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Biographies: Big Country

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Reviewer: Skeezix

Big Country's first studio album for four years, "Driving To Damascus", combines all the elements that originally elevated the band into the charts in the mid-Eighties. These, along with a new found stylistic diversity stemming from Stuart Adamson's relocation to Nashville where he has immersed himself in the bluegrass and country community and scene over the last couple of years.

Its the first time I’ve ever lived in a totally creative community he comments, and the first time I have ever co-written with other artists. Last year Stuart (who is spiritual but not religious), played signature guitar on Randy Stonehill's No 1 Christian record The Face of God, sang on Darryl Scott's messed up bluegrass record and has recently been writing with Texan out and out country singer Christie Sutherland.

As co-founder member with Richard Jobson of seminal new wavers the Skids, Stuart first tasted success with songs such as Into The Valley, Masquerade, Charade and Working for the Yankee Dollar.

The nucleus of Big Country was formed after the demise of the Skids when Stuart recruited guitar partner Bruce Watson from a day job cleaning nuclear submarines in Dunfermline. They came across the invincible rhythm section of Tony Butler and Mark Brzezecki when they cut their first Big Country demos and soon signed to Phonogram, released their first single and supported The Jam at Wembley for six nights on their farewell dates.

The band broke massively worldwide with their debut album The Crossing (1983), which sold over 3 million copies and earned Big Country 2 Grammy nominations. Their subsequent four albums, Steeltown (1984), The Seer (1985), Peace In Our Time (1986) and No Place Like Home (1988) were all certified gold on release and took the bands total record sales tally to over ten million.

Big Country played at the Wembley Live Aid and The Princes Trust 10th Birthday Party and in 1988 they played the first ever privately promoted gig in Russia at the Moscow Sports Stadium. At the end of the decade Through A Big Country, featuring all the bands classic hits was released and while it charted Top 5 nationwide and sold over two million copies, the group parted company with Phonogram after massive personnel changes at the label. In 1992 Big Country signed to Compulsion, through Chrysalis, scored two top 30 hit singles (Alone and Ships) from their sixth album Buffalo Skinners, and set out on another sold out UK and European tour. Their first live album, Without The Aid of a Safety Net, was recorded in December 1993 at a tumultuous sold out Barrowlands gig and released in June 94.

Big Country's seventh studio album, Why The Long Face, was released on the newly reactivated Transatlantic Records label in 1995, and while critically well received, did not sell as well as hoped. But on the live scene the band were doing as well as ever; they co-headlined many 1995 European festivals with the likes of Bob Dylan, Faith No More, Black Crowes and Soul Asylum. They then landed the special guest slot on the Rolling Stones European tour and several shows in the UK and Ireland with Page and Plant later that year. A 40-date UK tour proved the band still had much gas left in the tank.

An unplugged album featuring friends (Steve Harley, Kym Mazelle, Hassam Ramzys Egyptian drummers) was released in 1996 after which Stuart decided it was time for a break; he moved to Nashville and the rest of the band did their own thing for a while.

In August 1998 they were once again invited to open for the Rolling Stones and played 18 shows in Europe. Some of the best songs on the new album Driving To Damascus, their upcoming eighth studio album, were written in between these dates.

Two songs (Somebody Else and Devil In The Eye) were co-written with Ray Davies, who became firm friends with the band after they joined him on the main stage (sans Bruce) at Glastonbury in 1997 to perform a storming set in the rain. Both Ray and I pushed each other into areas we wouldn't normally go says Stuart.

The first single from the album, Fragile Thing, released August 2nd, co-starred Eddi Reader; We had been mutual admirers from afar and Eddi is one of the finest singers I have ever come across. She took a sideways look at the song and expressed herself comments frontman Stuart Adamson. Eddi also sang backing vocal on See You, Grace and Bella.

Big Country are one of the few truly awesome live outfits to have survived the roller coaster ride of the mad Eighties to come through wiser and stronger, their star burning brighter than ever in 1999. The group triumphantly returned to the live scene when they headlined the Scotland for Kosovo gig, joined by Eddi Reader, Teenage Fanclub, Gun, Simple Minds, Ricky Ross and Midge Ure, in Glasgow on May 31st this year.

The success of this gig led to the band actually performing on 11th September in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, as part of a multinational all-star bill brought together by Vanessa Redgrave & Bill Kenwright. The band were flown to the gig by the RAF and then shuttled to the venue in a K-FOR armoured car. The sight of several thousand Kosovars going wild in a sports arena in the middle of a devastated city was one of the most moving events in the bands career.

Big Country, who have scored 17 top 30 singles and seven top 30 albums in the past, are set to bounce back into the charts and surprise fans and critics alike with their new album. Produced by Rafe McKenna, Driving To Damascus is now out on the reactivated Track Record label (original home of Hendrix, The Who etc.).

Driving To Damascus marks a major leap forward for the band, contains textures and influences never before embraced and manifests Big Country back at the peak of their creative powers.

However, in November 1999, the band received more International Media coverage than they had seen in a decade or more. Stuart Adamson did not arrive in the UK for British TV appearances and some shows with Bryan Adams. Speculation was such that not only the tabloids but the broadsheets (The Times called his publicist requesting an up to date biog so that they could prepare an obituary ) and radio and TV gave massive coverage to him being missing. Now residing in America and with many changes in his personal life, Stuart decided he had had enough. In December the band commenced a British tour which turns out was the start of the current ‘farewell tour’. One date was a headline appearance at Aberdeens Millenium Street party with over 50,000 in attendance.Stuart agreed to tour one final time in Europe and the band did perform 18 dates in Germany and Holland.

"In April last year, a dear work colleague & friend of the bands and management - Joe Seabrook - passed away. On May 3rd (his birthday) Bruce and Mark jammed with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones at his memorial. In more ways than one, the new millennium for Big Country turned out to be the end of an era.

In May of the same year,the band embarked on their "Final Fling" tour of UK. 11 sold out dates resulted in the recording and subsequent release of "Come Up Screaming" a double CD which included most of The Crossing live and other favourite tracks.The band had never sounded so good and the audience as fervent or even, more so than ever.

One would have thought this was the final end due to the marketing of the tour but, the band did in fact perform one more show in 2000 and this was in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia. In October they were on a multi national bill which included Jethro Tull,Steve Vai and Joe Satrianni plus numerous acts from the Pacific Rim. As it stands, this was their last concert to date.

Although the band will not be recording in 2001 and maybe never again, there will be various releases and indeed 4 are planned over as many months commencing in March. A covers album (with their renditions of Woodstock, Paranoid, Oh Well, Don't Fear The Reaper, Killiekrankie and 11 others) followed by a second "rarities" CD, a 12" mixes CD and an acoustic album make up these 4 releases. Videos are planned and DVDs. So although the band have taken a sabbatical that may become permanent, there will not be any lack of Big Country product.

Whatever can be or has been said about Big Country, no-one can take away their musical legacy.

SOURCE: BigCountry.co.uk

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