In the early 1980s, a pair of earnest, rousing rock’n’roll bands emerged from Scotland and Northern Ireland, sharing an affinity for air-raid riffs, martial rhythms and socially conscious lyrics. Today, one is unfairly regarded as a one-hit wonder. The other is U2.
Big Country — who play Seattle’s El Corazon club Monday — never duplicated the Stateside success of its immigrant anthem “In a Big Country,” from 1983’s The Crossing. Still, the working-class foursome continued to tour and record through two full decades.
Often remembered for their tartan garb and bagpipe-like guitar tones, Big Country’s aesthetic and sound clashed with surrounding trends — New Wave in the ‘80s, then grunge in the ‘90s — but the Scottish rockers nonetheless developed a niche as a top-tier opener, supporting The Who, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
Although passionate anti-war hymns like 1984’s “Where the Rose is Sown” and 1988’s “Peace in Our Time” never lost their urgency, behind the scenes frontman Stuart Adamson was fighting his own battle, against alcohol, which took his life in 2001.
The singer-guitarist once said that if time proved “In a Big Country” his everlasting legacy, he’d be “pretty happy with that.” Not content to let the group’s story end on a sad note, however, Adamson’s surviving bandmates are back on the road with a new singer — Welshman Mike Peters of ‘80s peers The Alarm — and a new record, The Journey, their first in 14 years.
Re-forming a band after the death of its lead singer inevitably raises concerns — and often hackles — but The Journey is no cash-grab. While the 12-song album doesn’t break new ground, it also isn’t dated, warranting a place not far from The Crossing, which turns 30 this year, and its hyper-political follow-up, 1984’s Steeltown.
At Adamson’s memorial, U2 guitarist The Edge delivered the eulogy, remarking that Big Country “wrote the songs I wished U2 could write.”
If that endorsement doesn’t get you to Monday’s gig, perhaps it’s at least enough to justify checking the cutout bins at your local record shop for a copy of The Crossing. For fans of sincere, melodic rock music, it’s a dollar or two well-spent.
Big Country | Danny Newcomb | The Jilly Rizzo | The Halyards | Monday, 7/1 @ El Corazon, 109 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle | $20 advance | Get tickets | Show at 8 p.m. | 21+