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

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 102)

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This week’s single was #22 in my 45 45s at 45 series back in 2008. I thought I’d do a re-posting…

My love for this bit of plastic is very much down to two things.

Firstly, The Skids were the first Scottish band to really make a big impact on the punk/new wave scene. And by that, I mean they were probably the first to get themselves onto Top Of The Pops.

Given how little exposure bands got on TV back in the 70s, getting your face on TOTP was an incredibly important arena to be seen on. And the debut performance from Richard Jobson et al will stay etched firmly in the minds of everyone who saw it. As well as in the minds of their parents.

This truly was the first time I heard my dad say something completely negative about something on TOTP. He was 43 years of age when this came out…..his taste was a little bit of Johnny Cash, a little bit of Neil Diamond, a little bit of Supertramp and a little bit of Status Quo. He knew that music was important to me, and never did he slag off anything that I brought into the house or that I professed to loving when watching TOTP.

Then he saw and heard The Skids.

I don’t think he swore as at that time, he wouldn’t do so in front of any of his three young sons. But he laughed out loud at Richard’s efforts at dancing and singing, which truly were like nothing else on the planet. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was the generation gap finally showing through.

Of course I went out and bought the record a few days later with that week’s money from the paper round. Of course I played it louder than anything else I owned at the time. Of course I tried, behind the privacy of a closed bedroom door, to dance the way I had seen Richard dance (remember kids, no VHS tapes in those days, you saw something once and you had to commit it to memory).

There must have been thousands doing the same as me because the single continued to rise up the charts. TOTP had a policy of not having bands on two weeks in a row (unless they were at #1), so it was a fortnight before the band got back onto the show. This time my dad went into the kitchen and made a cup of tea as he was thoroughly sick to his back teeth with the song by now. I was a teenage rebel……at last.

Oh and the second reason why I love this song? One of the best b-sides ever. No arguments.

mp3 : The Skids – Into The Valley
mp3 : The Skids – TV Stars (live at The Marquee, London)

The TOTP performance is now widely available thanks to youtube . As is the promo video. As is a hugely clever advert featuring the song, which I’m sure must have made my dad laugh many years later.

Happy days.

THE ABSOLUTE GAME

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In 1980, The Skids released The Absolute Game, their third LP.   It’s really some achievement when you consider that on its release, lead singer and main lyricist Richard Jobson was not yet 20 years old while Stuart Adamson, whose guitar playing has rarely sounded better (even when he hit his commercial peak with Big Country) had not long turned 22.

There is a very strong case for Side One of this vinyl artefact to be considered the best single side of an LP ever recorded by a Scottish band.  Three of its tracks were released as singles, although criminally only one of them made the Top 40, while the other two songs could also have been chart hits if the public had been interested.

One of the reasons that the LP didn’t do as well as it should was down to the band’s unwillingness to promote it properly as Jobson and Adamson had fallen out badly by this time.  It was a record that, as I said earlier, had some of the guitarist’s finest ever tunes but with the singer wanting to go in a totally different direction, tensions were high all the way through the recording process.  Virgin Records, in an effort to hold things together, gave the green light for initial copies of the LP to come with a bonus record of songs called Strength Through Joy, a collection that sounded very unlike The Skids but betrayed the sort of style the singer wanted to adopt for the future.

Having said that, there’s a view that musical differences weren’t the main reason for the fall out between the two main men.  Jobson was very much having his head turned by London and was very keen to locate  the band in the capital full-time while Adamson was far too fond of life in Dunfermline to ever agree to that. Nowadays, modern communications, cheap travel etc would make light of such a problem, but in 1980,  having one half of the partnership in London and the other 400 miles away was insurmountable.

The live shows to accompany the release of the album were unhappy affairs and it was no great surprise that Adamson quit not long after, as did Mike Baillie, leaving Jobson and Russell Webb to continue as The Skids. Together they would make one more LP, Joy, released the following year before making a clean breast of things as The Armoury Show.

I thought it would make a great contrast to let you hear all five songs on Side A of the LP along with the 8 tracks that made up Strength Through Joy just to compare and contrast.  It is a really remarkable thing to realise just how young these guys were at the time and the extent of their different talents:-

mp3 : The Skids – Circus Games
mp3 : The Skids – Out Of Town
mp3 : The Skids – Goodbye Civilian
mp3 : The Skids – The Children Saw The Shame
mp3 : The Skids – A Woman In Winter

mp3 : The Skids – An Incident In Algiers
mp3 : The Skids – Grievance
mp3 : The Skids – Strength Through Joy
mp3 : The Skids – Filming Africa
mp3 : The Skids – A Man For All Seasons
mp3 : The Skids – Snakes and Ladders
mp3 : The Skids – Surgical Triumph
mp3 : The Skids – The Bell Jar

Enjoy.