Posts Tagged ‘Mark Brzezicki’

Cherry Red’s longtime association with Scottish rockers Big Country – which manifested in a release of the group’s last album The Journey in 2013 and continued with deluxe reissues of latter-day and live bootleg material in 2017 and 2018 – continues with another multi-disc anthology project due this September.

Cherry Red Records are pleased to announce the release of “Out Beyond The River: The Complete Compulsion Recordings”, a newly remastered six disc boxed set featuring the original classic line-up of Scottish rock giants Big Country, fronted by the late Stuart Adamson. A new 5 Disc boxed set anthology (5CDs / 1 DVD) celebrating the recordings of Big Country, made between 1993 and 1994 for Chrysalis Records imprint Compulsion. Featuring 71 tracks on five discs, including the albums ‘The Buffalo Skinners’ and the double live album ‘Without The Aid Of A Safety Net’, recorded at Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow on 29th December 1993. Includes rare B-Sides / bonus tracks, US radio mixes, previously unreleased instrumental demos, plus the original demo for every track on ‘The Buffalo Skinners’ album. DVD includes highlights from the Glasgow Barrowlands concert, together with promo videos for the singles ‘Ships’ and ‘Alone’ DVD is UK region PAL.

Out Beyond The River – The Compulsion Years Anthology showcases the group’s journey through the mid-’90s as they released The Buffalo Skinners, which was their sixth album, in 1993. After seeing all their albums reach the U.K. Top 10 in the ’80s (plus a No. 2 compilation, Through a Big Country, in 1990), the group fell on hard times as musical tastes shifted. They left long time label Phonogram for Vertigo in the U.K. and recorded the difficult No Place Like Home in 1991. Drummer Mark Brzezicki left the group during recording, leaving frontman Stuart Adamson, guitarist Bruce Watson and bassist Tony Butler to continue as a trio; following poor sales of 1988’s Peace In Our Time in America, the album was not released stateside.

But hope was around the corner: veteran A&R man Chris Briggs, who’d recently begun mentoring Robbie Williams of Take That fame, was lured to Chrysalis/EMI with the allowance to create Compulsion Records, a new label. His first signee: Big Country – a fitting reunion, as Briggs had signed the group to Phonogram more than a decade earlier. With a renewed sense of energy – the group produced this one themselves – The Buffalo Skinners was a return to and refreshment of the classic guitar-driven Big Country sound, continuing the group’s foray into pointed political lyrics (“What Are You Working For,” “The Selling Of America,” “We’re Not In Kansas” – the latter revisited after kicking off No Place Like Home). Best of all, the group returned to the U.K. Top 40 twice for the first time since 1989 with “Alone” and another re-recorded track from No Place, “Ships.” An American deal with 20th Century-Fox’s fledgling music arm yielded a moderate modern rock cut, “The One I Love.”

The group continued doing what they did best – namely, hitting the road. With Brzezicki back behind the drum kit, the quartet packed European theaters and American small clubs, rousing audiences with favourites new and old (and, in a nod to current rock trends, often offering an “unplugged” portion of the set – an accidental moment of brilliance after a venue they performed at that year lost power). At the close of 1993, Big Country performed a trio of dates in Scotland and England recorded for a live album and video, Without The Aid Of a Safety Net. Considered by fans to be one of the definitive concert documents of the group, the album earned them another U.K. Top 40 placement.

That rousing period, and everything in between, makes up Out Beyond The River. This 5CD/DVD set includes previously expanded editions of The Buffalo Skinners and Without The Aid Of a Safety Net issued by EMI in 2005 (the latter of which was presented across two discs for a complete concert experience). Another two bonus discs collect The Buffalo Skinners‘ various, uncompiled B-sides, remixes and early versions, including unreleased instrumental demos and monitor mixes alongside demos released on rare fan collections. The box wraps up with a DVD of the original Without The Aid Of a Safety Net film and two music videos. (Unfortunately, the DVD seems to be PAL-only.) Like previous Big Country boxes from Cherry Red, each disc is housed in its own mini-jacket, encased in a clamshell case.

Out Beyond The River is due September 25th.

Fickle tastes and trends aside, the Peter Wolf-produced Peace in Our Time (“King of Emotion”) was a slick, topical tour de force to mark the end of the ‘80s, and No Place Like Home (“We’re Not in Kansas”) and Buffalo Skinners (“Alone”) were all a series of terrific, hard-rocking album releases to greet the ‘90s.

But Big Country had lost its foothold on the pop charts: No Place and Skinners weren’t even released stateside, which raised the stakes for “Long Face” and tested the group’s mettle with minders, marketers, and bean-counters at Transatlantic, Castle, and Pure Records.

Formed in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1981 by the band’s guitarists and founder members Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, Big Country quickly broke worldwide with their initial album “The Crossing”, selling over 2 million copies and receiving 3 Grammy nominations in the US. Success continued, and the band went on to put out another 5 highly regarded albums before the release of “Why The Long Face” in 1995.

