Big Country’s sophomore album Steeltown has had the full treatment to mark its 30th anniversary, first a deluxe reissue and then a tour in which the album is played in its entirety. The band did a similar thing with their debut The Crossing a couple of years ago, but while that album featured nearly all of their big hits, Steeltown was a tougher sell.
Though regarded in some quarters as something of a masterpiece, it lacked the instant appeal of its predecessor, and is very much a product of it time, coming out in 1984 when the Miners strike and rising unemployment in the UK’s industrial heartlands resulted in a wave of social consciousness from the more serious pop and indie acts of the day.
Since The Crossing tour there had been further changes with longtime bassist Tony Butler leaving along with Mike Peters devoting himself to The Alarm. The material therefore was in the hands of new boy Simon Hough, who is a real discovery coming closer to the vocal phrasing of the late Stuart Adamson than anyone dare expect. Hopefully in time he will not need the prompt of what looked like an iPad in front of him.
At this ornate midsized venue that really should see more live rock action, they played the whole of side one of Steeltown back to back, beginning with a nifty bass intro from former Simple Mind Derek Forbes into ‘Flame Of The West’, though it was a rather tentative start with the father and son guitar duo of Bruce and Jamie Watson very low in the mix.
‘East Of Eden’ was a bit lacklustre but the title track saw the first appearance of pogo-ing at the front, a great tradition of my youth that seems to be dying out as people choose other ways to experience live music, whether tweeting or capturing grainy phone footage.
‘Where The Rose Is Sown’ as always was a highlight with the two guitars brilliantly intertwining on the closing solo, and Simon did the elegiac ‘Come Back To Me’ proud. Bruce is now very much the compere which he does with a dry wit – though his and Derek’s prison issue boiler suits were a bizarre fashion choice – jesting that they were now turning the record over.
Steeltown for my money was a patchy album and a couple of songs dragged but the celtic flavoured ‘The Raindance’ echoed the first album, and ‘The Great Divide’ grew on me before I was roaring along to ‘Just A Shadow’, one of Stuart’s finest moments on the human cost of unemployment, with a great solo from Bruce.
Bruce then joked they were about to do the whole of third album The Seer, but the second half was in fact a truncated greatest hits beginning with ‘Harvest Home’, and the wave upon wave of jig-like celtic-flavoured guitar came as an uproarious contrast to the darker tones of the Steeltown material.
After the surprise of the night in ‘River Of Hope’ and the timeless ‘Look Away’, even before Simon had the opportunity to start singing the faithful were leading the chorus to ‘Chance’.
After Bruce introduced the band and acknowledged that many of the faces had changed but the music would always remain, I found myself swept forward into a heaving mass of middle aged men, many in check shirts, jumping around to a trio of classic hits with the trademark BC sound in ‘In A Big Country’, ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Fields Of Fire’, as if it were 1983 all over again. The same went for the solitary encore of another debut album favourite in ‘Inwards’.
It was noticeable that whereas the previous shows with Mike Peters were very much a tribute to Stuart Adamson’s life and work, this night had a much lighter feel with fewer references and the band having fun on stage with Jamie very much acting as the class joker.
Nevertheless it was still an excellent night out and a reminder – whether in full album format or otherwise – of the passionate songs he left us with and that the current band are doing that legacy proud.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).
Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)
Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)
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