Big Country, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham. Friday, 17th August, 2007.
It was a friend north of the border who gave me the heads-up about this impending gig in the heart of Nottingham’s Studentland. The gig and tour are being carried out as a twenty-fifth anniversary commemorating the band’s brilliant debut album. “The Crossing”. Sadly of course, the band’s singer, main songwriter and twin lead guitarist, Stuart Adamson is no longer with us after his desperate loss through his suicide in Hawaii in 2001. His influence on the band and it’s music is still evident though. So is the love and respect for him from his former friends in Big Country.
Big Country in 2007 consists of the remaining three members, Bruce Watson (guitar), Tony Butler (bass and lead vocals) and Mark Brzezicki (drums). The band felt Stuart to be irreplaceable and I have to say I am in agreement with this. It seemed fitting that the three should celebrate the band’s major, landmark success from all those years ago.
Big Country remained something of an enigma in the eyes of much of the music world. Perhaps one might even refer to them as having a cult following. Irrespective they achieved great success in record sales, particularly in their earlier career and gained a huge reputation as a terrific live band.
It was my first visit to Rescue Rooms and at first I was a little surprised at how small the venue is. Nevertheless it’s a good venue that feel comfortable with people in the various nooks and crannies drinking and socialising, happily much of it outside on a warm-ish night. We entered in the midst of what I hoped was the opening tune and took our place near the back of the crowd. The crowd demographic was an interesting one with many people of an age group that had them marked as fans of the band from way back. It was a good-natured crowd too.
Tony Butler mentioned a few words about Stuart Adamson and the reason they were back playing in front of us on this occasion. He also explained that they had written some new material to ‘get them motivated’. As one might imagine, many of the old favourites were there, ‘Look Away’, ‘The Teacher’, ‘Fields of Fire’ and ‘Chance’, spread amongst a healthy amount of hitherto unheard material, some of which sounded promising. A personal high spot came at the band choosing to play ‘Restless Natives’, written as part of the soundtrack for the movie of the same name.It was Tony Butler’s job to recite the memorable opening words
“Alone among the hills and stone
Through summer sun and winter snow
The eagle he was lord above
And Rob was lord below”
I wondered how many of the audience understood the relevance of those words: “Two-hundred-forty years we lived, without hope and without pride”. Probably quite a few I reasoned. How well Stuart understood what it is to have a Scottish heartbeat and to feel the constant pull of those beautiful mountains and glens of our homeland, the love that is forever a corner in all of our hearts and will never die.
“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert.
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in Wintertime”
Although a great fan from the past, I had never actually managed to see the original Big Country. Even so I had a strange feeling about the three playing up there on stage without Stuart. It was almost as if one expected him to run out on stage at any moment. Of course the loss was felt but that is meant in no way derogatively against the remaining members who toiled a little at times over the new numbers but excelled in the old ones.
The crowd lapped up every minute of it enthusiastically and the end came all too soon. I don’t believe the love and affection for this band will ever die. It certainly won’t in my mind. Apart from the Scottish sound which appeals to me for obvious reasons, I enjoyed the songwriting of Stuart Adamson, the way he tackled historical issues from his traditional, folk-inspired consciousness and the way he championed ordinary, working-class people and their trials and oppression. As well as THAT sound, that’s what Big Country and Stuart Adamson mean to me.
Just one encore of the expected ‘In a Big Country’ to a rapturous reception and the band were gone into the dark, inky night.
Will we ever see their like again?
Stuart Adamson, 1958-2001. Rest in Peace.
“In a big country, dreams stay with you, like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside, stay alive”
God Bless Scotland