For Big Country, their 1983 album ‘The Crossing’ is the gift that keeps on giving. It catapulted them to fame, established their trademark sound and to this day contains most of their best loved songs. Shortly after reforming at the start of this decade, the line-up fronted by the Alarm’s Mike Peters played it in its entirety, and now the current version of the band have been touring to mark its (gulp!) 35th anniversary.
The London date was at Under The Bridge, in the grounds of Chelsea FC, which appears to have become a regular haunt of theirs. Setting aside any reservations about being funded by Roman’s roubles, despite its small size it has become one of my favourite London venues with an excellent stage lighting and sound, urbane staff and the feel of an upscale nightclub.
After a decent support act in Suburban Symphony, BC fanatics were crowded around the stage, as the band opened with ‘1000 Stars’, a fairly subdued choice of opener, but when Bruce Watson said they were going to go back to 1986, introducing a lively ‘Look Away’, it was swiftly apparent they would be interweaving ‘The Crossing’ into the set as a whole rather than playing in one chunk, and it was followed by ‘King of Emotion’, a fine song in my book but whose lukewarm reception here was a reminder that by that stage many original fans felt they had become too mainstream.
As well as being the principal lead guitarist these days, Bruce was very much the frontman with his mordant wit, much of it aimed at son and guitar partner Jamie, not least as singer Simon Hough – who does a really good job capturing the much-missed Stuart Adamson’s vocal inflexions – was saving his voice after a bout of flu.
‘Lost Patrol’ saw a mass chanting along to the ‘we save no souls’ lyric, and was followed by ‘The Storm’ but the indifferent response to ‘River of Hope’ suggested that a 30th anniversary rendition of the ‘Peace In Our Time’ album would not have been a viable business proposition.
However halfway through an epic ‘Porrohman’, a change in tempo suddenly saw a group of 50-something men break into one of the pogos that seem to be dying out from my youth, but remain very much a tradition of Big Country gigs, and more and more bodies were piling in to the strains of ‘Harvest Home’s cascading rhythms.
After a brief dip in the pace with a lighthearted snatch of fellow Scots the Proclaimers ‘500 miles’ and mass swaying of arms to ‘Close Action’, ‘Inwards’ had a similar effect.
Simon then warned people they were needed to sing along and indeed on the ever brilliant ballad ‘Chance’ the crowd took over large parts of the song, before Bruce’s choppy guitar rhythms led into another anthem in ‘Wonderland’, then the already boiling atmosphere reached fever pitch with ‘Fields Of Fire’ and the front was a mass of bodies in increasingly sweat soaked check shirts, your correspondent included, leaping and bumping into each other.
This was perhaps not what this plush and barrier-free venue was used to and a smartly suited bouncer tried to intervene but was like Canute trying to stem the tide. Undeterred, and with the band asking fans to be careful, he faced a similarly uphill struggle trying to contain this mad wave of enthusiasm during the inevitable encore of ‘In A Big Country’, ending a set that was on the short side at an hour and 20 minutes.
I had found it rather odd that Stuart Adamson had not been mentioned all evening but as they went off stage and drummer Mark Brzezicki thanked the fans, he said that the set every night was dedicated to his memory. Big Country’s creative inspiration may no longer be with us, but his musical legacy lives 35 years on and the current line up guarantee an enjoyable night.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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