Posts Tagged ‘Tony Butler’

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.

Pete Townshend’s “Empty Glass” Turns 40 years old, In 1980, the Who guitarist’s cup overflowed as the finest solo outing of his career. Although a true solo album from The Who’s wunderkind might have been eagerly anticipated at the time, Empty Glass–Pete Townshend’s first fully fleshed out album outside the boundaries of his band–still begs the question of why he didn’t opt to record these songs with the Who.

The album was written and recorded between 1978 and 1980, when activity with the Who had started to pick up again, and Townshend found himself having to write for both his solo project and his band. After all, Face Dances, the album the group released shortly thereafter, was, by all estimations, an inferior effort, widely derided as one of the weakest releases of the Who’s career. Roger Daltrey himself claimed he was disappointed that Townshend denied the group the opportunity to take a shot at Empty Glass and make it a masterpiece the band could claim as its own.

Some could consider the singer’s resentment a matter of professional jealousy. If so, it’s easily dismissed. Where Townshend’s first nominal effort on his own, “Who Came First”, was essentially a grab bag of demos and solo sketches, Empty Glass is a masterpiece even by the Who’s exacting standards.

The album title alludes to Townshend’s eternal search for spiritual salvation, particularly at a time where he was beset by an array of issues that had all but consumed him — among them, alcoholism, substance abuse, marital difficulties, and the death of his friend and bandmate Keith Moon two years before. Symbolically, “Empty Glass” refers to an analogy that compares a bar patron passing a bartender an “empty glass” in hopes it will be filled, and a seeker of spiritual redemption approaching God with an open heart, looking for the solace only the Almighty can provide. Townshend was finding further inspiration in the works of a Persian poet named Hafez, who drew the musician’s interest in the wake of  his fascination with his personal guru, Meher Baba.

Indeed, the songs offered such a sense of reflection and rumination, it’s hard to imagine Empty Glass being delivered from anything other than his personal perspective. The song that emerged as the album’s initial hit, “Rough Boys,” bows to Townshend’s unresolved sexual ambiguity. Although he dedicated it to his children Emma and Minta, it made more sense as a shout-out to the Sex Pistols who, at the time, represented punk’s brooding, blistering upending of traditional rock norms. Years later, Townshend himself alluded to its alleged homosexual references, noting that he knew members of the gay community but was not gay himself. Given that some saw the song as a coming out of sorts a decidedly wrong assumption, Townshend assured them — it would have been an awkward choice for the macho Daltrey to voice. Nevertheless, The Who did eventually include it in their live sets, a wise choice considering that it ranked among their strongest contemporary material at the time. It also hit America in the top ten, the only Townshend solo song ever to achieve that distinction.

The rest of the album is similarly introspective. “Let My Love Open the Door,” the second single from the album, made its way up the charts, although both Townshend and his management allegedly expressed some misgivings about the song. A third single, the similarly philosophical “A Little Is Enough,” which Townshend acknowledged was his bow to the Kinks’ Ray Davies, failed to make any impact at all, although Townshend considered it a better bid for chart success than the aforementioned “Let My Love Open the Door.”

While several songs could have been compelling candidates for inclusion on a new Who album — “And I Moved,” “Empty Glass,” “Gonna Get Ya,” “A Little Is Enough,” and “I Am an Animal” would have been fine fits for Daltrey’s vocals — Townshend surrounded himself with an able support cast. Producer Chris Thomas, best known for his work with the Pretenders, Procol Harum, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Pink Floyd, helped manage his client’s blend of pomp and poignancy, while four different drummers — recent Who recruit Kenney Jones, all-star session man Simon Phillips, Big Country’s Mark Brezicki and James Asher — as well as the Who’s erstwhile keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, Medicine Head’s Peter Hope-Evans on harp, and another Big Country stalwart, bassist Tony Butler provided the instrumental underpinnings.

Townshend once claimed he wanted Todd Rundgren to oversee the proceedings, but changed his mind, fearing Rundgren’s abilities as a singer and guitarist would steal the album’s focus.

Regardless, Empty Glass still ranks as the best individual effort of Townshend’s career and a worthy companion piece to his Who resume. In this case, the glass was more than half full.

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.

