Tomorrow would have been Stuart Adamson‘s 57th birthday so I thought it appropriate to have a look back at his contribution to music via a review of a bio that was published back in 2010.
This is the first book I’ve featured in this series that I don’t actually own – I found it the other week while browsing around the local library. And to be brutally honest, borrowing it for a few weeks was a good decision as it proved to be a bit of a letdown.
The author, Allan Glen, has the advantage of coming from that part of Scotland in which the Manchester-born William Stuart Anderson was raised and the best bits of the book are those when he can bring that local flavour to the pages and particularly the description of physical, social and economic conditions in the villages and towns in Fife in the late 70s as The Skids came to the fore. The author paints a vivid picture which makes it very clear that Stuart Adamson was a true-to-life working class hero whose roots never left him.
However, the book for the most part is an extended consideration of the recording and touring careers of The Skids and Big Country rather than an in-depth look at Stuart Adamson. There’s lots about the music (up to 1996) but little about the man. The disease that eventually killed him – alcoholism – is sometimes hinted at but never referred to openly until the closing pages of the book and even then it is in almost throwaway fashion. There’s nothing about what led Stuart to divorcing his first wife and upping sticks to live in American in the mid-90s and I’m assuming this is because the author was unable to talk to anyone who was particularly close to Stuart in his final few years before his suicide in a hotel room in Hawaii in December 2001. So all in all, a disappointment.
What the book does remind you of however, is just how huge Big Country were for a spell in the early 80s. They went from near complete unknowns in early 1983 (which was when I first saw them as they played a gig in the students union at Strathclyde University) to flying on Concorde to perform at the Grammys in Los Angeles less than a year later. Their debut LP, The Crossing, had caught the imagination of the record buying public while their live shows had a real energy and vibe that made for a good night out. But almost as quickly, things began to fall apart.
There was a less than favourable reaction to the band’s second LP, Steeltown, while many fans attracted initially to the band because of The Skids connection were aghast and embarrassed at how often Big Country seemed to be on the support bill for stadium/arena performances of acts and bands we had thought the punk wars had seen off. To many, such as myself, the band never recovered. I certainly never had any great interest in the band after 1984 although I always wished them well as Stuart Adamson seemed to be one of the genuine folk in the music industry at a time of much artificiality and besides, who could ever fall completely out of love with the man whose guitar licks had meant so much to me as a teenager.
The main chunk of the book is a sad reminder of how hard Big Country tried to get back on track. I hadn’t quite appreciated that they continued to release albums in the late 80s and early 90s at regular intervals and completely missed that they actually enjoyed a couple of Top 30 hit singles in 1993.
It might be easy enough for me to say with the perspective of hindsight but it would probably have been better for the band to have broken up after the third or fourth album with Stuart finding some new musicians to back him and when he was out on the road have his new mates play old Skids and Big Country material alongside his new stuff. That way, the critics might have been a bit kinder to him rather than coming out with the ‘same old-same old’ barbs time and time again. Who knows?
It might even have got the old fans interested again….as happened when The Skids reformed briefly back in 2007 (with Bruce Watson from Big Country taking on the guitar parts) and then Big Country a few years later when just afterwards when Mike Peters from The Alarm took on the unenviable task of filling in for Stuart as evidenced by Brian from Linear Track Lives! when, back in 2012, he came all the way over to Glasgow from Seattle to catch a show.
So, overall, I wasn’t too enamoured by the book but appreciated the flashbacks it provided to the days when I loved seeing Stuart Adamson on stage alongside his nutcase of a frontman in The Skids or when he bravely took centre stage with his new band to show that he wasn’t, as many had thought, washed-up at the age of 24 and that he still had a sound worth listening to.
mp3 : The Skids – Scared To Dance
mp3 : The Skids – TV Stars (Peel Session)
mp3 : Big Country – Angle Park
mp3 : Big Country – 1000 Stars