Big Country played in Motherwell as part of their celebration of hit album Steeltown‘s 30th anniversary (see our review of the night here). Consisting of original members Bruce Watson (guitar) and Mark Brzezicki (drums) alongside Bruce’s son Jamie Watson (guitar), Derek Forbes (bass) and Simon Hough (vocals), we had the opportunity to interview the rock legends before the show.
You’re here embarking on a 20th Anniversary tour of your album Steeltown. Does it feel like 20 years?
Bruce: It does for him! (nods towards son, Jamie). Well yes, it can only feel like 30 years cause it HAS been 30 years. You can’t say it’s been a quick 30 years or a slow 30 years… actually, it doesn’t really feel like 30 years.
Mark: After it goes past a certain amount of time I lose track of what time it really is. It all goes into a blur after about 5 years anyway. I mean, I’ve only ever done one gig! …. I’m joking, of course.
Steeltown was recorded at ABBA’s Polar Studios. Does that mean you met Abba?
Bruce: We only met Benny and Björn. They were working on the Chess musical so we went upstairs and I always remember Stuart and I having a wee look about. We found this cupboard, we opened the door and it was all their sparkly boots, stage clothes and a star shaped guitar. So of course, what did we do? We put them on.
Would you have considered a collaboration?
Bruce: (laughs) Nah, Stuart (Adamson) did write a song for Frida though.
Mark: I played on that record too so I worked with Frida, Benny and Björn.
Derek: I was meant to work on that record but I wasn’t bothered.
How has touring life changed now compared to in the 80’s?
Bruce: It’s harder the older you get. The way we’re touring at the moment, you work on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and you don’t really do gigs on a Monday and a Tuesday so your Monday and Tuesday becomes your weekend. As long as you’re still working 4 days a week then it’s fine.
When you first started playing Fields of Fire, did you ever anticipate how successful it would be?
Bruce: We know it was kinda special after we recorded it. I think the first time we played it was when we supported The Jam on their final dates at Wembley. We did 5 shows with The Jam and that was the first proper time we played Fields of Fire I think.
What’s your favourite venue to have ever played in?
Derek: Madison Square Gardens.
Bruce: Barrowlands is good!
Derek: That was me that opened that. I was sent up to check it out and see if it was alright for a gig. I thought it was fantastic and told them to do it. I saw it with the wee tiny stage where they put the desk now. There was nothing at the back. The big stage wasn’t there so it was absolutely massive.
Who’s the best band you ever supported?
Bruce: Oh, for me The Rolling Stones.
Jamie: I got to support Big Country one day! That was good! No, pretty much playing with like, The Boomtown Rats. Just doing a big festival when you get all good bands in the one go like T In The Park when you have the likes of The Arctic Monkeys.
Derek: Six weeks of touring with Peter Gabriel as well.
Where is the steeltown that the song is about? It’s fitting that you’re in Motherwell tonight with it being the home of the Ravenscraig Steelworks.
Bruce: Well, some people say it could’ve been about Motherwell or it could’ve been about Corby. I don’t know if Stuart had an actual town in mind when he wrote about it.
Mark: It was what was happening at the time. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and was closing all the industries. I remember Stuart saying “For a country that’s surrounded by war, we don’t make ships anymore.
Bruce: The miner strike was happening at the time as well so everywhere was just getting decimated.
What modern day musicians do you enjoy listening to?
Derek: Bruce Watson.
Bruce: I like some of Mr Forbes too!
Jamie: Well I listen to some Mark Brzezicki!
Mark: We’re all fans of each other!
Bruce: I don’t have time to listen to music these days. I just find there’s not enough hours in the day to do things so I never have the chance to listen to new stuff coming out.
Jamie: I quite like the new Manic Street Preachers album. We’re all quite varied in what we like.
Did your 2007 tour to celebrate 25 years of Big Country refuel your desire to perform live again on a regular basis?
Bruce: That basically came about at the back of Jamie and I putting together The Skids thing to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. People were saying if you can do something for The Skids why don’t you do it for your own band? But at the time it was just myself, Mark and Tony that did it. It was basically a series of weekend convention gigs so it wasn’t really being on tour and it wasn’t promoting anything. Every year, even when the band wasn’t going, the fans would get together and have a convention thing so we thought let’s take it them doing it all themselves. It was good fun.
How has the music industry changed since the beginning of the band back in the 80’s? Do you think digital downloads might eventually be the death of the CD like we saw with cassettes?
Derek: Vinyl seems to be coming back because it sounds far better than any CD you’ll listen to so hopefully that’ll continue.
Mark: I’ve always been a fan of vinyl Ritchie!
(The whole room groans)
Bruce: People are getting used to getting stuff for nothing because they don’t know in the old days you could go into a record shop, there would be a little booth where you would say “go lend me that record” then you would put it on.
Derek: I think whoever is responsible for allowing you to download music for free off the internet should be hung up with their thumbs because they just kill a lot of bands off.
After the departure of Mike Peters and Simon Hough joining as lead singer, do you feel the band might now be finally settled?
Bruce: Yeah, I think we’re at a level just now where everybody is really happy. Getting Simon on board at that time was fantastic and it’s given us a new lease of life.
Derek: It’s great because Mike Peters himself actually said Simon is the right choice. Simon doesn’t try to sound like Stuart, he’s just got the same register.
What does the future hold for Big Country?
Bruce: Well, we’re doing the Steeltown tour up until the end of the year and it’ll continue into next year then there’s going to be some acoustic shows that we’re going to be doing. We’re going to continue to write new songs but because of the way things are now-a-days we can’t block book 2 months into a studio so the writing and recording will happen inbetween tours and inbetween gigs. We definitely have no intention to stop doing this.