80’s Celtic rockers BIG COUNTRY bring their energy infused, foot tapping vibes back to Australia & New Zealand in March 2018. As an extra treat for their fans down under they will perform their classic debut The Crossing in full, plus a Special Encore of Greatest Hits. The Crossing was a Top 20 album in Australia and Top 10 in New Zealand spawning the chart hits – In A Big Country, Fields of Fire and Chance. Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to Mark Brzezicki from the band about the upcoming tour.
Great news Big Country are coming back for another tour?
It’s going to be awesome.
Did you enjoy the first tour the band has ever played here in Australia a couple of years?
Yeah, we’re a very rare visitor over there. We were supposed to go in the early eighties, but something cropped up and the tour got cancelled. We’re not even sure what that reason was but I think we were there three years ago and it was amazing. We feel we have unfinished business there and I think the audience are very appreciative because of the fact that we’re a rare visitor and that makes it special for not only the fans, but it makes it very special for the band as well.
We’re always excited to go to places and just play in front of people that have never heard the music, as well obviously we like to please the fans that regularly come but it’s always great to get your music out to far-flung places and to a new audience, so it’s very exciting for us.
Absolutely, like even here in Adelaide??? I swear Big country gets played literally almost every day on Triple M here in Adelaide, so yeah, the interest is there.
It’s very, very exciting to play there. I go back such a long way with the band I sometimes don’t appreciate the fact that the band is still being heard of in all these far-flung places. Unless I go there and I witness the audience coming, it’s always a big thrill for me to see the fact that your music has actually transcended that far. To say that it’s being played on the radio most days is a real thrill for me to hear that. It’s really very, very encouraging. It’s very heart warming.
Must be so very pleasing to see the generational shift as well with the people that were interested in the band back in the day are now bringing their kids and they’re kids are bringing their kids?
That’s it. We do see that at the shows over here. It’s another generation. There’s a lot of people playing in bands these days, everyone’s in a band. It was less common when I was staring out. But lots of people come to check us out anyway, because we’re a really good band, we know how to play our instruments and we always put on a great show. Big Country’s got such a good heritage of music and a vast catalogue to pull from, particularly if someone knows the songs and they’ve never heard it live. It can be quite emotional not only for the band but particularly for the audience.
I know when we played in Australia last time, certain songs were bringing people quite close to tears, I was quite moved by the reaction because the lyrics were resonating with them, Stuart’s wonderful lyrics, and the fact that it’s never going to be the same band without Stuart and even I’d say without Tony but it’s the closest you’re going to get in 2018 to seeing us. We’ve got the drums, they’re original with myself playing them and the guitar sounds is complete what with Jamie Watson playing Stuart’s parts along with his dad who’s an original member.
So the stock sound’s there and the vocalist Simon Hough does a really fabulous job. He doesn’t try to sound like Stuart, he sings it his own way but he’s got a timber in his voice that’s very affable to singing Stuart’s songs and Scott Whitney’s playing amazing bass so it’s going to be a great show. We’ve put a lot of energy into the songs and I think we’re going to be playing a lot of songs from The Crossing album, our first album that we’ve never really played live out there. So that’s going to be a thrill for us to play them again, particularly to an audience who’s not heard it live.
Playing The Crossing in full is a huge treat for Australian fans, but it must be such a huge buzz, like you already said, seeing what those songs mean to so many different people and their reactions must be the most rewarding part of playing?
It is very rewarding. You know the playing’s one thing, but it is extremely rewarding to see how our music can still move people. As times moved on we’ve been a band for a long time and it’s a whole journey that’s happened and for us to go out there and still move people and get people excited about coming out there is very special. I don’t take it for granted, I fully appreciate what’s going on and I get excited for that alone, the fact that they’re a very appreciative crowd out there and it’s a real buzz for us because we play like it’s our first gig, we’re not complacent; every gig is as important as any other gig. The audience is very special for us in Australia and New Zealand.
With the album coming out nearly 35 years old has there ever been any plans to possibly re-release it here in Australia because I know some of the back issues are kind of almost pretty difficult to find here?
No, it’s not something I get involved in but I know it was re-mastered a few years back from the original Crossing and it came out on CD. That should still be able to be obtained from some sources. The fact that you’re talking to me about it now maybe it’s something we should do and I’d often never given it a thought. To play The Crossing it’s going to be very special. We’ve hardly played it. We played it in the early days and then as the other albums followed, the other albums we ended leap-frogging each album and then creating a kind of a collage of songs to go across the vast catalogue that we have. So to do The Crossing particularly focusing on that is going to be very special. I’m okay on how it goes but it’s still a learning curve for certain musicians because we haven’t played it for so long. It’s going to be very exciting, looking forward to it.
So what memories stand out strongly from you from that time that The Crossing came out back in 1983?
