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CD1
I. Flame of The West (Stuart Adamson)
2. East of Eden (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki)
3. Steeltown (Stuart Adamson)
4. Where The Rose Is Sown (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki)
S. Come Back To Me (Stuart Adamson)
6. Tall Ships Go (Stuart Adamson)
7. Girl With Grey Eyes (Stuart Adamson)
8. Rain Dance (Stuart Adamson)
9. The Great Divide (Stuart Adamson)
10. Just A Shadow (Stuart Adamson)
All tracks: produced by Steve Lillywhite Ⓟ 2014 Mercury Records Limited
Tracks 1-9: published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Track 10: published By: EMI 10 Music Ltd.

CD2
1. Wonderland (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. / Virgin Music Publishing Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
2. Giant (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
3. All Fall Together Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
4. East of Eden (Radio Edit) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce. Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
5. Prairie Rose (Bryan Ferry / Phil Manzanera) Published By: EG Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
6. Where The Rose Is Sown (Radio Edit) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
7. Belief In The Small Man (Stuart Adamson) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Big Country.
8. Bass Dance (Stuart Adamson) Published By: 10 Music Ltd. / Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by Big Country.
9. Just A Shadow (Radio Edit) (Stuart Adamson) Published By: EMI 10 Music Ltd. Produced by Steve Lillywhite.
10. Winter Sky (Stuart Adamson) Published By: 10 Music Ltd. / Big Country Music Ltd. Produced by: Stuart Adamson & Bruce Watson.
11. Wonderland * (Work In Progress #1) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki)
Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. / Virgin Music Publishing Ltd.
12. Wonderland * (Work In Progress #2) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki)
Published By: Big Country Music Ltd. / Virgin Music Publishing Ltd.
13. East of Eden * (Rough Mix) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd.
14. Tall Ships Go * (Rough Mix) (Stuart Adamson)
15. Where The Rose Is Sown * (Rough Mix) (Stuart Adamson / Bruce Watson / Tony Butler / Mark Brzezicki) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd.
16. Come Back To Me * (Rough Mix) (Stuart Adamson) Published By: Big Country Music Ltd.
17. Bass Concerto * (Work In Progress) (Stuart Adamson) Published By: 10 Music Ltd. / Big Country Music Ltd.
( * ) Previously Unreleased
Tracks 1-9 Ⓟ 1984 Mercury Records Limited.
Track 10 Ⓟ 1985 Mercury Records Limited.
Tracks 11-17 Ⓟ2014 Mercury Records Limited.
Stuart Adamson • Vocals, Guitar & E-bow Mark Brzezicki • Drums & Percussion Tony Butler • Vocals & Bass
Bruce Watson • Guitar, E-bow & Mandolin Producer • Steve Lillywhite
Engineer • Will Gosling
Recorded at • Polar Studios, Stockholm and RAK Studios, London
Original album
Mixed at RAK Studios, London,
Roundhouse Studios, London
Photography • Brian Aris
Original Sleeve Design • J.B.
Special thanks to •
In the office: Ian Grant, Alan Edwards, Anne Freeman
In the studio: David Edwards, Dave Yarlett, Kaj Erixon,
Tiena Breet, Tam Devlin, Dana Gorbun
Road crew: Dave Wernham, Les King, John Callis,
Kevin Hartmann, Peter Barnes, Joe Seabrook
Management • Grant Edwards
Deluxe edition
Compiled by Dermot James
Product Managed for Universal Music
by Joe Black at Hey Joe!
Designed by Mike Storey and Jason Smith at Storey London
Sleeve Notes by Tim Barr
Mastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios, London
Hey Joe would like to thank:
Sue Armstrong, Chris Briggs, Justin Brown, John Chadwick,
Johnny Chandler, Dave Clarke, Paul and Helen Cox,
Jamie Davidson, Liam Donoghue, Kathryn Gilfeather,
Ian Grant, James Grant, Barry Gray, Simon Gurney,
Jared Hawkes, Richard Hinkley, Dermot James,
Sheenagh James, Lee Jenson, Lucy Launder,
Steve Lillywhite, Pete Matthews, Stuart Ongley,
Tasha Pert, Derek Phillips, David Rowe, Rene Schraven,
Emma Shalless, Colin Smith, Naomi Smith, Allen Ward,
Charlotte Wilson and Andrea Wright,

www.bigcountry.co.uk


LINER NOTES BY STUART ADAMSON

(jump to: Credits)
(jump to: Liner Notes by Tim Barr)

