Big Country Info Big Country Info

 

LINER NOTES

In The Summer of 1983, when Big Country released its debut album "The Crossing", the British Quartet's blend of dynamic guitar textures, sweeping melodic hooks and unironically heart-felt lyrics couldn't have been farther from the high-concept style-pop then dominating the U.K. music scene and America's MTV airwaves. Yet, despite its decidedly unfashionable emphasis on earthy rock roots and straightforward songcraft, this seemingly unlikely foursome quickly emerged as a potent musical force, helping ot open the floodgates for a resurgent wave of thoughtful guitar bands on both sides of the Atlantic.

Leader Stuart Adamson's songs drew on a wealth of mucial tradition while maintaining a completely contemporary focus, projecting an unshakeable sense of faith in the face of a dark and troubling world. Adamson's impassioned vocals resonated with urgency, as did his and Bruce Watson's aggressive yet densely layered guitars, while the seasoned duo of bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki comprised a rhythm section as airtight as any in rock. The resulting music was a timeless breath of fresh air in a scene dominated by faddish fetishism.

"The Crossing"s bracing, Celtic-inflected sound may have been unexpected, but it wasn't entirely unprecedented. Adamson had established a partial blueprint for Big Country's style in his previous incarnation as principal sonic architect of the Scottish post-punk combo the Skids, with whom he recorded three albums, "Scared To Dance" (1979), "Days In Europa" (1979) and "The Absolute Game" (1980). Adamson left the Skids in the summer of 1981 and hooked up with Watson, a fellow Dunfermline native whose former band, Delinx, had often shared local stages with the Skids. After recording some demos with The Jam's Rick Butler on drums, the pair began playing Adamson's new songs locally with a short-lived five-man lineup. When it came time to recruit a permanent rhythm section a few months later, Adamson and Watson looked to Londoners Butler nad Brzezicki, who'd previously recorded with Pete Townshend as well as backing Pete's Younger Brother Simon in a trio known as On The Air.

Its lineup complete, Big Country signed to Phonogram in April 1982, playing its first London show the same month; by the end of the summer the quartet had made its debit at New York's Peppermint Lounge. The September release of the band's Chris Thomas-produced single, "Harvest Home", was followed by a six-night stand opening for The Jam at London's Wembley Arena and the release of its first Top Ten U.K. hit, the rousing "Fields Of Fire". The latter tune marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship with producer Steve Lillywhite, whose wall-of-sound aesthetic was ideally suited to the band's trademark balance of atmosphere and instrumental pyrotechnics. A third single, the anthemic "In A Big Country", hit the U.K. Top 20 in May, setting the stage for the July release of "The Crossing".

Along with the band's first three a-sides, "The Crossing" featured a fourth U.K. single, the poignant ballad "Chance" (which like "In A Big Country", appears on this collection in its popular, yet previously unavailable on CD, 7" mix). The album was quickly acclaimed as one of the year's standout debuts, both in the U.K. (Where it went platinum and remained in the Top 40 for over a year) and in the U.S. (where the band was named Best New Group in Rolling Stone's year-end poll, as well as earning a pair of Grammy nominations). Somewhere amidst a dizzying swirl of roadwork and promotion, Tony Butler found the time to lend his talents to The Pretenders' hit "Back On The Chain Gang".

A non-album U.K. single, "Wonderland" (released in the U.S. as part of a four-song EP, and making its North American CD debut on this compilation) served as an exciting prelude to Big Country's sophomore album "Steeltown", recorded with Lillywhite at Abba's Polar Studios in Stockholm. The album, released in the fall of 1984, found Adamson's lyrics conjuring compelling visions of life in his economically devastated homeland, delving deeper into the connection between the personal and the political. On tracks like "East Of Eden", "Where The Rose Is Sown" and "Just A Shadow", the singer steadfastly refuses to succumb to cynicism even when faced with harshest of personal trials, and the band echoes the lyrics' indomitable spirit with consistently intense ensemble work.

Following two years of near-constant activity, 1985 was a relatively quiet one for Big Country, with its score for the Scottish film comedy "Restless Natives" (subsequently released on the b-sides of a pair of U.K. 12" singles) and an appearance in the finale of the historic Live Aid concert in London marking the band's only major public appearance during the year. While Adamson worked on songs for a new album, Brzezicki moonlighted on Roger Daltrey's "Under A Raging Moon" LP (which also featured Butler and Watson on one track). Brzezicki and Butler later accompanied The Who frontman for a short tour, whose New York date at Madison Square Garden found them playing sets with both Daltrey and Big Country.

For its third longplayer, 1986's "The Seer", Big Country hooked up with a new producer, Robin Millar, to explore a slighlty more spacious sound. Despite the sonic readjustments, songs like "Look Away" (which proved to be the band's biggest success to date), "The Teacher" and "One Great Thing" boasted lyrics as insightful and hooks as sharp as anything the band had done. The quartet spent much of 1986 on the road, headlining various festivals in Europe, as well as a pair of sellout dates at Wembley Arena and a special-guest slot with Queen at England's Knebworth festival.

