Big Country: Pioneers of 80’s Celtic Rock
Big Country: Pioneers of 80’s Celtic Rock

Big Country: Pioneers of 80’s Celtic Rock

Big Country, a band that etched their name in the annals of rock history, brought a unique blend of Celtic-inspired melodies and anthemic rock to the world stage. With their distinctive sound and heartfelt lyrics, they left an indelible mark on the music industry. In this in-depth exploration, we’ll dive into the history and development of Big Country, dissect their signature music style, introduce key personnel, explore essential albums and tracks, provide a comprehensive discography, and examine their lasting legacy and significant reviews.

History and Development

The Genesis of Big Country

Big Country was formed in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1981, by Stuart Adamson (vocals, guitar), Bruce Watson (guitar, vocals), Tony Butler (bass, vocals), and Mark Brzezicki (drums, percussion). The band’s roots trace back to the dissolution of the Skids, a punk rock group in which Adamson and Watson had previously played. With a vision to create something distinct, they embarked on a musical journey that would eventually become Big Country.

The Celtic Rock Sound

Big Country’s music was a fusion of rock and Celtic folk influences. Drawing inspiration from their Scottish heritage, they crafted a sound that featured bagpipe-like guitar tones, characterized by the innovative use of the e-bow, a handheld electronic device that creates sustained guitar notes. This unique approach to guitar playing set them apart from their contemporaries and gave birth to the term “bagpipe guitar.”

Their anthemic, widescreen soundscapes and rousing melodies resonated deeply with audiences, evoking a sense of nostalgia and longing, often accompanied by themes of hope and resilience.

Type of Music

Big Country’s music defies easy categorization, as it spans across multiple genres, blending rock, Celtic folk, and new wave influences. At its core, their music can be described as Celtic rock, a subgenre known for its fusion of traditional Celtic elements with the energy and instrumentation of rock music.

Distinctive Sound

The band’s signature sound was primarily defined by Stuart Adamson’s innovative guitar work. Using the e-bow, he created soaring, bagpipe-like guitar melodies that became a hallmark of Big Country’s music. This unique guitar style, coupled with anthemic choruses and driving rhythms, resulted in a sound that was both ethereal and powerful.

Key Personnel

Stuart Adamson: The Creative Force

Stuart Adamson, the charismatic frontman and driving force behind Big Country, was born on April 11, 1958, in Manchester, England. A gifted songwriter and guitarist, Adamson’s vision shaped the band’s sound and direction. His emotive vocals and introspective lyrics added depth and resonance to their music.

Bruce Watson: The Guitar Virtuoso

Bruce Watson, born on May 11, 1961, in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, played a pivotal role in creating Big Country’s distinctive guitar sound. His partnership with Adamson in crafting the band’s unique melodies was integral to their success.

Tony Butler: The Solid Foundation

Tony Butler, born on February 6, 1957, in London, England, provided the band’s rock-solid bass lines and harmonious backing vocals. His steady presence in the rhythm section anchored Big Country’s sound.

Mark Brzezicki: The Percussive Heartbeat

Mark Brzezicki, born on June 21, 1957, in Slough, England, brought dynamic drumming and percussion to the band. His powerful and precise rhythms drove Big Country’s music, adding intensity to their live performances.

Essential Albums

“The Crossing” (1983)

“The Crossing” marked Big Country’s debut album and remains their most iconic work. Released in 1983, it featured the hit single “In a Big Country,” which catapulted the band to international fame. The album’s Celtic-infused rock sound and heartfelt lyrics struck a chord with listeners, making it a classic of its era.

“Steeltown” (1984)

Following the success of “The Crossing,” Big Country released “Steeltown” in 1984. The album continued their exploration of working-class themes and featured tracks like “East of Eden” and “Where the Rose Is Sown.” “Steeltown” further solidified their status as a powerful and socially conscious band.

“The Seer” (1986)

“The Seer,” released in 1986, is another essential album in Big Country’s discography. It showcased the band’s evolving sound and featured guest appearances by artists like Kate Bush and The Alarm’s Mike Peters. The title track and “Look Away” were standout songs from this album.

Essential Tracks

Big Country has a rich discography with many outstanding tracks, but here are ten essential songs that capture the essence of their music and career:

  1. “In a Big Country” – This iconic track from their debut album “The Crossing” is a powerful anthem with memorable bagpipe-like guitar melodies and lyrics about hope and adventure.
  2. “Fields of Fire (400 Miles)” – Another gem from “The Crossing,” this song showcases Big Country’s energetic rock sound and vivid storytelling.
  3. “Look Away” – From the album “The Seer,” “Look Away” is a melancholic yet catchy song that features Kate Bush’s haunting vocals.
  4. “Chance” – Also from “The Crossing,” “Chance” is a heartfelt ballad with introspective lyrics and beautiful guitar work.
  5. “Where the Rose Is Sown” – Found on “Steeltown,” this track delves into working-class themes and features a powerful chorus.
  6. “Wonderland” – A standout from “The Crossing,” “Wonderland” combines the band’s signature guitar sound with a sense of nostalgia.
  7. “King of Emotion” – From the album “Peace in Our Time,” this song explores a more pop-oriented sound while retaining Big Country’s spirit.
  8. “The Seer” – The title track from the album of the same name is a haunting and ethereal song featuring Kate Bush’s vocals.
  9. “Porrohman” – A haunting near instrumental from “The Crossing” that showcases the band’s unique use of guitar and atmosphere.
  10. “Eiledon” – This atmospheric and introspective track from “The Seer” displays Big Country’s emotional depth.
  11. “Lost Patrol” – Another powerful song from “The Crossing” that exemplifies their anthemic rock sound and lyrical prowess.
  12. “Angle Park” – This energetic track from “The Crossing” adds a dose of urgency and rock ‘n’ roll spirit to the mix.


