The journey continues for ensemble with an enduring spirit of camaraderie
At the end of each high-energy Big Country show, the band would step forward to join hands and take an exhausted theatrical bow, and the late Stuart Adamson always left the audience with the proud and bonding words "stay alive".
It's a simple phrase that takes on extra poignancy in the light of the troubled singer's suicide nearly 12 years ago. His sentiment was, of course, always about the spirit of the expression rather than its literal meaning and these days its legacy is being carried forward by two original members of the twin guitar-driven four-piece.
No attempt has been made to fill Stuart's unique shoes as singer and guitarist – it is universally acknowledged that such a feat would never be possible, such was the mark he made and the adoration he inspired among fans.
Instead guitarist Bruce Watson and celebrated drummer Mark Brzezicki have harnessed the homegrown guitar talents of Bruce's son, Jamie, and the respectful vocal interpretations of The Alarm's Mike Peters, an old friend of the band, who actually sang on stage with Stuart at Big Country's Final Fling show in 2000. Derek Forbes (ex Simple Minds) has also come into the fold to play bass, following Westcountry-dwelling Tony Butler's retirement from the group.
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"I can assure you that Stuart is there with us every night, in our thoughts, in our words, and in our hearts," says Bruce. "And now we find ourselves maybe not fully healed, but whole enough to hear the calling to continue this story. And time has made me realise that this story has always been about our fans, the love we have for our fans, and the love they have selflessly given us back."
The ensemble have just returned from three months on the road in America, and are about to set out on a UK tour that will, loosely speaking, take them from John O'Groats to Lands End.
They are mostly playing towns and theatres that they never visited in the group's 1980s heyday, and their show at Falmouth's Princess Pavilion on October 30 will be the first Big Country gig in Cornwall since they stormed the long-disappeared Cornwall Coliseum at Carlyon Bay back in 1984.
An incarnation as a three-piece with original bassist Tony Butler was brought together briefly to mark the 25th anniversary and they did perform at Exeter Phoenix, where the band are performing on October 29.
Big Country was born out of the small town of Dunfermline in Scotland following Stuart's departure from The Skids. Soon embellished by a seasoned London rhythm section, they burst into the charts with the first album The Crossing in 1983.
The LP, preceded by debut single Harvest Home, opened the doors to a uniquely rousing, melodic rock sound, with its heart as much in traditional Celtic balladry as rabble-rousing post-punk.
The distinctive singles from this long player are still part of the glue that binds the band to their loyal fanbase. Fields Of Fire, Chance and signature song In A Big Country became massive worldwide hits, selling more than two million copies and driving The Crossing to receive three prestigious Grammy nominations in the USA.
Anthemic single Wonderland and sophomore LP Steeltown – which, incidentally, knocked U2 off the number one spot – continued the trend with hit singles East Of Eden, Just a Shadow and Where The Rose Is Sown.
They continued writing, recording and releasing new material through the 80s and 90s.
"The spirit was the most important thing," says Bruce. "And it is something we certainly had for the first three albums and then it got lost a bit.
"Looking back I think it was 50 per cent our fault and 50 per cent outside forces like record labels. After a while being in a band becomes a bit like Groundhog Day.
"At first there was the excitement of doing a few shows, and then a couple of tours, then a session for John Peel and you end up on Top of the Pops," he adds. "I remember thinking that if it all finishes tomorrow, at least I have achieved that."
Records aside, the band were always prized for their rousing live performances where their incendiary creative chemistry became almost palpable. This is the kind of united powerful force that drives them today.
In April the band took a crucial leap into fresh territory by releasing their first new studio album for 14 years, appropriately titled The Journey. With fans eagerly awaiting the results, they delivered a record that has the feel of a quintessential Big Country album – with signature Celtic guitars, pounding drumbeats that are tribal in places, and thoughtful words to carry it home.
"It would have been the easy option simply to carry on playing the older stuff, and we know that people want to hear their favourite songs," explains Bruce. "But I have always enjoyed writing songs anyway and Jamie and I write together. When we were on the road with The Crossing 30th anniversary tour, we wrote about six of the songs for the new album. We would just set up an iPhone at the front of the stage during soundchecks – you don't even need a Portastudio any more."
He says they went back to the basic formula they used in the early days with all the band members working on the basic musical heart of the songs together – including Tony who was still involved at that point.
"Stuart used to then take away cassettes of the tracks to write his lyrics. Mike had never worked that way before, so he would just be in another room concentrating on the words. It worked pretty well."
A few of the newer numbers do find a place in the live set, but the bulk are the best-known and loved, as well as a core of favourite album tracks.
Bruce says the setlist will probably get swapped around from night to night as their tour bus traverses the land.
Big Country play Exeter Phoenix on October 29 and the Princess Pavilion, Falmouth on October 30.