Dave Woodhall speaks to Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson.
Few bands have seen as many ups and downs in their careers as Big Country. From filling NEC-sized arenas at their peak to the tragic death of frontman Stuart Adamson in 2001, they’ve suffered the slings and arrows of rock’n’roll fortune. Now with the Alarm’s Mike Peters – himself a veteran of many experiences both on and off stage – facing the task of stepping into Adamson’s shoes they released an album, The Journey, in April and since then have been touring solidly. We spoke to founder member and guitarist Bruce Watson ahead of another gig, this time in Swansea.
“We’re getting towards the end. We’ve been touring The Journey for six months now, we’ve been on the road since October in the UK, and before that we did three months in America. It’s going great.”
The cities you’re playing – places like Rugby, Doncaster and Grimsby – aren’t usually on a touring band’s itinerary.
“We decided it because of the contribution that we’d had from all these far-flung places that bands don’t usually go to and we thought we should do a Lands End to John o’Groats type tour. We started off up in the Shetland Islands and then we went down to the coast in Cornwall, all those smaller places. The Shetlands for example. Bands hardly ever play there so just the fact that we were playing was appreciated by everyone.”
And you did the same in America?
“It was great. Again, every state we played was different, sometimes we’d be playing in a big venue and the next was in a bar. It makes it more interesting so you don’t get the same thing every day.”
Big Country started out over thirty years ago and the music is still popular. How do you see your relevance now?
“Stuart and I started writing together in 1981 and yes, people seem to still go for it. We’re also building up a new generation. We’re starting to see some new and younger faces coming along to the gigs. It’s obvious that the YouTube generation is helping, they’re seeing what their mums and dads are playing and they like it so they’re coming along to see it as well.
“The industry’s changed so much nowadays, especially the internet helps people to do their research. You’re not having to go into shops for old records, I wish there were more record shops where you could go in and buy vinyl but that’s the way it is nowadays. It’s incredible how much is out there.”
Big Country’s music has always been about hope and strength. That must have helped you during the difficult times.
“Definitely. Stuart’s lyrics were always open to interpretation and there’s truth in that as well. It’s just wonderful that you can hear whatever you like in them. We weren’t the only band in that position, loads of other musicians were doing the same and in the same boat as us. Russell (Webb) and I got asked by Richard Jobson to do a thirtieth anniversary for the Skids and we got asked that if we could do that why couldn’t we do a Big Country anniversary. So we thought ‘why not?’ and went ahead and did it.”
If that which doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger then after everything that the members of the band have gone though, Big Country must be the strongest band in the word.
“We’ve had a lot of extreme highs and extreme lows but we’re not the only band who have gone through that. I don’t think you’ll find a band apart from U2 that’s been together 35 years with the same line–up.”
You’ve now got Mike Peters singing with you. Mike. You’ll never find a greater exponent of rock music evangelism, of decency and passion for his art. If that counted for anything Mike would be up there with Mick Jagger.
“Well, that’s just how it works out isn’t it? That’s just how it comes about.”
Mike’s arrival must have boosted the band though, taken them in another direction.
“Everyone in this band, Derek Forbes a swell, who used to be with Simple Minds, Mark Brzezicki and my son Jamie, we’ve got the kind of chemistry that works, the same sort as when Stuart and Tony Butler were in the band. I can write songs with certain people but there’s some I can’t write songs with. It’s one of those things. It’s a kind of happy accident, we met out in the thirtieth anniversary and we discovered we could write songs together and there was a real edge there. We were soundchecking and rehearsing, we started playing these things and that’s how the album came about.”
You must get asked this question all the time, but what do the long-term fans of the band think of the new line-up? Have they accepted Mike?
“Most are fine. Some don’t want to know but that’s down to them. Every time there’s a change you have to give it a chance and you have to say ‘Is it for me or not?’ Then if it’s not for you, you move on to something else.”
How long can you see the band continuing? Will there ever come a time when you say “Okay, that’s it – journey’s end.’?
“I don’t know. We’re looking towards next year, Mike’s off to so his other stuff and he’ll have an album out so we’re not exactly seeing what we’re doing next year. But as long as we can still write songs, we’ll still have four members of the band who are going to be working together.”
Big Country play the River Rooms, Stourbridge, on Wednesday 6th November. http://www.theriverrooms.com/