It was nearly 5 years to the day that we last saw Big Country perform live at the Exeter Phoenix, okay, back then Mike Peters (The Alarm) was on lead vocals and Derek Forbes (Simple Minds) was providing bass guitar duties, tonight was going to be the first time that I had seen the lineup featuring Simon Hough who, despite being English, sounded remarkably like Stuart Adamson, sharing a similar vocal range which added a touch of familiarity to the songs.
Opening the show were Torbay based 4 piece rock band Departed, I can’t help thinking I’ve seen these guys before and catching up with the singer after the show, he said that they’d performed at this year’s Download Festival, sadly I wasn’t there but we did have a team up there and I’m sure one of them mentioned it to me.
By the time Departed took to the stage, the auditorium was nearly full, their set consisted of some brilliant rock tracks, the singer reminded me of Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden in the way that he encouraged the audience into joining in with some of the choruses. There was some amazing licks and intricate solos from the guitarist, the bass and drums did a tremendous job of keeping the back line together. All in all, a super tight, talented band that would go down really well in a larger venue (like Download!)
Sat on the balcony, I sipped my cider and enjoyed some Hendrix as the roadies altered the stage around to cater for the main act. I think I’m getting old, though I felt positively youthful at the show, I guess I still have my own teeth and hair!
Minutes before the show, there was little space in the room, it was packed to the rafters and many had to take to the upper balcony in order to stand a chance of enjoying the next 90 minutes.
Opening with “Look Away”, I was instantly transported to the mid 80’s, aged 14, lying on my bed, learning the words to the song from the cassette my Mum had bought for me from Woolworths! The unmistakable sound of Bruce's guitar playing sending shivers down my spine!
Bruce introduced his guitar technician, a lovely looking lad called ‘Rocky’, Jamie then launched into the theme tune to the movie Rocky and was soon joined by Mark on drums, a very amusing moment which I am sure happens every night when the introductions take place!
As the evening wore on, the hits came thick and fast, King of Emotion, Lost Patrol and The Storm all went down really well with the capacity crowd. Being one of the two remaining original members of the band, it was great to see Bruce Watson take to the mic after every song and engage with the audience, it was even better seeing them all clearly enjoying themselves after so many years of being in the band.
After “The Storm”, Bruce explained that they had just played 12" version of the song and that Exeter should be pleased as they only normally play the 7” version…. My mind raced and I thought of using something like “Big Country came to Exeter and gave them the full 12 inches” as the title to this piece but I foresaw legal issues arising so refrained from doing so!
Mark Brzezicki’s drumming was, as usual, something to be worshipped, he is such a tight player and looked perfectly at home behind his kit.
“Harvest Home” received a massive reception and was the first track that had everyone up and dancing about the place, “Chance” saw the biggest singalong that I think The Phoenix has ever witnessed, well, since the last time they played here in 2013 anyway!
“Peace in Our Time” was performed though it didn’t appear on the setlist, this was certainly a welcome addition to the show. “Wonderland” sounded as fresh as it did back in 1984, the crowd really getting involved and helping the band out during the choruses. “Fields of Fire” got things moving again, Bruce's massive guitar riffs carrying the song throughout.
After a short break, the band took to the stage once again and launched into “In a Big Country”, which had its desired effect, everyone was bobbing about, singing their hearts out to what could be the finest track that the band ever produced.
It was a great evening of entertainment, okay, with only 2 of the remaining members on stage, it was hard to see this as a ‘proper’ Big Country gig but I've got to hand it to them, they continue to tour relentlessly across the country and play festivals throughout the year and to some, that's their idea of heaven. I hope to see them play again in the not too distant future as they do a tremendous job of replicating the original sound put out by the original line-up. Simon Hough did a brilliant job of filling the shoes of Stuart and boy, were they big boots to fill!
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird