Stuart Adamson

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Stuart Adamson
Stuart Adamson 91.jpg
Stuart Adamson performing in August 1991.
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Stuart Adamson
Born(1958-04-11)11 April 1958
Manchester, England
OriginDunfermline, Scotland
Died16 December 2001(2001-12-16) (aged 43)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
GenresRock, punk rock, new wave, Celtic rock
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, musician
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, keyboard, bass guitar
Years active1976–2001
LabelsNo Bad, Virgin, Phonogram, Mercury, Vertigo, Compulsion, Fox, Transatlantic, Track
Associated actsSkids, Big Country, The Raphaels

William Stuart Adamson (11 April 1958 – 16 December 2001) was a Scottish guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. He was the co-founder, lead vocalist, and guitarist of rock group Big Country, which rose to prominence in 1983.

Prior to that he founded Scottish art-punk band Skids. In the 1990s he founded alternative country rock act The Raphaels. He was once described by DJ John Peel as "the new Jimi Hendrix".[1]

Early life[edit]

Adamson was born in Manchester. Both his parents were Scottish, and when he was four, his family moved to Fife and settled in a small mining town, Crossgates, about a mile to the east of Dunfermline.

Adamson founded his first two bands in Dunfermline and they both started out playing Dunfermline and across the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh. He went to school with Ian Rankin, who was two years younger and went on to become a fan of Skids.[2] Adamson was a lifelong supporter of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club.

Adamson's father was in the fishing industry and traveled the world. He encouraged Stuart to read literature, and both parents shared an interest in folk music. Adamson founded his first band, Tattoo, in 1976 after seeing The Damned play in Edinburgh. Besides Adamson, Tattoo included his friend William Simpson, who would also play bass guitar for his next band, Skids.


Adamson founded Skids in 1977 when he was 18. Adamson and Simpson first recruited drummer Thomas Kellichan. They played as a trio around Dunfermline and Edinburgh until meeting 16-year-old Richard Jobson.[3] Jobson was recruited as a frontman; Adamson and Jobson both wrote songs for the band.

Skids' biggest success was the single "Into the Valley" in 1979, which reached number 10 in the UK charts.[4] The band had four chart singles in the UK that year. Adamson was involved with three of their four albums, leaving in 1980 before Joy. Jobson's influence had increased in the band, which led to the increasing disputes between the two musicians.[5] 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."[6]

Big Country[edit]

Adamson came to greater international prominence with Big Country. He 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 studio musicians Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler, whom he found with the help of his record company.

Big Country's first hit, 1983's "Fields of Fire", reached the UK's Top 10, and was rapidly followed by the album The Crossing. The album was a big hit in the United States powered by the single "In a Big Country", which was performed on Saturday Night Live and the Grammy Awards. The video for "In a Big Country" received frequent airplay on MTV and featured the band riding all terrain vehicles in the countryside.

Their second album Steeltown appeared in 1984. The band's third album was The Seer. The first two albums were produced by Steve Lillywhite. The band continued to record studio albums and to tour until 1999. Adamson supplied much of the distinctive guitar work, as well as being the lead singer and main songwriter (both music and lyrics). The band's lineup rarely underwent changes, the exception being a brief departure of drummer Mark Brzezicki in the early 1990s and his temporary replacement by Pat Ahern.

Adamson was also a keen motorcyclist and regularly purchased new machines for riding around Fife. His interest extended to the race track where he sponsored British Championship rider Iain Duffus in the late 1980s.

Final years and death[edit]

Adamson was married twice. He had two children with his first wife Sandra in 1982 and 1985. His son Callum Adamson is the guitarist of British band Ahab. In 1996, Adamson split with Sandra and moved to Nashville.[7] There he married his second wife, Melanie Shelly, and founded his final band, the alternative country band The Raphaels, a duo of Adamson and Nashville songwriter Marcus Hummon.

On 26 November 2001, Adamson was reported missing by his wife Melanie. At the time, the couple had been estranged for six weeks, and Melanie filed for divorce on the day he disappeared. Adamson had been due to face drunk-driving charges in March 2002 and had been ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. He was an alcoholic and had resumed drinking, after having been sober for over a decade. On 16 December 2001, his body was found in a closet in his room at the Best Western Plaza Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. According to police, Adamson had hanged himself with an electrical cord from a pole in the wardrobe. An empty wine bottle was found in the room.[8][9] At the time of his death, Adamson had a blood-alcohol content of 0.279%.[10]

U2's The Edge delivered the eulogy at Adamson's funeral which was held at Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline. He told the mourners that Big Country wrote the songs that he wished U2 could write.

In 2006, U2 and Green Day covered "The Saints Are Coming" by Skids as a charity single.


According to Skids bassist Bill Simpson, Adamson's first real guitar was a Gibson Flying V. He is usually associated with the Yamaha SG2000 guitar, which he used extensively during the Skids years, as well as on the first two Big Country albums. He also used Fender Stratocasters in this period to achieve lighter tones. Around the time of The Seer, Adamson began to lay his SG2000s aside and experimented with other models. Among these were several Les Pauls, a Gretsch Duo-Jet, and an ESP Stratocaster with humbucking pickups. Adamson also had several guitars made for him by the Glasgow guitar maker Jimmy Moon. Among these were a Telecaster-style electric that Adamson used live on songs such as "The Teacher," "Steeltown," and "Just a Shadow."

Adamson's distinctive "Scottish" sound was created using an MXR pitch transposer, which pushed the guitar notes up an octave and created a shrill, bagpipe-esque whine. This can be heard in the lead guitar passages in the song "In a Big Country." Adamson was also noted for his use of the E-Bow, a device that magnetically vibrates guitar strings and generates unique tones with infinite sustain. The e-bow is most prominent in the introductions to the songs "The Storm" and "Lost Patrol."


Skids discography
Year Title Label Notes
1979 Scared to Dance Virgin
Days in Europa
1980 The Absolute Game
1981 Joy Guitar on Track 5 only.
1982 Fanfare
1987 Dunfermline: A Collection of the Skids' Finest Moments
2007 The Saints Are Coming: The Best of The Skids EMI/Virgin
Big Country Discography
The Raphaels Discography
Year Title Label
2001 Supernatural Track

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glen, Allan. Stuart Adamson – In A Big Country. ISBN 184697142X.
  2. ^ Reid, Stuart (17 December 2001). "Rock Star Adamson dies in hotel". The Scotsman. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  3. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Jobson's Choice, The Observer, Sunday 20 June 2004.
  4. ^ Chart Stats - Skids - Into the Valley
  5. ^ Simon Goddard, Once more into the valley Archived 30 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine., The Scotsman, 17 February 2007.
  6. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Jobson's Choice, The Observer, Sunday 20 June 2004.
  7. ^ STARDOM: LIFE AND TIMES OF PUNK HERO, The Scotsman, 18 December 2001.
  8. ^ "Death of rocker Adamson likely suicide, official says | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii's Newspaper". The Honolulu Advertiser. 18 December 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
  9. ^ Jeevan Vasagar, Big Country's Stuart Adamson dead in hotel, The Guardian, 17 December 2001.
  10. ^ Mike Wade, Autopsy shows star was drunk at time of suicide, The Scotsman, 26 January 2002.

External links[edit]