Friday, 17 February 2012

841 BIG COUNTRY, Gun, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 15 February 2012

Barely 10 months on, one of the Comeback Kings of a particularly notable 2011 year for comebacks, namely Big Country, are treading the boards again! This time they’re celebrating an auspicious 30th Anniversary; no, not of the first time I saw them “live” (they’re 7 months away from marking that August 1982 Swindon Brunel Amphi gig), but of the release of their first album, “The Crossing”. This saw Big Country arrive fully formed, moving between dramatic balls-out rockers, touching and careworn ballads, and expansive windswept epic rock workouts, whilst firmly establishing their signature guitar-led Celtic rockist sound. More importantly, it’s an album which you can pretty much raucously sing every word to, in the company of a good friend and 1,500 or so like-minded souls. So were the Big Man and I up for a repeat of last April’s triumph? You bet’cha!

I tried to persuade my 14 year old son Evan, down visiting my parents, to join us, but he wasn’t up for seeing his dad sing embarrassingly loudly in public, so it was a slightly man-flu ridden Sheriff that The Big Man drove carefully down to the Academy, hitting the quiet-early-doors venue just as similarly-reformed Scots rockers Gun took the stage just before 8. Their set of post grungey, late-period Rolling Stones rock’n’roll collision was alright, nothing more, and was met by swathes of indifference, despite the energetic vocalist’s best efforts. Their best number, their retread of Cameo’s “Word Up”, was clumsy and lacked the original’s quirky charm. Beyond that, much like their career, Gun’s set utterly passed me by.

Took our usual stage left spots near to a very habitable stage-front (well attended, this, but by no means a sell-out), and chatted until the lights dimmed at 9, and Big Country took the stage, diving into the rousing “Angle Park”, a “B” side from back when “B” sides meant something. Mike Peters, again on hols from his Alarm day job and guesting on vocals, was the focal point of the performance, his expansive rabble-rousing gestures, obvious fandom for Big Country, and general honest bonhomie (including a nice early story of a fan who’d kept a bootleg version of “The Crossing” a secret for 30 years – until tonight!) catching both eye and ear. That said, the set really didn’t catch fire until half an hour in, when, “the journey to "The Crossing”," as Peters’ referred to it, was complete. At that point, Mark Brzezicki’s familiar drumbeats and Peters’ echoing of the words of Big Country’s founder, the late Stuart Adamson, to, “take the emotion and passion and make it live… share it, and come out screaming,” heralded the strident LP opener “In A Big Country”. Then suddenly, like a champagne cork popping, the tension was released and the place went nuts.

"In A Big Country” was a brilliant terrace sing-along, but was even topped by a frankly stunning “Inwards”, which followed a show of hands as to which album cover colour everyone owned back in the day! (Blue won – I had blue on vinyl. I've got a red CD now...). “The Crossing” was majestically delivered, all tracks featuring lengthy audience sing-alongs, every one a highlight in itself. However “Chance”, which Peters delivered standing on a chair in the middle of the mosh after being challenged to do so by some wag in the crowd (not me this time!), and the rousing epic swoops and tempo changes of the set finale “Porrohman”, which saw Peters shine a reflective light on the crowd from his guitar back, were 2 particular highlights.

An encore of Smoky Robinson’s “Tracks Of My Tears” – apparently Stuart Adamson’s favourite song – was preceded by a punter proposing to his lady (been there, done that), before finale “Wonderland” and some kinds words of tribute from bassist Tony Butler, both to ourselves in the crowd and to Stuart Adamson, drew a 2 hour (wow!) set to a close. Ultimately superb stuff, as I had expected this time, so maybe last April’s comeback show topped this one in retrospect, as it was so unexpected. Nevertheless, this was another fine footnote to the legacy of this great band, and another fine tribute to their late and sadly missed founder. Stuart, your boys – and Mike Peters – are doing you proud.

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