Big Country @ Birmingham Academy, 7th January 2011


Thunderclap Newman captured the late 60s zeitgeist to perfection with their monster (and only) hit single ‘Something In The Air’, the band being an artistic construct guided by Pete Townsend. This evening saw Mr. Thunderclap, in smart suit and dapper homburg, playing bierkeller keyboards and some decidedly odd (Captain Beefheart?) clarinet flourishes.


It seemed to be a combination of Beatles’ Mystery Tour derivatives and template rock n’rollers that moved in to The Who territory. ‘That’s The Way It Is’ with its power chord dynamic erring familiarly close to ‘I Can’t Explain’. The closer, ‘Armenia, City in the Sky’ was an interesting, if not surprising, choice taken from the album, ‘The Who Sell Out’, their jingle-laden satirical swipe at commercialism. Sadly, the original’s visionary mood felt compromised by a lackluster, plodding beat that somewhat sanitised Townsend’s visceral mysticism. The crowd received them politely but hearts and minds were elsewhere.


Stage setlist: I See It All, Accidents, Wild Country, The Old Cornmill, I Don’t Know, Old Fashioned Girl, That’s The Way It Is, Something In The Air, Look Around, Armenia, City In The Sky.

The atmosphere was electric at the Academy tonight, some of it the anticipatory expectation of seeing a long loved band but equally, the static generated from the many check/plaid shirts rubbing against each other at the bar. There were even pig-tailed young ladies wearing said shirts holding misty eyed parents’ hands. Clearly, this wasn’t just a gig but an event.


The check shirt is a Big Country tartan talisman worn in celebration of co-founder, Stuart Adamson. Adamson is rightly hailed, along with original guitarist, Bruce Watson, for creating the unique, twin guitar tandem bagpipe motif born of his native Ancient Borough of Fife. They were labeled as electric Scottish Folk with a tattoo martial swagger or, more mischievously, if not less imaginatively, football terrace Jock rockers evoking memories of compatriots Nazareth and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The terrace analogy is apposite because throughout the evening the faithful did as much singing, often in spontaneous outpouring between numbers, as did guest singer, ex-Alarm, Mike Peters. From the outset there were some fans who, understandably, approached this gig regarding Peters as a usurper wearing a hollow crown, walking a precarious tightrope in a revered dead man’s shoes. However, his beaming grin, BC logo T shirt and ubiquitous check top, not to mention an alarming blond barnet, soon had the crowd on his side.


He parried the ‘Stuart/Staurt/Stuart’ chants in well-meaning good spirit. And it was a measure of his immense pride and gratitude in being asked to celebrate Adamson’s legacy that he took pains throughout the evening to pay due tribute to him and the importance of the tour to the original band members and families. The clincher that won over any remaining doubters was the dedication, ‘Stuart would be proud of you all. You just can’t know how much he would’ve appreciate you being here tonight.’ Well, didn’t they just.

With a Highlands scenic backdrop of Clearances derelict homesteads, the band kick-drum, thundered and bulldozer bagpipe guitar introed with ‘1000 Stars’. The original drum/bass power combo of Tony Butler/Mark Brzezicki provided an avalanche of pounding rhythm on to which, Bruce Watson, and other guest member, a youthful and somewhat gobsmacked, guitarist, Jamie Watson, complimented with high octane double-axe anthems. ‘Harvest House’ saw the crowd approximate a pogo/jig/reel ceiligh mayhem. And on it went: a chainsaw massage of happy memories and communal celebration.

Introducing ‘Porrohman’, Peters read an extract from the eponymous H.G.Wells short story that Adamson and the band loved and identified with. The song was principally an instrumental with subtle flavours of full throttle Concorde doing a handbrake turn in a china shop. As for ‘Fields of Fire’, well, imagine a sip or two of electric soup, hugging your besh mates ever and sticking your heads into a industrial blender. Did Peters reference a snippet of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’? If so, the Thin Lizzy association was appreciated.

First encore saw ‘Chance’ turn into an extended singalong chorus lament with the refrain, ‘Oh Lord where did the feeling go/ Oh Lord I never felt so low.’ Uplifting, but edged with poignancy.

Encore 2 featured ‘Restless Natives/In A Big Country.’ The band took a collective bow utterly bowled over by Brummie bonhomie. Any final words Bruce Watson? ‘That was absolutely fucking brilliant!’ Indeed it was Bruce, indeed it was. And for nearly two hours and even later on, many hearts were in a better place for it. ‘Do you believe in rock ’n roll/Can music save your mortal soul?’ The Big Country congregation would reply resoundingly: yes we do, because it does. This was a very special gig. The Big Country blog was buzzing with post-gig accolades even before this review was about to be written. It was a miracle of rare device and a joy formidable.


Stage setlist: 1000 Stars, Harvest Home, Driving to Damascus, The Teacher, Just a Shadow, Look Away, Porrohman, Inwards, East of Eden, Steeltown, Wonderland, Fields of Fire/- Lost Patrol, Chance/- Restless Natives, In a Big Country (The Storm, Ships, Fragile Thing).

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Ian Dunn

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