Our very own Adrian Grainger took time out (on a school night) to travel up to Bristol in order to catch Big Country performing their stunning number 1 album 'Steeltown' in its entirety. The next day in the office was a 'bit of a write off' for Adrian who probably got about 2 hours sleep after the show, we left him to gather his thoughts and he provided us with the following write up of the show....
Big Country have been around for years and are well known for their bagpipe guitar sound and general all-round Scottishness (despite none of the members of the classic line-up actually having been born there!). Following the tragic loss of main man Stuart Adamson, the band split and aside from a brief tour by the three remaining members of the band, to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2007, nothing was heard from them until 2010 when they reformed, adding vocalist Mike Peters (of The Alarm fame) and guitarist Jamie Watson (Bruce's son) to augment the original members, Tony Butler – Bass, Mark Brzezicki – drums and Bruce Watson on guitar. Butler quit soon after to be replaced by Derek Forbes (ex-Simple Minds) before the band recorded an excellent album – The Journey. Following the release of the album and the subsequent tour, Peters also left, to concentrate on his work with The Alarm. He was replaced by Simon Hough a former front man of both Denny Laine’s Wings and a post Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy.
The band are currently touring to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of their only No. 1 album – their second – Steeltown, which featured the top 30 singles “East of Eden”, “Just A Shadow” and “Where The Rose Is Sown”. The band had announced that they would play the whole of the album which meant that included 3 songs never before performed live by the band, in any incarnation. As a Big Country fan (some would say obsessive) and having seen them on numerous occasions with the other line-ups, this was my first chance to see Simon Hough in action. The venue wasn’t sold out but was definitely close to it and interestingly, there was no support act for this show. The band kicked into Flame of the West and they sounded great. By the time the second song (lead-off single East of Eden) was halfway through, I’m convinced that the new lead singer is a great fit for the band. His vocal style and voice, is closer to Adamson’s than Mike Peters and the band sound better for it. Hough seems to have made the rest of the band raise their collective games and this is reflected in the fact that the instrumentation sounds closer to the original album than it did on many previous tours – and I include tours undertaken by the line-up that recorded the songs! Although not a single, the first side of the original vinyl album, closed with “Come Back To Me” and despite it being a fan favourite and thus played on a lot of the band’s previous tours, I’ve not heard them play it better (I also include a lot of bootlegged gigs in my experience). After that it’s the first of the “new” songs – “Tall Ships Go” and as it’s my favourite BC song, I was especially keen to hear it and boy did the band do it justice, an excellent performance featuring some stunning drumming from the excellent Brzezicki. After finishing the album with a superb version of “Just A Shadow” the band then played all the other “hits” which finally started to get the crowd going. Big Country always tended to bring the energy out of people and full on mosh pits were de rigeur during the first incarnation of the band but as the fanbase has aged, the jumping around now has to be a tad more measured but the songs off The Crossing always seem to get the crowd going.
It seems slightly strange that Bruce Watson is effectively now the band’s frontman as he does most of the between song patter rather than Hough – Peters is definitely the better showman and is much more able to work a crowd but for me, this means the band is now relying on the strength of the material – which definitely stands up to the test. The band look to be enjoying themselves, and when Watson introduces Forbes, he launches into the one note bass line of his former band’s “Waterfront” which results in Brzezicki and Jamie Watson jamming along. Bruce good naturally teases Forbes after they finish by demonstrating that he can also play the bass line on his guitar, only to be upstaged by Brzezicki playing it on the drums. By the time band hits the final stretch (including Forbes “shouldering arms” and marching on the spot during “Fields of Fire”) the crowd is eating out of their hands. I have to admit to being a tad sceptical that I would enjoy what is now the 5th different line-up of the band but the new addition seems to have improved them if anything and as someone that has heard and joined in with the singalong sections for many years now, I was glad that the audience participation has now been reduced to a minimum.
Even as a devoted fan of Big Country, I can accept that they’re not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea but if you have a passing interest, I’d suggest you go and see them live. Any band still going strong after 32 years must have something going for them and you’re guaranteed a night of high energy rock and you’ll recognise more tunes than you might think. At least once you will say to yourself “I remember this song and I’d forgotten how good this lot was”.
Review by Adrian Grainger