I don’t like missing support bands but when we arrived at Fibbers tonight We Could Be Astronauts were just announcing the last song of the set. Admittedly we had dallied over our pre-gig drinks but there has been an increasing tendency recently for bands to start before the 8:00 PM start time shown on Fibbers’ tickets, so I’m not taking full responsibility. Still in a state of incredulity that we had missed 90% of the set, I didn’t catch the title of said song but its slow, Southern Rock opening brought to mind a slightly heavier Lynyrd Skynyrd, before it morphed into something more unique mid-way through. It might have been just the one song but it was performed in the usual slick, if vaguely over the top manner.
We made sure we were back in plenty of time after a between-bands drink and a good job it was too. It may seem as though the music lovers of York don’t like to take a chance on new bands when they play here but give them icons from the past and they turn out in their droves. And Big Country, even with just two members from the best known line-up (bassist Tony Butler having retired last year), are definitely icons. I saw them twice back in their heyday. During one of those gigs, at the Town And Country Club in Leeds, the late, great Stuart Adamson touched my arm and I have been known to tell people that I haven’t washed it since.
Bruce Watson (guitar) and Mark Brzezicki (drums) are joined by Jamie Watson (Bruce’s son, guitar), Derek Forbes (ex-Simple Minds, bass) and another icon, Mike Peters (The Alarm, vocals and guitar) and they take to the stage to a backdrop of stereotypical Scottish music and huge applause from the audience before launching their set with Harvest Home. To start with, there is little, if any, chatter between tracks as new song Return, so typical of the band’s unique style that I didn’t realise it had only been released this year, was followed by 1000 Stars. Just before The Journey, the title track of this year’s album, Peters acknowledged Bruce Watson’s contribution to band, naming him “Keeper of the Spirit”. By now the mosh-pit was in full bounce and included a couple of ex-workmates, at least one who had been with me at the previous gigs (and who has seemed to hang on to his gig-going youthfulness longer than I have). In A Broken Promised Land and Look Away saw Peters shaking every hand proffered from the crowd and much of the audience singing, bouncing and clapping along. A short, almost cacophonous instrumental section leads into a song I don’t recognise. My notes include the lyric “place in the sun” and the fact that I sounds more like Simple Minds than Big Country. Could it be a version of the former’s Face In The Sun? Not according to set lists from other gigs on the tour, which say Home Of The Brave, but that doesn’t include any line about the sun…
Each song is almost instantly recognised by the audience and it’s back to familiarity for me with Chance before Another Country, another song from the new album. By this time the elder Watson is clearly enjoying himself, his grin practically splitting his face in two. Two of the band’s biggest and most recognisable hits, Wonderland and Fields Of Fire draw the set to an end a fair bit earlier than one of our party had been led to believe. Of course, there is the inevitable encore, with Brzezicki back on stage first for a short, trademark solo before the rest of the band take their places for Inwards. The new album is plundered once more for Last Ship Sails, which sees Peters dancing around energetically, then the opening bars of In A Big Country sees the audience erupt in a frenzy. At the end of the song, each band member takes the microphone to thank the audience for their support, with Peters dedicating his performance to Stuart Adamson, whose legacy has been treated with respect by the entire set. There is no disputing that Peters was paying tribute to Adamson rather than trying to imitate or replace him (something I doubt most of the fan base would allow, anyway), while still being a formidable frontman in his own right
Since the end of this tour, it has been announced that Big Country and Mike Peters have parted company, with the band continuing with as a four-piece, as envisaged by Adamson.