Big Country Info Big Country Info

 

LINER NOTES (WONDERLAND LIVE)

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In July 2001, I was all set to interview Stuart Adamson about his new album 'Supernatural', recorded under the name of the Raphaels with collaborator Marcus Hummon. This was to be Adamson's first solo project outside Big Country and reflected the musical and personal sea changes he had embraced since his relocation to Nashville in 1997. Sadly, the interview had to be postponed, and eventually cancelled, due to 'health issues'.

Five months later, on 16 December, Stuart Adamson was found dead in a hotel room in Hawaii. He was 43 years old. Whatever personal demons assailed him at the end of his life, there is no doubting that Adamson made a lasting contribution to music. With Big Country he recorded eight studio albums, scored 15 UK Top 40 singles, toured the world and developed a trademark Celtic guitar sound that is instantly recognisable as his own.

"When I listen to his playing and think of the bagpipes style of guitar," Marcus Hummon told me, "even when I listen to the Edge of U2 play, I think of Stuart Adamson. They are different people but I feel that he is a central figure, stylistically, in that area of playing." This is a valid point because Adamson marked out his territory well before U2's third album, 'War', in 1983, began the process that propelled Bono and the effects-driven guitar pyrotechnics of the Edge towards world domination.

As a songwriter Adamson drew much lyrical and musical inspiration from Scotland, but was actually born in Manchester in 1958. His parents moved to the town of Dunfermline when he was a wee bairn and he grew up there. Drawn to the guitar, Adamson took lessons and even recalled learning some chords from a BBC TV programme. Things got serious when he formed the Skids in 1977. Inspired by punk and fronted by Richard Jobson, this Scottish foursome signed to Virgin Records and scored solid chart hits with 'Into The Valley' and 'Masquerade'. Even at this stage Adamson was unfurling a distinctive style, best illustrated on the 1979 single 'Working For The Yankee Dollar' which was dominated by his blistering and melodic guitar.

The Skids made three albums before Adamson decided to seek fresh pastures. Not that Virgin missed him. Richard Jobson, trading as a modern-day Oscar Wilde - poetry, clothes and serious hairdressing bills - appeared to be the future when the musical trend was New and Romantic. As for Adamson, he wanted to sing and had his mind set on delivering Celtic-tinged rock in a marketplace that appeared to be going synthesiser mad.

Virgin gave him some studio time but was unimpressed by his demos. Undeterred, Adamson kept working on songs with guitarist Bruce Watson who shared his vision and whose previous bands, the Delinquents and Eurosect, had supported the Skids. Watson also had the distinction of a life-threatening cleaning job - mopping out the nuclear reactors of Navy submarines. Other musicians were recruited, including a synth player, but after three gigs things fell apart.
Soldiering on, Adamson and Watson's luck changed when Phonogram Records offered studio time to record further demos. At the suggestion of Adamson's manager, Ian Grant (or a Phonogram executive, depending on which version you read) the session-honed rhythm team of Tony Butler (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums) was drafted in. These boys had been playing together for some time under the name of Rhythm For Hire and had a great understanding.
From the moment the four musicians began rehearsing everything gelled. As Adamson recalled in a 1983 interview, "It still amazes me to think of it today. We just did one song and decided there and then that we had the makings of a group. There was just something right about the whole thing." The name Big Country was chosen for cinematic reasons. "I wanted a name that gave you a wide open, expansive feeling, because I thought the music fitted the name."

A spate of live gigs set things in motion and Big Country even supported Paul Weller's Jam at their Wembley Arena farewell gigs. Signed to Phonogram, their first single 'Harvest Home' did not chart but gave a fair warning of potential. Their second single was the irresistible, passionate and rousing 'Fields Of Fire'. Not missing a trick, the record company pushed the single for all it was worth, even to the extent of pressing picture discs die-cut in the shape of Scotland! 'Fields Of Fire' became the band's first hit and climbed to Number 10 in February 1983. Big Country had arrived.

Of course, it was their third single that was to define their sound and become their theme tune. The aptly titled 'In A Big Country' was a life-affirming slice of rock dominated by Adamson's sustain-driven guitar melody that, once heard, etched itself into your brain. Because of Big Country's real and perceived Scottish roots, comparisons with guitars sounding like electronic bagpipes began...and would never be shaken off. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, Big Country's first album 'The Crossing' (1983) was a huge hit and spent a phenomenal 80 weeks in the charts.
At a time where image, eyeliner and promotional videos seemed to be everything, Big Country bucked the trend. They preferred to remain in Scotland rather than live in London, favoured unfashionable checked shirts and down-to-earth lyrical themes, "to communicate some of the joy and frustration of the human experience." Musically, the band delivered powerful stadium rock with simple melodies, pounding rhythms and a pop sensibility that made them an irresistible live attraction. On one occasion, they were too hot for their own good. When headlining the Reading Festival in 1983, pyrotechnics were let off too early and, standing near the front of the stage, Adamson, Watson and Butler had to be treated for minor burns!

