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I am a massive fan of Scottish band Big Country since their beginnings in 1982 when guitarist/singer/songwriter Stuart Adamson had left The Skids to form his own band and Big Country were born.
The band enjoyed immense success in 1983 with the release of their debut album, 'The Crossing' and went on from there to record 8 studio albums in total between 1983 and 1999, before Stuart Adamson tragically took his own life in 2001.
Nobody really knew the extent of Stuart's troubles but he decided to give Big Country a break and in May 2000 the band embarked on their 'Final Fling' tour of the UK. People close to him said it was not to be the end of band as he had expressed an interest in playing again, but sadly it was not to be as he was found dead in a hotel room alone in Hawaii, in December a year later.
The culmination of the 'Final Fling' tour was a concert at a place which has always been regarded as the band's spiritual home - Glasgow's Barrowland ( affectionately known as 'The Barras'), and this two disc set perfectly captures the final night of the tour.
An added bonus is the inclusion on the second disc of another historic Big Country concert recorded at an East Berlin peace concert the year before the wall came down and the atmosphere is a sight to behold as over 150,000 East Germans came to enjoy the kind of concert us Westerners had took for granted. It was this concert which provided the inspiration for the band's 'Peace In Our Time' album.
I attended the band's 'Final Fling' tour and although I was not at this Glasgow concert here, I enjoyed attending a concert on the tour and celebrating the previous 18 years of a band I came to love. Although there was a tinge of sadness as I wondered if this would be the last time I ever got to witness my favourite band play live, the overall mood and atmosphere was one of celebration as the audience was as fervent as ever.
Here at the Barrowland venue it is no different, as the audience join in with every song paying tribute to the band and Stuart Adamson. There were worries about his state of mind at the time and reports of him going missing etc, but you cannot fault the performance here, his guitar playing and singing reaching out to the fans just as it always did. Through his lyrics and emotion, as well as his unique guitar playing it always felt as if Stuart was personally reaching out and touching you. He has been an inspiration to many including The Edge from U2.
The Barrowland disc includes 22 tracks from the band's albums and my only niggle is that the entire concert is not included, however not much is missing. The band's families were backstage and their children joined them on stage at the end with a very young Jamie Watson (son of guitarist Bruce) playing guitar. Stuart's talented children, who these days are in bands of their own, also joined them on stage with daughter Kirsten taking Eddi Reader's backing vocals on 'Fragile Thing' for instance, however, this is not included on the disc but can be seen on internet site You Tube. The Alarm's Mike Peters joined the band on stage for a version of 'Rocking In The Free World' and sadly this has been omitted also along with some of the inbetween songs banter, which was a good part of a Big Country concert.
That aside, there is plenty to enjoy here from the early tracks such as In A Big Country, Chance, Fields Of Fire and Wonderland, through to the later tracks such as Your Spirit To Me and Driving To Damascus.
Highlights for me are a rousing version of Lost Patrol from the debut album The Crossing, as well as The Storm, featuring a goosebump moment as Stuart plays the E-Bow intro. I also particularly enjoyed Your Spirit To Me which is a track from the band's final studio album, Driving To Damascus. Everytime I watch this particular performance of this beautiful song it brings a lump to my throat, as Stuart is so emotionally connected to this song throughout and I often wonder if these lyrics sum up much of how Stuart was feeling at that time.
Other favourites of mine include You Dreamer and the stirring Where The Rose Is Sown and Come Back To Me from the Steeltown album.
What really comes across well whilst watching is the celebratory atmosphere despite the fans and maybe the band's sadness as it is all coming to an end. Indeed as Stuart goes down to shake the hands of fans and appears as humbled as ever, I find myself wondering why he wanted to bring it to an end.
The sound here is as good as ever, the lighting isn't fantastic but there are no problems viewing the band on stage and the cameras certainly capture the euphoria from the audience.
The East Berlin concert on the other disc features 12 songs with highlights including Just A Shadow and Steeltown as well as the brilliant Restless Natives. There is also a good cover of the Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Woman. I tend to watch this concert after the Final Fling disc as it is a perfect pick-me-up after the sadness I feel after seeing Big Country with Stuart leave the stage for the final time at Barrowland. I always remember how I hoped when seeing the band on this tour that it would not be the final time, but sadly it was. After Stuart died, there could of course be no more.
However, I must add as a note here that 2010 saw Big Country reform with their old friend Mike Peters taking up the lead vocals and Jamie Watson joining dad Bruce on guitar, to achieve the unique twin guitar sound once more. They deliberately leave a space in the centre of the stage where Stuart would have been and seeing the band perform again, despite my initial reservations, has been an amazing experience. Of course it is not the same without Stuart, but it is great to hear the songs played live again, pay tribute to the great man himself and enjoy the amazing atmosphere which is mixed with joy and tears. And what a great way to keep the music and lyrics of Stuart Adamson alive?
The inclusion of Jamie Watson is a revelation, he is a very talented young lad who is enjoying every minute. Indeed after the Final Fling concert here at Barrowland on the disc, he had turned to the band's manager Ian Grant and asked "What happens now?" Well after ten years he finally has his answer...
Also included on these discs are a number of extras. On the Barrowland Final Fling disc there is backstage footage featuring the band and also clips of Stuart's two children playing guitar and singing with him backstage. Tour photo's and the itinerary as well as the rider also feature.
On the Berlin disc there is footage from The Voodoo Lounge tour where the band supported The Rolling Stones, as well as live at Das Fest and Peppermint Lounge.
Two discs covering two concerts as well as a number of extras make Final Fling great value for money for any fan of Big Country, as well as providing a lasting memory of the final days with Stuart Adamson. Long may his music continue to be heard.
In a Big Country, dreams stay with you...
Big Country live in concert.