Scottish band Big Country – with their big guitars and heroic, anthemic rock – were the polar opposite of the predominant synthesizer groups of the 1980s.
Guitarist and Dunfermline lad Stuart Adamson – the unsung hero and sound shaper of The Skids – survived that band’s miserable end to form a down-to-earth rock quartet unhampered by grandiose artistic pretensions.
Strengthened by guitarist – and former nuclear submarine cleaner – Bruce Watson, and the rhythm section of Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki, Big Country (named after a line in the Roxy Music song Prairie Rose) quickly jumped into the vanguard of resurgent guitar-hero bands.
The band released their debut album The Crossing in August 1983 and it soared into the Top 5 as the band played the Reading Festival.
Retaining some of The Skids‘ pseudo-bagpipe guitar effects,The Crossing offered rousing anthems, such as In A Big Country, Inwards and Fields of Fire (with a riff cleverly lifted from The Guns of Navarone) and moving romantic ballads (The Storm, Chance) that neatly intertwined Celtic folk traditions with blazing guitar riffs.
The album subsequently went Top 20 in the States in November.
Resplendent in their trademark checked shirts – and aware of the fashion potency of the bandana long before gangsta rap – Big Country trembled on the verge of greatness, despite dividing opinion amongst pop’s cognoscenti.
Some saw them as genuine contenders for the crown captured by U2. Others saw their honest, working man’s ethic as, well, naff and contrived.
After carefully establishing their rockist guitar-army aesthetic, Big Country took a surprising detour on the deliriously overproduced Peace In Our Time, which submerged the band’s trademark sound in sanitised, synthesized musical settings that gave scant evidence of what made their previous efforts so appealing.
While a few decent songs shone through (Thousand Yard Stare, From Here to Eternity and the title track), Peace In Our Time‘s drastic recasting of the band felt like commercial desperation rather than artistic restlessness.
Increasingly out of synch with the times, Big Country finally called it a day in 2000.
Stuart Adamson (pictured above) hanged himself in a Hawaiian hotel room on 18 December 2001. He had been missing from his Nashville home for a month. He was only 43.
Vocals, guitar, synthesizer