"If music is important, it has to come down to emotion. It should be a human thing. Maybe that has something to do with coming from Scotland, where music has always been really close to the heart of the community..."
-Stuart Adamson

LINER NOTES BY TIM BARR

(jump to: Credits)
(jump to: Liner Notes by Stuart Adamson)

Perhaps more than any other album in the Big Country canon, Steeltown — which rocketed straight to No I on its release in October 1984 — is the most accurate reflection of the band's political and social concerns. Written and recorded against a tumultuous backdrop of record unemployment, crippling recession and the destruction of what remained of Scotland's heavy industry it was, necessarily, a darker and more brooding affair than their million-selling 1983 debut The Crossing. Shot through with a passionate yearning for the values of simpler, more honest, times, it remains nonetheless one of their most assured classics.

The themes that thread through Steeltown centre around an unshakeable belief in the integrity of the working man, beset on all sides by the hypocrisy, cynicism and often blatant dishonesty of those in power. Whether it's the protagonist in East Of Eden who finds himself with just two choices, between slavery and misery, or the young soldier in Where The Rose Is Sown, forced to give his life "to feed the cause", Stuart Adamson's lyrics on Steeltown articulate the plight of Britain's embattled working class at this particular point in the nation's history with the same kind of precision and insight that, say, Pete Townshend or Roger Waters applied to the post-war middle class on Quadrophenia or The Wall.

There was certainly no shortage of inspiration by the time Big Country finished an almost year-long tour to promote The Crossing with a series of memorable shows in Tokyo at the beginning of May 1984. While they had been traversing the UK (three times), Europe, the USA (no less than 57 different shows from New York to New Mexico) and, finally, the Far East (the last leg of the tour, in Australia, had to be abandoned because Adamson was simply too exhausted to carry on), the homeland they'd left seemed on the brink of collapse. More than three million people were without work, inflation was ravaging the earnings of those still clinging to a job and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — who'd already declared war on Britain's industrial heartlands — had vowed to crush the National Union of Mineworkers. Buoyed by her apparent success against "the enemy without" as she referred to Argentina following 1982's Falklands conflict, the so-called Iron Lady turned her attention to "the enemy within" — her disgraceful characterisation of the then still powerful trade unions clearly believing the collateral damage to dozens of mining communities across the country was immaterial. As a result, the UK's most bitter and protracted industrial dispute of the modern era erupted.

The miners' strike had begun in March 1984 following a government announcement that 20 pits were to be closed, with the loss of 20,000 jobs. Fearing for their livelihoods, their villages and their entire way of life, the miners took action. By the time a weary and jet-lagged Big Country arrived back in Britain two months later, both sides were entrenched. For frontman Stuart Adamson — who'd grown up in the Fife mining village
of Crossgates — and the band's co-founder Bruce Watson, himself the son of a miner, television images of baton-wielding mounted police charging groups of striking workers were stomach-churning. Among those on the picket lines were many of those who'd crossed their paths, including old schoolpals and a number of musician friends who'd gone down the pits after deciding the local gig circuit (where Bruce's pre-Big Country outfit Eurosect had cut its teeth) wouldn't pay the bills. Similarly, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki, though both southerners, had built up many strong friendships in Big Country's hometown of
Dunfermline and implicitly understood the impact the dispute would have on the area. Multiplied across the country, they knew, the consequences would be devastating. They were proved right — of Britain's 174 working pits before the strike, thirty years later just three remain.