With original singer Stuart Adamson at the helm, Big Country scored 17 top 30 singles in the UK, and achieved 5 gold and platinum albums during the period.

This release includes not only the full length album “Why The Long Face”, but also their live 1996 album “Eclectic”, plus a huge array of bonus tracks and band demos, including alternative and acoustic versions of classic tracks such as ‘In A Big Country’ and ‘You Dreamer’, plus a whole load of rarities including Big Country’s cover versions of Alice Cooper’s ‘Teenage Lament’, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Down On The Corner’ and Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey My My’.

All material contained within has been freshly remastered especially for this release. It Comes packaged in a clam shell box set, with booklet containing full sleeve-notes documenting the band’s activities throughout the release of the album.

Suffice to say, ...Long Face didn’t broaden Big Country’s audience as intended. Following a similar fate as The Seer seven years prior, the disc—packed with muscular, melodic guitars and bold, book-smart verses—sated core fans but didn’t yield any radio hits or MTV mainstays like “In a Big Country” and “Fields of Fire.”

The album’s under-performance on the charts never really warranted it being overlooked by listeners (who by now had latched on to Nirvana, Dave Matthews, and Pearl Jam) or its dismissal in the annals of rock history.

That injustice is precisely what makes Cherry Red’s reassessment so crucial.

Handsomely packed in a sturdy yellow case (instead of original powder blue) with another photogenic Doberman on front, the 4CD set  “Why the Long Face” 2018 includes not only the remastered ’95 album, but three extra CD’s worth of bonus Big Country tracks, demos, covers, and in-concert cuts from that era (1994-1996).

Disc One contains the album proper—fourteen tracks of sparkling guitar (clean and crunchily distorted), robust rhythms, and intelligent lyrics (about love, regret, and hope), all anointed by another serving of the same hardy, anthem-like refrains that made Big Country famous.

Opener “You Dreamer” rides high on a bagpipe-esque guitar riff and rugged, dirty power chords (courtesy Adamson and Bruce Watson) before introducing Stuart’s vignette of forgotten souls in pizza shops (where “prescription junkies” “watch the window fill with flies”). It’s an electrifying ode to shattered dreams that ponders a plethora of what-ifs and what-might-have-been…yet—in true Big Country form—keeps positive rather than give up the ghost to adversity.

“Is this the way that you believed your life was gonna turn out?” muses Adamson (quite possibly about himself). “Is this the better world that you were making all those plans for?”

Then there’s the typical (but effective) valentines to both imagined paramours (“One in a Million,” “Send You”) and humanity at large (“Message of Love”), reflections on personal triumphs and private travails (“I’m Not Ashamed,” “Wildland in My Heart”), and sundry entries (“Sail Into Nothing,” “”God’s Great Mistake,” “Post Nuclear Talking Blues”) that couple the Dunfermline four-piece’s penchant for outdoor themes (nature, freedom, adventure) and affinity for its signature Scottish sound into upbeat, zeitgeist-sensitive zingers.

Disc Two is jam-packed with bonus tracks including single edits of “Dreamer” and “Ashamed,” early / alternate takes of “One in a Million,” and acoustic versions of old standbys “In a Big Country” and “All Go Together.” There’s also a bunch of extra songs that didn’t make the album (but might’ve popped up on the band’s Rarities series later), like “Crazy Times,” “Ice Cream Smile,” and “Bianca.” This is also where fans will find working versions recorded by Adamson, Butler, and company at House in the Woods studio in Surrey (“Hardly a Mountain,” “Can You Feel the Winter”).

Disc Three is a digitally-retouched edition of the in-concert Eclectic album released by Castle Communications in the year following …Long Face. Recorded live at Dingwalls in London in late March of ’96 (and long since out-of-print), the album shines with a mix of old and then-new Big Country classics (“River of Hope,” “Where the Rose is Sown”), all rendered before an elated audience. Also on the menu here is an assortment of choice cover songs that speak to the band’s early influences (The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My,” CCR’s “Down on the Corner.” The smoldering set (with bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki underpinning the guitar hysteria with glorious grooves) also features guest spots by British vocalist/actor Bobby Valentino, rocker Steve Harley (of Cockney Rebel), and American soul singer Kym Mazelle.

The Long Face prototype is represented by Disc Four: This is where collectors and curators will discover working versions of the tunes that would be polished up later for the final version of the album. Workshopped at various locations in Scotland and England (Audiocraft, Riverside, Chapel, HITW), this missing-link record presents some of Adamson’s best ideas in a stripped-down format. But most the program is dominated by near-finished “jam” versions of “Dreamer,” “Message,” “Ashamed” and other stand-outs that sound—unlike most demos or garage versions—almost as concise (in performance) and as crystalline (in production) as the finished Long Face LP.

So if you know Stuart Adamson and Big Country only by their earliest “essential” hits, now’s as good a time as any to revisit the well and get acclimated with the group’s strong, inspirational, and sorely-overlooked middle catalog. And there’s never been a better opportunity to take those first steps than with this respectfully-rendered Long Face deluxe box.