Big Country’s discography spans several studio albums, live recordings, and compilations. Here is a comprehensive list of their studio albums:

  1. “The Crossing” (1983)
  2. “Steeltown” (1984)
  3. “The Seer” (1986)
  4. “Peace in Our Time” (1988)
  5. “No Place Like Home” (1991)
  6. The Buffalo Skinners” (1993)
  7. Why the Long Face” (1995)
  8. “Driving to Damascus” (1999)

In addition to their studio albums, the band released several live albums and compilations that capture their dynamic live performances and offer a glimpse into their musical evolution.


Influence on Celtic Rock

Big Country’s contribution to the world of music extends beyond their chart-topping hits. They played a crucial role in popularizing Celtic rock and inspiring a new generation of musicians to explore the fusion of rock and traditional folk elements. Bands like The Waterboys, Runrig, and Del Amitri followed in their footsteps, building on the foundation laid by Big Country.

Enduring Appeal

The band’s music continues to resonate with fans worldwide. Songs like “In a Big Country” and “Fields of Fire” are still staples on classic rock radio, and their albums remain in high regard among music enthusiasts. Big Country’s ability to evoke powerful emotions through their music ensures their place in the pantheon of rock legends.

Similar and Contemporary Acts

While Big Country’s distinctive blend of Celtic rock and anthemic melodies is unique, several similar and contemporary bands have explored similar musical territories or have drawn inspiration from their sound. Here are a few bands that share some musical elements or have a connection to Big Country’s style:

  1. The Waterboys: The Waterboys, led by Mike Scott, are often mentioned in the same breath as Big Country. They combine rock and folk elements, and their music is known for its epic, emotional soundscapes. Songs like “The Whole of the Moon” and “Fisherman’s Blues” exhibit their Celtic-rock influences.
  2. Runrig: Hailing from Scotland, Runrig is another band that incorporates Celtic elements into their music. Their anthemic songs, often sung in Gaelic and English, capture the spirit of their homeland. Albums like “The Cutter and the Clan” and “Searchlight” showcase their Celtic-rock prowess.
  3. Simple Minds: Simple Minds, while more widely recognized for their new wave and synth-pop hits, also ventured into Celtic rock territory in some of their later work. Their album “Street Fighting Years” includes tracks like “Belfast Child” with a distinctly Celtic influence.
  4. Flogging Molly: For those interested in a more punk-infused take on Celtic music, Flogging Molly offers an energetic and contemporary option. Known for their high-energy live performances and songs like “Drunken Lullabies” and “Float,” they infuse traditional Celtic instruments into a punk rock framework.
  5. The Levellers: This English band blends folk, punk, and rock influences, creating a style often referred to as “folk punk.” Their album “Levelling the Land” is a prime example of their unique sound, characterized by heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies.
  6. The Alarm: Another band from the same era as Big Country, The Alarm, incorporated anthemic rock elements into their music. Tracks like “68 Guns” and “Rain in the Summertime” showcase their ability to craft powerful, emotional songs.
  7. Del Amitri: Del Amitri, a Scottish band, has a knack for crafting melodic, guitar-driven rock songs with heartfelt lyrics. Their album “Change Everything” is a good starting point for those interested in their music.
  8. Snow Patrol: While Snow Patrol is more widely associated with alternative rock, their anthemic sound and emotive lyrics share some similarities with Big Country. Songs like “Chasing Cars” and “Run” have resonated with a broad audience.

Significant Reviews

“The Crossing” – Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone hailed “The Crossing” as “a landmark album that redefines the boundaries of rock music.” The review praised the band’s innovative use of the e-bow and the emotional depth of Stuart Adamson’s songwriting.

“Steeltown” – NME

NME described “Steeltown” as “an anthemic masterpiece that captures the spirit of a generation.” The review celebrated the album’s socially conscious themes and Bruce Watson’s exceptional guitar work.

“The Seer” – AllMusic

AllMusic praised “The Seer” for its “evolutionary sound” and “catchy pop-rock sensibilities.” The review acknowledged the band’s willingness to experiment while retaining their signature sound.

In conclusion, Big Country’s journey through the realms of Celtic rock and anthemic melodies has left an indelible mark on the music world. From their groundbreaking debut “The Crossing” to their enduring legacy, the band’s music continues to inspire and captivate audiences. With their innovative guitar work and heartfelt lyrics, they remain pioneers of a genre that bridges the gap between tradition and modernity. Big Country’s enduring appeal is a testament to the power of music to touch the hearts and souls of listeners across generations.

For more information on Big Country’s discography, tour dates, and merchandise, visit their official website.