On the world stage, things were equally bleak. The Cold War had reached a new intensity and the deterioration in US-Soviet relations precipitated by the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan continued to jeopardise the planet. The threat of nuclear holocaust was so ever-present that, during a radio soundcheck, US president Ronald Reagan joked: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Against that kind of backdrop, the starry-eyed dreamers who'd made The Crossing found themselves contemplating a different kind of album, one that would look outwards rather than inwards. The interior dramas of some of their debut's best songs were supplanted instead by a wide-ranging — and frank — look at the world they now found themselves in. "We've had to learn to live with the fear that we could all be blown up tomorrow," Adamson noted coolly.

After two years of constant touring and recording, however, the four members of Big Country could have been forgiven for demanding an extended holiday. In the end, they had just a few weeks off following their return from Japan before travelling to Holland for that summer's Pink Pop festival. Almost immediately, they began rehearsing for the album that would become Steeltown with preliminary songwriting sessions in both Scotland and Surrey producing, among other songs, Tall Ships Go.

"The Crossing was a very romantic album," explains Tony Butler, "but when we came to the second album, the state of the times was much darker. It would have been dishonest to do The Crossing Pt 2 so we opted to create something that reflected what was going on around us."

For Steeltown, once again the band teamed up with studio genius Steve Lillywhite who'd worked so creatively with them to deliver the first album after early recording sessions with Roxy Music/Sex Pistols producer Chris Thomas had stalled. Engineer Will Gosling, who'd also worked on The Crossing, returned to the fold too. The next question was where to begin recording.

Chris Blackwell's trendy Compass Point Studios was considered for a time. Though at that point it was best known as the facility where achingly modern club classics by Grace Jones and Robert Palmer had been created, it boasted a strong pedigree with a client roster that included AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads. Plans were made for transporting the band to the Bahamas but it was eventually decided that the searing August temperatures wouldn't, as Gosling explained, "be conducive to artistic flow". Instead, Big Country's manager Ian Grant turned his attentions northward to Scandinavia.

Polar Studios had been set up in 1977 by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of Abbe in a former cinema on Stockholm's Sankt Eriksgatan. Built around a Harrison mixing desk — used to good effect on Led Zeppelin's final album In Through The Out Door — the studio also boasted a 3M digital multitrack, first deployed on Abba's chart-topping 1981 album The Visitors. Since then, the likes of Adam Ant, Burt Bacharach and Roxy Music had all availed themselves of the five-star facility. Beautifully appointed and decorated with reminders of its owners' world-beating success, it seemed like an inspired choice. For the six-week stay, separate apartments were rented for each of the band members, all four within a two-mile radius of the studio, providing memorable walks through the parks and boulevards of the "Venice of the north" as they strolled in to work each day.

"I think there was the feeling that all the healthy fresh air and trees of Scandinavia could only help boost the Big Country sound," Gosling later explained. "I think the fac that it was done in Sweden also helped by separating everyone concerned from the inevitable hassles of being at home, or at least London. For a band like Big Country, there's always a thousand people needing things — pictures to be taken, interviews, meetings — and the fact that we were in Sweden meant that only the people with real) important things bothered to interfere. Distractions were kept to a minimum and we were able to become immersed in the album in a way that probably wouldn't have been possible in Britain."

The musicians were equally excited about the change of scenery. "We'd recorded The Crossing at RAK Studios," recalls Butler, "which was London's home of the hits. But when we walked into Polar, it was immediately apparent this was Stockholm's home of the hits. There was a real atmosphere of creativity and success that was very inspirational."
The band arrived in Stockholm in early August just in time for the kräftpremiär, the official opening of Sweden's crayfish season. "The tradition is to have parties where you drink beer, or schnapps, and eat crayfish," explains Steve Lillywhite, who was returning to production duties with Big Country after chalking up another massive worldwide success on Simple Minds' Sparkle In The Rain. "We did a few of those. The trouble is that, really, there's not much food to line your stomach. I remember Bruce really getting into the spirit of it, but very quickly falling ill. He'd be sick then carry on drinking again, which is the Swedish way I suppose."

