SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #27 : BIG COUNTRY (a guest posting)

Big Country Collage

The alphabetical run through the list of Scottish bands that you’ll find in my collection has reached Big Country. I thought however, that I’d put the blog in the capable hands of someone who knows more about the band than anyone else of my acquaintance; the image above is a collage of just some of his collection from the early years and then there’s the fact that he came all the way from Seattle to Scotland just so that he could see the reformed Big Country play a gig at Glasgow Barrowlands and in doing so provided me with an incredible but hopefully not once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hook up.  Here’s Brian from the fantastically high quality Linear Track Lives……………

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Outside of the ’60s groups in my mother’s record collection, Big Country was the first band that became an obsession. I was 13 years old when In a Big Country hit the American airwaves, and that really is the perfect age to go gaga about a band, especially if you have a paper route. I had the ability to buy the albums and all of the 7″ and 12″ singles, as well as order the posters and T-shirts from Burning Airlines, while my poor pals had to beg their parents for money with promises of mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage and the like. The only time I recall begging my parents for anything regarding Big Country was when “In a Big Country” went up against Def Leppard‘s Rock of Ages on the video fights segment of “Friday Night Videos.” It cost 50 cents to call in and vote for your favorite, and I knew Stuart and the lads would need me. As expected, even though I voted three times, it was an 80%-20% slaughter in the wrong direction.

Like most music obsessives, I had a particular fondness for the B-sides, and I found nearly all of the flip sides of The Crossing, Wonderland and Steeltown to be as enjoyable as the album tracks, particularly Heart and Soul, Angle Park, The Crossing and Winter Sky.

Perhaps my favorite, though, was Prairie Rose from the East of Eden single. This may seem like a strange pick for JC’s Saturday Scottish Song series, especially since it isn’t Scottish. In 1984, however, I had no idea it was a cover. Here is my defense: The back of the 12″ paper sleeve simply said “Prairie Rose” with no songwriting credit.

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There were other signs that never gave me pause to think it was anything but one of Stuart’s brilliant creations. There was the lyric “lonesome star, shine on the big country.” Adamson also added a line at the end of the song, “I hear your voice, and it keeps me from sleeping,” taken from Big Country’s song Tall Ships Go.  Producer Steve Lillywhite did his job well too. “Prairie Rose” had all of the touches that made the song sound, well, big. It was an anthem. Finally, and most importantly, this 14 year old had no idea who Roxy Music was. I plead ignorance. The defense rests.

C’mon, admit it. There have been songs you loved you didn’t know were covers, and I would love to hear all about them. It will be therapeutic. I figured it all out about a year later when, upon closer inspection of the center label as I was putting on the record, I noticed Ferry/Manzanera right smack in the middle of the B-side. How could I have missed that? Wait a minute. Ferry? Nah, couldn’t be. By then I had a cassette of Roxy Music’s The Atlantic Years 1973-1980, and I quickly popped it open to see if I could find the name Manzanera anywhere. Yep, there it was, just once, as a co-writing credit on Still Falls the Rain.  I felt like a fool, but it did send me on quite an exploration of all things Roxy Music, which is a good thing. I’m guessing I’m the only one of JC’s readers that can say they became a fan of Roxy Music from listening to Big Country. I still give a slight nod to Big Country’s take (gasp!), but I’ll let you be the judge. Here are both versions.

mp3 : Roxy Music – Prairie Rose
mp3 : Big Country – Prairie Rose

Like most 14 year olds, I was fickle. By the time The Seer came out in ’86 I had all but moved on.  Look Away was my last 12″ single, but my love for Big Country’s early years never wavered. That’s what brought me not 400 miles, as Stuart suggested in the song Fields of Fire, but 4,400 miles from Seattle to Glasgow to see a reunited Big Country (with the Alarm’s Mike Peters on lead vocals) perform The Crossing at Barrowland in 2012. It’s also when I got to meet JC. So, there’s another reason why I’ll always love Big Country.

Brian

JC adds…..

I’ve been lucky enough to have met a number of other bloggers over the past eight years or so and every single one of them have been as wonderful in the flesh as they seemed when they were ‘imaginary’ via t’internet.  But the day spent running around the city with Mr & Mrs Linear Lives remains a particular highlight.  And thinking of it makes me determined to one day get myself over to Seattle as it’s a city I’ve never been to and hopefully hook up again. Oh and those who I haven’t yet met…..well just wait till I manage to retire from the day job and I get myself on my round the world trip.  First stop I intend to make is Germany…….via the south-west of England.

