Monday 13 November 2023

Big Country - Harlington Centre, Fleet - 10th November 2023

Big Country seem to play the Harlington Centre in my home town of Fleet quite often, so I finally decided it was time to go and see them this year.

I knew that Stuart Adamson, their original singer, had died tragically in the early 2000s, but I didn't know much else about the band except a few hits.

After booking the tickets, I bought a copy of their greatest hits album, so knew a few more songs.

Doors opened at 7:30 and at 8:00 a man with a plugged in acoustic guitar appeared on stage.

He introduced himself as Billy Liberator (for some reason, I keep thinking he said he was Billy Whirlwind!) and played a few of his own songs. They sounded OK and he told us how happy he was to play Fleet and to support Big Country and he got a polite applause for each of his songs.

I felt he could probably do with getting a band to back him or focus on songwriting, as the songs sounded decent musically and OK lyrically, but it was all a bit flat and he wasn't terribly charismatic.

Overall, though, not a terrible support act, but not one that made the evening.

He was on for about half an hour and then, at 9 sharp, a man in a Fidel Castro cap appeared and sat at the drums as a video of a thunder storm played on a video screen behind the drum kit.

By now the hall was pretty much full and most people cheered him loudly (I didn't realise, but he is one of two founder members still with the band and, of all things, English!).

He started drumming and 4 more men appeared. From left to right across the stage, they were a youngish, bespectacled man with a beard and a guitar (Jamie Watson), a lanky, bit fit looking, 60-ish chap, also with a guitar, a chunkier man of a similar age, with spiky hair, not unlike 1980s style Rod Stewart, with an acoustic guitar and finally a slightly younger looking fellow with a bass guitar (Gill Allan).

They quickly broke into a song that I vaguely knew, but the sound was loud and energetic.

Possibly a bit too loud as Simon Hough (the chap with the Rod Stewart haircut) 'blew up' his monitor!

To be honest, I think this hampered the gig a bit, as the vocals were always a bit lost amidst the guitars.

The lanky chap introduced himself as Bruce Watson in the expected Scottish accent after the first song. He is, along with the drummer, the remaining founder member of the band.

They obviously pride themselves on their guitar work, but the thing I noticed was that the distinct 'bagpipe' sound they achieved on records was only partly replicated live.

This site explains how they did that on record, but they managed a reasonable facsimile and the songs I knew didn't sound dramatically different live.

I recognised and enjoyed the second song as the song I thought was called "Walk Away", but is actually "Look Away"!

A few other songs followed that I didn't know. They were similar in sound, but well played and distinctly 'Big Country' in that respect and most of the audience cheered them loudly.

'Steeltown' was another I know, and 'Ships' was a slightly slower track, before a few more tracks I was less familiar with until we got to the final 'hits', which included 'In a Big Country', 'Wonderland' and finished on 'Fields of Fire'.

They came back quickly for the predictable encore, which was a track I didn't know and then Mark Brzezicki (the drummer) came forward and in a very home counties accent explained how he was heading home to Slough and that Fleet was a favourite venue of his because it was his local one!

He introduced all the band members again (Bruce had done this earlier, more or less, too) and then said they missed Stuart Adamson and then they were gone.

I suspect they were out at the merch stand (a lot of people had tour T-Shirts on during the gig), but I was out to my car by then.

I'd enjoyed the gig, but it wasn't one of the best I'd been to.

They were energetic and certainly played well, but the vocals were a bit lost in the mix and, not being a hardcore fan, a lot of the songs sounded very similar without the benefit of being familiar.

However, for the modest price I paid for the ticket and being right on my doorstep, I was happy and with 2 of 4 original members in the band, they're more 'original' than many of the '80s bands touring today.

If you liked Big Country a bit in period, they're still worth a listen today!

Setlist (from numerous gigs on the same tour)
1000 Stars
Look Away
Close Action
Lost Patrol
The Storm
Just a Shadow
Harvest Home
In a Big Country
Fields of Fire

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