An unlikely venue for an unlikely gig.
Some gigs begin with a whirl of dry ice, lasers and a dramatic orchestral overture. Big Country gigs aren’t quite like that. For example, it’s not often that a band’s frontman walks onstage and makes an impassioned speech about the need to support the charity that can be found at the back of the venue, next to the merchandise stand. Then again, it’s not often that the frontman in question was struck down a few years ago with a potentially fatal illness. Mike Peters is thankfully in remission from leukaemia and his Love Hope Strength charity now does work in finding bone marrow donors to help fellow sufferers.
Then it’s on with the usual stuff as Mike leads the rest of the band onstage to the strains of Flower of Scotland and into one of their old numbers, Harvest Home. From then on there’s a sea of bouncing bodies, singalong choruses and the swirling guitar work that made Big Country famous.
At one point I did idly wonder whether you get more “One-two-three-FOUR!”s from this band’s gigs than even the Ramones as Peters & co danced around the River Rooms stage in the time-honoured fashion. Old songs, songs from the new album The Journey and the occasional instrumental piece all fused together in an affirmation of the power of loud guitars and undying spirit. Mike stopped short of calling Stourbridge the rock’n’roll capital of the world but if there was any other way of getting the sold-out crowd onside, he used it. The room is more used to club nights and tribute acts; the stage seems to take up about a quarter of the total space. It’s an odd place to see a band who have been together for thirty years and performed in stadiums around the world but that’s the point of this tour – go to the people who might not otherwise get the chance.
There were more new songs than you might expect from a band with such a lengthy back catalogue and although they went down well enough it was the old favourites that captured the attention of an audience who have all probably seen the band in bigger venues than the River Rooms but never seen them give less than everything.
Into the home straight and the set proper finishes with the band’s latest single release, Another Country, which has rightly been described as a return to form, Wonderland and the inevitable Fields of Fire. It’s clocked in at less than an hour, which might sound a bit miserly but nobody seemed to particularly mind. Encores included the Skidsy Last Ship Sails and the even more inevitable In a Big Country. Then, more unusual events as each member of the band takes to the mic to salute a very hot and appreciative audience.
If you want to know more about Love Hope Strength, visit www.lovehopestrength.org/