With Classic Rock Through The Ages

Big Country - The Corner Hotel - Richmond, VIC - 15th June 2016

Big Country with Colin Berwick on keyboards

In what may seem like just another 80's band nostalgia tour, Big Country's first set of performances on Australian soil is in actual fact something much, much more. It's personal. Both joyful and heartbreaking at the same time. Not just for me, but for the ardent fans who have stayed true to the band for well over 30 years, and even 15 years after the tragic suicide of founder and original front man, Stuart Adamson.

This is my story, my journey.

In late 2007, I received a call at work. My uncle, much closer in age to me than my dad and therefore
more like a brother, had committed suicide. I was appointed as executor and had to travel back to the family home to deal with matters.

My uncle and I adored Big Country, almost from their beginning in the early 80's. We were together when he pulled out his first vinyl copy of The Crossing, their debut album, and it spun on the turntable for the first time. I still have that old turntable. We spun Steeltown for the first time together. My favourite in those days was always third album The Seer.

Over the years, we'd often get together over a few drinks and watch Big Country live dvd releases. He'd even become a member of The Country Club and got hold of some video and audio bootlegs and made contact with several other fans.

We talked about going over to see Big Country perform live in Kuala Lumpur around 2000/1. After all, the most recent tour had been called "The Final Fling", so we figured it might have been our last chance to see the band live. That wasn't to be. After Stuart's death, my uncle became a little morbidly obsessed and even at one time floated the idea that we travel to Hawaii to visit the hotel where Stuart had hung himself. I think I'm glad that didn't happen.

Back to 2007, and as I entered the family home I came across a kind of shrine to Stuart on a wall. Newspaper cuttings about the suicide and pictures of Stuart provided an eerie montage in a house that once so full of happy memories for me, had now become a place of horror. I turned on my uncle's plasma TV. Burned into the screen was the DVD menu of Big Country's last concert, The Final Fling. It was the last thing he ever saw.

I played Private Battlefield, one of Stuart's later songs, as my uncle's coffin was lowered. Stuart's words in that song were exactly the right thing to say.

In 2007, Big Country reformed as a 3-piece to play some 25th anniversary gigs. But my uncle was no longer able to see them. In 2011, I travelled from my current home in Tasmania to the UK (yes boys I know how long that flight was for you) to see the band with new guitarist Jamie Watson and singer Mike Peters. I had to do it for my uncle if not for myself. I wasn't disappointed. For those who said Big Country wouldn't be the same without Stuart, my thought was always....well duh! Of course not! But it's still Stuart's music and through that in itself, part of him would be there.

Because of the internet, a few Australian fans had got to know each other well in recent years and had even got together a few times for Big Country parties. Some of us travelled to the UK and/or the USA to see the band because it seemed obvious they were NEVER going to perform in Australia.

When Andy, one of Australia's most dedicated Big Country fans, contacted me to tell me they were coming to Australia in June, I didn't believe it. It hadn't been announced anywhere officially but his word was that it was indeed happening. And happen it did.

I was only able to get to the one gig, unlike John from the UK who travelled over and went to all of them including the two New Zealand shows.

The current line up consists of two original members Bruce Watson (guitar) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), with Jamie Watson on guitar and recent additions Simon Hough (vocals) and Scott Whitley (bass).

While I am no fan of youtube clips of concerts generally, the clips of Simon and Scott were enough to reassure me that this line up could be the best yet since the passing of Stuart Adamson.

Many fans met up early to catch up. It would be the first time we'd seen each other for a few years and there was a lot of catching up to do. It was such a thrill to see the faces of fans who would be seeing the band for the very first time. Even one fan who is the front man for a Melbourne-based "dark wave" band couldn't maintain his dark demeanour and was constantly beaming from ear to ear. It was, after all, Big Country who influenced him to pick up a guitar in the first place. As we progressed to the bar above the venue, we could hear the band doing their sound check. This was going to be a night to remember.

At the VIP meet and greet an announcement came through that Simon would not be there as he was unwell. What!!! I instantly worried about how that might affect his performance. When I asked Jamie and Bruce how they were doing Bruce simply looked at me and said, "I'm tired". Scott was full of smiles and Mark was his normal jovial self.

The concert itself was better than I could have hoped for. Simon initially looked like he was struggling. But these were the Melbourne fans! The fans who had performed their OWN renditions of Big Country songs on Aussie soil. I could see that our excitement and enthusiasm was infectious and Simon caught it! Most of us at the front were singing every word and as I occasionally glanced across at the first-timers I could see that they were in Big Country heaven.

Despite Bruce's fatigue, he gave 200% to his performance and before long he was drenching us with sweat. He clearly enjoys doing what he does, as does Jamie. Scott was fantastic on bass and a worthy replacement for legendary bass player Tony Butler, and more recently, Derek Forbes. What can I say about Mark Brzezicki other than his drumming is as sensational as it has always been! After all, Bruce did announce Mark as "the best drummer in the entire band!!"

I wasn't really looking behind but I knew that Aussie audiences would be a little more subdued than UK audiences. That said, the Melbourne gang gave it our all, singing and pogoing as much as our voices and ages (we're all getting on now) could handle it.

We were fortunate to have a special guest at the Melbourne show. Colin Berwick played keyboards for the band in the early 90's and is a resident of Melbourne. He was invited to the stage as "the man with the mighty organ" to play 2 tracks from his era, namely We're Not In Kansas and Ships. I believe we were fortunate in being the only show on the tour where they played Kansas, where Simon's vocals are perfect as he belts it out with abandon!

The little teasers we had from The Seer album were Look Away and Remembrance Day. I have noted, and so has everyone else, that Bruce promised to return to play the whole album for it's 30th anniversary, but "only if you're good". I promise Bruce, we'll all be good and many of us who only saw the one gig this time are planning and saving to travel with you to do a few more next time.

The four tracks that closed the show, In A Big Country, Wonderland, Fields Of Fire and Inwards (encore), were probably the best time I have ever had at a live gig, including the Big Country gigs I had seen before. The energy in the crowd was electric and the comradery of the fans in waiting so long to share these classic tunes in a live setting in Australia was unlike any other musical experience I have had.

The final words went to Mark Brzezicki, who eloquently expressed his gratitude to the fans and made sure his last words were for Stuart Adamson.

While my personal story, and indeed the story of the band, contains utter tragedy, Big Country has shown how a tragedy can be, not forgotten, but turned into joy.

I had joyful times with my uncle and I choose to remember them despite the tragedy. Big Country has chosen to do the same with the joyful music of Stuart Adamson.

Long may they continue.


The setlist was:

Harvest Home
Look Away
Where The Rose Is Sown
Just A Shadow
King Of Emotion
We're Not In Kansas (with Colin Berwick)
Remembrance Day
Ships (with Colin Berwick)
In A Big Country
Fields Of Fire



Post a Comment