I think it was because there was nothing like us around at the time. It was a very keyboard-led, the charts are very keyboard led at that time and there were some great songs written in the eighties I must say. We do the revival festivals and some of the bands there are absolutely brilliant, and their songs still stand the test of time, but there wasn’t many bands, other than, we were in our own little club. We used to talk about it. There was U2 that were leading the charge, with endemic arousing guitar music, which is kind of what we were part of. There was The Alarm, Simple Minds, Big Country and U2. They were kind of the stand-alone bands in that genre. It was a very exciting time to do something very new and fresh, I must admit, when I recorded The Crossing down at RAK Studios back in the day, with Steve Lillywhite, he had such a great pedigree and he was a wonderful producer, he was really, really great at working with musicians he would get the best out of you.
I wasn’t sure how the music would be received, because it didn’t sound commercial at all to me and I thought it sounds so different to anything else I didn’t even know if it would even fit live because it had the, as it was nicknamed, the bagpipe/guitar sound and a sort of military drum approach and a very ambient drum sound and the big whallop and the landscape music, I wasn’t really sure how it would be received, and when it flew it went all around the globe and it was a really big album for us really around the world, it really broke the band. That really did knock me sideways.
In fact, we were on a whirlwind with that, it just carried on because the second album went to number one in the UK, Steeltown. It was a big whirlwind for me that, I needed time to settle down. Looking back at the heady heydays as they would be called, they were incredibly special when things were new and you hear your record on the radio for the first time. That’s a huge thrill for me. From a personal viewpoint it got my name noticed as a drummer and I ended up playing with, and I still do, lots of other people on different records, so I was able to meet lots of other musicians and enjoy working with a vast variety of other musicians on many records.
I think it’s more special in hindsight because when it was happening, you get along with the job a bit like watching the light fade in the evening, and you don’t realise it’s actually getting darker, it’s so gradual. Records and the charts are not such a big deal as much as it was back in the day. A lot of recording studios have shut down. Lots of things have changed, but it was very special then when I was at a time when I was very pleased to be there at a time, the early eighties was a great place to be in a band. I always wanted to be in a successful seventies band but I thought, “Well, this is the modern times in the eighties, it’ll never happen. Also the glory days are gone,” but looking back, we had our glory days with the band and the eighties was a very special time for seeing the band explode into the marketplace just globally.
Fast-forwarding up until 2018, are you guys working on new songs?
There’s always new ideas around and we talked about this a lot. We did our new album called The Journey about four years, five years ago and as much as it was fantastic doing it, it didn’t really do much for me because it didn’t really do anything, because putting a new album out doesn’t really achieve much these days anyway. It just creates an awareness. It’s all changed, it’s all about playing live. All bands suffer from the same thing. You don’t need to sell many records at all to get yourself in the charts. The charts are so dominated by so many different things that’s not our style. More the point is, nothing really happened to the last album if I’m really honest with you. It wasn’t ground breaking. It was very personally a good album for us and it pleased a few diehard fans, but moving outside that, it wasn’t something that I thought was a priority to do in the band.
We’ve written a couple of songs and we released one actually. We released one about four years ago but we tend to be more of a heritage band not because we want to be but because when we’ve done new songs, particularly this further in our career, people really want to hear the classic stuff and we’ve got such a vast variety of catalogue that, we had a number one with Steeltown in Europe and The Crossing was a big album and The Seer was big album, Peace in Our Time was a good album; in fact we got the Australian videos out there for those songs. We’re happier just playing the songs that we know people really want to hear than some more obscure stuff as we’re doing and celebrating the anniversaries of the records and we celebrated The Crossing over here, which was very successful, people loved it. We thought it would be great to do that in Australia for people who have been starved of hearing the band. Last thing they want us to do is go out and play a load of new stuff.
As much as some people claim to like it. People don’t really like it, is my theory. A lot of the band’s that are established, they struggle with a new album unless you’re really in the super stardom era, if you’re in with U2 or Muse, or something like that when you’re on our level now, it’s a lot of work with a little result to be honest.
This is not really a perfect analogy, but I remember we did The Glass Spider tour supporting David Bowie back in the day and that was a thrill for us to play with David Bowie, he was an amazing guy and an amazing musician, amazing songwriter. But his tour didn’t do very well because most people were shocked that he didn’t play hardly any of the hits. He pretty much played that new album on that Glass Spider tour back to back and it didn’t go down very well. I know personally because I knew David Bowie. He didn’t enjoy that tour at all. That was a little lesson learned by everyone at that time, from promoters, to bands, to musicians: to be careful about new stuff and just playing new stuff, especially when you have a catalogue of hits, and a vast catalogue of music. There are new bands that don’t have that kind of history that they would have to be relying on new music, because that’s what they’re paving the way with to create their own history with their own legacy. We do have a legacy of music and that seems to be the priority at the moment. Not to say that we won’t do any of the new album, but right now the idea is to celebrate the songs that we do already.
I will say it’s not the fact that we’re not going to do our new album. We’re not writing ourselves off. It’s just that as we sit right now and talk to you there’s no actual plan, that’s not to say that things may not change, may change. It’s, never say never!
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Big Country on the following dates…