Big Country was out of the spotlight for much of 1987, emerging briefly during the summer to appear as special guests on the British leg of David Bowie's Glass Spider tour and in December for a low-key tour of U.K. clubs and colleges. The foursome's artistic restlessness took shape in the reshuffled sonics of the 1988 album "Peace In Our Time", on which another new producer, Austrian synthesizer specialist Peter Wolf employed state-of-the-art studio gadgetry that might have seemed at odds with the band's established style, yet which nonetheless enhanced the bittersweet lyricism and melodic drive of numbers like "King Of Emotion", "Broken Heart (13 Valleys)" and the album's title track. That September Big Country celebrated "Peace In Our Time"s release with a tour of the U.S.S.R., which they launched with a performance at the Soviet Embassy in London, broadcast live on BBC Radio One.

After touring with Big Country though much of the first half of 1989, Mark Brzezicki left the group in July (he subsequently concentrated on a variety of session work, as well as an extended recording and touring stint with a reformed Procol Harum); in his absence, the nad worked with a variety of drummers, including Pat Ahern, Chris Bell and noted session ace Simon Phillips. While a dearth of U.S. roadwork significantly diminished the group's stateside profile, the Tim Palmer-produced singles "Save Me" and "Heart Of The World", and the slyly humourous, Pat Moran-helmed "Republican Party Reptile" (from the 1991 U.K. album "No Place Like Home") - all of which make their U.S. debuts on this collection - demonstrate that the band's sense of adventure and commitment continued undimmed.

By 1993, Big Country had returned to the U.S. market with a new label and a new album, "The Buffalo Skinners". That disc's domestic release preceded the band's first U.S. shows in seven years, with Brzezicki back in the fold. Whatever the future holds, however, Big Country's place in rock history is already secure, thanks to its legacy of richly emotional, vitally human music - a generous sampling of which you now hold in your hands. 

-Scott Schnider

New York, December 1983

 

CREDITS

(jump to: Liner Notes)

1. HARVEST HOME (4.23) (Adamson)
2. FIELDS OF FIRE (400 MILES) (3.33) (Adamson/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
3. IN A BIG COUNTRY (3.54) (Adamson/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
4. CHANCE (4.41) (Adamson/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
5. WONDERLAND (3.56) (Adamson/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
6. EAST OF EDEN (4.29) (Adam son/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
7. WHERE THE ROSE IS SOWN (4.57) (Adamson/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
8. JUST A SHADOW (5.38) (Adam son/Watson/Butler/Brzezicki)
9. LOOK AWAY (4.26) (Adamson)
10. THE TEACHER (4.05) (Adamson)
11. ONE GREAT THING (4.03) (Adamson/Butler)
12. KING OF EMOTION (4.51) (Adamson)
13. BROKEN HEART (THIRTEEN VALLEYS) (5.10) (Adamson)
14. PEACE IN OUR TIME (4.35) (Adamson)
15. SAVE ME (5.28) (Adamson)
16. HEART OF THE WORLD (4.42) (Adamson)
17. REPUBLICAN PARTY REPTILE (4.07) (Lyrics by Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, Music by Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson)

HARVEST HOME
FIELDS OF FIRE (400 MILES)
IN A BIG COUNTRY CHANCE
Produced by Steve Lillywhite
From the album The Crossing (1983).
WONDERLAND
Produced by Steve Lillywhite
Released as a single (1984).
EAST OF EDEN
WHERE THE ROSE IS SOWN
JUST A SHADOW
Produced by Steve Lillywhite
From the album Steeltown (1984).
LOOK AWAY
THE TEACHER
ONE GREAT THING
Produced by Robin Millar From the album The Seer (1986).
KING OF EMOTION
BROKEN HEART (THIRTEEN VALLEYS) PEACE IN OUR TIME
Produced by Peter Wolf
From the album Peace In Our Time (1988).
Licensed courtesy Warner Bros. Records

SAVE ME
Produced by Tim Palmer
From the album Through A Big Country-Greatest Hits (1990).
HEART OF THE WORLD
Produced by Tim Palmer
Released as a single (1990).
REPUBLICAN PARTY REPTILE
Produced and engineered by Pat Moran
From the album No Place Like Home (1991).

BIG COUNTRY:
STUART ADAMSON vocals, guitar, E-bow, keyboards
BRUCE WATSON guitar, E-bow, mandolin, sitar, backing vocals
TONY BUTLER bass guitar, bass pedals, guitar, backing vocals
MARK BRZEZICKI drums, percussion, backing vocals
Compilation produced by Bill Levenson
Project direction by Richard Bauer
Project coordinated by Terri Tierney
Project assistance by Catherine Ladis
Mastered by Joseph M. Palmaccio at PolyGram Studios
Essay by Scott Schinder
Art direction by Carole Fruehauf
Management - lan Grant Management