Following a string of hits with U2, Joan Armatrading and Peter Gabriel, Lillywhite was already being celebrated as one of the world's best producers (a fact acknowledged by The Rolling Stones a few months later when they drafted him in to oversee the Dirty Work album). But in many ways, he was the perfect studio foil for Big Country. His early work with Siouxsie & The Banshees, XTC and Steel Pulse had formed a key part of the soundtrack that Adamson had been listening to during downtime in his previous outfit The Skids. Watson, meanwhile, had been a huge fan of Lillywhite's recordings with The Psychedelic Furs and the John Foxx-fronted Ultravox — particularly the jagged guitar-led sound of 1977's Ha! Ha! Ha! as well as 1979's XTC masterpiece Drums & Wires. "We had a lot in common," admits Lillywhite, who was well aware of the influence Adamson's guitar playing in The Skids had also had on the fledgling U2. "Recording with them was certainly fun. We always had a great time."

Initially, however, for the exhausted band, the recording sessions at Polar were long and arduous. Their preparations for the studio had been interrupted by Elton John who'd drafted them in at the last minute to play his Summer Of 84 concert at London's Wembley Stadium and now the band found themselves making up for lost time, writing new songs in their plush, but incredibly expensive, new surroundings. "A lot of material was developed in Stockholm," confirms Butler. "But, after the huge success of The Crossing, the pressure to be creative and brilliant was intense."

Abba's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson dropped in on those early sessions and graciously offered the use of their summer homes in the Stockholm archipelago so the band could unwind.

The extraordinary pace of the previous two years, however, had taken a heavy toll. Progress was slow and it became apparent that rushing back into the studio so soon after nearly 12 months on the road was draining the few reserves the musicians had left. A decision was made to suspend the sessions for two weeks to allow the band more time to decompress. With the record label eager to ensure a release in time to clinch those vital end-of-year sales, it was a courageous move. But it proved to be the right one. When Big Country reconvened after their fortnight off, they were re-energised and eager to set to work once more.

Lillywhite began by recording drums and bass. "All the records I produced during that era sound like the result of a great band playing together," he reveals. "But the truth is that often they were recorded — as I'd done with Fields Of Fire — one drum at a time, then painstakingly put together. All of them, though, were cohesive because what I was trying to capture was what the band was all about. How I got to that point changed according to the situation, but whether it was XTC or U2 or Big Country themselves, the aim of the process was the same. We wanted to make records that were timeless, that stood up against the best things you'd ever heard. I feel very privileged that, in a lot of cases, people seem to think we achieved that."
Naturally, it helped that Brzezicki and Butler were supernaturally gifted. "With the possible exception of Mel Gaynor and Derek Forbes of Simple Minds, Mark and Tony were by far the best rhythm section I've ever worked with," confides Lillywhite. "I didn't have to think about anything when they were performing — they were a producer's dream. Both of them were incredibly brilliant musicians."

One of the earliest songs to be written for the album was Tall Ships Go — still a firm favourite with many Big Country fans. While laying down the basic track, the drummer improvised by playing on a metal ashtray, a fire extinguisher and a cluster of tube toms. "Steve really liked the fact I was coming up with new ideas," Brzezicki later confirmed. "He told me, 'I love what you're doing, let's give it more of the same character'."
As always, Adamson was keen to move beyond the conventional approach, adding a unique feel to his parts on Tall Ships Go. "That sound came from a new technique for guitar playing," he explained, "which involves smacking it with a 2p piece." The truth was, only the coin was new. During his days with The Skids, he'd swapped his plectrum for an old-fashioned sixpence to deliver the unique guitar part that introduced The Saints Are Coming. (That song later became a worldwide hit for U2 and Green Day when they covered it in September 2006 to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.)

