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……………
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.
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.
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.