With hard touring, Big Country also began to make an impression in that other Big Country - America. 'The Crossing' was even nominated for a Grammy. Big Country began 1984 with a single, 'Wonderland', that flowed up the charts and was a Top 10 hit. Their second album 'Steeltown' was released in October and entered the charts at number one. Touring the globe, Big Country were now an established act and perceived as part of a passion-drenched Celtic movement alongside bands like U2, Simple Minds and the Alarm. Considering that no one in Big Country was born in Scotland this was no mean feat! Then again, Dexy's Midnight Runners were perceived as a Celtic band and they came from Birmingham...

However, Big Country's fusion of folk, melody, rock guitar and direct lyrical themes had found an international audience. As lead singer and focal point, Adamson, did not let success go to his head and kept his feet firmly on the riverbank - he was an enthusiastic fly fisherman. His only regret was that constant touring kept him away from his young family, although in interviews he was not complaining. "The actual physical act of playing in a band is something that I derive a great deal of fulfilment from, and it's something I feel very lucky about. I do earn a living out of doing something I love doing, and not many people can say that."

The band did indulge themselves a little, to the extent of sponsoring a motorcycle team. As Mark Brzezicki told one interviewer, "I was watching (TV programme) World Of Sport the other day and it's really weird watching this bloke go round with Big Country written on his motorbike!" Ironically, Brzezicki suffered most from fame. As his name was as hard to pronounce as it was to remember, some journalists began to refer to him as Mark Whatsisnamefrombigcountry!

In 1985 Big Country almost called it a day. Success and healthy sales were the bright side of the coin but constant touring and recording wore the band down. Engines were cooled, although they did work on the soundtrack for a film called Restless Natives. They also found themselves on the end of a backlash, with some critics suggesting that Big Country songs were beginning to sound the same. Not that Adamson cared. "I don't give two hoots about it. It really doesn't trouble me at all. I don't make records so that people can say to me, `God! Isn't that startlingly like Big Country?' Who else is going to make records that sound like Big Country? We are Big Country!"
For a laugh, during rehearsals the band jammed up a parody of their own sound. This track, 'I Walk The Hill', sounded so good it ended up on their next album! Defying the critics, The Seer' (1986) flew out of the shops on the back of 'Look Away', which became their highest-charting single when it reached Number 7 in April. "It's probably the most pop-based thing we've done," said Adamson, "though the lyrical content isn't so straightforward; it's a historical cameo piece about a guy who was the last old-style outlaw in the States, holding up trains in the 20th Century." The title track of the album even featured a rare guest vocal from Kate Bush.

The launch party for Big Country's fourth album, 'Peace In Our Time' (1988), was held at the Russian Embassy in London. This received widespread media coverage because the following month - October - Big Country were to play the first privately promoted concerts in Moscow. To celebrate this occasion, and no doubt get a few column inches of publicity during the five-gig stand, their record label flew 230 journalists and photographers over the Iron Curtain to watch the concerts. Later in 1999, Big Country also played a concert in war-torn Kosovo. 'Fields Of Fire' indeed!

'Peace In Our Time', with its more polished American sound, spawned another Top 20 hit with 'King Of Emotion,' in some respects a tribute to the Rolling Stones' 'Honky Tonk Women'. Big Country survived the 1980s and, although chart returns slowly diminished in the 1990s, they retained a loyal audience. Albums like 'No Place Like Home (1991) and 'The Buffalo Skinners' (1993) delivered their trademark sound, although they did tinker with and widen their musical palette. Mark Brzezicki had left in 1989 to concentrate on session work, and various drummers would be drafted in to replace him before he returned to the fold in 1993. This live album captures Big Country in December 1995 at the Dome in Brighton when they were blasting around England on a 40-date tour promoting their seventh album, 'Why The Long Face.' As always, Adamson, Watson, Butler and Brzezicki deliver a highly energetic performance. Five tracks from this album, widely hailed as a return to form, are featured here: 'You Dreamer', `I'm Not Ashamed', 'Sail Into Nothing', 'God's Great Mistake' and 'Post Nuclear Talking Blues'.
The boys also delight the audience by playing some of their classic material. There are powerful versions of 'Look Away, `Eiledon', 'Wonderland' and 'Peace In Our Time' and 'Fields Of Fire'. On the 1983 hit 'Chance', the audience also get in on the act and chant out the chorus "Oh, Lord, where did the feelings go/Oh Lord, I never felt so low." All in all, a document of a very good band captured on a very good night. Butler and Brzezicki are superb and - as Adam Ant once told me about a world-class rhythm section - "As tight as a fishes arse, and that's watertight!"
In 1997, Adamson relocated to Nashville. The final Big Country studio album 'Driving To Damascus' (1999) reflected this shift in his musical journey and some tracks had a more countrified feel. Sadly, with his death, the journey - and that of Big Country - is now at an end, but an impressive musical legacy remains. This album captures Adamson fronting what was always a great rock band, singing with passion. For all fans of Big Country, like a lover's voice, this music will stay with you. Always!

