled The Journey.
"The Journey" was released in the United States on April 30, 2013.
On 30 July 2013, the band performs in Montreal, Canada, at "Petit Campus" to packed room of enthusiastic die hard followers.
On 9 November 2013, it was announced via the band's Facebook page that Mike Peters had departed Big Country. The band will continue as a four-piece, sharing vocals, which they have all performed in the past.
- Note: Big Country were inactive from 2002 until 2007 and again from 2008 to 2010.
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- "Official Big Country Website". Bigcountry.co.uk. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
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