Review and photos by Rich Ward
Since reforming a couple of years ago to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their seminal debut album The Crossing with the Alarm’s Mike Peters handling vocal duties, Big Country have seemingly been on a never ending tour. Although the band took the time to release a new album of material it was probably inevitable that Mike Peters would eventually part ways to focus on his solo career. In his place is Simon Hough, which is clearly a surprise to some punters who had turned up sporting their Alarm shirts. The change, however, almost immediately seems to be for the better after the opening salvo of ‘Harvest Home’. Vocally he is similar in style to Stuart Adamson, and while Peters did a great job, his distinctive vocals always made you aware that it wasn’t quite just a Big Country gig. He also plays guitar occasionally filling out the twin guitar sound of Bruce and Jamie Watson. It will be interesting to see how Simon fits in with the band as time progresses
With Tony Butler now having retired, Bruce Watson is now clearly the spokesman for the band on stage, introducing the songs and the banter between the audience. While no longer celebrating the anniversary of The Crossing, songs from that album still feature heavily in the set, as do songs from follow up album Steeltown. Having seen the band four times now in the last few years, there is the criticism that their set is too heavily focussed on the first three albums. While undoubtedly the most commercially successful period for the band, I can’t help but feel that freshening up the set will keep the fans more interested and likely to keep coming back. To their credit they do play ‘Fragile Thing’ which is superb, ‘River Of Hope’, and the even more obscure ‘All Of Us’ to add a little variety. However, given that the band are returning later in the year to celebrate the anniversary of Steeltown, it would have been an opportunity ignore the tracks from that album tonight and maybe revisit something off the overlooked Buffalo Skinners or Why The Long Face albums instead.
The set is delivered with passion and humour. Simple Minds’ Derek Forbes handles bass duties, fully kilted, he locks down the rhythm with Mark Brzezicki who is all but hidden behind his drums. We get a small snippet of ‘Waterfront’ from Forbes which he claims was the best note he ever wrote. ‘Home Of The Brave’ with its extended bass intro proves that Big Country still have much to offer. A surprise addition is a cover of Slade’s ‘Cuz I Luv You’ which gets the Robin’s feet stomping. It takes a while, but as the set progresses, the crowd do get more animated and even a mosh pit forms at the front.
By the time of the encores of ‘Restless Natives’ and ‘Lost Patrol’, Big Country’s job is done. They have successfully rocked the Robin, and pretty much assured a healthy turnout to their return to the venue in October.