Ian Shirley

 

CREDITS (WONDERLAND LIVE)

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ARMCD061 GAS0000061 ARM

1. SAIL INTO NOTHING
(Adamson) Bug Music Limited (GB)
2. WONDERLAND
(Watson/Adamson/Brzezicki/Butler) EMI 10 Music Limited
3. CHANCE
(Adamson/Brzezicki/Watson/Butler) EMI 10 Music Limited
4. FIELDS OF FIRE
(Adamson/Brzezicki/Watson/Butler) EMI 10 Music Limited
5. EILEDON
(Adamson) EMI 10 Music Limited
6. ALONE
(Adamson) EMI 10 Music Limited
7. YOU DREAMER
(Adamson) Bug Music Limited (GB)
8. PEACE IN OUR TIME
(Adamson) EMI 10 Music Limited
9. LOOK AWAY
(Adamson) EMI 10 Music Limited
10. GOD'S GREAT MISTAKE
(Adamson/Butler) Bug Music Limited (GB)
11. THUNDER & LIGHTNING
(Adamson) Bug Music Limited (GB)
12. I'M NOT ASHAMED
(Adamson) Bug Music Limrted (GB)
13. POST NUCLEAR TALKING BLUES
(Adamson/Butler/Brzezicki/Watson) Bug Music Limited (GB)

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CREDITS (BRIGHTON ROCK)

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For information on Big Country
Country Ciub
PO Box 59
Ashwell
Herts
SG7 5NG

Or call information line: 0891 600 031
(calls 39p per minute cheap rate 49p at all other times
Big Country support Greenpeace. So can you

Please contact:-
Greenpeace UK Ltd
Canonbury Villas
Islington
London
N1 2PN
Tel: 0171 865 8100
Internet www.greenpeace.org .uk

Special thanks to:-
Big Country Road Crew, Tony McGrogan Derek Nagger Alan Morrison, Pete Ainsley, Jeff Banks, Gonzo, John Wyer. Clive Smith. Bernie Fisher, Mairbad De Barra
Agency representation John Giddings & all at Solo. Tour Promoter: Nick Leigh & Kennedy Street. Trucking: Sandie & Mark at Transam Trucking Ltd.
Coaches: Simon & Wharfedale CoachesP
P.A.: Chris Beale & SSE. line Ltd. Lights: DBN Lighting. Protections 421 Network Ltd. Catering: Snakatak. Band Lawyer: David Gentle. Band Accountant.
Lester Dales. Tour Accountant Shailesh Gor. Travel Agent Gemeni Travel/Rock Around The Mild. Merchandising ACME

Additional thanks to:-
Afro Percussion, Pearl Drums, Zildian Cymbals, AKG Acoustics, ESP Guitars, Patrick Eggle Guitars, David Grant Guitars, David White Pick Ups, James Grant at IGM, Dougie, Jon, Nicola and all at Snapper Music, Giz & Marjika at House In the Woods, Bob al Stanbridges, Jan and Andrew Bremmer at Country. Club. Eve King and Bob Wilson at Greenpeace

Cover Photograph Justin Thomas
Brighton Photographs: David Bailey Live Photographs: Steve Moles
design dom@spot on. 0171 386 0468

1 Gods Great Mistake
2 You Dreamer
3 Look Away
4 SailInto Nothing
5 Thunder & Lightning
6 1'm Not Ashamed
7 Eiledon
8 Post Nuclear Talking Blues
9 Peace In Our Time
10 Wonderland
11 Alone
12 Chance
13 Fields of Fire

Stuart Adamson - Guitar & Vocals
Mark Brzezicki - Drums, Percussion & Backing Vocals
Tony Butler - Bass Guitar & Backing Vocals
Bruce Watson - Guitar
Recorded by Gary Langan on The Advision Mobile
Mixed by Jim Lowe and John Williams at Nomis Studios
Mastered by Some
Big Country are managed by Ian Grant
Publishing Tracks 1,2,4,5,6 8,
Big Country songs Administered by Bug Music. Tracks 3,7,9,10,11,12,13 EMI/10 Music Ltd
Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 - Stuart Adamson, Track 1 - Adamson/Butler.
Tracks 8,1 0, 12 13 - Adamson/Brzezicki/Butler/Watson