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Islington Academy, London 6 January 2011
For nigh on
two decades Big Country were one of the acts who most consistently
delivered - many hard rock fans wrote them off for their pop origins and
the bagpipe sounding guitars of their early days, but for me their
stirring, celtic-themed anthems and boisterous live shows made them the
nearest successors to Thin Lizzy. Sadly the year after they split up in
2000 singer, guitarist and main songwriter Stuart Adamson committed
After the occasional tribute show, the remaining three members
(guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki)
have embarked on a more extensive tour, with guest singer Mike Peters
from The Alarm. He was a sound choice as they were one of the few
eighties bands from more indie origins that had rock credibility,
together with Big Country and U2 (before Bono disappeared up his own
A sell out Academy crowd with barely a person under 40 contained an
excess of balding men in check shirts and the atmosphere - right down to
singing along the Skids' Into the Valley beforehand -was electric and
full of anticipation, and as they opened with a couple of songs from The
Crossing debut- 1000 Stars and Harvest Home- the whole crowd took over
the singing with a substantial number jumping around at the front.
The set was a mixture of debut album favourites (Inwards, The Storm) and
singles (Look Away) from the first three albums, but their post 1986
quintet of albums were only represented by Driving to Damascus, the
title track of their final release. Personally I would have loved to
hear stuff from their heaviest album, 1993's The Buffalo Skinners, but I
was probably in a minority.
Mike Peters treated the occasion with due reverence, giving his heart
and soul without trying to dominate, and paying tribute to Stuart and
the rest of the band. He even read an extract from HG Wells about the
Porrohman before launching into the crowd during that song, which
showcased their duelling celtic guitars to the full.
took on more of the lead work than in the old days and was supported by
son Jamie, who was the spit of him, only even more celtic looking. The
two of them combined to particularly good effect during Teacher.
Despite the aid of a lyric book, objectively speaking Mike struggled
somewhat on the more melodically intricate numbers, especially where he
did not have the crowd to carry his singing. One of my favourites, Just
a Shadow was one of those that suffered, more's the pity as its message
of the human cost of 1980's Thatcherism may carry renewed weight in the
years to come (apologies for coming over all Ben Elton).
But in the wider scheme of things that did not matter as a series of
hits such as East of Eden and Wonderland had the crowd reliving its lost
youth, and as the circle of pogoers at the front grew ever larger,
during their signature song Fields of Fire I could not resist joining
in, perhaps unwisely, having partaken in Wetherspoon's Thursday curry
The momentum was maintained with encores of Lost Patrol and Chance, two
anthems sung by the crowd with almost religious fervour, before after
the surprise of the night in Restless Natives, In a Big Country brought
a 100 minute set to a suitably riotous conclusion.
Although this tour sold so well that another one of larger venues has
already been fixed for the spring, this should not be seen as the start
of a new chapter. Instead with some help from their friends the
surviving members paid a fitting tribute to their underrated catalogue
and cherished the memory of Stuart Adamson's very obvious talents.
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