Formed out of the ashes of Scottish punk band Skids by their guitarist Stuart Adamson, Big Country became one of the biggest British alternative rock bands of the 1980s, with a huge reputation as a live band to rival the likes of U2 and Simple Minds.

After their initial success with a string of albums on Mercury Records, Big Country continued throughout the 1990s with new albums on a variety of labels, playing as ever around the world to their devoted fanbase. Sadly, Stuart Adamson’s untimely death in 2001 closed a chapter on Big Country’s story forever…

“We’re Not In Kansas” pays tribute to the tour de force that was Big Country were in the Nineties, with recordings of five live shows released officially for the very first time and with the full blessing of the band.

The new box set We’re Not In Kansas (The Live Bootleg Box Set 1993-1998) (Cherry Red CRCDBOX43) seeks to fix this, offering fans a handsome, band-approved chronicle of a worthy era.

The story of Big Country up to the time covered in We’re Not In Kansas goes like this: the quartet, featuring ex-Skids guitarist Stuart Adamson on vocals and guitar, guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki, hit the U.K. Top 10 with singles like “Fields of Fire,” “Chance,” “Wonderland” and “Look Away” during the early-to-mid-’80s; the hopeful, ringing guitars of “In a Big Country” gave the band a taste of American success, too. But by the late ’80s, consistent hits were harder to come by, with the Peter Wolf-produced Peace In Our Time (1988) a particular misstep, overly reliant on middle-of-the-road pop production. Brzezicki left the group at decade’s end, but served in a session capacity on the fraught 1991 follow-up, No Place Like Home, which turned out to be the band’s last major-label effort. 1993’s The Buffalo Skinners saw the trio go back to basics – effective, guitar-driven melodies coupled with fiery lyrics in praise of the hopes and dreams of the working class – and the ensuing tour found the classic lineup whole once more. The full band continued for two more albums and a final tour in 2000, one year before Adamson took his own life after a prolonged battle with alcohol abuse and depression.

Included on this 5CD set are selections from six different shows: a gig at Minneapolis’ First Avenue in 1993, right after the release of The Buffalo Skinners; an acoustic theatre show at the University of Stirling in the band’s native Scotland from 1994; two shows from the summer of 1995 (an electric performance at Glasgow’s Tower Records store and an acoustic one in Rotterdam) in support of that season’s seventh album Why The Long Face; a portion of a 1998 acoustic set in the group’s hometown of Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland (recorded at Tappie Toories, a pub run by Adamson and his second wife); and a final cover of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” from a 1995 set.

For a band so known for electric guitar tones, the presence of so much acoustic material here is a particular treat. (As John Gouveia writes in his liner notes, the band’s first acoustic appearance at an American show in 1993 was in fact out of necessity, after the venue’s power failed before the group took the stage.) The songs retain their power even without their distinctive solos, and at a time when “unplugged” shows were in fashion, it ceretainly fits the mood of the day.

Indeed, “In a Big Country,” “Chance” and “Look Away” don’t lose much power when de-amplified, nor do newer tracks like “We’re Not In Kansas,” “All Go Together” and “Ships.” And both acoustic and electric sets from the same tour have enough unique songs among them: the First Avenue set includes powerful renditions of Buffalo Skinners cuts “What Are You Working For” and “Pink Marshmallow Moon,” while the Stirling set features a gorgeous, quiet take on Steeltown (1984) closer “Just a Shadow” and a slowed-down “One Great Thing,” one of the fine singles from The Seer. The electric set at Tower Records in Glasgow is more devoted to then-new selections from Why The Long Face, like “You Dreamer,” “I’m Not Ashamed” and “Send You.” Meanwhile, the acoustic Rotterdam show (punctuated by some interesting interactions between Adamson and the audience during the set) features some of those same tracks alongside the hits you’d come to expect.

Of particular note across the entire set is the presence of exciting covers. The quartet, eager to experiment on stage and nod to their musical influences, tackle tunes by Neil Young (“Hey Hey, My My,” “Rockin in the Free World”), Blue Oyster Cult (“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”), The Miracles (“Tracks of My Tears”) and even a fun, faithful acoustic take on the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You.”