This is also a posting that again makes me appreciate just how lucky I’ve been to catch bands that others were denied the chance just because they are a bit younger than me.  My mate Aldo is one of the biggest Morrissey/Marr fans I know but never saw The Smiths. There’s about half a dozen mates who are huge Paul Weller fans but never saw The Jam and then there’s Brian who never saw Big Country in the early days when I did so at least four times including the tiny students union at Strathclyde University just as they were on the verge of breaking through in the UK.

Oh and songs I initially (and for a long while) didn’t know were covers?   David Watts by The Jam is probably the most obvious…Mr Pharmacist by The Fall was another and so too Holiday Hymn by Orange Juice.

READ IT IN BOOKS : STUART ADAMSON

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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

Enjoy

A NOVEL WAY TO CELEBRATE YOUR 45th BIRTHDAY

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A guest posting from long-time reader Jim Chambers

So… the vinyl villain inspired me – he didn’t know it but I can’t thank him enough for planting this particular seed in my mind and he is indirectly reaponsible for my hangover a few weeks ago. It was his 45 45s series that got me thinking…

I’ve just celebrated my 45th birthday so I’m of the generation when a 7″ single really meant something. I threw a party – the first house party since I was a student I think. (You know the way you get slightly precious about the carpet and all that.)

I invited 45 people to my house. The only condition was they had to bring their favourite 7″ single. I hired decks, a smoke machine and strobes (it was a package – honest I didn’t get carried away)…

Everyone got into the spirit of it, bringing along some absolute classics. And everyone is a secret DJ – given the chance. Even if they want to play Remember You’re A Womble. My mates spoke about what they were going to play in their ‘set’ as if they were headlining the dance tent at Glastonbury, which was all quite amusing. The night got a little hazy after the third round of sambucas but I can remember a good friend of mine and me dancing away and shouting all the words to Lost Weekend at each other much to the astonishment of everyone else. If only I’d remembered my schoolwork as well as I could remember lyrics…

There was serious drinking, dancing, grown men hugging each other and much laughter.

And obviously when you get to ‘a certain age’ it’s unusual to see so many of your friends in the same room – it’s normally reserved for weddings etc so personally the night was a sheer delight. It wasn’t without its moments… The occasional row etc but nothing too serious. The carpet didn’t get ruined, nothing got damaged and the neighbours didn’t complain so all in all a great, memorable night.

The records I’ve chosen are all Scottish (in honour of JC) and all went down well on the night.

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Lost Weekend
mp3 : Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy (12″ version)
mp3 : Big Country – In A Big Country (LP version)

So thanks JC for inspiring me and thanks for allowing me to share the story. My friends are now all looking forward to a 78s party which I expect will be a much more sedate affair.

JIM

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Parts 16-20)

Back on 8 October 2011, I started a series called ‘Saturday’s Scottish Single’.  The aim was to feature one 45 or CD single by a Scottish singer or band with the proviso that the 45 or CD single was in the collection. I had got to Part 60-something and as far as Kid Canaveral when the rug was pulled out from under TVV.

I’ll catch up soon enough by featuring 5 at a time from the archives..

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(16) Belle & Sebastian – Legal Man b/w : Judy Is A Dick Slap b/w Winter Wooskie : Jeepster CD Single (2000)

Read more about Belle & Sebastian here

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(17) The Beta Band : Dry The Rain b/w I Know b/w B+A b/w Dog Got A Bone : Taken from Regal EP compilation (1998)

Read more about The Beta Band here

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(18) Big Country – Fields Of Fire (alternative mix) b/w Fields of Fire b/w Angle Park : Phonogram 12″ (1983)

Read more about Big Country here

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(19) The Big Dish : Miss America b/w From The Mission Bell To The Deep Blue Sea b/w The Town Celebrity :East West 12″ (1990)

Read more about The Big Dish here

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(20) Bis – Kandy Pop b/w Secret Vampires b/w Teen-C Power b/w Diska : Chemikal Underground 7″ (1996)

Read more about Bis here

Enjoy!!