The album's first single, East Of Eden, meanwhile seemed to draw inspiration from the John Steinbeck novel of the same name. But while the lyrics on Steeltown, in general, are more direct than those on The Crossing, Adamson's skill with metaphor and allegory was in full bloom on a song that looked more towards the darkening horizons of the political landscape back home.

"I loved the groove straight away," recalls Lillywhite. "It wasn't the normal Big Country rhythm and, almost immediately, I thought it would make a great single."

"I wanted to do something that wouldn't be immediately identifiable as Big Country," Adamson later revealed. "I really like it as a song — its good for us to do something that's a bit different." He explained that he'd written East Of Eden as a result of "living alongside the unemployment and anger in the dockyards and factories" then added: "It's a questioning song, a song about always having to look for any hope or inspiration."

As tracks began to accumulate, Adamson and Watson found time to explore the studio corridors, stumbling on a storage space where many of Abba's most famous stage costumes were kept — including the space-age platform boots Bjorn and Benny had worn for their Eurovision-conquering performance ten years earlier. Naturally, they couldn't resist trying on a few items. But the Swedes appeared to have been built on more economical lines and, perhaps luckily, nothing fitted otherwise Big Country might have traded their own iconic stagewear — checked shirts and Italian military trousers for brightly-coloured satin and silvered leather.

Over breakfast, the four musicians would read whatever UK newspapers they could get their hands on, keeping abreast of developments at home (the miners' strike) and abroad (fracturing US-Soviet relations in the aftermath of NATO's simulated nuclear attack exercise Able Archer). "In some ways," says Butler, "you see what's happening at home more clearly when you're not there. We'd been on the road for a long time, travelling up and down Britain's motorways, and we'd seen the devastation for ourselves. Thatcher was throwing her weight around and, everywhere we went, we could see these once vibrant communities just crumbling. That very much came into focus as we were making the album, reading these very sad bulletins from back home. It wasn't really a conscious decision — but it'd have been impossible for us not to be affected and to reflect that in our music."

Quickly, the album's over-arching theme began to emerge. "Steeltown was more of a reality-based record," considers Lillywhite. "It was a statement about how things actually are rather than how we'd like them to be. One of the things I loved about The Crossing was that it was so inspirational and hopeful — it was a case of 'We'll do it and we'll make our dreams come true' — whereas Steeltown was a much darker, more down-to-earth affair."

The centrepiece was the title track itself. Still one of Big Country's finest moments, its a beautifully-wrought elegy for industrial Britain that was inspired by the fate of the Stewarts & Lloyds steelworks in Corby, Northamptonshire. The factory had been a magnet for Scots looking for work during the Great Depression and so many flocked from over the border that the Midlands town boasted its own Highland Games and a Robert Burns appreciation society. Forty years later, however, the steelworkers' dreams — and those of their families — were being dismantled as Stewarts & Lloyds was gradually mothballed. In 1980 alone, six thousand lost their jobs. The impact on the local community was catastrophic. By the time Adamson lifted his Yamaha SG2000 from its case to begin composing his tribute, another two thousand of the mill's men had been laid off. "It's about how new towns are built around old industry," he explained at the time. "But with old industries dying out, these places become ghost towns."

Steeltown directly addressed the problem in Corby but it spoke too of the catastrophe unfolding in mining communities, shipyards and car plants across Britain and further afield — its haunting lyric as relevant to an auto worker reflecting on the wreckage of his industry in Linwood or Detroit as it is to a jobless miner whether he's in Fife or the Appalachians.

The Great Divide meanwhile contemplated the growing rift between unions and management in Britain, Adamson's deft lyrics highlighting the cost of hard-won know-how ("a skill that will take years") in a job market where even the hardest-working and most experienced could find themselves on the dole without warning.

These themes were later echoed by Bruce Springsteen on 1995's The Ghost Of Tom oad — Youngstown could be a companion piece to either song — but Big Country's frontman adopted a remarkably understated approach when discussing them with journalists. "Scotland is steeped in trade unionism and socialist history," he told music journalist Adrian Thrills. "I think some of those socialist values, that sense of fair play and justice, come across in the songs."

