Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuning in to Vintage Big Country

As you may know by now, Big Country was my "it" band from that first single, "Harvest Home" in 1982, through the release of 'The Seer' in 1986. Although I didn't really follow the lads after that, I still consider them one of my favorites and snag anything and everything I can afford from those early years. My latest acquisition is the 'Big Country at the BBC' box set that hit the shelves about six weeks ago, and it's a real corker.

There are 42 songs spread across three CDs, and more than half of them are from between 1982 and 1984. If you have the single-disc collection 'Radio 1 Sessions' that was released in 1994 (as I do), then you have the first eight songs from the box set. After the David "Kid" Jensen and John Peel shows, however, everything else was new to me. There are five live shows highlighted here, including at the Hammersmith Palais and the Reading Festival, both from '83, as well as a last-minute appearance (Paul Young had to back out) opening for Elton John at Wembley in '84. All of the songs up to that point are from 'The Crossing' or 'Wonderland.' So, the other two shows, the Soviet Embassy in 1988 and the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989, are the first chances we have to hear songs from 'Steeltown' and beyond. Playing "Just a Shadow" from the Hammersmith Odeon show the first time gave me goosebumps.

The music on the first three discs is fantastic, but the real treasures are on the fourth disc. It's a DVD that begins with a bevy of appearances on "Top of the Pops," "The Old Grey Whistle Test" and "Oxford Road Show." Those are light and fun, but the video gets more interesting as we see footage of Stuart Adamson being interviewed by Richard Jobson, his former bandmate from the Skids, in 1990. It was for a show seen only in Scotland called "Garden Party," produced around the celebrations for Glasgow's year as City Of Culture. There are three shows on the disc, and each of them are special and from the band's most prolific time period. My personal favorite is the Edinburgh Playhouse show that was broadcast on Dec. 31, 1984. If you're a regular reader, then you know I have a New Year's Eve ritual of watching Big Country's famous Dec. 31, 1983 show from Barrowland. This year I will have a choice of concerts.

I would be remiss if I didn't describe the packaging. There is a poster, postcards and the like, which I suppose is nice, but I don't really care about all of that. What I did love, however, is the beautiful 32-page hardcover book chock full of vivid remembrances from the band. Scottish journalist Tim Barr does a brilliant job taking us back to those salad days, and I know I will enjoy his musings every time I pull out this box set.

Even the best box sets can't avoid a little criticism. I could go on about sound and video issues (and where is Tony Butler's bass on that Hammersmith show?), but the performances trump all of that. Some of these recordings are 30 years old and were done for television, for Pete's sake. I choose to be happy with what I can get. What I don't understand, however, is the editing of concerts. The person that would spend big bucks for such a specialized box set is the kind of fan that would be willing to fork out a little more for complete shows.

If, like me, you're American, 'Big Country at the BBC' is an import. Apparently, that means the price could fluctuate. I paid $54 on Amazon. I checked the site today, and now it's going for $62. If that seems to steep, there is a 32-track double-disc version dubbed "The Best of the BBC Recordings" you can pick up for about $20. If you're a fan, however, I think you will regret not having that DVD that's included in the box set.

No comments: