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Scottish rock band Big Country have always been my favourite band ever since their formation back in 1981 by the late guitarist/singer/songwriter Stuart Adamson, who some may remember previously playing guitar in The Skids. As a fan of The Skids, I always thought Stuart Adamson was a very talented guitarist and when he left and formed Big Country, with friend and fellow guitarist Bruce Watson, I was eager to continue my support of him and hear the new material. Mark Brezezicki (drums) and Tony Butler (bass) were recruited and the debut album 'The Crossing' was released in 1982.
From the debut album 'The Crossing' to the last album 'Driving To Damascus' before Stuart Adamson tragically took his own life in 2001 having battled alcoholism and depression for a long time, I was hooked on the Big Country Celtic rock sound of rousing anthems and heartfelt ballads, all with beautiful lyrics penned by Adamson and was lucky enough to see them perform live a few times too.
Stuart's death, although not entirely a shock at the time, had a massive impact on fans of the band as they had to come to terms with the fact that their hero, who sang of the working man, loss of industry and peace and hope for everyone, whilst touching hearts and minds with his thought-provoking and often deeply moving lyrics, was no more.
Big Country came to an end, although the band's website remained and was visited regularly by fans as well as the remaining band members, as all remained as passionate as ever about Big Country, sharing stories and memories.
As the band's 30th anniversary approached and along with fan pressure for the band to reform and maybe do something to mark the occasion, Bruce Watson picked up the phone in the summer of 2010 and asked The Alarm frontman Mike Peters to do what he had previously been reluctant to do and sing with Big Country officially. In order to celebrate 30 years since the band was formed, Mike (a longstanding friend of Stuart's who credits the words of 'In A Big Country' as literally inspiring him to 'Stay Alive' through two very public cancer battles), instinctively agreed and dates were booked. The first was fittingly in Glasgow, Scotland on New Years Eve 2010 and the second in the band's hometown of Dunfermline. There was instant chemistry with the band who were also joined by Bruce Watson's son Jamie on guitar, to recreate the unique Big Country twin guitar sound as the band once again sought solace in the music and the freedom to express their love and admiration for Stuart Adamson. As a mark of respect Stuart's usual space at the centre of the stage was and still is left symbolically vacant.
A tour followed the successful gigs and one of these dates was Edinburgh HMV Picturehouse in April 2011. I had already enjoyed a very emotional gig in Newcastle in January , but ventured up to Edinburgh for this gig also. It was recorded for a dvd/cd release and this box set cd/dvd 'Big Country - Dreams Stay With You' was the result. Of course I purchased this as soon as it was released and now have another memory of a gig I actually attended captured live on cd/dvd.
The dvd was the first thing I played when it arrived and I also popped the accompanying cd's in my car to listen to.
There are 4 discs inside, 2 dvds and 2 cds, playing out the concert to a packed, enthusiastic venue. The filming and sound cannot be faulted in my opinion and it was mixed and mastered by band member Tony Butler.
From the opening riffs of '1000 Stars' it was as if Big Country had never been away prior to these gigs. Stuart's loss was felt by everyone, but the band made up for this as much as they possibly could in terms of enthusiasm, respect and of course great music. Stuart was such a focal point of the band, it was hard to imagine how they could perform without him, but with the very talented young Jamie Watson backing up his dad Bruce on guitar and Mike Peters taking on the vocals, they blaze through a set list of Big Country favourites.
I closed my eyes for a moment or two and the sound, that Big Country sound I never thought I would hear live ever again, was there. It was almost as if when I opened my eyes again, Stuart would be standing on the stage. It was a weird mixture of celebration and sadness as the emotion was felt from the band to the fans and back again.
There are a number of stand out moments to mention here, such as 'The Storm' with Jamie and Bruce playing very well, the unique guitar and e-bow which Stuart and Bruce once played, with a haunting backing vocal from Jamie too. The pounding 'Steeltown' with its thumping bassline courtesy of Tony Butler is played to perfection and one of my favourites 'Lost Patrol' which has the whole crowd jumping as 40-somethings tried to relive their teen years once more. So many of the fans in attendance were those who would have been jumping around to Big Country in their youth, myself included, and this made for a lot of laughs and a great atmosphere amongst the crowd.
There is a very touching tribute midway through the set to Stuart Adamson as the band performed a rendition of 'Never Take Your Place,' an apt and fitting tribute and not a dry eye was to be seen.
The tributes to Stuart do not stop there either as Mike Peters recalls his memories of when he first met Stuart Adamson and why he said yes to performing with Big Country, before the band launch into another tribute: 'Porrohman.' Indeed Stuart is mentioned throughout the concert and much credit should be given to Mike Peters for his respect and enthusiasm he shows for Big Country.
Fan favourites are all included here, with soaring renditions of 'Wonderland,' 'Fields of Fire,' and 'In A Big Country' as well as the big ballad 'Chance' with the crowd singing along as fervently as ever.
Add to this a blistering performance of 'Restless Natives' and you have another Big Country gig to treasure. It is never going to be the same as it was, it can't be, but if you appreciate it for what it is then enjoyment is guaranteed. And it is something I personally thought I would never witness ever again.
Owning this box set is not only a souvenir of the gig, it is also the chance for folk to hear the Big Country live sound once more. The dvds and cds capture well exactly what the essence of Big Country is.
As Bruce Watson himself said... "When we are playing it is as if we never stopped, but I know we have, I know we suffered a great loss. But you heal . . . slowly. I can assure you that Stuart will be there with us every night, in our thoughts, in our words, and in our hearts. And now we find ourselves maybe not fully healed, but whole enough to hear the calling to continue this story. And time has made me realise that this story has always been about our fans, the love we have for our fans, and the love they have selflessly given us back."
Those words from Bruce sum up perfectly what Big Country is about. The love for the band from the fans is like being part of a big family and every performance is a continuation of the journey the remaining band members began 30 years ago. It may not have panned out as they thought, but the music and spirit of Stuart Adamson lives on in their work today and long may it continue.
1. Thousand Stars
2. Harvest Home
3. Driving To Damascas
4. The Teacher
5. Just A Shadow
6. Look Away
7. Never Take Away Your Place
8. Porroh Man
10. East of Eden
1. The Storm
2. Where The Rose Is sown
4. Field of Fire
5. Lost patrol
7. Restless Natives
8. In A Big Country
As well as the concert there are also some extras on the dvd discs here including a filmed interview with the band and a photo gallery.
Big Country - Dreams Stay With You box set is available from Amazon priced at £16.24