To read the recent BLURT interview with Big Country vocalist Mike Peters, go here.
Photos/Text by Michael Passman
One is a little hesitant to take ‘80s new wave seriously, especially if they grew up then. It’s often considered a decade of disposable music. Then again, anything that wasn’t classic rock or metal was new wave, which meant that many modern genres were developed during the new wave. Every band was different and every album was different, so it was actually a very creative period for rock music. Still, few acts are remembered for an overall contribution to music and many are considered as simply ‘80s bands.
Big Country was an ‘80s band and everyone’s nostalgic over their one US hit “In a Big Country.” What most don’t know is that not only did they continue to release albums and chart in the UK through the ‘90s, their second album, “Steeltown,” is considered by many to be one of the best albums of the ‘80s, but it was dark and moody, so the critics hailed it and the public didn’t buy it.
The band was formed by Stuart Adamson of The Skids and Bruce Watson, then adding Pete Townshend’s rhythm section: Mark Brzezecki and Tony Butler. Big Country broke up following Stuart Adamson’s suicide in 2001. A lead singer is almost always irreplaceable, so the same band with a new lead singer always raises some eyebrows, but because Mike Peters from The Alarm, who sang with them for Stuart Adamson’s tribute, took the helm, the new lineup looks promising. The Alarm were Welsh counterparts of Big Country and also have a great album catalog full of anthemic, guitar based rock and also good friends with Big Country, so it seemed like a good fit. The current lineup is Bruce, Mark, Bruce’s son Jamie, Mike, and Derek Forbes, bass player for Simple Minds up to 1985.
The band opened up with “Return” from their new album “The Journey”. It was a raucous beginning. Full of loud guitar hooks and Mike singing with all his soul, like he always does. The followup was “1000 Stars” from their debut album “The Crossing,” which was a great crowdpleaser. A good portion of their set was new material and songs from their debut mixed in with songs spanning their career. All of them were great, but the songs on the new album are really good and indicate a rebirth instead of nostalgia, but there were no songs from “Steeltown,” which many in the crowd wanted to hear “Where The Rose is Sown.” Their one U.S. hit and band title song was of course, the encore. They played “Fields of Fire” before then as well as UK hits “Wonderland” and “Look Away.”
Big Country are a rock band, not were. Not only are their new songs top notch, they continue a legacy of great albums. Nobody would have thought of the band resurfacing, but Mike Peters has always been the real deal. They’re still Big Country, not an ‘80s act with new members.
The Alarm and Big Country are great bands. In a way, they changed rock for better and for worse. As cohorts of U2, their songs were earnest and emotional, so while they brought a much needed depth to music at the time, it caused people to forget the essential lesson that rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be fun. The song themes were about loss and rebirth, so there was a lot of similarity with their songs to older country and protest music, so it wasn’t surprising in the late ‘90s when Stuart moved to Nashville to become a country song writer. If one listens to “Come Back to Me” from “Steeltown” of “13 Valleys” from “Wonderland,” one understands how much potential he had and how Nashville and definitely country music would be a better art form had he remained alive and contributed songs. Many of Big Country’s songs feel like Americana. That’s probably the noticeable difference between the original lineup and the new one. Both versions rocked, but the new Big Country is a louder outfit. Getting to know the new songs is still a revelation, not to mention a surprisingly great rock show.