on 17 November 2010
I could well be accused of being biased - Big Country was the first ever gig I went to - but I still play the music and get misty-eyed at any clip of Stuart Adamson. The prospect of a biog of Stuart was a double-edged sword, then. As a fan I desperately wanted to read it, but also as a fan I didn't want to read anything horrible about someone I adore. Luckily, Allan Glen is not only a fan but he's also a serious music journalist who grew up in Dunfermline (the band's hometown) and followed Stuart's career closely. The book celebrates all the wonderful things about the man and the music, but is also very honest about the problems and troubles that beset Stuart and led, ultimately, to him taking his own life without it turning into a gushing fanzine or (worse) a lurid hack job. I'll probably end up with three copies this Christmas, but I won't care. You can never have too much Stuart Adamson!
On 8 September 2010, the surviving members of Big Country announced they would be joining forces with Mike Peters of The Alarm to embark on a tour under the Big Country banner. Someone who they haven't been willing to join forces with is author Allan Glen. The public animosity towards the author from those integral to the plot is a little unfortunate given that Glen has delivered a respectful, controversy-free, fan-driven account of Stuart Adamson's life in as much detail as has been allowed him. He even takes a moment in his acknowledgements to offer his goodwill to the forthcoming official band biography.
The absence of any first-hand input from the Big Country and Skids camps does cast an undeniable shadow over the book. When you take away Ian Rankin's introduction and the foreword, discography and index, you're left with a biography just shy of 200 pages. I get the impression the author would have loved at least another 100. So would I, but Glen deserves credit for producing a faithful and ultimately moving narrative in spite of the obstacles placed in his way. Importantly, the book is blessed with the cooperation of Adamson's son, Callum, which, I suppose, is the best seal of approval of all. In A Big Country is the story of a celebrated man who famously chanted 'stay alive' to hordes of devotees, only to end up a tormented soul and victim of a tragic self-inflicted death. From a human point of view and as a lifelong fan, I don't think it's ghoulish to want to know how that story unravelled.
As expected, after the final page, we're no nearer to or farther from understanding than we already were. The final days are handled with due care, and they're as deep as the book delves into Adamson's private life. The focus centres on his bands and his music. That's no bad thing because the music speaks volumes. Stuart and his guitar won't be on stage when Big Country play their next show, but his music will and therefore he lives on. And no matter what aspersions are cast over the reasoning behind Glen choosing to write about his countryman, the end results serve the greater good in keeping a star shining.
For me if no one else, the book begins with a wonderful moment of serendipity. As someone whose first two reviews on Amazon were for Big Country and Manic Street Preachers albums (not a coincidence), reading James Dean Bradfield eulogize over Stuart in his foreword provides me with two idols for the price of one. Not that it should have come as a surprise. JDB has always been one to pay his dues to the great man's talents, rarely letting a Scottish gig go by without playing the seminal opening bars of Into The Valley as a segue into Motown Junk, a song that, as the Manics frontman admits in his notes, is already massively indebted.
Such unflinching respect has never been universal, of course. For every right-thinking listener who understands that The Crossing and Steeltown are two of the finest British rock records ever made there's another window-licking moron who 'doesn't get it' and turns derision into a fashion. While Glen positions himself very much as a fan and positive voice, he occasionally gives too much space to quotes from the non-believers and I worry that Steeltown in particular doesn't really get the defence it deserves from him. The Skids albums are more pationately defended as the classics they are, but if you're coming to the book solely as a Skids fan, be warned that the band is history by page 60.
As pages pass like the flash of a spark, it's fair to say the derisive media quotes begin to carry more weight. Naturally, we're reminded of the 'No place like the bin' review for 1991's patchy No Place Like Home, but somewhere around The Seer and Peace In Our Time period, the book turns into the Dave Bates Show. Dave Bates was the man at PolyGram who oversaw the commercial decline of Big Country before washing his hands of the band when he decided they were getting too dirty. He recalls his experiences with an engaging honesty and admits to his share of culpability, but if ever there was a passage where Glen's lack of sources shows, it's when every quote seems to be from the A&R man. I'm guessing Bates' anecdotes won't be repeated in the official book. Dougie Dudgeon, formerly of Castle Communications (he doesn't seem to know what his job title was), is called upon to recall what was surely the most farcical period in the band's history in the mid-90s. The words 'Spinal Tap' come into play more than once.
In the end you'll be left wanting more. A feeling you may have felt before during your fandom. Glen has been denied the opportunity to bring much new to the table for the hardcore, but In A Big Country nevertheless provides newcomers with a neatly compiled instant knowledge of The Skids and Big Country and long-time fans with a well-written trip down Memory Lane. On my shelf sits a nicely-produced hardback book with an attractive dust jacket about a personal hero who is sadly gone and too often forgotten, and because of that alone I can't do anything other than thank and support both author and publisher.
on 11 December 2010
I enjoyed reading this book and once I learned that it was coming out I had to get a copy. It's not available in the U.S. so I ordered it from Amazon U.K. There is a lot of info about Stuart, The Skids and Big Country that I was glad to learn about. It is well researched and well written. I hope that there will be an official book released by the band and I will definitely get that one, but until then, this is a great resource. It was well worth the wait.
on 17 May 2011
A very moving biography of Stuart Adamson,following his early days in punk band The Skids, then front man of Scottish band Big Country.This book gives you a insight of the music industry, life on the road in the 80s, then touches on Stuarts private life, his disappearance and then his tragic death..in a hotel room in Hawaii.This book will touch the Hearts of his many fan , it is well written, but although tragic it tells of how his music has inspired so many groups in the present day,which is a lasting tribute to him... if you are a fan please don't hesitate to buy this book
on 20 May 2012
I agree with the other 2 star reviews. Although Mr. Glen gave a great over view of The Skids and Big Country's music (much of which I am not familiar with), I truly wished he could have delved further into what made Stuart Adamson "tick". As I read, I wanted to know: why did his first marriage end in divorce? why did he come to the United States, Tennessee of all places? how did he meet up with his second wife? where did it all go so terribly wrong for Stuart Adamson, getting to the point of killing himself?
