small blue flowers


Into the Valley

Here's the second of my posts with a geographical bent for this month, and rather than going into the deep and hidden meanings of what a valley means lyrically, I'm just going to write a little bit about one of my favourite artists. It's kind of geographical in another way in that this guy was brought up in Dunfermline, not far from where I lived in my teenage years. I'm talking about Stuart Adamson founder member of The Skids, Big Country and then in the 90's The Raphaels.

I can't exactly remember when I first saw Big Country live, but it was probably around 1986/87. I saw them in Glasgow, Edinburgh and once in their hometown of Dunfermline. That gig proved to be a bit embarrassing, as in our naivety we phoned the venue to ask if there was a dress code. The venue said shirt and tie. We scrambled to borrow our fathers' ill-fitting clothes and turned up to find noone else wearing said garments. I guess we made someone happy. Gig was fantastic though. I'd loved them since their first album The Crossing came out in 1983 and although they'd had a couple of singles beforehand, In A Big Country was the first single that grabbed me. I always remember there being a huge rivalry at school between fans of Big Country and fans of Marillion as to who was the best. It seems silly now, but then it was a huge deal. Stuart Adamson left the slow punk of The Skids behind and formed Big Country in 1981. Essentially he was the driving force behind both bands, The Skids quite literally living up to their name after he left.

Big Country followed The Crossing with Steeltown and The Seer, where for me they began to lose it. Peace in Our Time gave a brief glimpse of what they had been, all bagpipe guitars and swirling hooks peppered with Celtic lyrical imagery. But then I gave up. I noticed they had albums out but was never tempted to by them, except for some strange feeling of guilt at abandoning a long-loved artist. Their 1999 album Driving to Damascus (John Wayne's Dream in the USA) dragged me back kicking and screaming after hearing the single Fragile Thing, with Eddie Reader. It was/is a cracking album, but failed commercially. For Stuart Adamson this was a blow, which led him into depression. A disappearance and reports of alcohol abuse followed (he had signed the pledge on Live Aid day in 1985). He tried to restart his career with the country-rock band The Raphaels, but his demons remained and after another disappearance in 2001 he was found hanged in a hotel room in Honolulu.

I find the whole story tragic. A man who had so much to live for and music to give, pulled down by depression, alcohol and his inner demons. I guess it's not unique, but for me it's close to home. One of my favourite anecdotes about Stuart Adamson following his death was this. (and I paraphrase) When Stuart met you and talked to you he didn't ask "What do you do? Where do you live?" he wanted to find out who you were, what your thoughts were, why you felt like that. He looked deeper than the surface, which is all most of us do, and was genuinely interested in people.

That struck a real chord with me and it's something I try to do whenever I can. Smalltalk sucks so bad sometimes, wouldn't it be great if we actually gave a shit about how other people feel? Maybe we'd learn something.

mp3: The Skids - Into the Valley

mp3: Big Country - Broken Heart (thirteen valleys)

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