"Stuart never stood on a soapbox," considers Butler. "He didn't want to preach or be seen as a social commentator. He let the words speak for themselves. To me, that makes his lyrical art even more special. It's artistry at its truest."

The album's blistering opener, Flame Of The West, looked further afield, to the White House under Ronald Reagan. "It's about certain people in the West who hold power over the whole world," Adamson told fanzine editor Mike Bartram. "The way they use that power could be dangerous for all of us. Politically, I'm talking about ex-movie actors."

Recording Flame Of The West was "an absolute joy" according to Tony Butler. "To hear that song develop was incredible," he says. "The lyrical content was very direct and we were playing out of our skins. It felt like we were reaching a new level."

Though they'd had only around half of the tracks on Steeltown written before they reached Stockholm, songs soon began tumbling out. "They're written in different ways," Bruce Watson later revealed. "Sometimes the four of us can be in soundcheck and one of us will come up with a riff and we start jamming around that. Alternatively, either Stuart, myself or Tony will have a guitar riff or a bass riff and we'll start playing it and the other three members will start jamming along. Sometimes Stuart might have the whole arrangement to a song written on cassette which he'll bring along to the studio and we'll add our own little bit on to it. It's even been known for Mark to go into the studio and put down a drum part, then the rest of us will go in and do something on top of it. So it works in different ways, we don't have a set formula and a lot of stuff happens accidentally."

Girl With Grey Eyes was a case in point. It developed from an idea Big Country's bassist came up with during an all-night session at Polar. When the rest of the band arrived the following morning, they began adding parts of their own. However, as the recording drew to a close, the lyrics — the most self-consciously romantic on the album — caused dissent. "The only time Stuart and I ever fell out was over the lyrics to Girl With Grey Eyes," admits Butler. "They just didn't work for me in the context of the music we were making." Despite the row, Adamson stuck to his guns. The track has gone on to become one of Big Country's most popular love songs. "Such beautiful lyrics," declared one fan, "Stuart Adamson was a true poet."

As their time in Stockholm drew to a close, two songs in particular stood out. Where The Rose Is Sown, was a masterpiece of drilling guitars, bruising bass and thundering drums, its rousing chorus drawing on a US Marines marching cadence that Adamson — an avid reader of war stories since his days thumbing through Sven Hassel paperbacks as a teenager at Fife's Beath High School — perhaps learned from Tim O'Brien's 1973 Vietnam memoir If I Die In A Combat Zone, Box Me Up And Ship Me Home. "It's about someone who's called up to fight in a war," he explained. He doesn't understand what's going on and becomes confused." Adamson added that Come Back To Me was a companion piece to Where The Rose Is Sown. "One looks at things from the young guy's point of view and the other shows a pregnant wife who's waiting for him to return from the war." Since his hometown of Crossgates was prime territory for the recruiting sergeants of Scotland's famous Black Watch regiment, Adamson knew a number of teenagers who'd taken "the king's shilling". The theme was one he had discussed many times with Skids frontman Richard Jobson (who hailed from the neighbouring village of Ballingry) and it informed many of The Skids' best-known songs such as Into The Valley, Melancholy Soldiers and Masquerade.

One of The Skids' earliest masterpieces, however, has a direct bearing on the themes Adamson returned to on Steeltown. Early in 1977, not yet 19, he'd written the music and lyrics of a song called Charles. It tells the story of a factory worker who gives everything to his job — a not-so-distant relation to The Great Divide's proud boast "I know my machine, I sweat and steam" — until eventually he's subsumed by the machinery he operates. In the end, however, his dedication is rewarded by the scrapheap when he's made obsolete. It's a story lived in real life by those who experienced the disasters at Stewarts & Lloyds in Corby, Ford's Rouge Plant in Detroit, Chrysler in Linwood and countless others across the industrialised world.

