Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Live | 19 December 1987 | Photo: Mike Morton


The Astoria, London

Knees up for the misty mountain hop. Reel and skip. Jig and jump on the spot. Country dancing.

Big Country have always had the culpable capacity to inspire a bit of a bop. Nothing too complicated, mind. A sort of bloated "Hokey Cokey" – something in, something out, oodles of dramatic swells that go one-two-three-four, a "hey!", and a couple of additional beats thrown in to shove the point home. There. 

They have achieved much through their consistency. It's largely to do with Stuart Adamson's crafty guitar graft, the twiddles and twaddle most clearly heard in "The Seer", in the upraised banners of the rhythms and the rhymes that so often encompass the savage beauty of the elements. Turn on the radio, drop anywhere into any Big Country song, and there's no need for the DJ to start frothing at the mouth when it's over. You know. Fine. 

Fine. But over the heady, heroic course of a whole evening, the whole effect is wearisome. Concentration frays at every available edge, the leg pounds far faster than it is supposed to, fatigue has to be physically fought. Which is boring. Very. After a long time – and not too long a time – all that is left is the listing, lumbering momentum and a string of out-of-puff memories. 

The ones born bravely out of deprivations ("Steeltown" and "Chance"), those that strike a path less personal, more aggrandised ("In A Big Country"), and "Look Away and "Fields Of Fire", the latter incorporating a snippet of Greg Lake's dying Christmas breath, each revered revelry is here. So too are a batch of newly hatched songs, all given long-winded explanatory introductions, most of which seem to explore themes and sentiments worked to a pulp already. "Peace In Our Time" is the only one that stands out and that's simply because the key words are repeated again and again. 

There's the continuous swapping of guitars, the bursts of acceleration, the rush around the stage (with Bruce Watson rather slow on the uptake), a pudgy Tony Butler oblivious to it all, and Adamson still intent on doing his best Foghorn Leghorn impersonation. There's the thanks and ingratiating remarks and a shaking of hands and their numbing version of "Honky Tonk Woman". And there's the perpetual question, sustained throughout. Just how much longer can it go on?

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