11th April 1983
The Nite Club, Edinburgh
It may be argued no Big Country scribblings would be complete without a short preamble talking about The Skids: Stuart Adamson’s previous band, he having formed this outfit in 1977 along with vocalist Richard Jobson. They sort of tagged themselves onto the burgeoning punk scene, but actually they were built of different stuff. Adamson’s guitar work appeared to owe more than a little to the heavy rock oeuvre, whilst Jobson’s lyrics were a cut above the majority of his contemporaries; either more articulate or more pretentious. The jury is still out.
Adamson’s tenure with the band effectively ended in 1980, leaving behind a legacy of three patchy, but never less than absorbing, albums; squirreled away within which were a clutch of memorably stirring songs: Into the Valley, Charade, A Day in Europa, Out of Town, Animation, Masquerade, Circus Games, Working for The Yankee Dollar. Just writing them down here me makes want to go and listen to ‘em all now.
Big Country’s debut single, Harvest Home, was a raucous piece very much in the Skids style, but it was the follow-up Fields of Fire which defined the band’s sound; Adamson and new band mate Bruce Watson’s skirling pibroch twin guitar sound propelling the tune into the top ten. And this second single had just begun to nudge its way into the charts by the time of this concert at the Edinburgh Nite Club.
The Nite Club (also known as The Dance Factory) was a slightly grandiose title for what was little more than a black painted room with an always overcrowded and understaffed bar at one end, and a small stage at the other. It could be found two floors up, next door to the Edinburgh Playhouse box office, accessed via a set of precipitous stairs. The organisers always appeared to have a rather laissez-faire attitude to fire regulations, seemingly content to squish in a couple of dozen more bodies than actually appeared safe. Invariably the place was always heaving, and by the time gigs were over the very walls appeared to be sweating.
Adamson had brought along another Fife band as support act for the evening: White China. All big hair and bigger riffs, they crashed their way through a set which was too loud and too long by half. The group appeared to disappear without trace a few months later, but I was rather startled recently to note in the local rag that supporting Bruce Watson’s revivified version of Big Country were none other than White China! I am assuming the various band members have held down real jobs in the interim, as opposed to having spent the intervening years plodding away on some Caledonian underground gig circuit.
As to the Big Country set itself, I really have to relate it was not a terribly enjoyable experience: partly unfamiliarity with the music, but mainly due to the dreadful distorted racket, caused by unwise over amplification. Wife’s comment as we left, that it had sounded like “Black Fucking Sabbath”, was a touch unkind, but it perhaps does give one an idea of the decibel level we had been exposed to.
The set had opened with a brace of familiar songs (Angle Park and Harvest Home), before drifting into a sequence of as yet unreleased tunes. And as the pseudo-punks bounced around us lapping it up, I could not help but think all these songs sounded exactly the same.
One exception was the almost King Crimson like Porrohman. Perhaps the most intriguing composition on The Crossing album, I had initially assumed it to have been inspired by HG Wells’ short story Pollock and the Porrohman, although Adamson’s marvellously evocative opening line:
“Night hangs on the city like a blanket on a cage”
suggested perhaps not.
We were back in familiar territory with the final three songs on the night, but that middle section hadn’t half tested both one’s patience and one’s eardrums.
It’s odd but, although I really liked The Crossing album when it came out, I never really took my initial interest in the band much further, even though I knew the two subsequent efforts were, by all accounts, much more polished affairs. Whilst writing this rubbish down I am again struck by the number of times I went to see (and hugely enjoyed) bands in their early days, yet lost interest once they had achieved major success: Big Country, U2, Simple Minds, Blondie, OMD, Dire Straits all fell into this category. I cannot help wonder if there was perhaps some sort of inverted snobbery at play here. Me, subliminally, refusing to engage with these bands once the rest of the world had caught on. Who knows? Certainly not me.
I will finish here though, with my favourite Stuart Adamson anecdote.
Adamson, although his band was not invited to play at Live Aid in 1985, had attended as a fan, and was interviewed on TV. It was at a point during proceedings when the presenters where earnestly speculating whether Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Julian Lennon would join Paul McCartney on stage as some sort of Beatle-ish reunion. Adamson was asked by a frothing presenter, (?Janice Long) what he thought the aforementioned foursome might play, should it happen. I am not sure to this day whether Adamson innocently misunderstood the question, or whether it was a genuinely witty reply, but his response was “Um, I dunno. Instruments probably”.
Setlist (from memory, with internet clues)
Heart and Soul
A Thousand Stars
Fields of Fire
Tracks of My Tears