The logical conclusion to all of this is laid out in a song that's not only one of Steeltown's highlights (and one of its most impressive singles) but one that's gone on to become a key entry in Big Country's classic songbook. Just A Shadow delivers one of Adamson's finest lyrics, highlighting his subtlety and deftness as a craftsman of stunning rock'n'roll poetry with a series of beautifully loaded couplets. While The Crossing shared the thrill of great adventures, hissing pavements and lovers' voices firing mountainsides, its follow-up offered a clear-eyed acknowledgement that, sometimes in life, we don't always get what we want. "Still the promise comes of living fit for all," he warns, "if we only get our backs against the wall."

The tragedy of a life half lived, of powerlessness in the face of overwhelming odds, of betraying yourself and your loved ones in the struggle to operate honourably and decently has never been so beautifully limned. Thirty years after it was penned, Just A Shadow remains as potent now as it was when Steeltown was first released.

"What we set out to do is try and change the way people saw music and reacted to it," Adamson explained to Channel 4's The Tube early in 1984. "We're still trying to do the self-same things." It was a theme he returned to as recording moved from Stockholm to London's RAK Studios — where The Crossing had been mixed — and The Roundhouse (used because their studio's 3M recorder, veteran of sessions by The Beat and Haircut 100, was identical to the one used in Sweden). "It was obvious we were making a different kind of record this time around," recalls Butler, "but we never had any interference from the record company or anyone from the label asking us to make this one sound more like the last one."

As Adamson and Watson meticulously overdubbed intricate guitar part after intricate guitar part, however, there was some friendly pressure closer to home.

"During the recording sessions," remembers Steve Lillywhite, "I kept saying to Stuart: 'Where are the guitar riffs?' That was one of the things Big Country had become known for — those monster guitar riffs that everyone could sing along to. He kept telling me: 'Don't worry, Steve.'

"Steeltown was a much darker record than The Crossing. I had a very similar experience with U2, going from their debut album Boy to its follow-up October. But, with both bands, I bought into their vision and my job as producer was to help them deliver the record they wanted to make. So, while Steeltown doesn't have as many guitar riffs that you can sing along to — what it does have, certainly, is great songs."

"I think it's a harder, leaner and tougher album than The Crossing," Adamson noted shortly after Steeltown's release. "The songs are stronger and more straightforward, with less use of metaphor and less romanticism.
"Possibly because we've done so much touring in the last two years, it's given me the sense that it's possible to write about specific things that you see going on in one area and they'll connect with people in another place. The fact that the same feelings exist throughout the western world has been a real eye-opener for me.

With Steeltown, people who looked upon the band with a certain amount of cynicism now realise we are what we say we are — it's not a pose. We're playing the game according to our own rules."
Though the album gave Big Country their first No I, their second long-player didn't quite match the global success of their world-beating debut. Three decades on, however, it remains one of their finest moments, boasting songs that continue to resonate with listeners everywhere, tackling issues that are perhaps even more relevant today than they were in 1984.

"The sound of Steeltown was very hard," Watson confided to one journalist, "but what we were singing about needed that hard edge."

Big Country continued the journey, releasing a string of albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s, before Adamson's untimely death in December 2001. His legacy is music that's as powerful and emotive as anything committed to vinyl (or plastic) in the past half century or so. And among its finest moments are many of the songs on Steeltown. Whether you'd give your vote to Just A Shadow, Where The Rose Is Sown, East Of Eden or the title track itself, there's no doubting that — in rock's rich tapestry Steeltown is a record of rare integrity, courage and honesty.

Adamson, himself, had his own views on the subject. "Part of the reason we've been successful," he insisted, "is that there's a commitment in this group. If there's one thing that runs through all of Big Country's work it's that it's all done with the same amount of commitment and excitement and genuine feeling.
"There's a responsibility to create music that's worthwhile and lasting and invokes a sense of involvement in the real world rather than some fictitious desert island ... but then again, it's only bloody pop music!"

© Tim Barr - 2014