On stage at The Playhouse. Stuart Adamson is trying to calm the raging horde for his unaccompanied acoustic interlude. King Canute would have more of a chance. But Adamson‘s easy banter with the audience does the trick. and they settle down momentarily for a brief break from Big Country‘s high- powered rock for a poignant folk song ofa love lost forever. As the rest ofthe band return to the stage they break into a furious jig. Adamson accompanied by Tony Butler on bass, Mark Brzezicki on drums and guitarist Bruce Watson
on electric mandolin. It‘s the clearest
expression the band could make of the debt they owe to the traditional music oftheir homeland. (Though both Butler and Brzezicki are Englishmen and proud of it, Scottish fans have always regarded Big Country as theirs.)
Jumping back three hours, I remark that a print in one of the rooms the band has hired in the
Carlton for the night, a stylised scene
with stag and loch, is uncannily similar to the sleeve ofthe Big Country LP Wonderland. ‘It‘s almost identical.‘ agrees Bruce Watson, scrutinising it. ‘Just shows how our art department get their ideas — cruising hotel rooms.‘ All the time we talk I keep getting distracted by that blasted pastel sereenprint — something to do with updating an already idealised image of Scotland, and the fact that such a close resemblance to a Big Country sleeve has turned up here, above Bruce Watson‘s head. . . well. we don‘t go into the implications of it, but it keeps on hanging there. begging its turn.
A more immediate concern for the
guitarist is the lack of Big Country on
the nation‘s airwaves.
‘I think the reason for that is that we can‘t write songs that are two minutes fifty seconds long. We just can‘t do it. And that‘s what Radio 1 wants, they think their listeners get bored after a couple of minutes. But I don‘t think singles are the be-all and end-all anyway. It‘s albums that matter to me. I couldn’t give a toss about singles‘.
I almost answer. ‘Yeah, I could tell‘, but have to back down in the face of Big Country’s continuing success, even after some (to my ears) duff choices in recent years. Has he forgotten that they owe their fame to a brilliant opening salvo of singles? ‘Harvest Home‘, ‘Fields ofFire‘, ‘In a Big Country‘ and ‘Chance‘ were new and exciting at the time for their intertwined and carefully-arranged guitar parts and the energy and feeling at their heart. Without much prompting Watson will admit that he still feels that many oftheir finest moments were written in the early days of the band, not long after Stuart Adamson had left The Skids (who also had their fair share of killer singles).
Eight years on from the days when an early version of Big Country was thrown off an Alice Cooper tour after two nights. the band drive back into Edinburgh like conquering heroes. arriving at the door of their hotel in a shiny red vehicle that looks
In the wake of a new album and the much-hyped trip to Moscow, Big Country are back on tour in Scotland. Alastair Mabbott checked out the band’s live performance , and tracked down guitarist Bruce Watson to ask about hammers and siekles, stars, stripes and stags.
r ‘, I A perpetual merriment. though, as Watson found out on the band‘s PR trip to Moscow; six nights in an ice hockey stadium as the first Western rock group to play in the Soviet Union independently of the State. The trip lost them a great deal of money. but that would seem to be the least ofit. As well as the normal complaints- inedible food. halfthe luggage going to Tokyo; the other half back to London — they were dogged by their own special inconveniences. The ‘few thousand quid‘s worth' of food the canny lads thought to take along was confiscated at customs. and when it did arrive. four days later, officials told them they were not allowed to
custom-bur t for roving around the Martian surface while fending off an Exocet attack. What‘s more. their guitarist has just told me they‘re an ‘albums band’. Are there no fears lurking in the back of this Dunfermline ex-punk‘s mind. of his group turning dinosaur?
‘I don‘t know. That‘s the thing. this is all I can really do. at this moment in time anyway. I‘m still enjoying it. I still enjoy playing with the band, co-writing some of the stuff. still get a kick out of recording and playing it live. So as long as I feel like that I‘ll keep doing it. And as long as everybody else in the band feels like that we’ll keep doing it.‘
Life with Big Country isn‘t
cook it. However. the crew found a four-day diet ofJaffa Cakes to be the mother ofdefiance. and took the chance.
With approximately half of the entire British NUJ membership in Moscow (‘another pain in the tits.‘ the guitarist groans) and less Muscovites than hacks at early gigs. the band elected to whip up a few more converts by playing on a popular game show. and mimed in front of the first prize: a plate of salted fish. Second prize: coloured pencils and a notebook. When he says. ‘Russia was the strangest experience I‘ve ever had.‘ Bruce Watson still looks like a man in the grip ofchronic culture shock.
The Soviet stint was arranged to tie in with the theme oftheir new LP. Peace in Our Time. the cover displaying a stars and stripes with a hammer and sickle in place of the stars. Aesthetically. it‘s a very attractive design. But a rock band making statements about international relations is sailing into dangerous waters. and the blatant hype of the Moscow trip cast more than a shadow of doubt on the sincerity oftheir intentions. Watson is less precious about the theme of their current albumlsingledour than I had imagined.
‘To me that isn‘t necessary. When we put all the songs together as an album the strongest title we had was “Peace in Our'I‘ime“. And I must admit I wasn‘t too keen on it. because I thought it was too big a statement to make anyway. We had no intention of playing Moscow or doing the Russian Embassy thing. Ian (manager) actually thought it up. and it just sort of escalated from there. The band had nothing to do with that at all. It‘s just a guy over at Phonogram. We just said. Here‘s the record. here‘s the lyrics. do your worst with the sleeve. and that‘s what they came up with. It‘s just packaging.‘
Kind ofemotive packaging. though.
‘Whether it‘s released like that or in a brown paper bag really doesn‘t mean anything to me at all. The only thing that means as much to me is that we can write a song that we‘re all pleased with. and go out and perform it to the best ofour ability. All that counts to me is the songs. the people in the band and obviously the people who come to the concerts and get involved. That‘s rock‘n‘roll to me.‘
Three or so hours later. just as Mark Brzezicki pounds out the intro to another track from the new album and Watson stalks the boards like a lanky. haystack-topped rag doll with a Fenderlazzmaster, I finally put my finger on where the celebrated Big Country ‘bagpipe‘ guitar sound comes from. All it takes is a bit of thought to pin it down. It sounds like guitars. silly. And now that‘s sorted out. where‘s my Russian phrasebook’.’
Big Country with supportgroup. Diesel Park West. play Glasgow Barrowland on Tue 1 4 and Wed 15 February and Edinburgh Playhouse on Thurs 16. See Listings.
The List 10— 23 February 9