The 1865, Southampton

Tonight we return to the 1865 in Southampton, along with the Joiners and The Brook it is one of my favourite venues in this city. From the Car Parking attendant to the security staff, the guy in the ticket office, the sound/lighting crew and the bar staff it is one of the friendliest venues one could attend and the bands just love playing here. Returning this evening are Scottish giants Big Country who are celebrating 40 years of their sophomore number one album “Steeltown”.

Before the headliners arrive, we are in for a treat as Liverpool legend Ian McNabb is joined on stage for the first time in 35 years by bassist Chris Layhe of the band The Icicle Works. Ian or “Boots” to his friends is indeed a character with plenty of scouse charm, he can only be described as like a Liverpudlian version Neil Young. Over the years he has have created some impressive music with a string of quality solo albums as well as five with The Icicle Works.

Tonight’s focus is on the band and with his 12 string Gretch acoustic guitar and Chris’s electric bass they open with the unmistakeable “Hollow Horse”, quickly followed by “Little Girl Lost”. Much of the audience are familiar with the tunes and sing-along with the duo. The camaraderie between the two friends is clear and being on stage together once again is clearly a thrill. The band was a three-piece and the line-up was completed by drummer Chris Sharrock who has had ‘moderate’ success with The Lightning Seeds, Robbie Williams, Oasis, Beady Eye and more recently Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds.

A track from the Icicle Works first album Out of Season reminds me of the band’s long playing VHS video with the random footage of oil rigs, mixed with the band’s live performance. Ian’s voice is in fine fettle and with Chris’s harmonic contributions, tracks like “Starry Blue-Eyed Wonder” and a Country-infused version of “Understanding Jane”. The band’s music was brought to a whole new generation, when “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)” was used on the Sci-Fi television hit “Stranger Things” and as with the full band version the song is extended with plenty of audience participation.

The Icicle Works
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The final track of the set is possibly one of the band’s best known songs “Love is a Wonderful Colour”, a beautifully crafted song with some great lyrics to match. Ian and Chris take their bows and one hopes they can find themselves a suitable drummer and take the full band out on the road together sometime soon. The crowd give the two of them plenty of loud support and Ian heads to the merch table to meet up with the Southampton VIP’s. (As he puts it)

Big Country are a band that I have personally seen possibly over a hundred times live, and the death of Stuart Adamson hit me hard. When the band got back together as a trio, then with Mike Peters (The Alarm) and now with Simon Hough; I found it difficult each time to see them without the big man at the front. Time though is a great healer and it’s great to be able to celebrate the band’s legacy and each time I see them Stuart and former bassist Tony Butler are not far from my thoughts.

As the distinct bass line of “Flame of The West” is played by Gil Allan, signalling the start of the set; all those memories of gigs gone come flooding back. “East of Eden”, “Steeltown”, and “Where a Rose is Sown” gets the place rocking with each member of the audience experiencing the full effect of the fine instrumentation that these five players create. Original drummer Mark Brzezicki, one of the finest drummers to come out of that period is a wizard with his large kit and recreates some huge percussion and drumming on these songs. The other original member Bruce Watson, along with his son Jamie provide the unique guitar sound that was the mainstay of the band’s musical approach.

The Steeltown album was the follow up to the band’s debut offering “The Crossing” which easily made the top ten in 1983. This enabled the band to take to Abba’s Polar Studios in Stockholm Sweden with the help of producion legend Steve Lillywhite to record the follow-up. The band play the full album except for “The Girl with Grey Eyes”. Once the Steeltown album is thoroughly put to bed the band keep the momentum high with some of their best-known tracks.

Big Country
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This starts with the cops and robbers tune “Look Away” and most fans favourite Big Country tune “Chance”. You cannot fail to be moved by this; the whole crowd singing “Oh Lord, where did those feelings go, Oh Lord I never Felt so low” – Adamson certainly knew how to write a tune. Mark’s drum intro to “In a Big Country” signals the band’s most famous tune, which is still today played regularly on the radio.

“Fields of Fire” sees this band turn the track into a mini jam as Stuart used to do and they bring in some of Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey in a Jar”. The band down tools and take a quick respite before the encore. The crowd make huge amounts of noise demanding more and are rewarded with a rip-roaring version of “Restless Natives”, a track taken from a film of the same name about a clown and a wolfman robbing tourist buses in the highlands of Scotland. Nostalgia is a great thing and it does us good to sometimes relive the past and tonight I enjoyed everything the band had to offer.

The “Return to Steeltown” Tour has been extended into the Autumn and the band will return to the area on 17th October for a gig at the O2 Academy in Bournemouth. This time the support comes from none other than former Big Country front man and lead singer of The Alarm Mike Peters. It’s sure to be another great night, secure your tickets here.

Set Lists
Big Country
Flame of the West
East of Eden
Where The Rose Is Sown
Come Back to Me
Tall Ships Go
Winter Sky
Rain Dance
The Great Divide
Just a Shadow
Look Away
In a Big Country
Fields of Fire / Whiskey in the Jar

Restless Natives

The Icicle Works
Hollow Horse
Little Girl Lost
Out of Season
Starry Blue-Eyed Wonder
Understanding (Country) Jane
Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
Love Is a Wonderful Colour



Words & Media by David Chinery (Chinners)
Photography by Lynn Burt

Big Country