If there’s one caveat to the material on We’re Not In Kansas, it’s that is very much an official bootleg. These aren’t soundboard-quality recordings by any means, and even the better of the audience recordings tend to flutter quite a bit in the headphones. For some, that may drop it down from “must hear” to “fans only” status – which is a shame, as it’s not only good material, but packaged far better than any unofficial release. Cherry Red put each disc in its own cardboard wallet, accompanied by a fine booklet with band photos and a new interview with Butler and Watson – all in a compact clamshell box.

We’re Not In Kansas may not appeal outside of Big Country’s fan base, but if you’re part of that base, you should absolutely check it out. Adamson’s tragic passing means we only have Big Country’s music and memories to commemorate him as a frontman – and, speaking wholly from personal experience, his music has uplifted me long and far enough to consider any opportunities to hear him on record. The output of Big Country, as heard on We’re Not In Kansas, feels like home to those who feel that familiar lift whenever those guitars ring out. And you know what they say: there’s no place like home.

Across these various in-concert recordings, which have previously been available only on elusive, under-the-counter bootlegs, you’ll hear a band touring to promote their most recent albums The Buffalo Skinners (1993) and Why The Long Face (1995), with live sets which often climaxed with impassioned cover versions of ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ (Blue Oyster Cult), ‘My, My, Hey Hey’ and ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ (both Neil Young) and ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles).

Founder members Bruce Watson and Tony Butler have been interviewed for the Q&A sleeve-notes, which document a fascinating and largely undocumented period in the band’s history.

Also included, as one would expect, are rousing versions of many of their evergreen hits – ‘In A Big Country’, ‘Look Away’, ‘Chance’, ‘Wonderland’, ‘Peace In Our Time’ and ‘King Of Emotion’.

Track List:

DISC ONE:
MINNEAPOLIS 6/11/93

1. ALL GO TOGETHER
2. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
3. LOOK AWAY
4. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR
5. CHESTER’S FARM
6. WONDERLAND
7. PINK MARSHMALLOW MOON
8. SHIPS
9. LONG WAY HOME
10. ALONE
11. THE ONE I LOVE
12. IN A BIG COUNTRY

DISC TWO:
(MINNEAPOLIS 6/11/93)(continued)

1. CHANCE
2. LOST PATROL
3. DON’T FEAR THE REAPER
4. HEY HEY, MY MY

GLASGOW TOWER RECORDS 23/06/95
5. YOU DREAMER
6. LOOK AWAY
7. I’M NOT ASHAMED
8. ONE IN A MILLION
9. SEND YOU
10. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
11. HEY HEY, MY MY
12. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD

DISC THREE:
STIRLING 29/4/94

1. ALL GO TOGETHER
2. HARVEST HOME
3. KING OF EMOTION
4. LOOK AWAY
5. THIRTEEN VALLEYS
6. ONE GREAT THING
7. WINTER SKY
8. LONG WAY HOME
9. SHIPS
10. THE STORM
11. EVERYTHING I NEED
12. RIVER OF HOPE
13. JUST A SHADOW
14. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
15. COME BACK TO ME

DISC FOUR:
STIRLING 29/4/94 (continued)

1. PEACE IN OUR TIME
2. IN A BIG COUNTRY
3. CHANCE
4. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD
5. DON’T FEAR THE REAPER

ROTTERDAM ROTOWN 28/08/95
6. INTRODUCTION BY MARK
7. ALL GO TOGETHER #1
8. ALL GO TOGETHER #2
9. YOU DREAMER
10. LOOK AWAY
11. SHIPS
12. I’M NOT ASHAMED
13. JUST A SHADOW
14. LONG WAY HOME
15. THE STORM
16. THIRTEEN VALLEYS

DISC FIVE:
ROTTERDAM ROTOWN 28/08/95 (continued)

1. DON’T FEAR THE REAPER
2. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
3. IN A BIG COUNTRY
4. PEACE IN OUR TIME
5. FOUND OUT ABOUT YOU
6. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD
7. CHANCE
8. TRACKS OF MY TEARS

TAPPIE TOORIES (1998)
9. YOU DREAMER
10. LOOK AWAY
11. CHANCE
12. IN A BIG COUNTRY

TUNBRIDGE WELLS HIGH ROCKS 09/06/95
13. DAYDREAM BELIEVER