There is much more to be written about the man and his talent. Sadly, you won't find it in this book.
on 26 May 2014
I remember reading an interview with Stuart Adamson around the time the 'Buffalo skinners' was released where he bemoaned the fact that his desire to make music was constantly at odds with management decisions that affected the band directly. That pretty much sums up this very thoughtful biography! What comes across is a man who was at odds with his profession. Stuart loved performing but wanted to shun the spotlight the rest of the time. Band mate Bruce Watson sums it up succinctly in that for Stuart it was all about the music, but once the show was over you always got the feeling he wanted to be somewhere else. As such, this biography makes interesting reading as it charts the early success of The Skids (where Stuart's issues with the business side of the music industry are high-lighted with him nearly leaving the band before the first album was released)and then Big Country. This is followed by the completely undeserved (in this writer's opinion) decline of the band and the pressure of management decisions on them throughout their career. What stops it from being a five-star review is that it lacks detail in significant places of the band's history. For example, 'No place like home' is dispatched with very quickly as a disappointing album, yet anyone who read the sleeve notes that were included in that CD would realise that Stuart saw this as a new beginning for the band (even if it turned out to be a failure in the long run commercially). The breakup of Stuart's first marriage is dealt with almost in passing as well is his desire to stop drinking in 1985 (his alcohol problems have been well documented) as is his presumably taking to the bottle again at some later date (when is not clear)! However, although these are significant gaps in Stuart's history the book does succeed in giving a picture of a man who was an idealist when it came to music which very much found its focus with the members of Big Country, but rather sadly was never fully recognised by the music buying public in general or had the ability to flourish due to the business side of the industry!
on 6 May 2014
This book covers very little new ground. I think its great that someone has taken the time to write a book about SA, and Glen is clearly a big fan, but this book sheds no new light on Stuart. It seems to be a load of quotes and reviews cobbled together. There are no interviews with any of the people who knew SA best, like memebers of the skids, BC or family and friends. I am aware that BC's manager didn't contribute as he is writing is own version of events, and hopefully that will come to fruition as I feel it would be a lot more insightful. I do feel the book is well written and is an easy read (I read it in less than a day) but that's also its downfall. I would say its for fans of BC/Skids only. There is very little on Stuarts early life, or what inspired him and influenced him to write the amazing songs he did.
on 14 March 2015
Even the biggest fan will cringe at Allan Glenn's blinkered, sycophantic refusal to accept that Big Country never once wrote a bad song. It was always someone else's fault (the producer, The record company etc). Sometimes he even implies that Adamson and his bands were just too far ahead of their time for the public to appreciate them. All other bands - rubbish - U2, rubbish, Simple Minds, rubbish. Mr Glenn is very partisan when it comes to other people's music.
Without going into spoilers, what becomes obvious from the book, is that Adamson was a complex, contradictory man, both petty and magnanimous, outgoing and shy, etc etc . Basically he was just a normal guy then. The contradiction being, of course, that the man whose catchphrase was "stay alive" killed himself, and not by drunken accident either, the book makes this clear, it was rather shocking.
Without any contributions from members of either band (Skids or BC) - because they are holding out for their own official books, then there's nothing here that probably can't be found on the internet. But Mr Glenn somehow manages to pull together a coherent book. Definitely worth the money, even if only because there are absolutely no other books on Stuart Adamson.
on 17 April 2014
The first album I bought was "Scared To Dance" and the first gig I went to was Big Country in 1985 so I feel that Stuart Adamson has been key to my musical education (and continuing journey !). This book gives a fantastic insight into Stuart tried to remain grounded whilst in the rock and roll machine but ultimately struggled to deal with his personal demons. Highly recommend !
'Stuart Adamson : In A Big Country' charts the rise of his career, from the beginning with Skids to his heyday as the lead man of Big Country.
This is more of a biography of Stuart's music, than of his life and details in detail the rise of Skids and the world-wide success of Big Country.
Stuart Adamson was one of the most respected guitarists in rock and Big Country were one of the most successful bands of the 80s. With fans including U2, Simple Minds and The Manic Street Preachers.
Stuart Adamson was an intense man, who loved music, Scotland and football. His morals and beliefs often lead to him leaving the music scene, only to reappear a few months later. During the height of his career he played venues all over the world with some of the greatest rock stars of all time.
It is clear though, from this book, that underneath the glamour there was a guy with alot of issues - he married twice and finally gave up the rock star life to live in Nashville.
As a massive Stuart Adamson fan, I found this book an excellent read - bringing back many memories and also learning things about Stuart and the band that I was not aware of.