Big Country back on the road
Gary Fitzpatrick • Published 3 Feb 2012 09:30
BIG Country 'elder stateman'' Tony Butler admits the success of the band's come-back has taken even him by surprise.
After winning a new generation of fans at last year's festivals, the band are embarking on a tour to mark the 30th anniversary of their inspirational album 'The Crossing', which will be a "last swan song" celebrating Stuart Adamson's life.
After that their focus will be on the future rather than the past and they hope to have an album of new material ready to be released in the autumn.
"Things couldn't be better," a delighted Tony told the Press. "The band have fired up big style. It's even surprised me to be honest, how good it all feels.
"I was very reticent to start off with. I've kept the wolves at bay for nearly 10 years because I personally didn't feel that the band had a place any more.
"I loved what we'd one so much in our time and I was happy to leave it there. I looked on it as very big and fantastic part of my life that I wasn't going to repeat because one of my best friends had passed away."
After giving re-union talk the cold shoulder with the exception of a fan club convention in 2006 and a brief 25th anniversary tour as a three-piece, Tony had a change of heart when they were approached to take part in a tribute concert for Kirsty MacColl.
"The BBC was putting on a concert and that was something I wouldn't say no to. Kirsty was a great friend and she was married to Steve Lillywhite our producer," said Tony.
The onerous task of filling the shoes of former front-man Stuart would eventually fall to Mike Peters, of The Alarm.
"All the suggestions that had been coming my way didn't feel right and some of the people we were contacting were a little less than forthcoming," Tony recalled.
"Then Bruce (Watson) said why don't we go with the obvious because he had played with Mike Peters in Dead Men Walking and Mike also played Big Country songs in his set."
In the event, they couldn't put it all together in time for the Kirsty concert but they pushed ahead with plans for a re-union tour in January 2011.
"We spent three days down at the Substation in Rosyth rehearsing and it was phenomenal the amount of work we got through in that short space of time."
Right at the start of 2011 they played an emotional hometown gig at the Alhambra. "That was a tough one. Before the gig we met so many people who knew Stuart and we knew members of his family were going to be there.
"It was very moving to a degree but we needed to acquit ourselves well that night. We had to put in a storming performance. The audience weren't going to let us do anything but a storming performance. It went really well and there was a sense of relief."
The other new addition to the band was Bruce's son Jamie on guitar. "For a young guy on his first tour he did really well. From the confidence that came from that tour we moved to the next one in April which was just fantastic and it cemented the band.
"The one thing that was going to make this work for me was if we were a creative unit not just a heritage unit. If we had just been that it would have dragged the band's reputation into the ground.
"It was important to me we were this creative unit and I don't think 'Another Country' [the band's first single in 12 years] was a bad start."
By the summer Big Country were back gracing the major festival circuit with appearances at the Isle of Wight, Oxegen and of course they were back home to open up T in the Park.
"The festivals were a massive test," said Tony. "When you're playing in front of an audience who don't know you because your music's too old for them to have heard. It could have been a daunting prospect but we just went out, played our stuff and by the end they were applauding us as much they did the main bands later.
"It was about re-introducing ourselves and it's strange to think that some people will only get to know Big Country without Stuart - how weird is that?"
Tony had forgotten just how big Big Country were in their '80s heyday and says no particular highlights stick out from that time.
"I've got large memories of our time together and my relationship with Stuart because as well as being in a band together we were mates and we had our times like anybody else.
"The band was all about friendship and enjoying each other's company. We never hit the celebrity trail. Stuart was a very down to earth guy as you know and he enjoyed nothing more than dragging me along to see the Pars.
"He dragged me to a lot of Scottish football matches and that's how he lived when we weren't doing the band. I miss that but then I have fantastic memories.
"Success didn't change Stuart because he didn't like it. He liked to be respected for the songs he wrote, for the way he played guitar but he always pushed me to the front when it came to the celebrity bit, interviews, all that kind of stuff.
"There were times when he really did not like the position he was in as the front-man of this band. He was far happier to be on stage, singing, making sure everybody had a good time then going home to be with his kids."
Did that pressure take its toll over the years?
"Undoubtedly. It's an incredible stress. We were eternally on the road particularly in the early days. Later on when things become a bit tougher, a bit of a struggle, you're a band that's trying to keep to its own ideals and morals.
"All of a sudden the business underneath you is changing, shifting. You try to do things to keep up to date, to keep relevant. By the end of the '90s it was very tough for the band to keep a real profile and by that time Stuart had gone to America and that didn't help."
Bassist Tony and drummer Mark Brzezicki first met Stuart when their band On the Air supported the Skids on their last tour. "The first time I saw them was in Leicester and I remember being absolutely bowled over by their power, their songs, his guitar style. "On the last night of the tour I said to Stuart maybe we'd get to work together some time."
However, it was fate rather than planning that intervened to make that a reality.
"We were thrown together when the Scottish version of Big Country were sent on tour with Alice Cooper then asked to leave after just two nights.
"The band started out with a full complement of people from Dunfermline including a keyboard player.
"The record company said 'We're interested in Stuart and Bruce but they need stronger rhythm section."
London boys Tony and Mark were quickly called in. "We turned up at the studio, did a couple of songs and bang we had a band."
Back to the present and the new-look line-up are ready to set off on their UK tour which brings them back to the Alhambra on Tuesday.
"We were asked to consider doing this next tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of 'The Crossing' which is cool because it's the album people consider to be our classic.
"It's also an opportunity to make this our last swan song for Stuart. We don't want to keep banging on about it. I think this is a fitting end tribute to us celebrating him and I want to leave it at that.
"The idea of us coming back with the 'Steeltown' tour, then 'The Seer' tour - to use your vernacular - that's a pile of s**** to me.
"That's just milking the cash cow and I'm not interested in that. I want to be in a band that makes things and has credibility.
"If we can come up with an album that reflects the group today in 2012 then that will be cool."
In fact, the band have been in the RAK recording studios in London recently working with top producer Youth. They hope to release a new album by around October and be back out touring to promote it.
In the meantime, Tony is very much looking forward to coming back to this neck of the woods. "I've spent more time in Dunfermline over the years than anywhere I think - I'm no stranger to the bars there," he laughed.
* Big Country are at the Alhambra on Tuesday. White China have been named as support.
This article appeared in Dunfermline Press 03 Feb 12