Big Country Biography

Stuart Adamson (William Stuart Adamson, 11 April 1958, Manchester, England, d. 16 December 2001, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; guitar/vocals) formed Big Country in June 1981 upon his departure from Scottish new wave outfit the Skids. His first recruit was childhood friend Bruce Watson (b. 11 March 1961, Timmins, Ontario, Canada; guitar), but early plans to work solely as a studio ensemble were quickly abandoned. An initial line-up completed by Clive Parker and brothers Peter and Alan Wishart proved incompatible, so in April 1982 Adamson and Watson brought in Mark Brzezicki (b. 21 June 1957, Slough, Buckinghamshire, England; drums) and Tony Butler (b. 13 February 1957, London, England; bass), two former members of On The Air, a band that had supported the Skids on an earlier tour. A month later the new line-up signed a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Despite several overtures, Adamson preferred to remain close to his adopted home town of Dunfermline, emphasizing a prevalent Scottish influence in his music. Both guitarists wove a ringing, ‘bagpipe’ sound from their instruments and the band’s debut album, which included the UK Top 20 hit singles ‘Fields Of Fire (400 Miles)’ and ‘In A Big Country’, established their rousing, anthemic approach. Both the latter single and the album broached the US Top 20. Two further single releases, ‘Chance’ and the non-album track ‘Wonderland’, both reached the UK Top 10, while a second collection, Steeltown, like their debut produced by Steve Lillywhite and Will Gosling, was also a commercial success climbing to the top of the UK album charts. However, the band seemed unable to tackle fresh directions and despite achieving their highest-charting UK single in 1986 with ‘Look Away’ (number 7), the attendant The Seer was disappointing.

After a two-year hiatus, their fourth album offered little that was new, although its leading single, ‘King Of Emotion’, broached the UK Top 20. The band struggled into the early 90s, only reaching the lower end of the singles charts and beset by inter-band tension and record company problems. Brzezicki had left the band in July 1989 and was replaced by Pat Ahern and then Chris Bell, the latter completing sessions for 1991’s No Place Like Home. Simon Phillips was recruited as drummer for The Buffalo Skinners, the band’s debut for the new Compulsion label. This album rocked out to good effect, but Without The Aid Of A Safety Net, featuring a returning Brzezicki, failed to capture the band’s exciting in-concert sound. Quite different, however, was the energetic single ‘I’m Not Ashamed’, which preceded their 1995 album. Even though they changed labels yet again the band sounded fresh, embellishing their sound with more contemporary influences. Eclectic, featuring guest artists Steve Harley, Kym Mazelle and violin maestro Bobby Valentino, was the band’s attempt at an unplugged album, and although not wholly satisfying on CD, the accompanying tour was a revelation, showing a much-revitalized outfit. It also allowed, possibly for the first time, the essence of the band’s folk roots to show through, without the chiming guitars masking the quality of some of their songs. Additionally, an acoustic Adamson belting out songs by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young (notably ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’) was a rare treat.

Adamson relocated to Nashville in 1997, with the rest of the band joining him to record Driving To Damascus. Their debut for the legendary Track Records label, the album featured two songs co-written by Ray Davies. While recording the album, the band featured as special guests on the Rolling Stones’ tour of Europe. In November 1999, Adamson briefly went ‘missing’ causing much furore in the media. The following year the band embarked on what they claimed was their farewell tour. Various releases in 2001 included a cover versions album, a second rarities compilation, and a collection of 12-inch mixes. Adamson, meanwhile, began working with Marcus Hummon in the Raphaels but was increasingly troubled by personal problems. He went missing again and was tragically found hanged in a Hawaii hotel room in December.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.