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Arts & Music

Big Country living on after death of leader


Published:   |   Updated: August 29, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Some rock star deaths aren't surprising.

Fans weren't completely taken aback when Kurt Cobain, who already tried and failed to kill himself, took his life 19 years ago.

The same goes for the troubled Amy Winehouse, who was clearly on a downward spiral when she passed away in 2010.

And then there's Stuart Adamson.

The leader of Big Country was a lighthearted, easygoing Scotsman who was friendly with the media and accommodating with followers. The laid-back ardent music fan seemed to have a great zest for life.

Adamson, who committed suicide at 43 in 2001, had many sides.

He was an exceptional singer-songwriter, one iconic British DJ John Peel called “Britain's answer to Jimi Hendrix.”

He was also a baseball fan, who took to the motley Philadelphia Phillies' 1993 club.

“Do me a favor and make a sign that says, 'Hi, Stuart, in Scotland,' when you're there because I'll be watching the games,” Adamson said during a chat just before the '93 World Series commenced. “I would love to see that when the Phillies play.”

When Adamson died, so apparently did the anthemic, atmospheric and inspired Big Country songs.

At Adamson's funeral, The Edge eulogized: “Adamson wrote the songs that U2 wish that they could write.”

It was a fitting end for Adamson, who didn't get enough credit while he was alive.

But his death was not the end of Big Country.

The group's material, which features a guitar-driven sound and tips its cap to the sound of bagpipes and fiddles, resurfaced in 2007.

In doing so, guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler, who took over on vocals, and drummer Mark Brzezicki marked the 25th anniversary of the band.

“It felt really good to do it again,” Watson said.

It apparently still feels good since Big Country, which will perform tonight at the State Theatre, is back with Watson and Brzezicki — but without Butler.

Vocalist Mike Peters of The Alarm fame, guitarist Jamie Watson (Bruce Watson's son) and bassist Derek Forbes are also part of the band.

Big Country released its first single in a dozen years — the aptly titled “Another Country.”

“We're focusing on the band as permanent,” Watson said.

He has the right attitude. When describing Big Country circa 2013, he says: “It's a new band, with the same name.”

It's different without Adamson, but Peters is the most inspired choice as vocalist. While performing at a recent gig. the charismatic Peters connected with the audience like he did during his Alarm days. Peters, while playing with a broad smile, continues to exude warmth, belting out songs in his familiar passionate manner. His new band mates played with precision while delivering hits such as “Fields of Fire” and “Look Away,” as well as the aforementioned “Another Country.”

A generation ago, it was U2, Big Country and The Alarm as the U.K.'s next great troika. The bands were compared to each other since each crafted flag-waving numbers. The three groups also toured together during the early '80s.

“The first person that came through my mind as the singer was Mike Peters when we talked about doing this again,” Watson said. “He fits perfectly.”

“The Journey,” the band's first album in 14 years, sounds like Big Country except it lacks the quirkiness and humor Adamson tossed into the band's sonic mix.

The new songs reflect Peters, who is an earnest frontman. But he does a nice job resurrecting the vintage Big Country material.

That helps keep Adamson's music alive: “I've always loved the band,” Adamson said in that 1993 interview. “The fans keep coming out for the music.”

That was true years ago, and the band's faithful still comes out to support a group that developed its own sound, which remains an uncommon feat.

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